Wanted: A Few Good Heroes
(A Play in a Box)
by Kimberly Kenna
, The MY HERO Project
Area: Art/Music, English/Language Arts, Social Science, Other subject
This lesson can be used as a way to engage students in learning by allowing them to experience a deep, personal connection with the curriculum. Its hands-on nature may appeal to those students who have been difficult to reach through traditional teaching methods. By exploring the lives of some well-known heroes, students will then be on the lookout for heroes in their own community. The ultimate goal of this project is to inspire students to look within themselves to find a way to inspire others. Please note that there are many ways to tweak these lessons depending upon the age and abilities of your students. Also, the teacher does NOT have to have a background in theater---I don’t! If you start out small, by the time you’ve used this project a few times your progression of improvement will be obvious. Each time I implemented these lessons, the students exceeded my expectations.
The students will…
- Read (or be read to) picture books about heroes related to the curricular topic
- Explain and discuss the qualities of a hero
- Write (or storyboard) a simple script which is sequential, with a beginning, middle climax/conflict and an ending
- Work cooperatively in pairs or small groups to create and perform a play
- Internet access for teacher and older students
- Picture books about heroes (go to myhero.com for ideas; click on “Features”, then “Library”, select “Children” on the right side of the page under “Categories”)
- Box of “prompts” (to be discussed below)
- Folder for each child’s work
Teacher Prep: Explore the MY HERO website thoroughly. This site can also be a great resource for older children to use independently. Teachers might want to use some of the films on the site as another way of introducing and exploring heroism.
What is a hero? Read and discuss picture books about heroes. Compare and contrast heroes vs. celebrities. Keep a running list of hero attributes generated by the children throughout the project. To reinforce this knowledge, have students make “Wanted: A Few Good Heroes” poster. First explain what a want ad/poster is. Show some examples. Most ads describe the person they’re looking for and tell about the work the applicant would be doing. Then students create their own poster. An example would be to draw a fish holding a placard that says:
Wanted! A few good heroes who will clean up Long Island Sound!
They can be drawn by hand or done in collage format by using magazine cutouts, etc. but they should somehow depict heroic acts and attributes with pictures and words. Younger children can simply draw a hero or heroic event. As they talk about their drawing, the teacher should write the heroic attribute(s) that the child describes on their poster. Hang the posters up and have students observe each one. Discuss the attributes depicted. Are all heroes created equal? Why do we all have different notions about heroism? What things do we all agree the person must do to be considered a hero? Ask the question, “Can you think of a person you know who might be able to apply for the job of hero?” They can write about this in their journals or for homework. There may also be some local heroes who would be willing to come in and talk to your class about their lives.
Must be thoughtful, caring and willing to work long hours. Must also be good at convincing others to do the right thing.
What is the hero’s story? The teacher should model the script writing process with the whole class before they work independently. Choose a short picture book. Older children may enjoy reading some hero stories on the MY HERO website. The content of the website also serves as a reminder that there are all types of heroes---even animals can be heroes! First discuss the setting, both the place and time period. Next discuss the hero. What does he/she need or want? What were his/her challenges? What character in the story helped or hindered the hero in doing what he/she wanted? What was the final result? The sequence of actions should be recorded on a timeline on the board. They can also be put on note cards, and arranged on the floor or pin them to a bulletin board so students can physically manipulate them, trying out various sequences. Then, in thinking about the two characters, create monologues and/or dialogues that go with the events. Before any dialogue is written, have students volunteer to take the parts of the two characters and improvise how they would interact at different points in the story. On the board, model how to write the dialogue in script format. (For younger children, the teacher can record the words for them.) Let the children try acting out the story from the script. Younger children may enjoy using puppets to tell the story.
How can we inform and inspire an audience by telling our own hero story theatrically? Depending upon the abilities of the children, this lesson can be carried out by small groups or pairs of students, or as a whole class. Obviously, with small groups or pairs of children, teacher facilitation is extremely important. Using questioning is more desirable than simply giving the students the words and ideas. This allows the students to really take ownership of their work. To begin, students must choose a hero. If the hero actually exists, then they will develop their script around the facts that they know from their research about the person (historical fiction). If they create an imaginary hero, it might be helpful for them to sketch the character and/or list his/her physical and personality attributes in order to understand the hero’s desires and actions. Next, to get the creative juices flowing, introduce the box of “prompts”. The prompts are the seeds that will be used to cultivate the script. Some examples of things to put in the box would be a compass, a large piece of fabric, a mirror, a hat, a flashlight, a pair of sunglasses, and a fake flower. Once the students have examined the contents, there are a few ways to go. For very young children, the objects could simply be used as props in the play. The items may also give them some ideas about what their story could be about. Older children could use the items as prompts to get the script writing under way. How might any of these items relate to the hero? If it could talk, what might the object say about the hero? For example, if the hero were Ansel Adams, a photographer, whose desire was to preserve and promote national parks, perhaps the flower would thank him. Have the students act out that scenario. Maybe Ansel Adams picks up the fabric and uses it for a blanket for a picnic in the park. I have seen even very young students think metaphorically about the items. While holding the mirror one student said, ”I need to reflect a bit before I make a decision.” At first it may seem difficult to put two things together that don’t really seem to relate to each other. But once they get into it (perhaps with a few examples from the teacher), the ideas begin to flow. These ideas should be recorded and can later be used for developing a story line.
Using the format for script writing in Lesson #2, facilitate the students as they begin to write their original scripts. Before they begin to write they must get approval from the teacher by verbally explaining their story in a sequential manner. Be sure they have included all the main requirements: a setting, a hero with desires/needs, a challenge or conflict the hero faces, a second character who helps or hinders the hero and an ending which shows the result of the hero’s actions. Ask them lots of questions so they’ll generate more details and make the story clearer. Once a first draft is written, have children conference with peers and/or the teacher to get feedback. Finally the script is revised and edited, and copies are made for all participants.
Now it’s time to pick parts and memorize lines. If time permits, students can make decisions about props, costumes, scenery, sound, playbills and publicity. This can be kept as simple or as detailed as you want. The point is to allow the students to show what they’ve learned by depicting it on stage in a way that engages the audience. Their performance will inspire others in the same way that they were inspired by the heroes that they studied.
Dress rehearsal! Film each play and allow the students to watch them and make comments. Did everyone stay in character? Did they speak loudly and clearly? How was the movement on stage? Was the movement essential and well directed or was it distracting to the audience?
Culmination and Closure: The final performance is a day for fun and positive feedback. For the most part, children enjoy showcasing their work for an audience. In class the next day ask your students what went well and what they’d do to improve it next time. Older students could fill out a self-assessment.
A simple rubric can be drawn up and shared with the students at the beginning of this project so they know exactly what is required of them. It also helps them focus on the required items as opposed to spending time on elements that will not be scored.