Bringing Heroes to Life on Stage
by Kimberly Kenna
, The MY HERO Project
Area: Art/Music, English/Language Arts, Social Science, Other subject
Level: 5-8, 9-12
This lesson can be linked to many social studies themes, whether it’s Civil war heroes, ancient Greek heroes, family or community heroes. Students research, take notes about and discuss heroes and heroism. From this knowledge base they will write historical fiction scripts depicting heroes and heroism. Students learn that there are many kinds of heroes, that they existed from the earliest times, and that the notion of a hero is often different depending upon the culture and/or the person portraying the hero. By examining heroes, students become aware of the value of inspiration and legacy, and how they can personally make a difference in their own world. Please note that this project can be compacted into fewer lessons or expanded to include more depth of investigation depending upon the age and interests of your students and your own time constraints.
Note: I do not have a background in theater; I am an elementary school teacher who has a passion for theater. This is a rewarding project for both students and teachers so I encourage you to give it a go even if you have no experience using drama in your classroom! You can start off with simple monologues or dialogues or skits, and then move on to a full-fledged play. Glance at the books and websites listed in the Resources section. Basically, the teacher facilitates the project and the kids carry it out…usually to a level that was quite unexpected!
The student will…
-Use technology to do research
-Take notes, organize them and incorporate them into their scriptwriting
-Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of heroes, both past and present, and how they reflect their culture at the time
-Work cooperatively in a group to brainstorm, write, and edit a script
-Work cooperatively in a group to organize, plan and perform a play
-Understand how sound, music, lighting, props, costumes and movement portray what’s being expressed in the text
Internet access for students and teacher
Picture books, comic books, news articles, photos, artwork and songs about heroes (both well-known and everyday heroes); artwork and photos can be accessed on the MY HERO website
Odds and ends for props, costumes, etc., if desired
Slim notebook /journal with pocket in one cover, one for each student to contain ongoing work
Pre-Activity: Make groupings of students appropriate for their age and ability. I’ve found that 5-7 students make for a manageable grouping. If they have not done much group work before, then it might be necessary to assign jobs to each child such as recorder, discussion director, taskmaster, etc.
Activities & Procedures:
What is a hero? In order for students to understand that heroes can really be quite different from each other, we open the project by allowing them to investigate heroes through a variety of sources. Introduce the MY HERO website (www.myhero.com) and have students watch the films that you’ve chosen. Distribute the MY HERO Film Response Sheet, then discuss as a class who they think is the hero in each film and why they think so. Answers may vary, and that’s a good thing, as students begin to realize that their idea of a hero may not be exactly what someone else thinks. Keep a running list of hero attributes posted on the wall throughout the duration of the project.
Whose hero is more heroic? Bring a collection of picture books, comic books, news articles, songs, photos and artwork that depict heroes or heroism in some way. Be sure to represent different cultures, age groups, etc. Allow students to explore at least three different sources, noting the similarities and differences between the heroes. Distribute the Hero Collection Response Sheet. Have the students pair up and share their responses when done. The last five minutes of class can be devoted to answering the question, ”What must happen in order for someone to be considered a hero?”
Lesson #3 & 4:
How can we adapt a known hero for staging in a historical fiction play? In their small groups, students choose one of the heroes that they’ve learned about in the last two lessons. They will research this person’s life, taking notes in the journals about important events, challenges overcome and contributions he/she made. Using Inspiration (or they can do this by hand), students make a web with their hero in the center. The first “layer” of offshoots should contain this person’s attributes. The next layer should link specific actions, events and challenges in the hero’s life that were enabled due to the attribute in the connecting bubble. The third layer links the hero’s contributions to any of the actions/events/challenges bubbles. In their small groups, students share and explain their webs briefly. Finally, students in each group choose which hero will be the protagonist in their play. Older students may want to include more than one hero and have them interact and approach the problem in their individual ways.
What would a typical day be like for my hero? Based on the factual knowledge the students have collected, they will now extrapolate, by using their imaginations, and envision the hero’s likes and dislikes, hobbies, pets, pet peeves, homes, etc. (May distribute “I know…I imagine…” response sheet) This thought process might be recorded in their journals through drawings, imagined diary entries, or a simple paragraph. The idea is to get students to understand the person fully by imagining details in his/her life based on what they know. Each student will share their hero’s typical day with the class. The student audience should ask questions to allow the presenter to think even more deeply about the hero. It should be emphasized that, while students may be making up parts of the hero’s life, the depiction of that hero is based on fact, and that is the essence of historical fiction.
