Writing a play with your class

The invitation to create a class play is a wonderful opportunity for children to express themselves. A group play can integrate imagination and real life experiences.

Doing short drama improvisations, reading plays to the students, choosing a play together and modifying it to suit the children’s interests all make a great introduction to actually writing a play. Several plays in the Fun with Drama collections could be used as “starters”.

To begin the project, open a Bank of Ideas on chart paper and record the children’s suggestions — from imagination, class or individual experiences, events or problems — over a period of several weeks.

At some point, children may suggest ideas that involve physical or verbal violence and it is important to draw clear limitations such as no verbal or physical violence, harassment or foul language. When children come in from the playground upset by conflict, role-playing and improvisation can be used to review events, deal with the causes and find resolution, however a class play should be an opportunity to explore healthy attitudes.

The first planning session involves asking the children to describe possible characters, locations, and events. All suggestions are placed on the Bank of Ideas chart. Three characters, events, and locations are then selected by a class vote; the other ideas remain in the Bank of Ideas to be used throughout the writing of the play. Invite the children to think of sequences of actions to make an exciting plot. It is important to monitor the number of players in any group play so that everyone has a part, but the number of principal characters should be limited. As each suggestion is recorded, discuss how it might play out.

It may require two or three brainstorming sessions to prepare a plan that everyone likes. Voting is an important tool in making choices, but ideas that have been rejected can often be integrated into the play a little later. Writing the plan on chart paper keeps the whole class “in charge” of the play.

The students can then structure the play into scenes. Three scenes allow a problem to be developed and come to resolution.

Scene 1: Introduce principal players, the place and the problem through dialogue.

Scene 2: Some crisis arises and the problem is complicated by some new element, which will probably be some event and accompanied by several new players to offer more acting opportunities.

Scene 3: Resolution of the problem by the players.

The actual writing of the dialogue for each scene then begins. First work out the setting of the first scene (possibly by the narrator) and how to introduce the main characters. Invite the children to dictate the dialogue line by line with suggestions from other students to clarify and add interest. Tools to help children to dictate the dialogue for the three scenes are: discussion, questions, pantomime, improvisations, revision and use of the dictionary. Have different children read back the dialogue to see how it fits. Reread the dialogue, add and change words to encourage use of a rich, accurate vocabulary and varied sentence structure. This can take several sessions of a duration suitable for the age level of the students. Junior level students can be invited to write dialogue in teams and present to the class for revision.

When the first draft is completed, it is time to dramatise the play, stopping to make changes to clarify, add interest and correct mistakes.

Choice of the title is best done after the draft version of the play is complete.

Open an Idea Bank for title suggestions at the beginning of the project and add ideas as they come up. When the play is complete, return to the Idea Bank and invite the author of each possible title to explain why it was suggested. Discuss what comprises a good title. Ask the children to vote for the title that best presents the important overall idea in the play without revealing the outcome.

Offer each child a personal copy of “their” play which will be used for rehearsals. Even beginning readers should have their copy with parts highlighted and small pictures beside their character’s parts. Many students will already know most of the play by heart!