Here are just a few things that I have seen lately that use drama or movement to help kids understand tricky concepts. Students like to be up and moving and working with their peers. Plus, drama can give them a concrete visual that may not be apparent to them on paper.
- Pat (and probably others but I ran into his class—literally as they were in the hall) had his students pick a pivotal scene from the novel to act out. When students do this they have to do a number of things: figure out the difference between dialogue and narrative; figure out the personalities of the characters; figure out which scenes are pivotal. They also practice their lines so they end up doing a lot of repeated reading which we know is good for fluency. Drama in language arts doesn’t have to be a full length play. Think about how students can turn what they are already reading into drama. Think about using some plays as reader’s theatre. Think about assigning students different characters to play and having them have a quick conversation about an event in the story. Think about having a student be the main character in the read aloud who sits beside you; every once in a while stop and ask the “character” how she or he is feeling.
- Ruth took over the foyer and had her students being soldiers and superwomen in a growing pattern. Kids were predicting and noticing how the pattern grew. You could give kids a pattern like AABCC and ask them to act it out. What about acting out x + 3? Student who can transfer skills from one modality to another have a deeper understanding. Asking students to act out a math problem before they start will increase their understanding of the problem. Often students begin to solve a math problem before they really understand what is being asked. Students may often be stumped by simple algorithms (5 – 0; 33/33; 27 x 1) but when you ask them to tell a story about that algorithm in cookies, then it all makes sense–or sometimes you have to translate the algorithm into a cookie story and then they get it.
- Cam and Marina (and maybe others) have been working on telling the “narrative “of history. History is often a vague and confusing subject of Acts and Treaties and Wars. Students don’t really understand that all that happened because of real human events. A simple dramatization of the event increases understanding immensely. You don’t need props or a script, just place some students, give them a role and have them act out the story you tell. Get audience participation by asking what the different groups might be thinking or feeling. Cam has had success by breaking the narrative in to “chapters” so that each set of events is a chapter in the historical narrative. Students can refer back to an event by looking at the synopsis of that chapter-who was involved and what happened. I heard through the grapevine that Ken was doing the narrative of particle theory but I didn’t get a chance to see it. Apparently the solids slow dance like grade 6s and the gas molecules run around like grade 3s playing soccer.
There is actual research that suggests that students learn best through narrative due to our human cultural interest in story. When you have a confusing or difficult concept then tell a story.
When kids are reading we want them to spend most of their time reading, thinking about their reading, talking about their reading and writing about their reading. But, there are lots of ways to get kids thinking and talking and writing without resorting to the typical comprehension questions. The problem with comprehension questions is that it is the teacher who has determined what the most important things to think about, talk about and write about are. While teachers certainly want to guide kids to determining deeper meaning, what is more meaningful for students is to determine and construct their own meaning.
Here are some ideas:
- Readers’ Notebook letters allow you and the teacher to recreate that “dining room conversation” about books that you wish you could have but can’t due to time constraints. The trick is to write back like a reader, not like a teacher.
- Students can write letters to other students in their readers’ notebooks who have read their book. This works well when students might be reading a second book from a literature circle.
- Students can write in their readers’ notebooks as the main character or as a secondary character. They are still writing to you, the teacher. If the author is using a particular writing style (I’m thinking about the voice in the BFG by Roald Dahl, they can try writing in that voice).
- Students can blog about their reading. Teachers may wish to start the blog with an open-ended question, or not.
- When doing a read aloud students can record their think marks in Today’s Meet or on little white boards that they hold up (white plastic plates work, too) as you read.
- If you are reading aloud and want students to be thinking about the character’s feelings (inferring) they could use Today’s Meet, or they could write in thought bubbles on a piece of scrap paper and then share after the reading.
- Have a student be a character during a read aloud and sit in the “hot seat”. Every once in a while, stop the reading and ask the “character” some questions. Other students could also ask the “character” some questions.
- If you are reading nonfiction text, the student in the hot seat could be the “expert”. At this point you are helping to bring out the content of the text.
- In a similar vein, as you are doing a read aloud, within a grouping of students, one student is a character and when you stop, the other students in the group ask questions.
- If you have multiple characters and you want students to explore the relationships between them, assign groups of students to be different characters. When you stop reading at strategic points, the students stop to talk in character.
- Instead of having the student in the hot seat be the character, have them be the author. At this point other students or the teacher can ask questions about why the author made the choices s/he did in writing the next. (e.g. Why did you make the character seem so unlikeable?)
- Readers’ theatre is another way for students to demonstrate their understanding of a novel or text. As literature circle groups are just beginning their reading, ask them to choose a passage with a fair amount of dialogue which is pivotal to the beginning of the story. Students turn it into a reader’s theatre to present to the class. They will have practiced their reading fluency but will also have to determine important parts of the text, how the characters speak, and understand how dialogue works in a novel.
- Students can do the same activity at other points in the novel to show where a cliff hanger is in their novel, a section which exemplifies a character’s personality, a scene which shows a problem, the most exciting part of the novel and so on.
- When students are reading nonfiction they can create a reader’s theatre that is an interview between a TV reporter and the expert. This is also a good way to review content before tests.
- Students can create “found poems” about the setting, problem, or characters by lifting words and phrases from their book and turning them into a poem by how they put them together and/or arrange them on the page.
- Fifteen second book reports are when students stand up and give a summary of their book, the plot, the author’s message or the characters in only 15 seconds. They don’t need to finish their thoughts and, in fact, should stop mid-sentence as this will make other students interested in the novel.
- In order to get students thinking about the background knowledge required to understand a text, ask them to do some research about the time period or issues/theme of the their book and create a powerpoint presentation or photo collage.
- Have students, individually or as a book club, determine important quotes from the text and record their thinking in double column format to explain why they chose the quote.
- Students can keep an ongoing diary of one of the characters in the novel.
- Students can make an iMovie trailer of their book. Think about asking them to focus their trailer instead of just doing a plot summary. It could be about the problem, the theme, the characters, the setting.
BUT DON’T DO EVERYTHING FOR EVERY BOOK. Over the course of the year students can have opportunities to express their thinking in a variety of ways. The best way to kill a story is to work on it for too long. And, don’t forget that modeling the activity or doing it as a class first is always best.