Posts Tagged Mackowiecki
When most people think about Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, they land on Miss Havisham and her creepy old mansion full of spider webs, or on the adult Pip’s aspirations for greatness, or on his unrequieted love for Estella. But what I like best about the novel are those chapters focusing on Pip as a child. Maybe it has something to do with why I’m an elementary school teacher, or maybe it’s because there’s something Roald Dahl-like about Pip (no doubt Dahl was heavily inspired by Dickens), or maybe it’s just the marvelous way Dickens penned young Pip’s encounter with the escaped convict (How terrifying for a little kid—and an orphan, too—to encounter such a “wretched varmint,” and in a graveyard yet!). Whatever the case, I’ve long wanted to craft a play focusing on those early chapters of Great Expectations and am very pleased to introduce it here.
“Pip & The Prisoner” is an original script based on the first five chapters of the Dickens’ masterpiece. The script endeavors to introduce the main character, Pip, in such a way as to motivate students to want to read the full novel (presumably when assigned to them in high school), but whether Great Expectations is in one’s curriculum or not, I think you’ll find “Pip & the Prisoner” to be a lovely stand-alone bit of literature. It’s aimed at 6th through 8th graders, but could potentially be used with students in other grades (I intend to use it with my 5th graders). The story is full of irony, anxiety, and engaging dialect as Dickens successfully captures Pip’s innocence and fears while weaving in marvelously subtle humor. The play seeks to capitalize on that humor.
Great Expectations, incidentally, was published in 1860 in Dickens’ own weekly periodical, All Year Round. Because it was published serially—or one exciting section at a time—it reminds many readers of a modern soap opera, or perhaps a binge-worthy television series with a ton of twists, turns, and suspenseful cliffhangers.
The 20-minute play includes parts for ten students and numerous non-speaking “soldiers.” It was written with the stage in mind, but it can also be presented as reader’s theater or a pod-casted radio drama. The script comes with embedded discussion prompts, a standards-based comprehension and essay writing activity, teacher’s notes, answer key, and a printable of the novel’s first five chapters for easy comparing and contrasting.
Consider pairing with my other Dickens’ plays including “Gabriel Grub” and “A Christmas Carol.” Though it isn’t indicated in the play, the story take place on Christmas Eve, so all three plays could be presented as a holiday event.
As part of its Black History Month celebration, Scholastic publishers is offering my most oft-published play for free. I Have a Dream shows how experiences during Martin’s childhood prepared him for the day he’d deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s included in my book, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America, but you can download it in PDF simply by clicking here (the download link is near the bottom of the page). Scholastic’s site even includes questioning strategies, and best of all, there are no strings! It’s completely free. If you enjoy “I Have a Dream,” be sure to check out my other Civil Rights plays including Sitting Down for Dr. King, We Shall Overcome, and MLK’s Freedom March.
Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America, Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories, and Super Sentences & Perfect Paragraphs, are all 50% off through August 7th at Scholastic Teacher Express. Simply use the promo code Birthday50 at Checkout to get a great deal on these titles.
Symbols features ten American history plays about important symbols, events, and holidays from American History. It includes the plays Betsy Ross: Fact or Fiction and I Have a Dream: The Childhood of Martin Luther King, both originally published in Storyworks magazine. Unless you have back issues of Storyworks stashed in your classroom cabinets, Symbols is the only source for these plays.
Classic Short Stories includes eight classic short stories re-imagined for the intermediate and middle school classrooms. Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow, Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, and Kipling’s Rikki Tikki Tavi, will delight your students while helping them build fluency, extend comprehension, and meet the CCSs.
Finally, Super Sentences and Perfect Paragraphs is a complete writing program in a small package. Ever get overwhelmed by these monstrous writing programs text book companies sell your school district? They come with multiple binders, a ton of packaging, and half-a-dozen supplementary boxes of largely useless junk? Ever notice how you’re never able to wade through the muck to develop a systematic, effective, easy-to-use, daily writing program? Well, chuck the text book junk and give Super Sentences a try. It includes daily, weekly, and quarterly writing activities all in one 96 page reproducible book. And it’s half-off this week at Scholastic Teacher Express! Just click on a title to go directly to Teacher Express to preview or purchase. Don’t forget that promo code: Birthday50.
“Johnny” has a big personality. Though it sometimes gets him in trouble, it translates well to the stage. While playing Polythemus in my play, Cyclops: The Monster in the Cave, he takes a swig of an imaginary potion, vomits, staggers pathetically, and then falls to the ground. It mesmerizes the crowd. The play’s a hit.
