MLK Day feels especially important this year. Let’s face it, we have a lot of work to do if we’re to fulfill the dream Dr. King spoke of so poignantly more than fifty years ago. We have a lot of work to do if we’re to validate the effort and sacrifice of people like John Lewis, Medgar Evers, Rev. Jonathan Daniels, and other heroes of the Civil Rights Crusade. We have a lot of work to do if we’re to heal from all the wounds torn open by the tragedies and injustices of these last few years. Can we accomplish all that on a single holiday in January?
Of course not.
But MLK Day is a platform. It’s a launch pad. It’s a starting point for the hard work of sharing the stories, teaching the history, and promoting the diversity that will make the next generation happier and healthier. I don’t pretend to think my reader’s theater plays will accomplish all that by themselves, but I think you’ll find them useful tools in undertaking that challenge. Download this free preview pack, visit my Black History & Civil Rights page, and see if you can’t make your MLK Day and Black History Month something special. Make it an MLK Day that matters.
When I wrote Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America for Scholastic back in 2002, it was supposed to be a collection of plays teaching about the history of “patriotic” symbols and holidays. Even though school isn’t in session for most of us in July, I included a play celebrating Independence Day. I’ve prepared it for my TpT storefront and am giving it away for free from now until the holiday. Download “As American as Apple Pie” for use next June as one of those end-of-the-year activities, or if you are currently in session, even remotely, have your kids give it a whirl this month. It’s a fun, fast-paced play that follows a couple of kids bouncing from one July 4th event to another, from pie-eating contests and baseball games to three-legged races and fireworks. Along the way they learn a bit about American culture and what exactly we’re celebrating at these Independence Day picnics and parades.
Though current events have caused many of us to view some of our American heroes and patriotic symbols with more scrutiny, this play sticks to an innocent interpretation, but it is quite capable of serving as a lead-in for more serious discussions. Consider pairing it with Frederick Douglass’ speech entitled speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Listen to it on YouTube or share excerpts (but fully preview it before use). Douglass is forceful in calling out America for its oppression of African Americans. Though he delivered it in 1852, thirteen years prior to Emancipation, Douglass’ tenets remain on point today. Regarding celebrating on the 4th he says, “There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon.”
There’s no doubt America is going through some tough times, that we have problems needing our attention, but hopefully this play reminds us that ours is a nation worthy of the effort and capable of the task.
If the President had to prepare his own taxes, I’d bet our tax code would be a lot simpler. If you file your own, you’ve probably run across forms that make you run through complicated “worksheets” that lead you back to the original form and probably the entry of a big fat 0 on your 1040, Schedule A, Form 8829, Worksheet 674x-b12.7, or one of the other gazillion forms. It’s no wonder people take their box of receipts down to H&R Block and hope for the best.
The same thing is true in my classroom—at least kind of—when students prepare their weekly tax report. It’s the heart and soul of The Checkbook Project. At first, kids hate the process, but once they become competent, they simply hate having to pay the tax.
Springtime (or whenever we return to school, assuming you’re shuttered like most of the nation) is a great time to try out The Checkbook Project. The name is a misnomer, by the way. There are no checks, just checkbook registers in which students keep track of their debits and credits. “The class is doing an excellent job at staying at an appropriate noise level; everyone give yourself a $5 quiet credit,” is a typical statement made in my classroom. “Great job on this math test, Julio. You scored an 88%. That’s $88 for your bank account.”
The Checkbook Project is a financial literacy program that creates a real economy in the classroom. As in the real world, everything has value attached to it. What isn’t covered by “taxes” (the public drinking fountain, for example) costs checkbook money. Students get a ton of real-world math experience, the system is its own behavior management program, and the kids get an authentic introduction to economics, including why we pay taxes and how complicated the tax code can be. In our case, students calculate and deduct their income tax simply by listing their income sources for the period and multiplying the total by the current tax rate (I always start at 10%). They divide that by two to derive at their Social Security tax, and then deduct both from their account (before moving on to paying desk rent or their mortgage).
New this year are two complicating forms inspired by my own experience preparing my taxes. The first, Form 219b allows students to deduct from their income charitable donations and contributions to a 403b investment account. I give my students 10 times what they contribute in real money to school charities such as our coin drive raising money for Nepalese students. A $1 donation puts $10 in their own checkbook account. My kids then get to deduct that from their income before paying taxes. I also want to encourage my students to become savers, so not only do they get to deduct contributions to their 403b, I also pay out 10% interest on their total savings every other week. The 219b certainly makes filing class taxes a bit harder (so I don’t let kids do it in the first couple weeks of the project), but it rewards them for being savers and givers.
