Drama Exercises for the First Two Weeks of School
I receive quite a few emails asking, “I have a question about drama exercises for the first two weeks of school. What would you suggest?” That’s a really important question. After thirty-eight years of teaching various theater classes, I have a pretty good handle on what works for me.
However, I’ve been where you are–staring at a blank calendar anxiously wondering what is most important and where you should begin with your class. I think it’s only natural that you feel this way.
Simply put–Get to Know Your Students
Everything, and I mean, everything will go much better if you get to know your students! I don’t advise jumping on a bunch of rules unless your list is short like mine (Three R’s–respect, responsibility and ready to learn.) Just about every situation can be addressed using the three expectations. But that’s me.
When I was looking around for information concerning building teacher/student relationships, I stumbled upon this quote from the EducationNorthwest.org:
“When teachers make an intentional effort to get to know each of their students, it can foster in students a sense of belonging and connection to school—which can then build a foundation for academic success. Positive teacher-student relationships lead to increased cooperation and engagement in the classroom.”
Here’s another quip I appreciate from Reach.com: “Understanding your students’ interests will help you to provide them with quality learning opportunities. By giving them the opportunity to explore areas they are interested in – for example, the environment – they will be more likely to engage with the learning process.”
I believe that getting to know your students and vice versa, is imperative to everyone’s success!
Elementary School Creative Dramatics Class Warm-Ups
Elementary students are so sweet and enjoy just about everything you share with them. One old standby of mine is Wax Museum. Most people know this game, but if not check it out here: Wax Museum
When I Go to California is a terrific game for a smaller to medium size class. The more outlandish the objects the students “take” on their imaginary trip, the better. It goes like this:
Two of the most important skills an actor needs is the ability to concentrate and memorize. This exercise will do just that!
You need an open area to play this. This game takes no materials and that’s always a nice thing, huh?
First, students sit in a circle on the floor. Person A stands and says, “WHEN I GO TO CALFORNIA, I WILL TAKE MY ____” and pantomimes something unusual he would take on a trip. (i.e. an elephant) Person A should make the sound of the object if it makes one. Person A sits again.
Person B stands and says, “When I go to California, I will take my (Person As object) and my________” and pantomimes another unusual object.
The game continues until everyone has a chance to participate. An object can not be copied by another person as their choice for their object. You also may need to help students when they forget objects. (I encourage students to help as well.)
Middle School Drama Class Warm-Ups
I will admit that I enjoy teaching middle school students the most.
Middle School students can be shy or extrovertive. Every class is different, so adjust your expectations according to what you observe right off the bat. When your students enter your classroom, do they appear to be familiar with anyone (make a B line to sit with them), sit at the back or maybe the front of the room?
Nevertheless, middle school students love games of any sort. Usually, I get them up on their feet and run through the Allitertion Name Game (you may know it by a different name). You can read about this game here: Drama Games for the Introvertive Student
This exercise will take atleast 20 minutes. It’s important to take your time and if you find there is a student who can’t come up with an idea for their name, others may help him. Also, I require that students applaud after each person shares their name. Why? Because it establishes that everyone is equal and we appreciate everyone’s talent in the class.
Drama Exercises for the First Week of School
This exercise that will take several days to finish– 3 Things About Me. It goes like this:
You, the teacher, bring in 3 things which are important to you–maybe a family photo, your first doll, a medal for something you entered and won–that sort of thing. Take about 5 minutes to explain the items. Hand out sign up sheet for several days. Students sign up for a particular day. When I assign this, I encourage the students to have at least one really unusual thing to share with the class. That makes it far more interesting. I give participation points–a blanket 10 points.
I’d advise warming up the class each day. This tag is a really good one for day two or three. You can pick up here for free: Firecracker Tag.
Another warm up which is good is the Three Word Improvisation. I would use this on about day five with older middle school students. Go here to pick up this game: Three Word Improvisation
High School Students Theater ClassWarm-Ups
High School students are great to teach, too. I’ve had some amazing high school theater classes. Hopefully, students enrolled in your high school theater class are there because they signed up for the class which is not always the case with middle school students. If the students elected to take your class, then I’d start right in with your lessons.
If your students are new to theater (such as a Theater 101 course) a really great warm up for them (and quite difficult) is Name Volleyball. You can pick it up here: NAME VOLLEYBALL PDF
Or another is Curveball Story
Description: (many thanks to Hoopla.com for this one) This is played in pairs (trios work too). One person makes up a story. As they tell it, the other will call out random words that need to be incorporated into the story. Wait for the last word to be folded in before giving another. (Honestly, I think even elementary students can play this game, but I thought it would be really funny with older students.)
Similar to What If? where the other person says something like “what if it started raining?” “What if you jumped on a boat?” and they incorporate that into the story.
Want a game that can last the entire class period? This is the one! For years, I have used this game which was titled, Hang Man Charades. However, that is an offensive name so I call it Dancing Man Charades. Pick it up here: DANCING MAN CHARADES PDF
My Recommendation for Theater Teachers
Recently, in a teachers Facebook group a drama teacher asked, “Do I really have to do warm ups every class period?”
No, you don’t especially if you think you have their attention. However, warm ups usually help everyone–there are lots of laughs (which for some students is the only time they laugh their entire day), acknowledge a person’s skill that no one was aware that they had (like the shy kid who can tell a heck of a story.) They even help you!
I could be shooting myself in the foot here, but for elementary and middle school students I always recommend Theater Games for the Classroom by Viola Spolin. One of the things I like about this book is the side coaching. Because of this book, I learned to side coach my students which is inordinately vital with elementary and middle schoolers. For high school, pick up her Improvisation for the Theater. Equally as useful and powerful.
What games and exercises do you like to use at the beginning of the school year? I’d love it if you would share them with me? Contact me at DhcBaldwin@gmail.com