Drama Games For Every Classroom*

*This post was inspired by this week’s #slowchated.

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Why school? Because: Relationships. Relationships are why education is.

It is for the above-stated reason that I spend so much time at the beginning of a semester (even for year-long classes at the beginning of second semester) front-loading rapport-building activities. As far as I’m concerned, content and skill development can wait because without a student-teacher rapport, learning will suffer. I have a friend who lives by the mantra: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If you invest this time connecting to students, you don’t even have to think about classroom management later on. When you earn your students’ respect, you set the stage for smooth production.

In my current position, I teach English and drama. Some of the same games we use to build performance skills in drama class are also brilliant community-enhancers and can be used in any classroom for such a purpose.

Why do drama games work for building classroom community? They’re fun. They’re a little silly. They give license for people of all ages to play together in a low-risk situation that has no other goal than to strengthen the relationships in the room. (SRSLY, doods. Everyone wins. Every. Single. Time.)

In this post, I’ll discuss drama games that have worked well in non-drama classes for the purpose of relationship-building. Some of these games came from books that I have acquired over the years and some came from workshops that I’ve attended. I will give credit whenever memory serves me well enough to do so. Many of these games are much like oral literature in that they are passed by word-of-mouth over time and tweaked by each new recipient, so the way I present them are versions of the way I learned them, but I’m certain they have changed from the way I was taught in a subtle or maybe even sometimes drastic way, just as I’m sure that the way I was taught was personalized by the teachers in some way, shape, or form as well.

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THE GAMES

☆☆☆ —> THE MAGIC SUBSTANCE

The Wizard
Photo Credit: Sean McGrath via Compfight

Source: A Drama Workshop (but I can’t remember which one–sorry!)

Premise: Suspend your disbelief. Sit in a circle. One person (the starter) in the circle has a magical substance. It can take any form or shape. The starter should play with the substance for a while, changing it’s weight, size, texture a few times before passing the substance to the person sitting next to him/her. (S/he may choose to the left or to the right.) That person must receive the magical substance as it is delivered to him or her, but then s/he must change it somehow before passing it to the next person. Each person, in turn, must receive the substance as is and change it somehow before passing it, until it comes back to the starter.

Note: You may not change the substance into a thing. For example, you can’t change it into a cell phone or a gun. It must just be an indefinable, but constantly-morphing, magical substance at all times.

 

☆☆☆ —> DEFENDER

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Ol.v!er [H2vPk] via Compfight

Source: Theater for Community, Conflict and Dialogue: The Hope is Vital Training Manual by Michael Rohd (with a foreword from one of my all-time favorite educators, Dr. Doug Paterson from University of Nebraska at Omaha)

Premise: Move around the space freely. While in motion, everyone must SILENTLY and WITHOUT OBVIOUS FANFARE choose a Defender and an Enemy. In the time remaining (5 minutes or less) continue moving (still silently) around the room, but the object is to always keep your Defender between yourself and your Enemy.

Note: In some cases, individuals will select a Defender who has selected him/her as an Enemy. This only adds to the complexity and challenge of the game. Encourage students to choose others who they would not normally choose. (For example, someone may choose their best friend as their “enemy” for this game, or someone with whom they’ve rarely talked as a defender.)

☆☆☆ –> BLOB TAG

 

Source: I don’t remember. (EEK!)

Premise: One player is The Blob. (In traditional tag, this person would be called “IT.”) Everyone else must try to stay away from The Blob. The Blob must try to tag everyone else. Once The Blob tags someone else, that someone else, hooks arms with The (original) Blob and becomes a part of The Blob him/herself. Each person who is subsequently tagged becomes part of The Blob until EVERYONE is part of The Blob.

Note: You will want to set boundaries in the space, especially if you are in a large one. A stage, a commons area, a gym, or an outdoor space works well for this.

 

 

BONUS: Blog Tag + Costumes (This was taken during Homecoming Week on Cartoon Day.)

