Greek Theatre: A Mini Unit of Work

greektheatre

Earlier this year I taught Greek Theatre for the first time in my career.

As part of my transition into my new school, I took to teaching the scope and sequence that I inherited from the previous teachers at the school. Greek Theatre hadn’t suited the students at my previous school so I was quite looking forward to giving this a go.

I only ended up having about ten lessons with the students before we needed to move on to Medieval Theatre and Melodrama but I felt it was just enough time to give them a sense of what theatre was like in ancient times and how influential it has been on modern theatre.

Here is a very simple teaching and learning sequence that you might like to use if you are teaching the unit for the first time or have limited time in which to complete the unit.

Introduction to Greek Theatre

I structured the lessons in two parts so that we did some theory first, for example reading/writing notes or watching clips before then getting up and having a go of the different aspects of the style experientially.

I put together a handout that had information about the following:

  • Its Origins – i.e.The Festival of Dionysus
  • The Performance Space – i.e. The Amphitheatre
  • Types of Greek Theatre – i.e. Tragedy, Comedy & Satyr
  • The Playwright’s – i.e. Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes

Some of the consolidation activities I did to ensure the students understood what they had learnt included:

  • Labelling a diagram of an amphitheatre
  • Completing a cloze passage with a word bank for support
  • Simple comprehension questions
  • Showing some videos  from the National Theatre Discover’s YouTube channel

Acting and Movement in Greek Theatre

This was the most experientially dense part of our mini unit. Our experiential activities focused on two particular things:

  • The role of the chorus
  • The voice and movement skills needed by the actors when performing outside and with a mask

Again, the visual resources through the National Theatre’s YouTube channel were invaluable. I showed a number of clips so as to give the students an idea of the effect of the chorus and what it looked like in performance.

I then used a selection of chorus verses from Antigone to work on in class.

Before beginning the experiential activities, we looked at The Theban Plays by Sophocles so as to understand the context of where the play Antigone fit into the whole story.

The aim of the experiential activities was to work up to performing the chorus excerpt from the play for an audience. As a class we looked at simple movements that we could make that could look effective when performed in a large amphitheatre.

The students were then broken into small groups and had to put these movements together so that they were being performed in unison and in time. They then added dialogue to their movements. They had to keep in mind that their costumes could impede their movement which traditionally were toga like outfits.

The second exercise we did was to actually go outside onto the oval and perform a scene. At the back of my school oval there is a little bit of a hill which leads up to the farm. This worked perfectly as the “amphitheatre” and the oval itself acted as the stage. The students were able to experience the difficulty in having to project their voices and be expressive through their body movements so as to communicate what was happening in the story.

To prepare the students we did some simple vocal warm-ups so as not to damage their voices and practiced walking and moving around the space in large strides and using their arms and torso to exaggerate simple movements.

I then followed these experiential activities up with reflection activities so that the students could consider what they had learnt.

Costume & Mask in Greek Theatre

To finish the mini-unit, we briefly looked at the mask designs for tragedies and the costumes worn. Students then dressed in the toga like costumes and performed a scene. You may also like to consider having the students perform in masks or make their own masks.

My assessment of this unit was a half-yearly exam. It wasn’t something I particularly liked as a task and would consider changing in future.

Resources

In preparing my resources for this mini-unit I found a few resources online that I thought were of a good quality. I would recommend the following:

Have you taught Greek Theatre before? What are some teaching and learning/assessment strategies that you use? Please share your thoughts below.

Photo Credit: Ania Mendrek via Compfight cc

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5 Quick Ways to Get Your Drama Class Off to a Great Start

It is upon us. The beginning of term. The term when we establish rules, routines and relationships. Term 1 is hard going for that reason. Your Drama lessons need not be however. Here are some suggestions to make the beginning of term an enjoyable one that your kids will want to stick around for.

1. Get to Know Your Students

The first day can always be bogged down with course overview information, assessment schedules and topic summaries. Absolutely essential of course. It is also necessary to find out about your students. Do they even want to be in Drama? What do they think Drama is? How can you better tailor your lessons to their needs if you don’t know anything about who you are teaching? This simple survey is a really easy way to not only find out about their interests but get a snapshot of their understanding of drama, their expectations and even how well they write! Literacy in action without them even knowing it!

2. Get Your Students to Know Each Other

I’m always amazed at how kids from the same grade, who have most likely been in classes with each other before, do not know each others names. Honestly, it astounds me. So I place a lot of emphasis on playing “getting to know you” type games and getting them to build relationships with students that they may not know well or not have worked with before. I like The God Game. In the getting to know you version you replace the numbers with names. Simple, yet effective.

