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!
Fairies waving candied wands… Goblins drooling chocolate malt… Halloween has such a bizarre place in our classrooms. In my school it’s been informally “banned,” though the kinders still get to parade through the school in their costumes, and the rest of the student body gets to have an afternoon “party” that presumably has nothing to do with ghouls and ghosts. Personally, I like “Monte Carlo Day,” a party in which kids set-up, run, and risk candy tokens at a variety of “probability games” such as Roulette, 21, and the Shell Game. The kids still get their candy fix, but at least there’s a bit of math involved.
An even better approach to Halloween is to replace your parades and parties with a collection of play performances. Kids still get to dress up, you can serve treats at the performance, and it’s not only academically valid, but a fine way to satisfy standards. A trio of plays takes a few weeks to prepare and an afternoon to perform. You can also invite other classes to attend, thereby helping your colleagues with their Halloween alternatives.
I have a number of Read Aloud Play titles that are perfect for Halloween. The Birth-mark, which is a classic short-story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, tells the story of a mad scientist who, in his quest to make his already beautiful bride “perfect,” kills her instead. The Monkey’s Paw is W.W. Jacobs’ classic Gothic tale about getting three wishes. The disturbing result will stay with your students long after Halloween has passed. The well-known Legend of Sleepy Hollow is available in my book, Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories (you can purchase and download it instantly at Scholastic Teacher Express). Pair it with YouTube segments from the original Disney flick. You’ll also find Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart in the same book, which can be paired with my modernized version, Penelope Ann Poe’s Amazing Cell Phone. (At least one of my reader’s has commented that it’s “too strange,” which I think makes it a lot of fun for Halloween.) Finally, A Piece of String has a ghostly conclusion and Cyclops has a ferocious monster. All of these plays were originally published in Scholastic classroom magazines such as Scope and Storyworks, so you know they’re up to snuff, and they all come with reproduction and performance rights.
Ready to give it a try but unsure how to start? Download my free guide to teaching with plays. It’ll give you tips and ideas on how to use plays to make your language arts block the best section of the day. But get to it right away…those ghouls and goblins are already knocking at your door.
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!