 

 

☆☆☆ —> BUNNY

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Source: A Church Youth Leader, somewhere in Minnesota … 

Premise: Form a circle. Choose someone to be the Starter. The Starter places his/her two thumbs on the side of his/her head with the rest of his/her finger stretched outward. (Think of the nanny-nanny-boo-boo gesture.) S/he wiggles his/her hands and says “Bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny.” On the 7th(ish) “bunny” s/he takes his/her hands off of his/her head and puts his/her palms together and “sends” or “zaps” the bunny to someone else in the circle. Whomever the Starter points to then receives the bunny, by placing his/her hands in the aforementioned “bunny” stance AND the person to the receiver’s right, places his/her right hand on the right side of his/her head and the person to the left places his/her left hand on the left side of his/her head and all three people chime in with “Bunny X 7ish” until the middle person zaps the bunny across the circle again. If any of the three receivers do not react quickly enough, or make the wrong gesture, that person is OUT and steps out of the circle. As more and more people get OUT, the circle tightens until it gets down to three. The last three will be the quickest paced portion of the game because ALL three people will be involved in ALL of the bunnies. When it gets down to TWO, you must have a VEGETABLE DUEL. (A vegetable duel can be used to settle all sorts of classroom scores, by the way.) For the vegetable duel the last two people must stand back to back, until the duel master spurs them to take four swift paces away from one another. Then the duel master must call out the name of a vegetable. Upon hearing the name of the vegetable both duelers must turn and do an impersonation of the chosen vegetable. Whoever makes the best impersonation of said vegetable (as determined by duel master or by clapping vote–house rules) WINS.

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☆☆☆ —> CIRCLE DASH

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Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley via Compfight

Source: Theater for Community, Conflict and Dialogue: The Hope is Vital Training Manual by Michael Rohd

Premise: Form a circle with one volunteer in the middle. The object of the game is to get out and stay out of the middle, but it’s also to challenge yourself with taking a (safe) risk with the help of another student. When the person in the middle isn’t looking, make eye contact with someone at least one person away from you. Make eye contact with that student and give a slight nod, raise your eyebrow, or make some sort of tiny gesture to indicate that you want to trade places with that person. Once you and the other person have silently agreed to trade spots, make a run for it. When you are in transit, the person in the middle will try to take one of your spots. If s/he does, then you will take his/her spot in the middle and try to take someone else’s spot, when s/he trades with another student.

Note: This is the only game during which I have been positively FLATTENED by a student in her zeal to trade spaces with the student who was standing next to me. It hurt like HELL, caused bruising, and the student felt awful about it, but it was also really really funny. The students couldn’t believe I wasn’t mad. I explained, “That’d be like me getting upset that I got tackled in a mosh pit. It’s all good.”

—> BABY I LOVE YOU

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Source: A Childhood Game

Premise: Everyone sits in a circle. Someone volunteers to be the Starter. The Starter turns to the person on his/her left (his/her choice) and states, “Baby, I love you, but I just can’t make you smile” using any voice or facial express s/he desires. However, s/he may not touch the receiver. The person who receives this message must follow these guidelines: Eye contact is required. No sucking in cheeks or biting lips. S/he must not smile or laugh. If s/he smiles or laughs s/he is out. If the Starter gets that person out, s/he must repeat the process with the next person in the circle. If the Starter does not succeed in making the Receiver smile, then the Receiver must go through the process with the next person in the circle. As more and more people get OUT the circle must tighten and those who are out can become the audience. When it gets down to the “stone cold killahs” you can choose new bizarre phrases for them to try out on one another. (For example: “I baked you a muffin” or “I’m a cotton-headed ninny muggins” could work, but you know what will make your group giggle.) The last person standing is the winner and should be celebrated as such with joyous aplomb.

Note: I usually play the games with the students, but this is one from which I abstain, simply because it is too weird for kids to be telling me they love me, even in jest.

 

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Other Resources that I <3 <3 <3 (in no specific order)

  • Games for Actors and Non-Actors by Augusto Boal (translated by Adrian Jackson)
  • 3-Minute Motivators by Kathy Paterson
  • Theater Games for the Classroom: A Teacher’s Handbook by Viola Spolin
  • Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss

This break, I actually took a break.

During the past two weeks, my school district took winter break. We finished up finals and the students vacated the premises of the school building. Before leaving, I tried my hardest to finish up grading.

