Plays and Paired Texts for Black History Month

Here are ten compelling paired texts with which to recognize black history month while meeting numerous Language Arts standards. All the plays are based on the given event–not it’s paired text (in most cases the play was published before the given book). That means each pairing represents distinctly unique points of view (Literature CCSS #6), making for livelier discussions and quality comparisons (CCSS Lit #7). And because these plays are based on real events, they’ll also satisfy CCSS Informational Text #6. Each includes a comprehension activity, too, assuring your students will satisfy numerous other standards as well. And because almost all my plays were originally commission by and published in Scholastic’s Storyworks and Scope magazines, they’ve been professionally vetted, making them the best reader’s theater available. Only six of the ten are shown here–just click on the image to preview or purchase on my Etsy or TeachersPayTeachers storefront. Also be sure to check out these recorded performances of “Martin’s Big Dream” and “Ruby Bridges: A Simple Act of Courage” by The Palace Youth Theater. Happy directing!

MLK Day and Black History Month Activities

If you’re like me, you put a bow on the holidays and then breathed a sigh of relief as you headed home for the two week break. But here you are back in class and MLK Day is already upon you!  You have no time to lose when it comes to planning your MLK Day and Black History Month activities!  So, let’s get right to the point of this post: ReadAloudPlays.com specializes in Black History Month and MLK plays.

In 2021, despite all the Covid-related restrictions, the folks at the Palace Youth Theatre in New Hampshire selected a couple of my plays to enact for Black History Month. I’ve posted the video here so that you can take a look. Just click on the image. Whether or not these two plays inspire you to download any of my material, I hope you’ll still share the video with your students. Consider having them watch the production and then read the plays. Or, simply have them follow along with the script while viewing.

The two plays shown are Martin’s Big Dream, which reveals how incidents from King’s childhood inspired his work, and A Simple Act of Courage, which shares the role Ruby Bridges played in integrating America’s schools. They’re both available in my TpT and Etsy stores.

You’ll also find numerous other plays told from the perspective of Civil Right icons like Jackie Robinson, Claudette Colvin, and Sheyann Webb. One of the hallmarks of a quality historical play for kids is that the story is told through the eyes of a child witnessing the events firsthand. These plays all meet that standard. 

A favorite of mine is MLK’s Freedom March, which is told through the eyes of  eleven-year-old Lucy. Her grandmother is dying of cancer, her father is worried about losing his job, and her brother is fired up about The March for Jobs and Freedom, the iconic event where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s a powerful play with multidimensional characters backed by King’s awe-inspiring speech.

If you don’t know where else to start, download my free product, Tips for Teaching Marginalized Voices and Traumatic Events.  

Thank you for continuing Dr. King’s work, and happy directing!

A Special Pooh Event!

Back in the days of the big three networks, a television special like Charlie Brown, Winnie-the-Pooh, or the Little Drummer Boy was a once-a-year event. I remember being mesmerized by those now-old Pooh specials of the 1960’s and 70’s. They introduced us to memorable stories such as Pooh and the Honey Tree and memorable characters such as Eeyore and Tigger. Though releasing my set of Pooh adaptations may not be the kind of event that’ll gather the family in front of the Zenith on a Sunday evening, I none-the-less think it’s still kind of special.

My adaptations include the five best stories from Milne’s 1926 work. I’ve packaged them as five individual “mini-plays.” Each play has just five or six cast members, which means they’re great for small groups. My fifth graders are having a blast with them, and I’m enjoying hearing their interpretations of Milne’s clearly-defined characters. In our case, each small group is staging two plays with the intent of gathering first and second grade kids “in front of the Zenith” some afternoon after winter break. I think your kids will love them too.

A.A. Milne published the original set of Pooh adventures way back in 1926, but even though they’re now in the Public Domain, recreating them as reader’s theater isn’t as straight-forward as it might seem. Disney, for example, still owns the copyright to everything post-1926. That includes Tigger, Pooh’s red shirt, and even the un-hyphenated version of Pooh’s name. Still, these five plays represent the best of Milne’s original work. They’re suitable for third grade and up (a strong group of second graders can probably handle them too), but they promote fluency in upper grades too. They come with comprehension activities, and they’re printed in my kid-friendly, easy-to-read format. Look for Pooh on my TeachersPayTeachers storefront.