Another really simple game is to have your students form two circles: one facing out, the other facing in. Each person should be facing someone. Have each person have a 30sec-1minute conversation with the person opposite them before you ring a bell or make some sort of noise to indicate that the outer circle should move one step to their left so that they are in front of someone different. Then you begin a new conversation with your new partner. At the end of the game, each person must share one thing they learnt about one of the people they were talking to. If anything, it’s a great way to teach kids about making sociable, small talk when amongst strangers!

3. Build Trust and A Safe Performance Space

This one is important and probably takes the most time. I like to focus a lot of my warm-up games at the beginning of lessons around this premise. You could try:

Falls – Have students pair up, with Person A standing behind Person B. Person B will fall back only to be caught by Person A. At first, stand close together to build confidence. As the person becomes more confident, stand further apart. Swap and repeat.

Lifts – I like to do this with the whole class. You will need some crash mats. One person lies flat on the crash mat like a plank of wood. Everyone else in the class is to surround the person on either side. Ensure the head and bottom are supported. They place their hands underneath the person and on the count of three lift the person up above their head. Everyone has to work together on lifting the person up and placing them back down on the crash mat gently.

I never pressure kids to do this one and I always give them another opportunity a few weeks down the track to have another try if they were nervous about doing it the first time.

I also love the game Knots to build communication and team work. You might also like to incorporate the creation of some class rules at this point. Linking in expectations about safety and respect. You might do this collaboratively or bring all the activities together and connect them to the expectations of every class.

4. Encourage Failure and Silly Business

My rule is “if you don’t feel silly when you’re acting – you’re not acting”. We want to encourage our students to move beyond just being themselves on stage so we have to encourage a bit of silliness. If you are silly with them and show that you are not afraid to make an idiot of yourself you will earn major respect points. The beauty of Drama is that more often than not you are in the rough and tumble of play which puts you on their level far more than others subjects. You build fabulous relationships this way.

I make the point above about failure. It’s a harsh word and I don’t mean it to sound that way but you’ll find the kids use it. #epicfail anyone?

Often we get our kids to present their work to the class. This is necessary. It is important to also scaffold in through your questioning during presentations, ways that the students can become self-reflective and constructively critical about what they have presented and look at ways to improve and not simply see it as an #epicfail. It’s about turning perceived failures into positives.

5. Document the Process – Keep a Photo Blog

We ask our kids to keep logbooks and I like to keep one too! I love taking photos and short videos of my class. I keep them all together to create a little memento for them at the end of the year such as a calendar, photo album, photo disk etc. It’s a lovely way to track their journey and progress in class and you could even share it with other schools through apps such as Instagram or on a blogging site such as this. It is something they will treasure forever and ever. Just ensure you get permission from their parents and from executive first of course.

Remember: classrooms function when routines are repeated, reiterated and reinforced. Have some consequences up your sleeve for when, in all likelihood, this doesn’t always happen. All the best for the year ahead.

Photo Credit: Jin Jinto via Compfight cc

Free Resources

So, it’s that time of year when many of you are preparing for your classes next year.

There is a lot of programming and resourcing happening.

I always like this time of year for that reason. The anticipation of a new year, new group of students and a chance to try teaching things in a way that you haven’t before.

A couple of times on the blog I’ve offered my programs and resources. I’m more than happy to do it but now I’ve found a more efficient way to do it. So many people were asking for copies of my programs and such and I was emailing so many different people at different times I was becoming confused as to who I had or had not sent things to!

So now, there is one central place where you can find PDF’s of the resources, programs, scope & sequences I have created and used. Just check out the Resources tab at the top of the blog. My first addition is my Stage 6 Approaches to Acting program that I wrote about a little while ago. I’ll keep adding things over time. Also, let me know if the viewing/printing quality isn’t too crash hot. From the test I did it was looking a little pixelated.

I hope you find it useful. Enjoy the last few weeks of term.

Writing Assessments in Drama

I was asked by a reader recently to write a post about how I go about assessing my student’s in Drama. I had a bit of a think about this because assessment is such a huge part of what we do as teachers and it really is so vital. I wasn’t sure how to approach the post, thus why I’ve been sitting on this one for awhile. Assessment informs our practice in so many ways yet it can be such a tricky thing to get right. If there is, in fact a “right” way.

The things I always worry about with assessment are:

  1. Have I distributed the weighting of tasks correctly?
  2. Is this an appropriate weighting to give to a task?
  3. Does the task I have designed accurately match the outcomes?