Impossible.

However, I made a considerable dent in the stack and entered as many grades as possible. I even posted grades for four of my classes–before leaving for break.

Breakthrough!

The weekend before Christmas, I finished grading the papers and posted the remaining two classes’ grades. This meant that I had NO grading to do for the rest of the break. This has never happened before in my 13 years of teaching. (I just finished my 13th year of teaching! I was a mid-termer and was fortunate enough to find employment mid-year.) I always had a lot of grading to do over break, sometimes because of poor planning on my part, sometimes because of bad luck, and sometimes because I procrastinated–usually because of the first and third reasons. Bad luck is usually a symptom of the first and third reasons.

This year, I planned better; I was lucky; and I didn’t procrastinate.

As a result, I spent time with my kids and family, read books, watched an entire Netflix series, cleaned, caught up on laundry (which is another rarity in the Morgetron household), went to THREE movies, IN A THEATER (big deal in Morgetron land), played with my dogs, hung out with my chickens, helped my husband deliver firewood, created a flyer and business cards for our new business, and I did so without the distraction of a task left undone, looming over my conscience.

As a result, I feel refreshed and I will be a better teacher this semester.

That which feeds the soul, clears the path for bigger tasks.

My cup runneth over.

Sunshine in Winter

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Photo Credit: Paul VanDerWerf via Compfight

One of the things that I expect my PLN to do for me is to challenge me. Yesterday, one of my tweeps, Craig Badura did just that in the form of a blog challenge. It was a challenge all right (especially Question #3), but it was also fun. This challenge is designed to allow your PLN to get to know you better–so essentially, I just wrote about myself. Blah blah, blahhhhh.

I guess some folks call this the Eleven (Wo)Man Game or the Sunshine Award. I just call it, “let me tell you a little something about Jodie L. Morgenson.”

11 Random Facts About Me

1. I prefer to buy my clothing and furniture second-hand, but I have a very specific, yet unpredictable and eclectic taste, which can be both tiresome and rewarding. I love love love old, used, weird stuff with stories behind them. I adhere to the Wabi Sabi point of view regarding possessions, though I am not above re-purposing stuff.

2. One of my life philosophies is–LIFE is TOO SHORT FOR BORING SOCKS!!!–in all caps and with three exclamation points!!! because you should shout this when you say it or think it. (The above-statement about second-hand clothing does NOT apply to socks, as I firmly believe in one-owner socks and undergarments, but the portion of the statement about a specific taste in socks DOES.) I believe in this statement both literally and metaphorically.

3. My best friend is building me a shed (out of materials he scavenged, found, or re-purposed) that I will eventually use as an art studio.

4. My best friend and I started a CSA over the winter break. We have one customer (share-holder) so far. We hope to have at least 10, but no more than 20 before the growing season begins.

4.2 My best friend is my husband, Caleb. (My kids are my best friends too, but they are not allowed to know this until they are older.)

5. Chickens–I have a (healthy …?) obsession with them. They remind me of dinosaurs. They have personalities. They are fascinating to observe. We have 20 of them, but soon we will only have 14. (We just can’t keep 7 roosters. Sorry guys. Chanticleer gets to live.) They are mean to each other and the hens, but they will also be delicious. I am mostly a vegetarian–mostly–but I do eat what I grow, and I grow chickens.

6. I don’t think I could survive without music–all kinds of music–rock and roll, jazz, punk, pop, bluegrass, old-school country, metal, R&B–but I don’t know how to play any musical instruments. (I wish I could. I have a banjo, on which I intend to one day master basics.)

7. Travel is something I just straight up dig. I like staying in hotels, someone’s guest room, bunkhouses, campers, cabins, and tents. I like eating meals prepared by other people in homes or restaurants in towns other than my own. I like meeting people that I might not ever meet again. I love love love learning about other ways of living. I have been to South America and Western Europe, but I still want to visit Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and maybe even Antarctica. I would also like to spend more time on the west coast of the U.S. I have never been to California, but I want to go there soon.

8. A long time ago, I thought I wanted to be an actor, but now that I’ve directed plays, I know that I very much prefer to be behind the scenes making things tick, unseen. It is quite rewarding to me.

