Mark Twain’s purpose for Writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
About fifteen years ago, for thirteen years, I taught sixth graders an introduction to theater class in a middle school.
All the sixth graders–almost 500 of them each year.
If you’d like to know more about that experience, check out this blog post: How to Make Your Drama Class More Successful
As any drama teacher worth her weight would tell you, it’s important for students of that age to read fiction about kids around their age. Now, I’m like anyone. I like pop culture, but I happen to think our students need to still read classics.
Enter The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Thirty-one years ago, I co-developed a play writing contest for youth theater plays. One of the winners was a prolific playwright, Tim Kelly.
When Tim entered the competition, I was aghast! I only knew his plays as hokey. They were silly, kind of awkward parodies of other plays, books, or television shows.
Then Tim discovered writing for middle school students and finally found his home, at least in my opinion.
We produced his play, It’s a Howl! and it was such fun. I know, I said I didn’t like to do superficial stuff but It’s a Howl! is really clever–sort of Frankenstein meets the Werewolf.
Over several years, Tim and I would talk about other plays he wanted to enter in the contest. He mentioned his Tom Sawyer script to me as well.
I don’t know why, but he never entered it in the competition. But I read it and loved it!
Check out a synopsis of it here: Dramatic Publishing Company
Back to the middle school with the gazillion students…………
Since seventy-five new students entered my drama classroom every twenty-five days, I had to come up with a variety of lessons for them.
Enter The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Tom Sawyer fit two purposes for me. One–it was a classic and abbreviated well, especially for the classroom. Two–it was a story about students around the ages of my students. Three–it was a wonderful jumping off point for additional lessons about theater (set, costume, props, etc.
Recently, I created two units using Tom Sawyer as my inspiration. Here is the production description:
Mark Twain’s classic novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an excellent story for our middle grade students to study. Here is study guide for a play version of the book. Questions for a read-aloud are included as well as questions to study the play from a theatrical perspective. Playwright, Tim Kelly was a prolific playwright and this script is a perfect example of his body of work. His plays are especially suited for middle grade students.
This product includes:
- A Letter to the Teacher
- Short Bio. on Mark Twain
- Information about the novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
- Warm Up
- Teacher’s Script–What I say and How I say it!
- Discussion Questions from a Theatrical Perspective
- Discussion Questions for a Class Read-Aloud
- Theater Vocabulary Words–34 In Total
- Theater Words Definitions
- Source Page
Study Set Design through Read Aloud of the play, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The second unit concerns set design.
This set design unit (48 page, 10 days) focuses on a play version of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Tim Kelley. Students learn about the history of set design, famous set designers, develop a critical eye about what makes up an award winning set design, create a ground plan for a room in a school of their choosing and draw a rendering. In addition, the students must work with ratios and measuring. The first two assignments are completed individually, but then the fun begins! The students are paired up to create a model working together towards the goal. There is even room for parents to celebrate the end of the unit with your students.
Note: If a teacher chooses to use this particular set design unit, I would suggest purchasing a class set of Tom Sawyer by Tim Kelley at: https://www.dramaticpublishing.com/tom-sawyer-tr5000.
Included in the unit:
- An overview of the unit for the teacher
- Rationale for teaching set design
- History of set design
- Set designer’s responsibilities
- Teacher’s Script–what I say and how I say it!
- Extensive warm up
- Procedures for each day (8 to 10) including exit prompts
- Lecture notes including links
- Information about the message color conveys
- Rendering examples
- Stage curtain sheets for rendering–one vertical, one horizontal
- Step by step directions for model building including photo examples
- Cheat sheet for various set pieces
- Assignment sheet for each step of the design process
- Grade sheet EDITABLE in a separate file
- Source Page
Now I have a costume design unit to go with these two as well. Talk about comprehensive!
Of course, there’s a bundle of the three together. Check those out at: Bundle Tom Sawyer Study Guide and Set Design Unit
Honestly, I don’t know if The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is taught in the classroom anymore. I could understand the reasons not to teach it. However, Mr. Kelly’s script is well adapted and deletes any words which might be difficult for our students to accept in this day and age.
I hope you’ll consider ordering a perusal copy of the script and perhaps you’ll use these two products in your drama classroom or at least study it in the language arts classroom. It fits the “balanced reading” benchmark, too!
Mr. Twain wrote the book for all of us: Of course, I think Mark Twain says it the best, “Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, part of my plan has been to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and what they felt and thought.”
What young adult novels have you studied in play form? I’d love to hear about them. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DeborahBaldwin.net
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