About the Authors

Carrie Lobman and Matthew Lundquist are the Authors of Unscripted Learning: Using Improv Activities Across the K-8 Curriculum.

Carrie Lobman, EdD is Assistant Professor of Education at The Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University. She is the director of the Developing Teachers Fellowship Program at the East Side Institute. Send an email to Carrie

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Performing New Classroom Conversations While Creating a Play

In late March I visited one of the Developing Teachers Fellows and her 2nd grade class in Brooklyn. This is a very energetic class – many of the students are full of life, song, dance, and humor – and struggle with being able to sit still and do school work for any length of time. As is the often the case, the teacher is required to keep them in their seats doing work for many hours at a time. After a few minutes of doing school work, there can be a lot of bickering, fooling around and sometimes punching over almost anything.

We had been working/playing together for a few months when the teacher and I decided to create a play with the class. They love performing, and as I mentioned are quite artistic. So we thought that they’d be motivated to create a play – to do the writing, scenery and music. We decided to organize them into small work groups, each one responsible for a component of the play. We spoke to them about the importance of building those work groups for the success of the play.

In the last few visits we led a variety of improv games (Yes/And stories, spectrum games, the Emotional Bus) in which students got to perform themselves. So prior to this session, we looked at all of the material we got from them and came up with an overall framework. The name of our play is “The Amazing Changing Child.” Children will travel in the Emotional Bus from scene to scene – scenes they’d previously performed for us, like: cleaning their room, being yelled at by a parent, someone calling them a name. Each time the bus travels to a new scene, a different student will play “the amazing changing child” (s/he will always have the same name, wear the same costume). The child is amazing because s/he can change emotions on the spot – and s/he rehearses and tries on whatever emotion is needed for the next scene as s/he is traveling on the bus.

On that day in late March we broke the class up into small groups with the Jig Saw framework in mind:
Writers Group: At first we asked the writers to write dialogue for some of the scenes, but that was too difficult for them, and they began fighting amongst themselves. So we came up with something we thought they could be successful at: making up superpowers for each new emotion the Amazing Changing Child will perform. With this task they began busily writing and illustrating a superpower for each scene. For example, one superpower is the ability to freeze people and make them forget what they were doing. We’re going to use that for a scene where a family is fighting and the Amazing Changing Child wants them to stop.

Theme Song Group: Two girls and one boy are writing a theme rap for the show. Their first time together they did a great job and performed a rap about friendship for the class.

Scenery Group: Children drew pictures of various scenes on their own. A few of them drew pictures of a girl cleaning her room. The teacher and I spoke after the class about wanting to see if they could also draw one picture together, and then we realized we needed them to create the Emotional Bus. A prop! A couple of kids can draw the front of the bus on very big paper; a couple draw the middle, and so on. We’ll create a conversation with them about how to accomplish this artistic feat.

Interesting conversations

One girl, T, is always complaining about things. She pouts, pushes people, instigates conflicts. Does it seemingly indiscriminately. At one point, the teacher and I were sitting next to each other, right near T, and T was angry, pushing, etc. The teacher began telling her to stop, but instead broke with the old script and said, “Wow! I just saw you in such a different way. You are great at this pouter performance! You are a great pouter! Unbelievable. We should see if we can use this! Maybe you can play a pouter in the play! (T is looking at her, stunned). Let me see you do your pouting performance.” T starts smiling, looking embarrassed and kind of joyful. She makes the pouting face, can’t do it, starts smiling and laughing a little, tries pouting again, and does it really well.
“Excellent,” said the theacher. We’ve got to figure out how to use that!
The Developing Teacher was excited about both T’s new performance, as well as her own: the performance of seeing performance!

One boy in the Scenery Group, JQ, kept getting into fights with other kids. He loves drawing and he’s good at it, but also loves fighting (which he does often in the class). I was speaking to another child when he approached me and insisted that we speak right then. I performed as a director and told him I was working with a script writer at the time. He whined, kicked at things and insisted we speak. I exaggeratedly told him that directors were important people, that people wait in line for days to see the director and suggested he have a seat. He did! I got into a few other conversations before I got back to him, and there he was, patiently waiting.
He said that kids in the group were making fun of him and he wanted to move to another group. He didn’t want to try to do anything about what was going on there. He wanted to go into the Song Writing Group. I told him that being in that group would place a lot of demands on him, they’re working hard on writing the song and he’d need to help them do that. What did he think about that? He said he wanted to do it. I said I thought he could do it, but it would be hard work. Did he want to take on that hard work? He said yes. I said, let’s try it.

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