What better way to immerse students in important events American history than through re-enactment and dramatization? Whether as reader’s theater or full stage production, read once or practiced multiple times, these plays are all designed for maximum student engagement. Plays are usually priced around three or four bucks, are reproducible, include performance rights, and come with comprehension activities and keys. (Note: for ease in navigation, history plays specific to the Civil Rights Movement–as significant to American history as any events–are listed under the “Black History & Civil Rights Plays” tabs.)
Newsies Against the World Mini Musical
If you want to take your class drama program up a notch, if you want to experience that Disney-esque magic, try “musifying” a play. I’ve done a lot of the work for you by creating my Newsies Against the World mini musical. It tells the story of Aniela Kozlowski, an eleven year-old Polish immigrant who must take to the streets to sell “papes” during the 1899 newsboy strike. Though dramatically different than the Disney “Newsies” show, it’s historically accurate and includes “sing-along” period music from the early 20th-century, all of which is available for free (non-commercial) download from archive.org. (Hint: visit my classroom webpage, The Daily Platypus, and check out my edited versions.) The script includes production notes, prints in traditional 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 booklet form, and comes with performance rights for public schools.
Girl. Fighter. Hero. Sybil’s Ludington’s Ride for Independence
Originally published in the Sept. 2015 issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine and later reprinted in the Dec. 2016 issue of Storyworks, “Girl. Fighter. Hero.” tells the story of sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington. She’s often called “the female Paul Revere” because she rode 40 miles on a stormy night to muster the militia during the American Revolution. The play includes parts for as few as 12 and as many as 25 students, depending on your casting needs. Comes with two comprehension activities, teacher notes, and keys. Suitable for reader’s theater or stage presentation. Focus on women of the Revolution by pairing it with my plays about Deborah Sampson and Betsy Ross, or on the Revolution in general by combining it with “Two Plays from the American Revolution.”
Giants in the Land
Giants in the Land tells the story of one of America’s greatest hoaxes, the Cardiff Giant. When in 1869 a farmer “discovered” a ten foot tall “petrified man” in his field, it became a sensation, earning it’s “owner” tens of thousands of dollars, a huge sum in that era. The famous showman P.T. Barnum successfully copied it, and Mark Twain wrote a short story about it, but by the time the facts finally caught up with it, the perpetrators had already cashed out and fled. The play includes enough parts for the whole class—24 as written, with room for additional non-speaking “onlookers.” You can further extend the play by six parts by pairing it with Twain’s A Ghost Story (find it on the “Classic Short Stories” page). Suitable for reader’s theater or full stage production and aimed at grades 4 – 8, both plays include teacher notes, a comprehension activity, and answer key.
Argument at Mount Rushmore
Argument at Mount Rushmore gives insight into the unique personalities and accomplishments of each of the four Rushmore presidents by imagining their sixty-foot tall stone faces can actually talk. Full of odd ball facts and goofy humor, this is the perfect play to introduce kids in third grade and up to the history behind, the purpose of, and the standards for the famous landmark. The play comes with a comprehension quiz, a paired text reading for information activity, answer keys, teacher notes, and extensions. It was originally published in my 2003 book, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America, which is no longer in print, but you can click here to preview or purchase for immediate download at TeachersPayTeachers.
Fly Me to the Moon
Imagine your students walking on the moon! This Read Aloud Play about the 1969 Apollo Moon Landing lets kids re-enact the now-famous “Eagle has landed“ and “One small step” scenes while reciting the exact words spoken by Mission Control, Walter Cronkite, and the astronauts themselves. This kid-tested, historically-accurate, twenty-minute play has parts for ten readers or actors. Use it with students in grades 3 and up to improve fluency, build comprehension, and engage learners. Fully reproducible: the original purchaser is licensed to reproduce one classroom set per year. Preview or purchase at TeachersPayTeachers. Thanks!
Freedom for the First Time
Now available in my Etsy store. This powerful “Juneteenth” play is based on actual slave narratives. It’s historically-accurate, kid-friendly, and comes embedded with comprehension questions and historic photos. Freedom for the First Time is the narrative of ten-year old Tyree, a slave during the time of the Civil War. Like many slaves, Tyree believes whatever her masters say. But when Tyree’s brother, Sweet Walter, arrives with a band of Union soldiers to tell her the war is over, she and her family experience their day of Jubilee, the day they know freedom for the first time. Includes parts for six to ten students plus extras, depending upon your casting needs. Use it with students in grades 3 through 8 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and inspire interest in US History. Click on here for an audio preview of 5th graders performing this play. Click here to download a free preview.
