My most poignant play—and it’s perfect for celebrating Juneteenth! Based on actual slave narratives, Freedom for the First Time is historically-accurate, kid-friendly, and comes embedded with comprehension questions and historic photos. It’s 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. Pair it with Days of Jubilee, Patricia and Frederick McKissack’s exceptional non-fiction book about slavery and the Civil War. Click here to see the fantastic things the kids at the Baker Montessori School in Houston did with the script! It’s available on TpT and Etsy, and like all my plays, it includes performance rights. Be sure to also check out Box Brown’s Freedom Crate and Richard Wright & the Library Card. Happy directing!
Tag Archives: Mack Lewis
When I first started teaching thirty years ago, the state test was a pencil and paper bubble test. It was spread over a three day period, one hour at a time. The results came back a few weeks later and they were used to inform practice. If our students showed weakness on, say, “locating information,” we knew where we needed to beef up our instruction. I have no issue with testing students in such a way. These days, however, standardized testing seems to be cumbersome, expensive, bureaucratic, punitive, and time-consuming.
Frankly, it’s absurd.
At my schools we’re trying to compensate by cramming in all the enjoyable and authentic learning experiences we can. Right now our students are deeply engaged in The Checkbook Project, my free financial literacy / behavioral management / practical math system. Students in our 4th and 5th grade classes have been managing their bank accounts since mid-February, renting or purchasing their desk space, applying for jobs, paying taxes, and buying stuff at auction. As we head into the final trimester, they’ll be starting businesses, buying stocks, and donating to actual charities. This program dominates their every moment in class. When they’re well into adulthood, they’ll reflect on “Checkbooks” as a significant piece of their elementary education.
Our Fact Car Rally Race math facts program is winding down. About a third of the students have either already crossed the finish line or are drawing near the checkered flag. Another third of the class is on pace to demonstrate mastery by year’s end. That leaves the remaining kids in need of tow trucks and roadside mechanics to help catch them up.
Of course, we’re also doing all the customary kinds of work: fractions, figures of speech, physical fitness—and writing. You know kids: they’ll limit their written responses to a single paragraph—or even a single sentence if they can get away with it. But that won’t do given the emphasis on writing multi-paragraph responses on that absurd state test mentioned earlier. So, we’re using my Perfect Paragraphs program to show kids how to expand single paragraphs into multi-paragraph essays. By teaching them how to use their “reason why” supporting sentences as topic sentences for the additional paragraphs, they’re better prepared for that darn test, and more importantly, their future school years.
Despite political controversy, we’re delving into slavery. I’m convinced the likes of Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Dred Scott should be and can be shared tactfully. Among other things, we’ll be reading my researched-based reader’s theater scripts about Box Brown and Juneteenth.
Speaking of theater, we’re preparing a full stage presentation of my play The Nose, replete with a giant papier-mâché nose costume. It’s based on Gogol’s classic short story of the same name and it’s full of mind-bending humor about bureaucratic absurdity. It’ll take a couple of months to put it all together, but it’ll make for a mind-bending conclusion to a yet another school year full of silliness and absurdity—all the stuff kids remember after all that standardized testing has been forgotten.
To check out any of my programs for use this year or next, visit my storefronts at TpT or Etsy. Be sure also to visit my school page, DailyPlatypus.org.
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!
Have a Dickens of a Christmas!
We all know that last week before Christmas vacation can be a real bugger in the classroom. The kids get so worked up about yule logs and gingerbread houses (or, more truly, about the L.O.L. Doll Box or Nintendo Switch under the tree), they’re no longer able to see straight, let alone sit still for a geometry test. You can have one Dickens of a Christmas, though, by adding a couple holiday plays to your Santa letters and holiday art projects.
Charles Dickens, of course, is the undisputed master of Christmas-oriented literature, so allow me to share with you some nifty class plays based on his life and work.
Whether you plan to fully enact it or just play around with it during language arts class, my traditional, kid-friendly version of a Christmas Carol is a great place to start. Challenging for 3rd, but great for 4th-6th graders. If you want to take things a bit further, consider creating a movie version, or merely having your students adapt the play to their liking. A few years ago my fifth graders added extra dialogue, a few additional scenes, and a contemporary setting to my script to make this lovely sixteen minute film. Use it as an introduction to your work on the play (it’ll really motivate your students) or as a follow-up compare and contrast activity.
Consider pairing Scrooge with ol’ Gabriel Grub. This script is a spooky, Christmas tale about a grumpy grave digger who is dragged away on Christmas Eve by a group of wretched goblins. It’ll scare the dickens out of the younger kids, but your fourth through eighth graders will find it a fun and fascinating comparison to Scrooge. You can check out a radio pod cast my students created by clicking here.
Another Dickens classic comes from his novel, Great Expectations. My original play depicts the opening chapters. Though not explicitly about Christmas, it takes place on Christmas Eve when the orphaned Pip encounters an escaped convict on the marshes. It’s full of angst and adventure, but best suited for 6th through 9th graders (though a talented or motivated group of 5th graders could probably handle it, too.
Along with any of these, you simply must try my wonderful play about Charles Dickens’ childhood, Escape from the Blacking House. I think a great triple play Christmas show would use Blacking House as an introduction to Grub and Scrooge. But even if you merely want your kids to have more engaging access to some holiday stories, these plays are great just for in-class reading. (Build fluency be reading them twice.) All these plays, along with The Gift of a Magi and others, are available on my TpT storefront.
So if you want to have a great week before the vacation, put away that geometry test. Show your Christmas spirit with some holiday plays.
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.
Build better Readers, Writers, and Math Masters from Day One
My Fact Car Rally program is overdue for an update, but that doesn’t mean you can’t snag a copy right now and use it to lead your elementary students toward mastery of the math facts. When the update comes out, you’ll have full access to the revision. Did I say that kids love Fact Car Rally? They do! Much more so than competing programs—and it’s more effective, too! Follow the simple directions to create your racetrack during pre-service week, and then give your kids some low-key time during Week One to create their “fact cars.” By the second week, your students will be well on their way to true mastery of the facts–the foundation of all things math. Preview or purchase FCR here, and be sure to check out the tutorial video here.
In addition to building math masters, build better writers in grades 3 through 7 with my Super Sentences and Perfect Paragraphs program. It’s a teacher-friendly, student-friendly, daily writing method—the only thing you’ll need all year. No complicated teacher editions to wade through. No workshops to attend. It’s practically plug and play! Check out both the full version, the various ala-carte pieces, and the tutorial videos.
If you’ve never read my shtick about repetitive reading and how read aloud plays build beautiful readers, check it out here, and then snag some fun plays plays to start the year. Peter Rabbit, Nature Talks Back, and my latest, a “slightly twisted” version of The Pied Piper (see previous post) are all fantastic icebreakers. They’re all available on my TpT storefront.
While you’re there, don’t forget that Halloween is just around the corner, so grab copies of The Monkey’s Paw, Tell-Tale Heart, the Birth-mark, or the Mad Scientist’s Daughter for your Gothic RT!
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.
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.