XP-20 is the second form, which penalizes kids for sloppy, inaccurate, or incomplete tax forms. It’s painful enough that kids usually only have to fill it out one time. To accommodate both forms, I’ve also revamped the Tax Report form.
Anyway, if you haven’t looked over The Checkbook Project, tax season is a good time to do so. It’s completely free on my TpT storefront. All you have to do is download it. No complicated forms to fill out. No taxes to pay.
Technology has it benefits, but sometimes I wish I could go back to teaching the way it was when there were blackboards, 35 mm film projectors, and life-threatening playground structures. Ah, simpler times! Wasn’t all this new-fangled technology supposed to make things simpler? You’re probably thinking that in many ways it has and in other ways it’s made thing massively over-complicated. Whatever the case, it reminds me that all the products I post on TpT, I’ve created out of a need for materials that are a.) kid-centric (I want my students to love being in my class); b.) easy-to-use (I don’t want to wade through a massive teacher’s edition to figure out how to do something); and c.) sustainable (I want regular routines that won’t keep me up at night). Simple. With all that in mind, here are a few items you’ll want right from day one of the new school year.
Fact Car Rally Race. Mastery of the math facts is the foundation of all things math, so a program that keeps kids focused on truly memorizing their tables is essential. In Fact Car Rally, students create their race cars during the first week of school and spend the year progressing around the race route as they pass fact quizzes—addition and subtraction for youngers, multiplication and division for olders. “Way better than Rocket Math,” say kids and teachers alike!
Super Sentences & Perfect Paragraphs. No need for expensive textbooks, software licenses, or complicated teacher editions! Everything you need for an entire year’s writing program is right here in one, easy-to-use and engaging package. Try out a free sample by clicking here, and if you like it, snag Volume 1 from Scholastic Teaching Resources (it’s cheap), or my new Vol. 2, which will be available on TpT soon.
EZSubPlans. Be prepared for that emergency absence by prepping your plans now, before you’re desperate. It’s easy with EZSubPlans—just click, print, and relax! There are sets for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, but they’re largely interchangeable. In fact, I use all four sets at fifth grade, meaning I’m already covered for up to eight emergency absences. Eight!
Whether for RT or stage performance, here are half-a-dozen kid-friendly scripts to ramp up your MLK Day celebrations and Black History Month curriculum. To preview or purchase, just click on a cover and you’ll be taken to my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers.
All my plays are carefully researched and fact-checked, providing accurate representations of the historic events themselves. Martin’s Big Dream was originally published in Storyworks under the title, “I Have a Dream.” It comes directly from MLK’s own writing and depicts an incident from his childhood that helped set him on the path as a champion civil rights. In the Jailhouse with Dr. King views the Montgomery Bus Boycott through the eyes of a troubled teen, culminating in a historic moment in front of King’s own home. Gonna Let it Shine tells Sheyann Webb’s true story of courage during the Selma “Bloody Sunday” events. Just eight years old at the time, Sheyann was known as King’s “youngest crusader.” All of these stories are fun to stage and offer poignant conclusions your kids will be talking about long after MLK Day has passed.
Here are three more compelling titles. Like all my plays, they come with detailed teaching notes and comprehension activities. Sitting Down for Dr. King looks at the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-ins from the perspective of a ten year old white boy. When the sit-ins interfere with David’s celebration, he’s faced with a tough decision. MLK’s Freedom Marchcomes from the viewpoint of a working class family who overcome challenges to attend the March on Washington where King delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech. And We Shall Overcome, my best-selling MLK script, offers a creative look at the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Kids enjoy posing as a television crew to narrate this one, but like the bulk of my plays, the perspective is that of a child similar in age to your students. It also embeds protest songs from the Civil Rights Crusade.
Because nearly all my titles were originally published in Scholastic classroom magazines, they’ve been vetted by professional editors and are designed to meet the latest standards. Still not sure? Download my FREE MLK Preview Pack. It provides a detailed look at each of four African-American History plays including the first few pages of each and a glimpse of the accompanying comprehension activities. Also download my FREE guide to teaching with RT, which provides tips and ideas as well as the brain science behind using drama to teach reading. Finally, my mini-poster, 5 Stage Acting Hacks for Kids, will help keep your students focused on some of the more important elements of performing. It’s also free.
