Using ALARM in the Drama Classroom


My latest explorations in the Drama classroom have revolved around the drama essay and improving the literacy of my students as well as the quality of the writing tasks I ask my students to produce during class.

In introducing you to ALARM it would be worth starting at the finished product before moving back towards the beginning of the process. Have a look at Max Wood’s video below. The matrix that he talks about is what you are aiming for your students to be able to produce independently. Eventually.

Why, eventually? Well, the thing I’ve learnt from these matrices (and I’ve made a couple now) is that before you get your students to create one, you will need to create one for yourself so you know exactly where your kids are heading. That’s when it can seem a little overwhelming. In all honesty, I would say it requires an initial outlay of time (I’m talking a good 2-3 hours) to produce the resource and get your head round how to deliver it to your kids. Once you’ve done it though, you’re set. You will save yourself hours of work later on.

It’s a HUGE area and one that its creator, Max Woods, is much better at explaining than I am so I’ll just direct you to his multitude of YouTube clips to help you familiarise yourself with the matrix and how it is put together.

Here’s a quick intro vid from Max himself:


I do think this kind of matrix is worthwhile. It makes you think in the way that your kids need to. It develops the thinking skills needed to apply the content. The content means very little if it isn’t applied in the right way and I think that’s where a lot of our drama kids miss the mark. I really feel this is avoidable. In my teaching I know I don’t commit as much time to theory as I should. The kids are generally fairly reluctant and many in the course are not the most skilled writers so it feels like a chore. I plough on through but I feel the resistance.

At the moment I’m trying to reintroduce the matrices back into my teaching but also more specifically look at direction words and their influence on guiding students to write a response. From this I’m also looking at how these direction words could be more influential in directing the types of responses we ask our students to produce in their logbooks after a workshop or whilst devising or rehearsing.

To some degree I think we do skip over the direction words of questions when we’re teaching, assuming that our kids already know what they mean. We then launch into a structure and direction that is going to ensure that the content is sandwiched in as best as possible not really realising that the direction word probably has an influence on this structure in the first place.

I really feel that refining this area could mean the difference between one result or another one that is higher. It only needs to be a few marks that do it too. Coupling this kind of teaching with the appropriate choice of theory topic and well designed experiential learning could mean essay success! Well, this is what I am hoping for certainly.

I’m in the process of developing these skills with my Year 11 students so I will share some of the resources as I go. I’m also looking to backward map this in the Stage 5 drama units and assessment tasks as well as incorporating the literacy continuum. I’ll try to keep you posted with resources as I go.

How About This to Get Your Kids Writing in Their Journal…?

I’ve blogged before about my gripe with the logbook. That it can be a bit tokenistic sometimes. An add on at the end of class with little focus on using reflective and literacy skills. I say this only because that’s how I’ve felt when I’m in my classroom and using the logbook. I’m slowly refining the scaffolding of writing tasks but I feel like I still have a way to go.

With my seniors I’ve posted before about the checklist of work that I get them to do to show their process. As an add on to that I’ve started something called a Drama Panel. It’s an idea I got from my Head Teacher who set it up in a similar way for Art.

I set up the classroom as if it is a boardroom in a big office. One big long table with chairs around it. Each student must attend and their parents are also invited.  I ask my colleagues to act as panelists. The panel is scheduled at the same time over three terms and culminates with the final performance evening prior to their final exam.


At the first panel meeting I survey the parents to gauge how much they actually know about the Individual Project. I will then survey them again at the end of the process. I plan to particularly focus on how they were best able to support their child when at home as a result of knowing what was going on in the classroom.

The students are asked to present their logbook and a statement of intention. I will write about this in a future post. In the second panel meeting which will occur this term they must present their draft director’s concept/rationale and their logbook once again. The third and final panel meeting before the showcase will involve the students showing their projects in workshop mode. Meaning, Performance projects may perform the opening of their piece, scriptwriters will workshop a scene from their script etc.


After each panel, the logbook, statement of intention, rationale and/or project are collected and a progress mark is given. Overall I have made the internal assessment of the IP worth 20% but you could weight it whatever you like. I divide the weighting up in a 5-5-10 percent ratio. At the final panel meeting the students can take their logbook and project back to make any last minute changes before it is submitted prior to the showcase. This occurs early in Term 3.