Thank you for using Read Aloud Plays! Happy directing!

Plays: A Series of Good Times

My colleague popped in my room the other day to share his experience using my Sleepy Hollow play. His hope is to stage a simple production for Halloween, but after the first reading, he very nearly punted. His class of Covid-delayed readers, he said, could barely get through the script. Still, rather than thinking the script is too difficult, he stuck with it. A second reading was better—especially after he’d reviewed a few key vocabulary words.  Then, after sharing segments from the 1949 Sleepy Hollow Disney cartoon, Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the class bought-in and were soon fighting over who’d get to be Knickerbocker, Brom Bones, and Gunpowder. Now they’re practicing independently, their enthusiasm lending itself to improved fluency.

I share this because this is the way read aloud plays work. The magic comes when scripts are read multiple times. Yes, they’ll slog through the first reading, but when they read it repetitively, their fluency improves (dare I say) dramatically. I’d go so far as to say we ought to be having our kids read everything twice: every play, every article, every chapter of every book.  As Narnia author C.S. Lewis once said, “If you haven’t read a book at least twice, you haven’t read it.” The thing about a play is that kids are willing to read it over and over again.

In researching prospective new plays to share this Christmas, I came across the work of Walter Ben Hare. Back in 1917 he wrote a book called The White Christmas and Other Merry Christmas Plays. His work is too dated to re-use, but the notes he included in the prologue are charming and spot-on.

“The director’s aim should be to establish a happy co-operation with the players that will make the whole production, rehearsals, dress rehearsals and final performance, a series of good times crowned by a happy, if not perfect, production,” says Hare. “The director should always strive to be cheerful and happy, ever ready to give advice and ever ready to ask for advice, even from the youngest players. Take them into your confidence. Discuss color schemes, costuming, property making, lighting and scenic effects with your actors.”

I like that! Producing a play should be fun. It’s not a time to be handing out letter grades, nor a time to channel your inner Kubrick. In fact, it doesn’t really matter if the play turns out to be a “perfect production,” as Ben Hare would have you aim. A “happy” performance is the greater goal!  

That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. Your students will stumble. They’ll stutter. They’ll leave their scripts at home. But some tenacity and determination like that of my colleague will be worth it in the end. As Hare concludes, “The pleasure of the work and the pride in a production well done, will amply repay an ungrudging lavishment of time and labor.”

For a pleasurable production this Halloween, Veterans’ Day, or Christmas, start with a visit to my storefront at TpT or Etsy.. Most were originally published in Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine, so you know they’re of the highest quality.

Happy directing!

The Anatomy of a Play

Like most of you, summer furlough is upon me, which for me means some time to find my mojo on a variety of writing projects. Having just finished a new Read Aloud Play based on the legend of The Pied Piper, I’m reflective about how much work went into it. Allow me to explain.

You might think it easy to churn out these plays, but writing can be quite laborious. Take my friend and Storyworks editor Lauren Tarshis, author of the I Survived series. She tells me how hard it often is to sit down and produce another disaster story. Play writing is no different. It’s serious work, especially since we’re both determined to tell a great story.

In the case of The Pied Piper, my first inclination was to tell the traditional folktale, but I learned something while watching episodes of the The Regular Show with my granddaughter: kids like silliness. The main characters on The Regular Show, which you’ll find on Disney+, include a talking, walking gumball machine, a raccoon, a bluejay, and what I think might by a cloud. They’re all a bunch of nitwit employees of “The Park.” Yes, the plain ol’ park. Much to my astonishment, it’s a great show with strong lessons.

Well, I’m at my best when I get a bit silly, when I think like an elementary kid. So after watching a few episodes (a bit of Jeff Goldblum didn’t hurt, either), I was able to craft a semi-twisted kind of absurd version of The Piper. The traditional story is still there, but there’s just enough silliness to make it extra fun for kids—and easier for me to write. After a couple days of germination, the story sprouted in just two days of writing. Compare that to my more hardcore titles, many of which took weeks of serious slogging.

The writing, though, is only a small portion of the task. Editing takes a few days. I’m guessing I’ve read through a script twenty to thirty times before I share it with you. I also force my poor wife or friends to give it a read, and during the school year, I test run it with my students. (Click here to see what my 5th graders did with the script.)