The other thing with assessment in drama or in any subject for that matter is that there are endless ways to design a task. It is a highly creative part of programming but also stressful because you have to worry about weightings and outcomes because these in turn influence what you teach as part of your program for that unit (not to mention it’s their HSC and all that jazz). So I’ve discovered the way that works best for me is to work backwards. That is, design the task first and the program will follow after. Remember, this is just a process that I have found works for me. You will find your own in good time.

So to design a task, these are the steps I like to take:

  • Pencil It In! -Work out when your tasks will need to be completed by student’s. Factor in when your half-yearly or trial exams are, when reports need to be written etc. Mark them in your diary. I always find it gives me a much clearer idea of a time frame to work within.
  • How Many Tasks Do You Need? – This can be tricky. In Stage 6 I design one assessment task per topic and finish with either a Yearly Exam or the Trial HSC Paper. In Stage 5 I strip right back and simply have one practical task and one theory task per semester. So I have a 30% Practical/20% Theory split each semester which equals 50%. Put both Semester’s together and what do you get? 100% and it fits the 60/40 rule perfectly. See below if you have no idea what I’m talking about.
  • Remember The 60/40 Rule –  In Drama 60% of tasks must be from the Making and Performing (Practical) outcomes, the other 40% must be from the Appreciating or Critically Studying (Theory) outcomes. I revise my Stage 6 assessments every time I teach them both for weighting and task content. In Stage 5 I tend to stick to the same weighting allocation but vary the task. I am not a huge fan of numbers and I find this part can do my head in because I dance back and forth between what I want to focus on in the task and whether or not it fits into the appropriate outcome and the weighting I’ve given it.
  • Match Your Outcomes – There are no hard and fast rules here but naturally when reading the syllabus you will find that some outcomes, particularly in Stage 6 lend themselves to one particular unit of study to that of another. In Stage 5 the outcomes are quite broad in their terminology so there is flexibility to design tasks that could massage themselves into particular outcomes. I do find this part a little time consuming because you do have to make sure you have covered all outcomes by the end of the course and some faculties like certain outcomes assessed more than once. In doing this first however, it creates a clearer and somewhat narrower picture for me in terms of the direction I need to go in with my task and I feel reassured that I am covering outcomes.
  • Brainstorm Task Ideas – This is such a tricky part of the process to advise on because it is so dependent on many factors including class size, level and ability of student’s and resources. In Stage 6 I model all my tasks around what is expected in the HSC. Designing Stage 5 tasks like this isn’t such a bad idea either because it allows for continuity and adequately prepares student’s for the expectations of the senior school.
  • Write Your Task Clearly – Particularly focus on the “Submission Requirements” section of your task where you are imagining that in an ideal world, where kids will just read the task, go away and do it, all the information they need to do that is there. I agonise over this section because it is not only beneficial for your student’s it is beneficial for you because it again clarifies exactly what it is you are looking for and how best to advise your student’s.
  • Spend Time on the Marking Criteria – I try to use as much terminology from the syllabus and the outcomes. I also keep the criteria to between three and four dot points, with each point linking to a particular part of the task. I also take the time to go through this with student’s. Particularly what an “A” response looks like. I want them to know that these are my expectations and that they are all capable of reaching them. Discuss how the criteria also links back to the outcomes and how this will be reflected in their report.
  • Step Away From the Computer – Once you have written it, leave the task for a few days and come back to it when you are completely fresh. I find I get so immersed in the writing of it I lose perspective sometimes and there are typos and my head just goes round and round in circles stressing as to whether or not it is effectively going to achieve outcomes. Show it to a colleague or someone in your PLN who can give you some good feedback.
  • Revise The Task – If you find as you are teaching that the task is not going to work with your student’s rewrite it and reissue it. I have had this happen and it is no big deal if you are transparent and up front with the kids from the start. At the end of the unit, take the time to reflect on the task and what worked and what didn’t. Think about what you would do differently.

All in all, the best advice I can give to new teacher’s in Drama is to find a colleague or someone in your network who would be willing to look at your tasks and give you some feedback. Also the feedback you give to your student’s is of the utmost importance. I’ve blogged about that before. Maybe team up with another teacher in your area and program and assess together. So many of us are the only Drama teacher’s in our school. We are isolated and when we need it most the support may not be there.

I hope this helps but if you can offer any other advice or suggestions please feel free to leave comments below. Also, I’m happy to share programs and assessment schedules and notifications if you are in need of them. Comment below or contact me via my Twitter account in the right hand widget bar.

Image Credit: One done / Daniel Kulinski / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/