Eight Benefits for Students When Reading Plays
As a child, I loved to read. However, I had one bad habit– reading the end of the book far before I’d read the rest of the book. My mother called it shameful at the time. I admit, I still imbibe in this activity from time to time. Not with plays, however. I’m proud to say that never have I ever read the end of the play ahead of time. Never. Today I want to talk about the eight benefits for students when reading plays.
As educators, we constantly seek fresh and unique ways to engage our students and foster a genuine love for learning. While traditional reading materials hold their place, have you ever considered the profound impact of introducing plays into your curriculum? Beyond the spotlight and stage, the world of plays offers a wealth of opportunities for students to explore, learn, and grow. In this post, let’s delve into why incorporating plays into your teaching toolkit can be a game-changer.
#1 Spark Empathy and Understanding by Reading Plays
Perhaps one of the most important reasons to read plays is the swift speed a playwright‘s uses to engage the audience right from the first word. Consequently, the play immediately piques our interest. Let’s admit something here. Our students want everything fast, because the world has become so quick moving thanks to technology. No one wants to be patient or wait around for anything. Everyone, especially our students, want a quick fix.
Unlike reading novels, the old adage that “you should read the number of pages equal to your age before you decide if you enjoy the story or not” doesn’t hold true here. Plays must get to the point early on in the production or else the audience will make a quick exit for the theater door. Consequently, most plays are under 150 pages. They hold your attention to the end, because playwrights want the audience to be enthralled through curtain call. Check out my post about The Most Important Play I’ve Directed in My 38 Year Career.
Usually, narration is kept to a minimum. In most plays, if deftly written, the characters can narrate the story through their lines. Every character in a play has a unique story to tell, emotions to share, and challenges to overcome. When students step into the shoes of these characters through reading, they cultivate empathy and gain insights into different perspectives. This newfound empathy transcends the classroom, nurturing a more compassionate and understanding generation. When someone demonstrates how a person feels at a particular moment in a story, they visualize the moment playing out right in front of them. That is powerful.
#2 Nurturing Critical Thinkers
Plays are intricate puzzles waiting to be unraveled. The layers of dialogue, symbolism, and character development offer an intellectual banquet for students. Even our youngest students can read a play and pick out the elements of literature--setting, conflict, plot and character, etc. Encourage them to dissect the text, identify underlying themes, and analyze character motivations. This process hones critical thinking skills that extend far beyond the realm of literature.
Language Proficiency Beyond the Ordinary
Plays are a linguistic treasure trove, showcasing diverse forms of language from various eras and cultures. By exposing students to the rich tapestry of language found in plays, you’re fostering students to build a versatile vocabulary. Through the acquisition of new words and expressions students’ hone their communication skills which better equips them to communicate their thoughts and feelings.
#3 Plays and Time Travel through Text
History books offer facts; plays transport students back in time. Through the lens of playwrights’ words, students can experience different time periods, cultures, and societal norms. This immersive experience makes history come alive, encouraging students to appreciate the nuances of different eras. Plays have been written about many historical moments in history, science, art, music and so forth. After 911, there were several plays written from the viewpoint of the firemen who survived the tragedy. One is The Guys. The Guys tells a story about a New York City journalist who helps a local fire captain write memorial speeches for his men who died in the World Trade Center crisis bowed starring Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray in January 2002.
#4 Reading Plays Provokes Dynamic Class Discussions
The themes explored in plays are the stuff of thought-provoking conversations. From social issues to questions about morality, plays provide a perfect platform for discussing complex topics. By reading a play, students can articulate their opinions, learn from diverse viewpoints, and develop the art of respectful discourse. For example, The Laramie Project play is set in and around Laramie, Wyoming, in the aftermath of the murder of twenty-one -year-old Matthew Shepard. The Laramie Project is known for its powerful portrayal of the complexities of a community’s response to a hate crime, and it has been widely performed and studied to shed light on issues related to LGBTQ+ rights, hate crimes, and social justice.
#5 Play Reading Bridges Generations
Incorporating both classic and contemporary plays bridges the literary gap between generations. Students connect with the enduring themes of the past while appreciating the evolving narratives of the present. She Stoops to Conquer was written in 1773 and is just as relevant today as when it was first produced. The overriding theme of She Stoops to Conquer is how reality is often distorted by social status. Sound familiar?
A recent column in Esquire magazine states, “Sometimes the Truly Rich lose their bearings about how money works for other people. While they have that joyful privilege of viewing money through the filter of what it can do for them, other people see cash as that wad of paper that can get them through the next two weeks.” In She Stoops To Conquer, a rigid English social system effectively encourages people to be someone other than who they really are.
She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy of manners that explores social class, one’s place in society, both socially and economically, and its importance in 18th century England. The characters and their conceptions of these absurd societal rules lead them on a humorous journey in their relationships, by exposing our students to plays which are nearly 250 years old, students learn to appreciate the continuity of human thought and storytelling across time.
#6 Students Skills for Life’s Journey
When students engage with plays, they acquire skills that are essential beyond graduation. The ability to analyze, interpret, and empathize with different perspectives equips them to thrive in diverse environments. They become lifelong learners who approach challenges with a multidimensional outlook.
#7 Cultivating Creativity
The act of reading plays demands visualization – imagining characters, scenes, and emotions. A good example of this is the play War Horse. The horse puppet that represents Joey is operated by three puppeteers each night: one at the head, one at the heart, and one at the hind. But this is no ordinary panto horse: when at full flight, the 30-kilogram, life-sized contraption is an imposing force, galloping across the stage. The scenes of Joey fighting in war are magnificent! This visualization of a living breathing horse demands of us to use our creativity thereby encouraging students to actively participate in crafting the narrative in their minds. They become co-creators of the story, enriching their imaginative capacities. If you are looking for a lesson concerning The War Horse play, check out: War Horse Resource
#8 Transformative Journey Through Reading Plays
I cannot stress enough that incorporating plays into your curriculum is not just about reading; it’s about opening doors to creativity, empathy, critical thinking, and cultural awareness. By introducing students to the world of plays, you’re guiding them on a transformative journey that goes beyond textbooks. You’re instilling a lifelong appreciation for literature, broadening their horizons, and empowering them to embrace the complexities of the world with confidence. I bet you’ll discover more of your students will become involved in their school play productions after they’ve read a few. They are a perfect bridge. Have your students read any radio theater plays? Check out these blog posts for reasons to read them. Creative Dramatics Lesson Plans: Nine Reasons to Teach Radio Theater or Top Reasons Teachers Succeed When Teaching With Radio Theater
Let’s embrace the world of plays and witness the magic unfold within our classrooms. Your students’ journey into the realm of drama might just be the most enlightening adventure they embark upon.
What plays have your students read? I’d love to hear from you about them. Let’s chat! Contact me at DhcBaldwin@gmail.com