Lewis & Clark and Bird Girl
Originally published in the Nov./Dec. 2003 issue of Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine, Lewis & Clark and Bird Girl tells Sacagawea’s story in a riveting, memorable way. Read it once or practice it daily with students in grades 3 through 6 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and meet the CCSs. Historically accurate, carefully researched, and kid-friendly, this classroom play script is well-suited to reader’s theater or full stage production and includes parts for seven to nine students, depending upon casting needs. Fully reproducible: the original purchaser is licensed to reproduce one classroom set per year. Preview or to purchase on Etsy.
At the height of the Great Depression, the pioneering photography of Lewis Hine freed generations of children from having to slave away for pennies an hour in coal mines, canneries, and textile mills. Hine often risked physical harm to photograph children in deplorable working conditions, but his work eventually led to the establishment of America’s child labor laws. Originally published in the Oct. 31, 2011, issue of Scope Magazine and republished in the Feb. 27, 2012, issue of Junior Scholastic, this powerful play is suited for students in grade 4 though 8 and includes parts for from nine to sixteen actors (and innumerable extras) depending on your casting needs. Includes a CCSS comprehension activity addressing Information Text item 7 and Literature item 2. Preview or purchase at TeachersPayTeachers. Visit our Podcasts page to watch a YouTube multimedia presentation of this play featuring Hine’s original pictures along with a 5th grade audio performance.
The Newsies: The New York Newsboy Strike of 1899
Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine, “The Newsies” tells the story of a young immigrant girl who goes to work selling newspapers just before the 1899 New York City newsboy strike in which kids stood up to millionaire publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. It differs from the Disney version in that it’s historically-accurate, it’s school-friendly, and Disney doesn’t own it. Suitable for reader’s theater, podcast, or stage production. Parts for from 12 to 17 students (depending on your casting needs), a comprehension activity, key, and background info. Consider pairing it with “Stolen Childhoods,” my play about Lewis Hine’s crusade to end child labor. Use it with students in grades 4 through 7 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and inspire interest in US History. Click here to preview or purchase. For a grander version, check out the “Musified” mini musical elsewhere on this page.
The Fountain of Youth
Bring your Explorers unit to life with this original history play. Juan Ponce de Leon is credited with discovering Florida, identifying the Gulf Stream, and is called “the Father of Puerto Rico,” yet he’s best known for his fabled search for “The Fountain of Youth.” Carefully researched and kid-friendly classroom play script leads students to evaluate the motives of 15th and 16th Century explorers. What were the explorers really after? What happened to the native people? Did the Fountain of Youth really exist? Could it have saved Ponce de Leon’s life? The play is well-suited to reader’s theater or a dramatic stage production, and it includes parts for eight to fourteen students (and innumerable extras), depending upon your casting needs. Full class set is under $4 and it includes a comprehension activity, too! You’ll find it at Etsy and Amazon.
Abraham Lincoln: Spies & Rebels
From the moment Abraham Lincoln was elected his life was in danger. In fact, it took a team of the nation’s best detectives just to get him to his inauguration! This classroom play script is based on the real event historically known as “the Baltimore Plot.” It reveals Lincoln’s personality and the attitudes that led to the Civil War. It also introduces readers to Allan Pinkerton, the famed detective who started The Secret Service. Imagine how much fun you’re students will have playing actual spies! Aimed at grades 4 through 8, but given the content, it’s more appropriate for 5th grade and up. Use it in small groups, with whole class, or on stage. Full class set, a comprehension quiz, and answer key are included! Click here to download a free preview or click on the cover to purchase from my Etsy storefront.
Box Brown’s Freedom Crate
Now available in my Etsy store! Historically accurate, carefully researched, and kid-friendly! Based on real events, Box Brown’s Freedom Crate tells the story of Henry Brown, a slave in 1848 Virginia. When Henry’s wife and children are sold away, Henry devises a plan to mail himself to the North in a wooden crate. With help from members of the Underground Railway and Philadelphia’s Ant-Slavery Society, Henry defies death as his crate is tossed from one train to the next. The play was originally published in the Feb/Mar 2001 issue of Storyworks, and it’s based on Brown’s own slave narrative, The Narrative of the Life of Henry “Box” Brown. It’s also the subject of a picture book, Henry’s Freedom Box (Scholastic, 2007), which can be useful as an interesting compare and contrast activity. This script is well-suited to reader’s theater, or decorate a cardboard box and stage a poignant yet laugh-out-loud yet stage production. Includes parts for eight to twenty students, depending upon casting needs. Use it with students in grades 3 through 8. Includes comprehension activity and key. Click here to download a free preview, or here to purchase at Amazon.
The Secret Soldier
Engage your students in the American Revolution with this historically-accurate play based on the life of Deborah Samson, a brave young woman who disguised herself as a man and became the first woman to serve in the U.S. military. Twice wounded, she had to escape the surgeons and operate on herself to avoid detection! Originally published in the Nov/Dec. 2102 issue of Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine and reprinted in the March 2013 issue of Scope, this seven page play script has parts for from 10 to 17 actors (and numerous extras) depending on your casting needs. Use it in grades 3 through 7 to build reading fluency, engage students in history activities, and pair with non-fiction historical text to satisfy a host of CCSs. Fully reproducible: original purchaser is licensed to print a full class set every year! Click here to preview or purchase from TpT.