How might this hero solve a problem in the student’s community, and who might help or hinder him/her? Brainstorm and record problems in the community. These could include, and are not limited to, environmental issues, bullying, feeding the poor, tending to the homeless or the fragmentation of families. Each group chooses a problem that their hero might relate to, and then creates a second character that will assist or undermine the hero’s work to solve the problem. Depending upon age and ability, a student may need help from the teacher in coming up with a second character. Often, just asking the child questions helps them come up with an idea. For instance, if the student has chosen pollution in Long Island Sound as the problem, the teacher might ask about people one might encounter in that area (fishermen, beach goers, local residents, etc.) On a new page in their journals, students should make two columns listing physical traits in one and personality traits in another. Finally they make a Venn diagram comparing the two characters. Note: Older students may want to add more characters. This is fine as long as they develop each one as carefully as they have the others, i.e. really understanding the character’s motives, needs and relationship to the others in the story.
Where does the action take place? Students need to jot down notes about the location of the problem area (i.e. factory, street corner, school yard, shoreline). They should use their senses to give as much detail as possible to the description by recording sights, smells, sounds, touches and tastes, if any. This will help spur on students to think more deeply about how their characters might respond in specific circumstances. Might the smells or sounds of the place effect the characters’ actions?
What are the two characters’ needs and how do they overlap with each other? Glancing back on notes taken about the hero, students record in their journals what they think are the needs of their hero as well as the needs of their imaginary character. The needs of the characters will define the purpose of their actions. Defining the needs will help kids figure out how both characters respond to the problem and to each other. Does one character’s needs infringe upon the other character’s attempts to get what he/she needs? What conflict occurs? How is it all worked out? Students visually record possible plot elements on a timeline in their journals. (Another way to record the main events would be to storyboard them; simple sketches, photos or magazine pictures could all be used sequentially to show the plot.) They should complete this as homework so it can be shared the next day.
Round table discussions: Allow groups to meet in order to discuss any work they did on their own the night before. At this point, they should choose one storyline or combine elements from a few in order to finalize their plot. Pair two groups up with each other so they may share and get feedback from the others about their storyline. Listeners should ask questions about anything they don’t understand. Groups go back to meet and discuss possible changes and additions to their story.
How do we put all of our ideas into script form? One way to help students translate their ideas into dialogue is to have them act out their story ad-lib style. Students portray the two characters as they interact and talk to each other. One student should record what’s being said. The teacher should facilitate the process by asking students questions about the character’s motives, needs and desires. This sort of facilitation gets students to think deeply about their character’s personality; developing the character this way is essential if we want the audience to really understand how and why a hero becomes a hero. The activity can be done a few times until the group feels they’ve got a good start on the dialogue. Once the script is written, they conference with the teacher, revise and edit. The final script should be copied for all group members.
Lesson #11 & 12:
Groups should practice their plays. As the teacher circulates around the room, students should be reminded to speak clearly, stay in character, listen to what the other characters are saying, and to pay attention to their movement on stage. If desired, more lessons can be added to focus on props, scenery, music/sound effects and costumes. Garage Band is a great program for kids to create and record the audio portion of their play.
Dress Rehearsal! Each group performs their play and the teacher films them. Then the groups can watch their performances and critique them. They should make any small adjustments needed and prepare for the final performance.
Performance Day! For the most part, students enjoy showcasing their work for an audience. Teachers, parents and other classes could attend. When students know their work will be observed they tend to work harder on it and become more involved with the whole process. This day is the culmination of their study, and the performances are a way to show what they’ve learned.
The Rubric: Hero Script & Performance should be introduced at the beginning of the project so the students know exactly what they are working toward. It might also be helpful to have students fill out a quick self-assessment reflection as they leave each day; the teacher can make a few quick notes on them to be returned the next day. This becomes especially helpful when the small group work begins and more challenges arise. The self-reflections remind students of where their focus should be.