Meanwhile, I’m pulling images from different sources, verifying copyright and public domain status, building the cover and title banner on Illustrator, and double checking my research. Next begins the formatting. When I’m writing for Scholastic, I don’t need to worry about any of that, but when I’m packaging up a project for ReadAloudPlays.com, developing a pleasing format suitable for kids is really time consuming. It can also be frustrating when images, textboxes, and footers migrate from where I stick ‘em to some random spot three pages away!

There’s also the process of developing comprehension activities. I always try to include a bubble quiz because I think teachers like to be able to give a quick assessment just to keep kids accountable and to have something for the grade book (I’m not a proponent of grading the play performance itself—but that’s a topic for a different day).  I also try to include other activities when I can. In the case of the Piper, I spent a couple days creating a good bubble quiz and a nifty paired text reading activity. They don’t require any real prep for the classroom teacher, and they’re straight-forward enough for kids to figure out without much direction, but they represent quite a bit of labor on my part.

Even after all that’s done, there’s still the task of putting together the information pages and teacher notes, of combining them into a single PDF, of double checking the PDF for weirdness (like migrating images), and of creating a preview file. I just finished accomplishing all that…yet I’m still not done. There remains the process posting the product on TpT, Etsy and ReadAloudPlays.com (All those log-ins! All those Captchas!), and of promoting the darned thing with a nice little blog post like this one.

I hope you like it!  With any luck, there’ll be more to come.

Happy directing!

Trees, Bees, and Centipedes . . .

The clocks have all sprung forward, the turkey vultures have returned, and the sprouts are beginning to pop. Spring has arrived! So tell that groundhog to make way for some fun plays celebrating the season, including my newest script, Nature Talks Back. It’s actually four coordinated skits designed to give younger students insight in to trees, bees, and centipedes. Its ecology and conservation themes include that trees communicate, that some perceived pests are considered beneficial insects, and that honeybees are super-important pollinators.  The stories center around three oddball forest trees named Luther, Otto, and Bill and their hysterical encounters with a host of pests.    

It’s aimed specifically at kids in upper 2nd through 4th grade, but it’s also suitable for grade 5 and up for reader’s theater, podcast, or stage— especially when performed for younger kids. (My fifth graders love it and are presently preparing a full production!)

Consider pairing Nature Talks Back with some of my other spring-oriented plays. Peter Rabbit is also aimed at younger students. Use it with 2nd and 3rd graders, or have older students perform it for primary-aged kids. Rikki Tikki Tavi, Kipling’s much-loved story about the heroic mongoose has some spring-time flair, a singing bird, and an important theme about courage. It too can be presented alongside How the Elephant Got Its Trunk, another classic Kipling tale from The Jungle Books.  And don’t forget that baseball season is upon us, so it’s a great time for my entertaining and socially important play about Jackie Robinson.

Happy directing!

Greatness Isn’t Born

I don’t usually do reviews, but I just finished an awesome book called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle (2009, Bantam). Greatness isn’t born, argues the author. It’s grown. Think about that for a minute and then apply it to your classroom.

Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown.

There are no “naturally gifted” kids. Your students didn’t inherit their spelling/math/reading deficiencies from a parent. In fact, Coyle shows that IQ and physical attributes are largely irrelevant.

And he proves it using brain science.

Now, I’ve written about neuroscience before. Brain research by Lev Vygtsky and other experts is the basis for using reader’s theater to build fluency. The repetitive, “slow reading” nature of practicing a play builds the neural pathways that make mastery possible. Coyle, though, takes it further, citing more contemporary research. I’m stoked because Coyle’s work not only justifies using reader’s theater, it also affirms the effectiveness of my Super Sentences writing program, which relies on targeted, mistake-focused practice. And Perfect Paragraphs, which has to do with being imitative. And my Fact Car Rally program, too!

The book is chock full of concepts important to learning. It explains why special education kids are often mistakenly perceived as having short-term memory disabilities. It reveals what’s behind vacation “brain drain,” and how speed-focused oral reading fluency leads to mediocrity, and why stuff like Harry Potter and Twilight can ignite an entire generation of writers.

