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Teaching non-production to middle school

  • 1.  Teaching non-production to middle school

    Posted 26 days ago
    Hello friends,

    There has been a huge shift in my middle school with the arts. Instead of having students who choose drama as an elective working on a production together, I am now tasked with teaching EVERY middle school student a non-production oriented class. I tried teaching Improv, but am having students refuse to volunteer to play games. I surrender. I'm waving the white flag addition, I teach 2 elementary school aged grades at the same time. Any suggestion for classes to teach middle school students some sort of "general theatre" class?

  • 2.  RE: Teaching non-production to middle school

    Posted 25 days ago
    Hi Karen,
    I would suggest restructuring your classes as more of a theatre arts class, versus an acting class. I moved from working in a performing arts magnet school to a private school where the arts aren't...let's popular! So, I feel your pain. There are lots of curricular guides out there. Both and the Drama Notebook are good places to start for middle school. My curriculum is structured:
    6th Grade: Elements of Theatre Arts
    7th Grade: Techniques of Theatre Arts
    8th Grade: Theatre Arts Production
    All of my classes keep a Theatre Arts notebook with sections for weekly vocabulary, journal entries/reflections and notes. Overall, it has taken me three years of tweaking, but it is working and the students have become more engaged. Just my two cents!
    Good luck,

    Garry Tiller
    Theatre Arts Teaching Artist
    Sidwell Friends
    Washington, DC

  • 3.  RE: Teaching non-production to middle school

    Posted 25 days ago
    Karen,  First of all, you are having to make a huge pivot and I want to acknowledge the work you are putting in for your students and your program- brava!  Our 1st-12th graders love improvisation and I think it is such great life training (say "yes, and", make your partner look good, don't be a solo hog, receive everything as a gift, be in the moment, listen closely, collaborate/cooperate, etc.)   One thing we have found is that we are most successful in improv when we are really purposeful in moving from "low risk" to "higher risk" games and activities.  When we start too soon with short-form games that require students to perform in front of others (as opposed to ensemble games) things crash and burn quickly.  But if we carefully plan and lead improv classes that build ("risk wise"),  we have had the most reticent groups of 8th graders eagerly volunteering to participate and performing complete Harolds very successfully in front of their peers (both in-person and virtually.). Don't give up on improv yet!  And there are many wonderful resources out there on improv- I would be happy to share.

    Joanna Lewton
    Arts Director

  • 4.  RE: Teaching non-production to middle school

    Posted 25 days ago
    Here's two cents' worth coming from a non-teacher (I'm a retired set designer).

    One of my pet peeves all through grammar and high school was having to take classes that I had no interest in because I didn't see how they related to anything in my future life. Back then you just did it without questioning it, but, for instance, advanced algebra and trig were awful for me. The same thing happened my one semester in a public junior high, when I really wanted to take shop but was assigned to mechanical drawing. Now, if someone had had a crystal ball and told me that one day I would work in architecture and set design, and that these subjects would be useful daily, I would have paid more attention.

    If I had to teach theatre classes in a middle school, given my experience back then, I would try to figure out how to make the classes relevant to the kids. We talk here about theatre as "the arts," but in reality many professional actors in theatre, TV, and film started out in school theatre. We watch them all the time (and we notice their celebrity status and how much money they make), but many people cannot -- for some cosmic reason I can't understand -- make the connection. Tech people are the same way. The only time we hear about designers and such is the award ceremonies, but they are busy all year in a career that they love.

    My suggestion? Make it relevant.

    George F. Ledo
    Set designer

  • 5.  RE: Teaching non-production to middle school

    Posted 25 days ago

    You might consider units on karaoke and/or lip-syncing, reading children's books and recording them to give to a local daycare, radio plays or podcasts (your most stubborn non-performers can have fun with foley!), or writing commercials or PSAs.

    Hang in there and good luck!

    Debra Fendrich
    Executive Editor

  • 6.  RE: Teaching non-production to middle school

    Posted 25 days ago

    Hi Karen!

    When classes are required, I've found it helpful to frame an overall purpose for the students. For example, in a required 11th grade public speaking class, I tried to focus on building VERY basic skills and reminded them how EVERYONE needs to know how to talk to other people. Constant encouragement that everyone feels uneasy with performing/public speaking, etc. can be helpful. When I've taught middle schoolers, I try to focus on very individual activities that are confidence builders, basic acting introductory ideas and building blocks for transferable skills. Here are some examples of lessons/activities we do:

    • PANTOMIME (I focus on precision "click & release" and taking time to create dimension, weight, interaction with object BEFORE making any kind of scene. It gets them to be very SELF focused rather than worrying about performing.)
    • WALKS – This is always a hit and can be used for warm ups, re-setting a day, full lessons, etc. I play obscure music (so they can't necessarily relate to it – Talking Heads is a favorite). I coach them to lead with different parts of their body. It can get as silly as you want. You need a relatively open or large space for this. I expand the exercise to include objectives and tactics with more advanced students.
    • STAGE COMBAT – VERY basic stage combat can be a great way to get buy in from reluctant middle schoolers. I focus on safety and precision and only do a "John Wayne" punch and a basic stage slap where the receiver is in control of the slap. I would not attempt stage combat if you have no experience with it, however.
    • LIP SYNCS are usually a hit even with reluctant kids because you can have them research their favorite artists. I've found the most reluctant kids sometimes produce the best work. This is an activity that works best using Flipgrid because then they don't have to perform with others or in front of others if they don't want to. The EdTA Click to Teach lesson is fantastic!


    EdTA has some wonderful lessons to check out that might be helpful as well! The Lesson Plan library may spur other ideas. All the best as you navigate the changes!


    Suzanne Maguire –

    Glover M.S. CCLR

    Associate Director, Tiger Drama

    Lewis & Clark High School

    Board Member, WA State Thespians


  • 7.  RE: Teaching non-production to middle school

    Posted 22 days ago
    My Drama 1 class (middle school) has always been non-production. They work on short performance assignments (pantomimes, monologues, group scenes, etc.) that are performed for class grades. Through these short performances they are able to develop basic skills that can be utilized in a future production, but they are also developing life skills (public speaking, storytelling, creative problem solving, collaboration, giving and accepting feedback, etc.) for students who will never be in a production. Theatre Games for Young Performers by Novelly has some great ideas for performance assignments. I treat them just like assignments for an academic class (give assignment, post rubric, give rehearsal time, due date, feedback, etc.). I find very few students refuse to participate when it is set up with the academic language they are used to.

    Jennifer Bennett

    Drama Director

    Markham Woods Middle School

    6003 Markham Woods Road

    Lake Mary, FL 32810

    (407) 871-1750

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