The project should be 99.9% finished at this point leaving some room after the showcase to make any changes as is necessary. I put the pressure on to have it done by this time because the students go off on their Trials early in Term 3 and their focus is not back on their project until after this time and there isn’t much time left after that!

The students must write a series of questions to ask the panelists who provide verbal and written feedback on each project which the student then sticks in their logbook.

So far my first panel was really successful. I think it is a good strategy for a couple of reasons:

  • It makes the student accountable for their logbook and their process;
  • It involves parents in their child’s work which they may not have done previously because they weren’t familiar or confident with what the project requires or involves;
  • It encourages collaboration with other teachers. It is great PD for them and it is good for you as the teacher because 3-4 brains is much better than one. The ideas I have been getting are fantastic.

So, if you’re trying to up the quality of the logbook or motivate lazy students, particularly for your seniors, maybe give this a whirl.

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HSC Drama: Individual Performance (Scriptwriting) Checklist

I’ve been posting a series of checklists that can be used to get students focused on completing their Individual Project. You can check the one I use for the first term here and the Performance checklist here.

Similar to what I mentioned in my post the other day, this list below for scriptwriting follows on from the one from Term 1. So if there is anything from Term 1 that the student hasn’t completed, get them to complete those things first before moving on to the next list.

It’s taken me a long time to feel as though I have refined my scaffolding of scriptwriting tasks into something that is both helpful to the student as well as myself. Writing is such a unique process for every writer so sometimes I find it difficult to have a one size fits all approach. Often I have this list but may jumble up the order in which things are completed. In the end everything on the list will need to be done. As long as the student gets there in the end that’s all that matters. How that happens is all part of the process. Flexibility as a teacher with this project is also one of the per-requisites of getting through it!

Hopefully, you find this list helpful. I’m keen to know what other strategies are being used to help students who do a scriptwriting project or unit of work. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

CONSULTATION SCHEDULE – Stick this new schedule in for this term and ensure you are committing to your meeting time each week. After each consultation you should write a logbook entry. Date everything.

LOGBOOK CHECKLIST – Stick this in and tick off items when completed. Date and sign when each item is done.

LOOK AT EXAMPLES OF OLD PROJECTS & LOGBOOKS – There are a selection of projects and examples in the Resource Room. Write a logbook entry. Date it. Start collecting examples of work that you might like to model your script on.

RESEARCH – Find information on the following:

·         The issues, themes, ideas that you want to explore in your play.

·         The style of play (realism, absurdist, musical etc.)

·         Plays that use that particular performance style or themes, issues, ideas and how are they shown on stage.

Write a logbook entry that considers how the research that you have done has stimulated your own ideas and how you might like to incorporate them into your script to develop your idea. How might some of this be incorporated in your characters?

SYNOPSIS – Write an explanation of the storyline and action in about ten lines . If you have several synopsis ideas do the same for those. Discuss these ideas with your teacher and redraft your synopsis if necessary.

CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS – Using the guide given to you by your teacher, complete all the questions as though you are in role. Condense this down into one short paragraph of key information. Condense this down further into a single sentence.

CREATE A FRAMEWORK – Using the guide given to you by your teacher, map out a rough scene/act guide for your play. Write a single sentence explaining the main objective of each scene for each of the characters. You might like to give each scene a title or simply number them.

THE WORLD OF THE PLAY – Decide on a stage spacethat you are going to use. Consider a particular theatre company and the space that would best suit the world of the play. Compile a vision board of set and costume ideas for your characters. Find pictures of lighting, images, symbols, music, colours, motifs that you might like to use throughout your play, particularly when transitioning between space and time. Consider the practicality of the space for the play’s purpose: how will scene and costume changes happen, entrances and exits etc. Write a paragraph that describes the world of the play as the audience would see itfor the first time at the beginning of the play. Do the same for any other key moments in the play.

DIRECTOR’S CONCEPT (DRAFT) – Using the scaffold provided, write a draft rationale/director’s concept of 300 words about your script.

LOGBOOK CHECK – This will be in Week 7, 9 and 10. We will have a group feedback session at the beginning of our Thursday lesson (Wk 7A) in this week to tell each other what we have been doing.