Explore ReadAloudPlays.com for More
That’s right, I have a ton of other professionally-published read aloud plays for the elementary and middle school classroom.Start by taking a gander at my collections: Classic Short Story Plays such The Monkey’s Paw, Black History Plays such as Box Brown’s Freedom Crate, and American History Plays such as The Secret Soldier. They’re all available at ReadAloudPlays.com or at my storefront on TeachersPayTeachers.
My class of fifth graders recently staged a nifty trio of plays. Eric paced about the dais as the insanely villainous narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart, Jacqueline put on her best 1930’s gangster dialect, performing the roll of safe-cracking Jimmy Valentine in A Retrieved Reformation, and Emilee engaged us with a delightful French accent in The Necklace. Though staging these plays can be hard work for the teacher, the rewards are gargantuan. A few carefully-selected props—a cardboard safe for the gangster play, for example—help turn the plays into memorable performances, but over the twenty-plus years of doing this stuff, I’ve come to the conclusion that for young actors, there are five areas of greatest importance.
Projection: I’m not a believer in microphones. Instead, I want students to “fling” their voice into the audience, to “almost yell” their lines—and by way of example, I admit to myself doing a lot of shouting to help get them there.
Attention: Students often get lost in the performance, becoming spectators instead of performers. My best performers pay attention to the script so they come in on cue. We repeat whole scenes over and over again until performers recognize their cues without thinking.
Characterization: Memorable performances come from actors who use dialect, accents, and inflection to put personality into their parts. Jacky’s gangster dialect, Emiliee’s French accent—they brought their plays to life!
Enunciation: I’m painfully aware of my own tendency to mumble—especially when in a rush—and I bet you’ll agree your many of your students have the same issue. Instead, we want our kids to slow down and speak crisply. This flies in the face of so-called “fluency standards” in which success is measured by words per minute, so you might have to do some “unteaching” to get your kids to enunciate properly on stage.
Direction: My kiddos think it’s funny when I say, “No one wants to see your rear end!” But said often enough, it does the trick, getting kids facing the audience, a critical element when acting.
To help teachers turn kids into good actors and even better readers, I’ve put together a little poster called “5 Stage Acting Hacks for Kids.” It’s available for free on my TeachersPayTeachers site. If you like mnemonic devices, it uses the “PACED” acronym to help students remember the five elements “of a well-paced play.” You can print it as an 8 ½ by 11 handout in color or a low-ink versions, or you can enlarge version #3 by 154% to create an 11×17 mini-poster.
A few weeks ago I blogged tongue-in-cheek about swiping reader’s theater scripts through nefarious means, so I thought I’d follow it up with a legitimate opportunity to grab some free reader’s theater while simultaneously honoring America’s veterans. I’ve repackaged my play “War Stories,” which originally appeared in my now out-of-print book, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America, and am presenting it free from now until Veterans’ Day on November 11th. It comes with a set of comprehension activities and full reproduction rights, which means the original downloader can copy a full class set for use in his or her classroom every year. It’s an engaging way to reveal to your students the real meaning of the holiday. Happy directing!
I’m sure you remember those big FBI warnings at the beginning of our old VHS movies. Aren’t you glad the TpT products we buy for our classroom don’t have one slapped over the cover page? Well, maybe they should. Though we may be perfectly honest, totally committed educators, we might still be tromping all over somebody’s hard-earned copyright. That’s right. This month’s post is one of those in which I have to be a curmudgeon and complain about copyright infringement. But stop! Don’t click away. Here are five ways you (yes, you!) may be violating copyright laws:
#1 You Post Stuff on Teacher Websites
I commend efforts to engage students by posting class content online, but we have an ethical obligation to make sure only our own students can access it. Search engines crawl sites like Weebly and Wikispaces, which means anyone can locate, download, and print the copyrighted material posted there. A safer bet is to use Google Classroom and set such docs as “View Only.”
#2 You Pay for 20 Subscriptions but Print 25 Copies
Let’s say you subscribe to a classroom magazine such as the ever-wonderful Storyworks, but because you know students will spindle, tear, mark-on, and lose scripts when they’re working on a play, you, like many teachers, print photocopies. That’s fair use—as long as you print just twenty. A subscription to a classroom magazine is like a software license. Twenty subscriptions means only twenty copies are being used at any given time. Consider too how that might apply to posting content online.
