Drama education and classes that specifically teach acting can improve confidence, cooperation, communication, concentration, self-discipline and empathy in children, according to educator Jonas Basom, creator of the Drama Education Network website. Build on what your students already know to develop a hands-on acting curriculum that teaches the basics of drama and encourages creativity.
Early Childhood and Primary Grades
Preschoolers and primary elementary students need basic instruction that introduces them to the idea of playing a character and expressing themselves through acting. Have children watch a video of animals and ask them to move their bodies as the animals do. Describe a tree blowing in the wind or a flower growing from a seed and have students move their bodies to recreate the action. Children's songs, nursery rhymes or short stories also work well to teach acting skills. Have students act like a character in the story or song. For "The Wheels on the Bus", for example, the kids might act like the bus driver.
Games are an effective tool in teaching elementary students basic acting skills. Play a version of "Simon Says" that works on stage direction, for example, saying, "Simon says hop on one foot toward stage right." On index cards, write characters and situations or settings -- such as "a cowboy crossing a swamp of gelatin" -- and have the students take turns drawing cards and acting out the scenes. An ordinary game of charades also practices acting skills. To make the acting lessons relevant by connecting them to real life experiences the students have had, ask them to use improvisation to portray something that happened to one of them.
Some games to introduce the ideas of characterization and stage direction are still suitable for middle school students, but you can also include improvisation exercises, memorizing lines and interacting the other actors in a scene. To emphasize expressing themselves on stage beyond using words, have the kids talk in nonsense words. Start by giving one student a sentence or idea. That student has to express that idea without using any real words. To work on improvising, give a group of students one or more objects and have them make up an improvised scene that includes the objects.
Let high school students write their own skits or short plays. Focus on setting the scene and developing strong characters that show through the actions and dialogue they write. If you teach multiple levels of acting, have the older students write and perform a play for your younger students. The older students get a hands-on lesson in performing for a specific audience, while the younger audience members get to see older, more experienced actors on stage. You can also go into depth on the stage design, costuming, lighting and sound that goes into a performance. Give the high school students a chance to develop each of these components. One way to do this is to have the students think of a familiar place, such as their bedrooms or a classroom at school, and have them draw sketches of how they might recreate that setting on a stage.
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