DRAMA PANEL #2 – Present your draft rationale/director’s concept to the panel. Provide a working title for your script. Discuss any challenges faced and how they were overcome. Ask any questions of the panel as you see fit at this point in your project.

WRITING DIALOGUE & BEGINNING TO DRAFT – At the direction of your teacher, begin writing dialogue for the opening scene. Show this to your teacher and analyse how well it:

·         Moves the story forward

·         Communicates information to the audience

·         Reveals character and relationships

·         Reveals the emotional states of the characters

·         Comment on the action

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HSC Drama: Individual Project (Performance) Checklist

I recently posted a checklist of items that I get my students to complete during the first term of working on their Individual Project. I mentioned in the post that I would blog separate lists for the activities that I gets students to complete for particular projects.

The most common project chosen is Performance so I will post about that first. I also have a to-do list for Scriptwriting and Poster & Promotion which seem to be the other projects that my students have commonly chosen over the years and will post those in future.

Remember that this carries on from the checklist in Term 1 so if there are particular items that weren’t finished from that list they can work on those over the holidays or complete those first before starting on this list. The list in this post is just for Term 2.  

CONSULTATION SCHEDULE – Stick this new schedule in for this term and ensure you are committing to your meeting time each week. After each consultation you should write a logbook entry. Date everything.

LOGBOOK CHECKLIST – Stick this in and tick off items when completed. Date and sign when each item is done.

READINGS – Read, highlight and annotate any readings about monologue preparation given to you by your teacher. If you have been reading monologues over the holidays, select your top three and present them to your teacher so that a discussion can be had as to which one should be performed for the exam. Ensure logbook entries are written after each monologue has been read and photocopies of each of the monologues is in your logbook. Write a logbook entry after a decision has been made about your monologue choice.

CHARACTER RESEARCH – Complete an investigation into the type of character you are playing or the themes and issues within your play. Look at other characters from film, TV, books or plays that capture some of these issues/themes. You may also consider conducting surveys, focus groups, journal readings, interviews. Use this to help you form an idea of who you think your character is. Write a short logbook entry describing them. Create a small (1/2 – 1 page) vision board of words and visuals that represent who they are to compliment your logbook entry.

EDIT YOUR SCRIPT – Read through your script and consider its length. Is it too long or too short? What parts need to be cut/added in order for it to make sense? What references need to be re-contextualised/modernised? Photocopy your script and make edits and cuts in pencil. Stick in various excerpts from sections of the script/book if necessary. Once you have decided on your final draft, type out your script into a Word document and stick it into your logbook. Ensure you save this as you will need it to complete the other activities on your checklist. Write a logbook entry explaining your process when completing this, any challenges you faced and how you addressed the problems.

SCORE YOUR SCRIPT – Using the guide provided by your teacher, begin your script analysis by identifying the super-objective, objective, beats and possible action/movement/gesture that is needed in each beat.

SUBTEXT EXERCISE – Using the guide provided by your teacher. Rewrite your monologue so that you are writing it as though you are inside the character’s head and speaking what they would honestly say/mean if they weren’t in conflict with themselves/others.

ROLE ANALYSIS – Using the guide provided by your teacher, complete all the questions as though you are in role. If you don’t know something, make it up so that it reflects what the character in their world would think/feel/do. I’ve written about how to do this in another post which you can read here.

DESCRIBE YOUR CHARACTER – Write down 3-5 words that describe your character at the beginning of the monologue. Write down 3-5 words that describe your character at the end of the monologue. Can you identify the main points in your character’s journey? What is the turning point for this character? When do they, if at all, begin to change?

DIRECTOR’S CONCEPT (DRAFT) – Using the scaffold provided, write a draft rationale/director’s concept of 300 words about your performance piece.

LOGBOOK CHECK – This will be in Week 7, 9 and 10. We will have a group feedback session at the beginning of our Thursday lesson (Wk 7A) in this week to tell each other what we have been doing.

DRAMA PANEL #2 – Present your draft rationale/director’s concept to the panel. Discuss any challenges faced and how they were overcome. Ask any questions of the panel as you see fit at this point in your project.