Betsy Ross: Fact or Fiction?
This play is suddenly really important! Given events of the past few years, there seems a need to teach flag etiquette and meaning. Betsy Ross: Fact or Fiction helps do the trick! The history of the flag of the United States is a compelling story, but historians are divided as to the facts. Did Betsy Ross really create the first flag? This play, which was originally published in my book, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America and later reprinted in the January 2002 issue of Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine, encourages readers to become history sleuths. It includes the play script, a short reading supplement, a bubble quiz, a comprehension activity built around William Canby’s 1870 treatise on the matter, answer keys, and extension activities. Suitable for reader’s theater or full stage production, use it with students in grades 3 through 7 to build fluency and to satisfy a variety of Common Core standards in Literature and Informational Text. Thirteen pages and parts for eleven students. The original purchaser is licensed to print one class set per year for use in his or her classroom. Thanks!
Two Plays from the American Revolution
Two Read Aloud Plays packaged together for the price of one. Revolutionary War Plays comes with two exclusive plays, comprehension activities (two per play), extensions, and links to specific CCSs. Originally published in my book Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America, “Eagles Over the Battlefield” tells the story of the bald eagle becoming the emblem of the United States (picture Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson arguing about eagles, turkeys, and even turkey vultures!), and “A Bell for the Statehouse,” reveals the history of the The Liberty Bell (based on historical evidence, but geared for younger students as low as second grade). Both are fun, easy, and ideal for elementary-aged kids. To create a full unit on the Revolution, download The Secret Soldier or Betsy Ross (both above) and split your class into thirds. Visit my TpT storefront to preview or purchase.
President’s Day Dream
Presidents’ Day Dream looks at the Presidency from a different viewpoint. These days, it seems everybody wants to be president. When the play’s lead, Nicole, begins day dreaming about how great it would be, she’s met in her “dream” by various former presidents. Each speaks openly and honestly about the challenges and hardships of the job (did you know people used to throw cabbage at President Taft?), while pointing out the qualities it takes to be a good leader. In so doing they give Nicole—and the audience—a unique history lesson on being Commander-in-Chief. The embedded political cartoons add to the lesson, showing students that elections have always been contentious and presidents often criticized. Though obviously a work of fiction, the details were carefully researched and subsequently reviewed by professional editors at Scholastic. This play originally appeared in the book, Symbols of America (Scholastic, 2003). It comes with a comprehension activity, a paired text activity, and teacher notes. It’s also a perfect pairing with the book, So, You Want to be President? Parts for 9 students in grades 3 through 7. Suitable for reader’s theater, podcast, or full stage performance.
As American as Apple Pie
Originally published in Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America (Scholastic, 2002), this fun, fast-paced play 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 American heroes and patriotic symbols have come under greater scrutiny, this play sticks to an innocent interpretation. It is, however, quite capable of serving as a lead-in for more serious discussions. Download it for use next June as one of those end-of-the-year activities, or pair it with Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” The play includes parts for 11 students, comes with a comprehension activity, and includes reproduction and performance rights. Click here to preview or purchase at TpT.
Two Plays from the War of 1812
The history of the White House and the story behind the Star Spangled Banner are the subjects of “Two Plays from the War of 1812.” These are innocent, politically-neutral reader’s theater scripts designed to provide students in grades 3 through 6 with the carefully-researched facts about these U.S. symbols. Our national anthem was penned as a poem by Francis Scott Key during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, and the White House was burned to the ground by British troops when they sacked Washington D.C. in 1814. Both plays originally appeared in Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America (2003, Scholastic), and each includes a paired text, a comprehension quiz, and teacher notes with answer keys and extension activities. “Tearing Down the White House” includes parts for 20 students, though many of the minor parts can be combined, while “The Defense of Fort McHenry” includes parts for 12. Consider enacting them together, either as traditional RT, as an audio dramatization/podcast, or as a stage production. If instructing remotely, these plays would be excellent “Zoomer’s Theater.” Fully reproducible: the original purchaser is licensed to print one class set per year for use with his or her own class.
Explorers Compare & Contrast Activity–FREE!
This free comprehension activity allows students to compare and contrast explorers from three eras: Ponce de Leon, Lewis and Clark, and the Apollo 11 astronauts. It’s primarily designed to accompany the three read aloud plays Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth, Lewis and Clark and Bird Girl, and Fly Me to the Moon (all available on my Etsy store), but it can also be used independently as a research guide. Teachers can further extend the activities by using the same format to compare other explorers. Two compare and contrast activities are included (basic and advanced) and both come with answer keys. Click here to download for free.