Creating a Scripted Scene Using Improvisation



In this lesson, eighth grade students will take their written journal entries (can be from from any content area) and create a scripted scene using improvisation. In this lesson example, students took content from John Locke philosophies (life, liberty, and property) and used the scripted process to show how his philosophies still resonate in modern American society. Colorado Academic Standards: DTA09-GR.8-S.1-GLE.1, DTA09-GR.8-S.1-GLE.2, DTA09-GR.8-S.2-GLE.1, DTA09-GR.8-S.3-GLE.1, DTA09-GR.8-S.3-GLE.2, DTA09-GR.8-S.3-GLE.3. National Core Arts Standards: TH:Cr1.1.8.a, TH:Cr1.1.8.c, TH:Cr2-8.a, TH:Cr2-8.b, TH:Cr3.1.8.a, TH:Pr4.1.8.b, TH:Pr6.1.8.a, TH:RE7.1.8.a, TH:RE8.1.8.a, TH:RE8.1.8.c, TH:Cn10.1.8.a

This Workshop Session was tagged in Theatre

Overview and Context

Currently I teach elementary school drama. Since this lesson plan is designed for eighth grade students, I worked with the eighth grade history teachers at my school to focus this lesson on the content they are currently teaching: John Locke and his connection to Revolutionary America. I created an invitation for students, which the history teachers gave to all our eighth grade students, specifically inviting students who have had some troubles understanding the content of their current unit. Ideally, the eighth grade drama lesson would provide another place for students to synthesize the difficult learning they are doing in class. 

This lesson will be taught in my own classroom at the elementary school. The reasoning for this is that the secondary building of our school has a homeschool access group that meets in the classrooms on Fridays. My classroom has a stage, props and other dramatic supplies, and is open on the day the class can be offered. It also feels like a place to perform and not so much a place to sit and write. 

Since my school is not in session on Fridays, this group of eighth grade students is used to having a day off. Some parents may have made the decision to have their child attend because it gave them an opportunity to extend learning. Others may have chosen to attend because it is a half a day of free child care, and others may have attended because they wished to take a drama class (something the school is able to offer kindergarten through fifth grade and ninth grade through twelfth grade but not in the middle school). Nine students decided to take the class. I have previously taught all the students and many of them were also in my drama program during elementary school. Most of the students are high achievers, but two of the students struggle with history content. Two other students struggle with structured writing. Before teaching the lesson, I learned from one teacher that the students do not collaborate well with each other. They have their social groups and do not often branch out to work with others. Many of the students in the class are in different social groups.

Process and Protocols

To start the lesson students come into the room and start another level of the layer game (see lesson set-up in the full lesson plan PDF). The class should have previously played a ball toss layer and a clockwise layer. This time students add a name layer and the high-five layer

Move students to the performance area or stage to introduce the ABC Story game. Invite one student up to play character A as the model for the class. Character A moves to the stage and pantomimes (see vocabulary in the full lesson plan PDF) the setting. After the student shows the setting through actions, invite another student to play character B. This character has to establish relationship through dialogue (see vocabulary). Have the students run the scene a few lines to show the relationship between the two characters. Stop the scene and direct character A to start a conflict with character B through dialogue. After the characters improvise (see vocabulary) this conflict, instruct character B to use a physical action to create a complication (such as an obstacle or or other action). Let the scene play out a bit more with the students. Invite one more student to join as character C. Direct the character C to save the day and end the scene. Watch the students play out the ending of the scene then acknowledge the effort on stage by clapping and have them take a seat. 

Explain to the students that they are all going to improvise their own ABC scene. Place the students into groups of three to four members and send them off to play the improvisation in different corners of the classroom or space. Students only need to decide who is character A, B, and C before starting the improvisation. They should not plan the scene. The teacher should from group to group to make sure that students follow the rules set up at the start of the game.

After the improvised scenes finish, have the groups gather to discuss what happened during the improvisations and watch one or two scenes play out. Discuss how the dialogue and the obstacle work in the scenes.

Give students a mini-lesson stepping them through each part of the ABC Script Skeleton (see worksheet in tools and uploads). Instruct the students to meet in their ABC improvised scene groups and decide a topic based on the journal entries they previously wrote (see lesson set-up in the full lesson plan PDF). After this, students need to step through the Script Skeleton worksheet to write down the basics for their script. Students should be encouraged to play the ABC game as they progress through the script skeleton to see if ideas work. Encourage groups to get the scene on its feet and improvise what they have to see if the ideas work as a scene.

After students have completed most of the ABC Script Skeleton, gather them together again and assign each group to choose one of three actions or movements to add to the Script Skeleton (see lesson set-up in full lesson plan PDF). One movement should be what the students previously decided for Locke’s “life” movement, the second should be Locke’s “liberty” movement, and the third should be Locke’s “property.” Students should go back to their groups and decide which movement they will add to the script. Give time again for writing and collaborating then gather the groups one more time to reflect.