What do you get your students to complete at this point in the project? Share your thoughts below.

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HSC Drama: Individual Project Checklist

Mini Trees or Giant Tracks?

Right now, most of us have hit the pause button.

That’s what the holidays often feel like for me as a school teacher. Of course it’s a time of rest and recuperation. Yet, things do stay on hold, frozen, until the term starts up again. You prepare things in the background and it all waits in the wings but you don’t really know how it’s going to go until the term starts. You might get a feeling…then we all hit the ground running.

I think about my Year 12 students who have this 5 week…hmm…gift? void? procrastination period?…to get some work done on their Individual Project. It’s a long block of time and a potentially beneficial one, particularly for those little cherubs who may in fact be quite behind (i.e. haven’t started) or decided in the second last week before Christmas that changing their whole project now was a good idea. Better now than later I always say.

I say that because something I’ve learnt as a teacher is that our students genuinely have no concept of time. Of what it feels like to really have lots of it! To be able to use it!

The IP is a tricky project to manage because time is not actually allocated to part of the syllabus so it, more often than not, takes up a lot of a teachers spare time.

I haven’t really written much about the Individual Project so I thought I’d share a little strategy that has worked for me over the last few years that keeps kids on track throughout the term and gives them something to work towards in the holidays.

It’s quite a specific checklist of what they must complete and include in their logbook. They are marked on what they have completed and to what depth as part of their progress mark across three terms.

I like it for a couple of reasons:

  • It gives the students clear expectations, accountability and direction;
  • It gives me clear direction and helps me re-emphasise my expectations to the class;
  • It is a transparent, consistent way to assess progress across all the projects;
  • It promotes success because most of the activities students should be able to do.

I believe strongly that the HSC should not be a guessing game. Make clear exactly what you want from your students. Promote success and achievement. It is our kids who are on struggle street, who couldn’t find their timetable in their bag if they tried that I think most need explicit support structures. I know it can be hard as a new teachers to know how specific to be and what exactly you should be asking for so hopefully this may help.

Just remember. Break. It. Down. Be prescriptive. Be overly prescriptive and then cut back from there if you need to.

I start with a common checklist in Term 1 of Year 12 that everyone must complete and then break off into project specific checklists in Terms 1 & 2. I will share those in a separate post. I’ve written the list below as though I’m talking to my students. I’ll make side notes in italics.

TITLE PAGE – Include your Student No., Project, Project Title (if applicable), Text Choice.

INSPIRATIONS PAGE – A double page spread of visual ideas of things you would like to do as part of your project. What movies, books, images inspire you?

IP CONTRACT – Stuck on the inside cover of your book. Ensure it is signed by your teacher. The student makes an agreement with themselves and me as to what they want to achieve with this project. I give them some time to think about this because often they have to get into the groove of the project first. 

PROJECT STATEMENT/INITIAL LOGBOOK ENTRY – A short explanation of how you came to the decision to do the project you have chosen, what you are aiming to achieve and why. Focus on the decisions you have made. I give my students a scaffold to support them in writing this and this is the part I focus on in their progress assessment. I will write a post about this in future.

LOGBOOK CHECKLIST – Stick this in and tick it off when done. Date and sign when each item is done.

PROJECT REQUIREMENTS – Photocopy and stick in the requirements for your project from the HSC Assessment handbook you were given. If doing a project, stick in the text list. I make a text list summary with brief synopsis to give kids a bit of an idea as to what each play is about and I also photocopy the actual syllabus and refer back to it constantly.

CONSULTATION SCHEDULEI use my timetable and match my free periods to that of my students to meet individually with them for about 15 minutes each week. If necessary I see them before or after school or during lunch time. Each student gets a copy of the consult schedule and I also stick it up in the classroom. Another suggestion that I was given was to allocate one afternoon only to the IP and students come and go within that time period to present what they have done so far. Remember, there is no class time allocated to the IP by the syllabus. Stick this in and ensure you are committing to your meeting time each week. I then keep a record of what was discussed in my own logbook. There is a template that is downloadable from Schools Online. After each consultation you should write a logbook entry. Date everything.