Note that my ReadAloudPlays.com branded plays come with full reproduction rights. The original purchaser is licensed to print a full class set for use in his or her classroom. That means when you buy just one copy—usually for around three or four bucks—all your students can use it. You can’t give copies away to colleagues, post it online for anyone to download, or, as one unscrupulous fellah tried to do, put your name on it and try to sell it on TpT, but every one of your students can access it.
#3 You Adapt a Story as a Play
For those of you who like to write your own plays, that’s great! Nothing precludes you from picking up a copy of James & the Giant Peach and creating a play.
Unless you post it for the public.
Because you don’t own the rights to Roald Dahl’s stories, Dr. Seuss’ rhymes, or Charlotte’s Web, you can’t legally offer an adaptation to the masses–even for free. To post a play based on Harry Potter, you must either have permission from J.K. Rowling or wait until the story is in the public domain. In the case of Harry, that won’t happen in any of our lifetimes. In the case of James & the Giant Peach, you’ve got another forty years or so.
Can students create plays of their favorite picture book? Absolutely. They just can’t post them online.
What if you download somebody’s adaption of James & the Giant Peach from TpT? Well, you’re supporting someone who is infringing on Roald Dahl’s copyright. Sophie Dahl may be well-to-do, but her father earned that copyright. It should be respected.
Here again I get to promote my ReadAloudPlays.com brand. All my plays are either original (such as my history plays), adapted from works in the public domain (such as classic short stories), or originally published through agreements between the author/publisher and my publishers at Scope or Storyworks. Note, however, that the original graphics and layout appearing in Scholastic magazines belongs to the illustrator and/or company. Consequently, when I repackage a play I have to re-create all that from scratch using public domain images and graphics I’ve purchased.
#4 You Perform a Play for an Audience
Most professionally-written plays require you purchase performance rights, which can range into the hundreds of dollars. To stage a showing of The Lion King without purchasing rights is infringement–even if you don’t charge admission.
I periodically get requests from small theater companies requesting performance rights for my ReadAloudPlays.com scripts. (Typically I donate such rights to non-profit groups.) Teachers, though, needn’t worry about requesting permission at all. I include performance rights with all my plays.
#5 A Nasty Bonus
The Web seems to have blurred the lines of acceptable use, so these days copyright issues pop up all the time. My most recent Internet review turned up several innocent violations—teachers who posted a play on their webpage so that students could pre-read it, for example. But I also found a couple malicious violations in which “dark web” organizations are posting my content illegally and using that content to infect user computers with malware and adware. If you’re unconcerned about copyright, you can get free copies of my “Birth-mark” and “Tell-Tale Heart” plays. But be warned. Cloudfront.net is an Amazon-related site that I’m told is frequently pirated. That big red button that says, “Download Now”? Well, my play won’t be the only thing you’ll be getting for free. Better to buy my plays—and anyone’s plays, for that matter—from respected sites such as TeachersPayTeachers and Scholastic Teacher Store.
Those of you who respect copyright and download only legal copies of material, thank you! Happy directing!
The Common Core requires that we teach students to “evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.” One way to do that is to pair Read Aloud Plays with developmentally-appropriate books and films so to compare and contrast point of view. Black History Month presents an ideal opportunity for the following pairings:
To get your classroom discussion going, I’ve developed a simple short-answer comparison activity covering Craft & Structure (Literature item 6 and Informational Text item 6). You can download it for free here and use it with my plays and any paired text to satisfy these standards by having students “analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic.”
Ah, politics. Everywhere you turn, folks are questioning the qualifications and competencies of each of the current candidates for the White House. No doubt your students are, too–parroting the perspective of their parents. It leads me to believe that kids need to hear what History reveals about being Commander-in-Chief. Take for example William Howard Taft (at left). Teddy Roosevelt used to call him a fathead, right there in public. And not just on the campaign trail either, but while Taft was serving in the Oval Office! Or how about Benjamin Harrison? He once said the Presidency was akin to being in jail!
Note that this free version hasn’t been reformatted like all the rest of my plays. My apologies for the low-quality PDF of pages from the book (with an updated copyright notice slapped in place). I felt it was more important to get this to you before the debates and the election itself than take the time to get it reformatted. But if you like it, consider tracking down the original (its out-of-print, so it can be hard to find, but available through Scholastic’s Teacher Express), or watch for the reformatted version coming soon to ReadAloudPlays.com. It’ll be paired with a second “presidential” play and include extension activities, teaching notes, and a comprehension activity. You can also check out a ton of other nifty plays at my TeachersPayTeachers store. Nearly all have been previously published in Scholastic classroom magazines, so you know they’re of professional q