9. One time I wrote a play and it was produced in a local theater. I want to do that again someday.

10. I have written two drafts of two novels and someday I’d sort of like to dust them off, polish them up, and get them published.

11. I believe that the whole world is poetry–every action, everything, every thought.

12. In challenges like this I cheat. I add on a .2 on a number I already used, include 12th fact or pack several facts in to one number. You have to watch me. I am a subversive system-bucker. SHAZAM!

11* Educator Tweeps who’ve changed me for the better because they are a part of my PLN:

Amanda Dickey
Beth Still
David Theriault
John Hardison
Kelly Falch
Katey Girard
Keegan Korf
Michele Corbat
Michelle Janda
Rachel Haider
Starr Sackstein
William Chamberlain

*Actually there’s 12. Hahaha! More cheating!

Craig’s 11 questions and my responses:

1.  What motivates you?  Feedback motivates me. If I am doing something well, I want to hear someone say I am doing it well. If I am doing something not-so-well, I want to know so that I can improve upon it. Results motivate me as well. If I see that something I am doing can help someone or make someone’s life better that spurs me into action and propels me to continue.

2.  Is the iPad a distraction in the classroom? Frankly, YES, at first it is. However, once you set expectations and hold students accountable for those expectations, the iPad is incredibly useful as a learning tool.

3.  In your opinion, who has been the most influential person in the history of the world?  Sheesh. The history? Of the world? not MY world, but THE world? This one is a head-tapper, Craig. Positive influence? Negative influence? I’m going to go with a positive influence and I’ll pick Jesus Christ.

4.  Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right thing?  I am terrified of doing things wrong, which is the most common fuel to my procrastination. I don’t do things I believe are (ethically) wrong, so I guess I’m not really worried about doing the right thing. I’m more worried about NOT doing the right thing out of fear of not getting it “right”.

Does that even make sense?

5.  What’s one thing you have not done that you really want to do? I would like to go on a honeymoon to Belize with my husband. We were going to shoot for our 1-year anniversary, but we had a baby instead, and then we were going to go on our 10-year anniversary and that didn’t work out either, but our 15th looks promising.

6.  What is your happiest childhood memory? My grandparents lived on an acreage and the times I went into the woods by myself are some of the happiest. Times on the tire swing behind their house was pretty rad too–especially when I didn’t have to share it with anyone. Obviously, I enjoy solitude.

7.  What is best part about about current job? The community in which I teach is the best part of my current job. I love them all–students and their families, and my colleagues and superiors. I had one kid graduate from here and another one in the system and I am so grateful that they could grow up in this system.

8.  Which is worse, failing or never trying? By all means–never trying is waaaaaaay worse than failing which is why my answer to #4 really bothers me. I am totally okay when students fail at a task, or when my own children fail at something, but I do not like to fail myself and that holds me back from trying sometimes. I need to work on being okay with not getting everything right. After 37 years, you would think I would have a grip on that.

9.  iOS or Android? I am an Apple girl tried and true. My family’s first computer was an Apple IIe.

10.  Do you have a bucket list actually written down somewhere? I sure don’t.

11.  Why did you become a teacher? I like reading. I like writing. I appreciate young people (especially those who can tie their own shoes and require no assistance in the restroom).

If you are going to do this, here are the rules:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger. (Hi again, Craig!)
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition. (Not sure I can find 11 that haven’t already done this, but I’ll take a stab at it!)
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated.  (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
If you are going to do this, here are the questions* I want you to answer:
  1. If you had to choose an animal to morph into occasionally (like an Animagus like Sirius Black from the Harry Potter series or a skin-changer like Beorn from The Hobbit) which animal would you choose and why?
  2. What is the best piece of life advice you’ve ever received and from whom did you receive said advice?
  3. What gadget could you not live without (or at the very least living without it would drastically change the way you live) and why?
  4. What Pandora station did you last listen to?
  5. Why/how do you use Twitter or other social media outlets?
  6. Use one song title, book title, lyric, or quote to sum up your 2013 and indicate one that you’d like to use to set the tone for your 2014.
  7. What is one of the greatest things you’ve ever heard a student say?
  8. What is your favorite snack?
  9. What is the last movie you saw in a theater? Also, rate it with your own rating system.
  10. Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?
  11. If you were going to form a music band, and could choose any non-musicians–factual, fictional, alive, or dead–who would you pick; what role would each person play in the band (including you); what type of music would you play; and what would your band be called?