BEGIN TO READ PLAYS – If doing a project, choose three off the list and read them. Ask yourself, is this text going to allow me to complete my project to the best of my ability and show off my skills in this area? Some texts lend themselves to certain projects more than others. After each reading write a logbook entry. Date it. Find some background information on each play and stick it in. If you get ideas, draw them or write them down. It doesn’t have to be long but write something!

WHAT ARE YOUR ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES – What is the pre-production, production and post-production responsibilities of your particular project? How does an actor prepare for a role? Where should a scriptwriter start? You can use your notes from Yr 11 or the attached book list. I have a couple of books that specifically focus on this that I direct kids to find, borrow and photocopy from.

DECIDE ON YOUR PLAY (if doing a project) – This is to be done no later than Week 10, Term 4. Performers should have a selection of 4-5 monologues they are considering performing.

RESEARCH – Find information on the following:
• The playwright
• The play
• The issues, ideas, themes in the play
• Examples/clips from previous productions.
• Poster/Promotion people you will need to choose a theatre company also.
Stick all of this in your logbook and date it. Write a logbook entry about anything that stood out to you. If reading this gives you ideas or inspiration, stick these in, draw them and make a note of how they link to the text.

LOGBOOK CHECK – This will be in Week 7, 9 and 10. We will have a group feedback session at the beginning of our Friday lesson in this week to tell each other what we have been doing.

LOOK AT EXAMPLES OF OLD PROJECTS & LOGBOOKS – Keep a selection of past projects and examples. I collect programs and posters when I go to the theatre and a lot of the mail the gets sent to the schools about shows I also keep. Write a logbook entry about what they’ve seen. Date it. Start collecting other examples of work.

What do you do to manage the Individual Project? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Monologue Must Share: Calvin Candie, Django Unchained

I’ve got the 52 Plays in 52 Weeks Challenge but I’ve also had a little challenge going for a long while now that I haven’t talked about.

I’ve made myself a long list of films to get through in search of good monologues that students could adapt and perform for their Individual Performance in the HSC.

This one, that I just had to share, is from the film Django Unchained. Now it is rated MA15+. It is violent. There is bad language. This YouTube clip is in serious breach of copyright.

In saying that however, I just had to share this moment from the film. How Leonardo Dicaprio has not won an Oscar I still do not understand.

I was completely glued to him during this scene. I can’t really describe it. You just have to watch it. Whilst watching it however,  I did wonder, could it be performed on stage? I don’t see why it couldn’t. With a few little tweaks (namely the knife cutting the skull as blades are not permitted in performances) it could be a really good piece for a strong male actor and I always seem to find it hard to find good male pieces. Or maybe I’m just completely mental for thinking this could work as a piece of performance.

What do you think?

You can find other monologue suggestions at the top of the page under the Suggestions for Monologues section.

52 Plays in 52 Weeks: Week 20

Falling Petals by Ben Ellis

I’d forgotten how full on this play is. The language, the action and the content itself.

Set in the fictional town of Hollow, a mysterious syndrome begins to plague the town affecting only the young. The town is quarantined, schools are closed and fences go up. Guards patrol new enforced borders, but amongst the townsfolk denial runs deep. Phil and Tania are determined to do their final exams, whilst Sally mourns for those that are dying feeling lost, stuck, yet loyal to her hometown with little support and love from her family and friends.

It’s a disturbing idea that some kind of disease, something in the swine flu vein, could plague an entire population. That part of the story makes the play somewhat futuristic and out of this world. Yet real because in recent times it has happened. The placement of a Japanese sakura tree as the central place the teens go to when studying, hanging out or escaping is a bittersweet image as the play progresses. It is very out of place in the Australian landscape, yet continues to live despite the drought. Each petal falling from the tree symbolises the death of another child. Whilst the children die, the adults are not particularly sympathetic and become selfish – every man for himself. Even when it comes to their own children. At the same time, when you look at how someone like Phil behaves throughout the play you can understand where those horrible Gen Y stereotypes come from. Or perhaps it is the youth of every generation we just forget as we get older about how it used to be?

I found it compelling to read yet disturbing. The visuals are what grabbed me with this play. The beautiful images contrasted with the harsh ones. I think this would be a great one to explore for any of the projects but I like the idea of it being used for  Poster/Promotion. It has lots of potential.

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