- Push all tables, desks, and chairs to the edges of the room.
- Clean the floor.
- Have students remove their shoes and store them under their desks.
- Meet in a large circle.
Step 1: Facts we know
Ask the students about the curriculum content they are learning for the physical theater unit (historical event, weather patterns, math concepts).
Make a list of the things the students know about the topic that are surprising, interesting, weird, funny, true, action-packed, facts that not all grown-ups know, etc.
Step 2: Warm up
Have the students find their warm-up spot from the last class session (test to see if the students have memorized their spots!)
- Echo activity: students intently listen and focus on the task and teacher (add new challenges).
- Mirror activity: brief follow-the-leader warm up (add new challenges).
Step 3: Practicing scenes
Have the students sit along the side of the room making sure no one is in front of or behind another student. The students will become the audience and the big empty space will serve as the stage. Explain to the students that they are going to use physical theater to fill a stage.
- Give the students a word or idea to brainstorm around that will set the physical theater “scene” (e.g., circus)
- Ask students what they see at the circus (e.g., clown, tiger, acrobat). What does a tiger look like? What posture does it have? What shapes can it make?
- Instruct the students to raise their hand when they have an idea. When the teacher points to them, they can come up to the stage and silently freeze in the shape of that idea.
- When all the students are on the stage, have them make the movement and sound effect of their character when directed.
Next, divide the class into small groups of 2–5 students. Each group will collaborate on a physical theater movement and sound effect around a particular idea assigned to them by the teacher (e.g., “tent,” “merry-go-round,” “hot dog in a bun,” “haunted house”). Direct students to talk among their group, come up with an idea to represent their word, and then raise their hands when ready to “build” their idea on the stage. Once on the stage, the group should freeze in position until the teacher says, “action and sound effects.”
Teaching Tip: The small groups (2–5 members) can be self-selected or assigned. These are the groups that will create the final physical theater piece. The teacher should keep track of who is in each group.
Step 4: Building scenes
Explain to the students that they are now going to start practicing ideas for a play/performance. They will continue to build ideas based on words or concepts given to them by the teacher but now the teacher will write down all the ideas in order to choose the best ones for the play.
The teacher assigns each group words or a concept related to the curriculum content they are studying. The groups practice bringing their ideas to life on stage in front of their classmates. When the teacher says “freeze” each group explains what they “built” and then returns to sit in the audience.
- The groups generate LOTS of material to be used in the play (there will also be a lot that is not used). For example: six groups are given local landmarks as a concept. More than one group will probably build a single significant landmark but upon repeated brainstorming, more and more landmarks will be built. This way there will be plenty of material to choose from.
- Next, assign students a new topic such as “the causes of forest fires.” The students can create lots of examples such as kids throwing firecrackers, camp fires, lightning, etc. The teacher and students repeat the same steps they have been working with for generating ideas and building them on stage.
Next Steps: The following step will begin to put all these activities and ideas together.
Step 5: Cool down
Students return to their warm-up spots. When the teacher says the student’s name they can get their shoes, return to their spot, and put them on. Once all shoes are on, ask students to help put the room back together.