It also honors great teachers. What we do can’t be delivered by an online platform, nor scripted in a textbook!

So, I encourage you to grab a copy of The Talent Code off Ebay. (A copy used is less than $10 and you’ll be able to write notes in it!) Despite being all about neurons, synapsis and myelin, it’s an engaging read. (It’s kind of gone viral within my school setting.) Plus, it’ll have a huge impact on your teaching.

And while we’re on the subject, consider building some slow-reading, mistake-focused readers with some deep practice using my read aloud play scripts! For Women’s History Month you might want to try Girl. Fighter. Hero! about “the female Paul Revere,” or The Secret Solider, which tells the story of Deborah Samson, America’s first female soldier. You could also try my original play about Sacagawea, or my story from the Montgomery Bus Boycott about Claudette Colvin.   

Happy directing!   

Promoting the Work and Words of Dr. King

At the height of Covid restrictions, the Palace Youth Theatre in New York state crafted this wonderful pairing of my Ruby Bridges script and my play about Martin Luther King’s childhood. With MLK Day just a few weeks away, and Black History Month right behind it, consider sharing these professionally-produced performances with your students. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to try a few of my other critically-acclaimed plays promoting the work and words of Dr. King and other crusaders. They’re available on my TeachersPayTeachers and Etsy storefronts. Happy directing!

War Stories

Kasserine Pass, Feb. 1943 (PD McGary)

Both my parents served in the military. My mom had a short stint as a WAC in DC before landing in the secretarial pool at the White House. She eventually had a temporary assignment working for Matthew Connelly, Harry Truman’s executive secretary. She used to tell a story about sneaking down a long corridor in hopes of seeing the presidential swimming pool before being caught by a guard and sent back to her post. Despite her brush with security, she was eventually offered a permanent position but, regretfully I suspect, turned it down because the bus commute from her quarters in Virginia was too long.  Those, she would later tell me, were the best years of her life.

My dad, meanwhile, served in both World War II and Korea. I’m told his experiences were vast and extreme, that he piloted a plane, that he commanded a POW camp, that he was at the disastrously fierce Battle of Kasserine Pass. But he himself never spoke of any of it. Not a word. For him it was far too painful—as it is for many veterans. 

It was with them in mind that I crafted “War Stories” for Scholastic several years ago.  It speaks to the pain of war, the sacrifice of those who’ve served, and the meaning of Veterans’ Day. I encourage you to share it with your students in grades four and up prior to the holiday on November 11.

Happy directing.    

Monster Plays for Spring

I recently surveyed my fifth graders about what they’d like more of. It probably won’t surprise you that “more Zoom” received zero votes. “More plays,” on the other hand, won hands-down. Sure it did! Whether in-person or remote, reader’s theater works. Plays teach kids to read purposefully and thoughtfully rather than merely for speed. They always have developmentally-appropriate parts for both your advanced readers and your most reluctant ones. And once parts are assigned, you don’t have to prompt kids to chime in. Best of all, plays are fun.

With my kids coming back to class, I want to have fun again, so I’m busting out my favorite monster play: Cyclops. It has some campy lines and a gruesome story, making it super appealing to kids (hint: Cyclops likes Greek food). Here are some other enjoyable plays for spring: Peter Rabbit (it seems too young for 5th and 6th graders, but they love doing it—especially when they get to perform it for youngers); How Jackie Saved the World (The Peanut Vendor and the Hot Dog Man emerge from the grandstands to tell Jackie Robinson’s story); And Fly Me to the Moon (it features Walter Cronkite stuffed inside a TV-shaped box!).

This time of year, many classrooms are focused on the American Revolution.  Though the subject matter is more serious, the plays are just as fun: The Secret Solider (how Deborah Samson disguised herself as a man in order to join the military); Girl. Fighter. Hero.  (“the female Paul Revere”); Betsy Ross: Fact or Fiction (more about examining historical proof than it is about Betsy herself); And Two Plays from the American Revolution (2 for 1–the bald eagle and the Liberty Bell).

I hope you’re as excited as I am to have kids back in class, but whether you’re in-person or remote, give my critically-acclaimed RT a try.  Most of it was originally published by Scholastic, it always comes with standards-based comprehension activities, and need I say it again? It’s fun! You kids will love it. Happy directing!