*Some of them aren’t actually questions. (Tee hee.)

This Feels Like Failure: Why Are So Many Students Dropping My Advanced Placement English Class?

I teach an Advanced Placement English class. It’s a challenging class. It’s hard. Really. There are times when it’s not fun. High school me would’ve struggled with it. Undergrad me probably would’ve struggled with it a bit. Shoot! Come to think of it, there are days when I would struggle with it now, if I were juggling what my students are juggling.

The students have to learn difficult vocabulary–words that show up frequently in classic literature–and they have to use said vocabulary in context. They have to learn how to identify AND write in sentence structures that I didn’t learn about until college or after. They have to read challenging, sometimes dense, sometimes archaic, sometimes confusing (but beautiful! controversial! poetic! lovely! wonderful! universally truthful), texts, rife with figurative language, dripping with irony, loaded with difficult-to-decipher symbols (but that have withstood the test of time). They are in charge of leading discussions. They are responsible for analyzing literature through writing.

I view this class as not just a way to prepare for the Advanced Placement test they will (hopefully) take (and DOMINATE) in the Spring, but to prepare them for college, and more importantly, to ready them for the cruel world after college. In it, they are exposed to rich content, but even more importantly–they practice and (usually) master transferable skills that they will use for the rest of their lives: effective writing in multiple modes, critical thinking, creativity, idea generation, collaboration, decision-making, time management …

They blog. They analyze. They interact face-to-face. They interact digitally. They do or do not hit deadlines (and there are consequences for both). They write. They speak. They think. They think. They think. They think and think and think!

They are currently synthesizing their skills in the form of a mimesis–an assignment that requires them to create an original short story that mimics (in more than one way) the work of a famous author, whom they have studied in depth. It is–to use one of their vocabulary words–arduous. It is hard work. It takes time. It takes tenacity. It’s not something most people can write in an hour and half (though I have a student who claims he did … !)

And, at the end of last week and today, nearly half of them brought me paperwork to drop my class at semester.

Herein lies my feeling of failure.

Some of the students have legitimate-sounding excuses for dropping the class. Some of them do not. However, underneath all these reasons–legit or not–is a nagging question: What did I do wrong?

I want this class to be rigorous. In fact, it’s required, by College Board standards to be rigorous. My district requires it to be rigorous. However, I don’t want to be so rigid as to drive away my students. They are, after all, some of my favorite people in the whole world! Don’t get me wrong: I realize that not every students is cut out for Advanced Placement English, and it is a typical event for some of them to drop at semester, but the sheer number of drops this time around has me in a bit of a stupor.

As a result of these drops, I’m not feeling like the greatest teacher. Not that I ever feel like I am THE greatest teacher, but today, I am feeling pretty down. It is my instinct to keep these feelings to myself or maybe to whine a little to one of my mentors, but I have decided to reflect here–”out loud”–because I don’t think we lament enough in public. It’s important to put our best selves forward to the world when we can, but it’s also okay to reveal the moments that are the most trying. This week has started out with a fizzle, but this anticipated mass exodus of students has deepened my resolve to continually improve myself as a teacher. But for today, I’m going to take some time to marinate in this feeling of disappointment and to labor over my aforementioned question, along with these:

  • What can I do differently to retain more of my students?
  • What can I do to impart–to students and their parents–that what you learn in a class is more important than the almighty grade?
  • Is this class’s level of rigor befitting a entry-level college English literature and writing course or have I taken it too far?
  • Are my expectation too high? (I don’t think so–but believe me–I will think about this.)

I’m holding onto the hope that tomorrow and the next day and the next day will be better days–as a result of reflection and time. I’m holding onto the hope that next semester, I’ll be a better teacher–as a result of this semester’s events and as a result of this public reflection on some very raw feelings.