Play the game one last time, this time by switching places in the circle. After running the game, ask students how this new perspective changed the game. After students answer, ask students how this ties to Locke philosophy and ultimately to their scenes.

Tools and Artifacts

ASAS Lesson Rationale, Plan, and Reflection: This is a spreadsheet showing the details of the rationale behind the lesson, the planned lesson, and the reflection.

8th Grade ASAS Devising a Script from Improv Slide Presentation: Slides used to prep lesson journals and take students through the lesson plan

8th Grade ASAS full lesson plan: This PDF gives a full view of the entire lesson plan (lesson prep, lesson worksheets, student example work, bibliography, game rules, and other materials).

8th Grade Script Skeleton Worksheet: Worksheet used in the lesson for script writing

Workshop Session Files

Reflections and Discoveries


What new insights were gained?

Looking through what I planned in the lesson and what actually happened in the lesson, a few noticings pop out at me. Firstly, is the importance of action. In any script, action is just as important as words. Through writing the script skeleton, my colleagues and I attempted to help students plan for both dialogue and action. The lesson was also designed to help students act out the moments in the scene so they did not have to rely specifically on collaborative discussion. During the actual lesson, I found myself drawn to action even more. The opening game focused on the action of complications. Further in the lesson when I had plans to move students directly into planning, I remembered that the whole point of the lesson was not to simply use improvisation to understand story structure. It was to create the story the students wanted to tell. Students discovered character traits, problems, and revelations as they played and acted together in the improvisations. These things are often left out when students go directly to writing on paper. I continually changed the lesson so students could return to the improvisation to finish ironing out wrinkles and add the last element tying things back to Locke. 

Another reason why action is important is because students could not hide. Oftentimes with collaboration, students are able to let one or two people take on the brunt of the work. With the improvised action, everyone had to make decisions about his or her character and be involved in the scene. It became a safe way to take risks and try on choices even with minor character to the scene. 

Action also tied well to the content. History can be a dry subject. I was actually a little disappointed when I found out I would be teaching about life, liberty, and property. As the lesson unfolded I was shocked at how alive the situations felt when the students created scenes and moments important to their own understandings. To help tie the script writing to Locke’s philosophy I also had the idea to have students assign an action to each Locke ideal. (My original purpose was so the reflection questions could tie to the content.) Later when students chose an action from this list, I did not go back to remind them which action applied to which ideal. I wanted the action choice to flow into their piece. I hoped that students’ choices would match up perfectly when we reflected. At the end of the lesson none of their choices matched up to the original reasons for each action. Rather than scrapping this part of the lesson I asked them why they chose the action. Not only did students have a lot to say about why they chose each action, they also were able to explain why their stance did not match up to the ideal they had previously labeled. They put Locke’s words into action for themselves today. 


How would you describe your first impressions of this lesson?

A key finding was the importance of audience. When writing papers at school, students often write for the teacher. Students give the teacher information in a logical format. With the improvisation and script writing, the purpose of the assignment moves to a larger audience. Student were constantly bringing the material to a performance level, which needed to make sense to at least the eleven people in the room.This gave students an authentic purpose to collaborate and create.

What sorts of things make you feel uncomfortable when you are working in the community and/or with this population? Why?

Another noticing was the importance of student selection. I agonized after teaching the lesson in part because it was being filmed, but I also agonized because I felt that I changed my mind during the lesson. Normally this occurs a bit in my classes, but I felt it occurred a lot. Looking back at the class, I spent much of the time not knowing where the students were going to go with the material. I was also new to the history content. I had to have a level of trust in the students ability to create a story together. I also had to allow their choices to happen. This was scary when the students started discussing guns and putting this into action, but the lesson allowed all of us to take authentic risks in responsible ways to synthesize the subject matter. The students made stories together that met the requirements for their history teachers (finding Locke’s philosophies in life today) and validated their thoughts and questions concerning the content.

If you could do this activity again, what would you do differently?

If I were to change anything about the lesson, I would do a better job of writing things down during the lesson. Not having taught this content before, I did not know what student thinking I would want to keep. Since student choice is so important, I would record more of their choices along the way so I can better reflect on  my teaching. I want to be able to predict student needs faster, and keeping track of the thinking can help me learn to do this more effectively. 

Another change I would make is to hone the reflection piece. I chose the action tied to the Locke ideal this time. I also had students discuss different verbs that could represent the ideal as well. In the future I would try this assignment with the verbs rather than the set action (e.g. use the verb “to claim” rather than using a broad stance). This could give more opportunity for student to interpret the images they want to use. 

Lastly, I think that this lesson would need adjustment for large classes. The lesson is set up to be engaging and meet students at a variety of levels, but special care would need to be taken when students are showing their improvisation so each voice gets heard. For large classes I might also require the improvisation to be pantomimed without sound. If thirty students are talking through improvisations and scene work, the sound level could be a large distractor to the learning and performing taking place. 

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