When teaching drama to middle school-aged students, take into account their developmental capabilities: Students at this age are often self-conscious and conformist, so asking them to take part in any activity that makes them stand out or seem different may be met with reluctance. However, middle-schoolers are often still quite playful, and many effective drama class lessons can take advantage of this tendency to teach cooperation, creative thinking and discipline.
Learning to work together in an ensemble teaches students cooperation and empathy. An activity that focuses on developing these skills is similar to charades in that no one may speak, but it is different in that a single message must be communicated by a group rather than by an individual. Start by writing phrases suggesting actions on index cards. Each phrase should begin with: "I am walking..." and can be something as simple as: "I am walking to my very first high school class."
Break the class into small groups and have each group choose a card. Together, without speaking to one another, the members of each group must decide how they will perform the action written on their card for the class. One student will be the person who is walking, and the others must incorporate themselves into the scene, but the students must decide all of this without speaking to each other.
Improv and Pantomime Skills
Acting out stories is an activity most middle-schoolers are familiar with from their early childhoods. Storytelling, improvisation and pantomime games can tap into this age group's ability to imagine a scene and act it out. Show students a video of a storyteller plying his craft and then ask them to adapt a brief story -- perhaps from a children's book -- into their own dramatic storytelling performance. A storytelling game that involves improvisation and pantomime begins by asking students to sit in a circle. One student begins telling a story, and the next student must act it out as it is told. After a predefined time has passed, the second student becomes the storyteller -- picking up where the first student left off -- and the next student becomes the actor.
Go around the whole circle, with students taking turns storytelling and acting out the developing story. If students are reluctant to be the focus of the group as they invent and narrate their bits of the story and act out their parts, discuss with them how learning to work together as an ensemble involves trusting and supporting each other.
Stagecraft and Theater Basics
Introduce middle school students to stagecraft and how a play produced on a stage actually works. Taking them to see a live play on stage provides a good starting point for discussion. Reading about, discussing and watching video of scenes from Greek drama enables you to introduce theater history into the conversation. Define such concepts as "Greek chorus" and "tragedy" and discuss the purpose of drama in ancient Greek culture. Working with the basics of Greek drama -- such as the kind of story it might have portrayed and how such stories were enacted -- ask students to choose an appropriate story that is familiar to them and their peers and create a Greek drama-style scene to perform for the class.
Help students develop character and voice. Pair them and ask one student in each pair to be the narrator and the other to be the actor. The narrator makes up a story for his partner to act out. For instance, the narrator might say, "You arrive at school one morning to find the front doors locked," and the actor would act out what the narrator has described. The narrator keeps going, building on his story one step at a time, and the actor works with her to pantomime the action. After the story reaches a natural conclusion, students switch places and start a new story.
- Jeff Chiasson/iStock/Getty Images