But there’s more behind the play’s success than just Johnny’s big personality. Because I’m both a teacher and a playwright, I write my plays while imagining my students acting them out. As a result, they’re not just read-aloud plays, they’re act-aloud plays. Like many of you, I’ve run across plays that are clogged with excessive narration (“too much exposition,” as the say on Broadway) or made confusing by multiple settings within the same scene. Know that I endeavor to create plays that avoid these traits. While narration is necessary given the format prescribed by my publishers, I try to keep it to a minimum, or I find creative ways to deliver it. For example, the character of James in The Birthmark is simultaneously telling his story to the audience while talking to the other characters in the play. The Snakecharmers in Rikki Tikki Tavi, are designed to be mystical figures (I imagine them with flute in hand). And Adult Tyree from Freedom for the First Time retains all the local color (and southern dialect) of her childhood counterpart, the central figure of the story. Another reason my plays are created with the stage in mind is because I believe that the repetition of practicing for an actual performance is what builds reading fluency and drives student buy-in. Kids love performing, and they’ll read and re-read their scripts over and over again if it leads up to a performance. Try asking a kid to read a story out of the Houghton-Mifflin text thirty times. See where that gets you.
Using read aloud plays simply as good reading material is just fine, but their greatest value, especially for kids like Johnny, is as act-aloud plays. And speaking of fund plays to act out, I’ve just posted three new ones. All three were published in Scholastic’s Scope magazine last school year.
The Birthmark is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic short story about imperfection. It pits science against nature and includes a wonderful “mad scientist” scene, complete with an Igor-esque lab assistant. Cyclops, from Homer’s Odyssey, will excite all your students who’ve gotten into the Percy Jackson books. It mixes the original Greek mythology with some kid-friendly humor that will have your students giggling. Mine sure did. Finally, The Secret Soldier tells the true story of Deborah Samson, who disguised herself as a man and joined Washington’s Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. It’ll be a great addition to your Early American unit. Help your “Johnny” find success with act-aloud plays. Visit readaloudplays.com or my store at TeachersPayTeachers to preview or purchase dozens of compelling plays.
Like many of us here near the end of the school year, exhaustion has just about got the best of me. The wide-variety of year-end responsibilities and activities coupled with the cumulative day-to-day stress of the job itself has become a bit overwhelming. It has me looking for some fun but easy lessons to wrap up the last few weeks of school. It got me thinking that I’d like to share with my students some Little Rascals episodes, so I went looking for them on YouTube. If you’re not familiar with the Little Rascals, it’s the depression-era film shorts featuring the antics of impoverished kids such as Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, and Stymie (and a mule named Algebra). I grew up watching “Spanky and Our Gang” on Channel 42 out of San Francisco—beamed to my home in Oregon via the relatively new innovation called cable-tv.
Sure enough, YouTube has a wide variety of clips, and as I watched a few my wife suggested that my love for kids and my destiny to become a teacher may have roots in the Little Rascals. The more I think about this, the more I believe it. There’s no doubt I admired the ingenuity and resiliency displayed by these kids. There were rarely any adults on the show. The kids had to solve complex problems and overcome difficulties without the assistance, guidance, or even supervision of grown-ups. I think this “can-do” attitude has helped me forge my way through life. And there’s no doubt I enjoyed the innocence and sweetness of all these kids. Yes, I think “Our Gang” had a profound impact on my career choices, as well as my penchant for using plays in class.
I have particularly strong recollections of the Our Gang “Follies,” in which the kids built a make-shift theater in a barn and staged a vaudeville show. Although these were not among my favorite episodes, I’m certain they influenced my teaching. In 1998, when I built a stage inside my classroom, I sewed together a heap of scrap fabric to make curtains that, not surprisingly, looked a lot like those that parted for Alfalfa’s performance of “I’m in the Mood for Love” or Darla’s tap and baton-twirling routine. I’m still using those curtains today, and I think about the Little Rascals every time I put them up for a play.
I intend on ending the year with an algebra lesson (that is, a segment of Little Rascals featuring Algebra the Mule), but another good activity with which to fill these last days of schools is reader’s theater. I believe read aloud plays are most beneficial when they’re read repetitively, when kids read and re-read the same text over and over again as they practice for an eventual performance. However, this time of year, there’s nothing wrong with giving kids a set of scripts and letting them wing it. Give them a session or two to utilize their “Spanky-esque Can Do Attitude” and then watch the follies unfold. To help you along, here’s a free PDF of my play based on O.Henry’s depression-era story, A Retrieved Reformation, but you should also try Peter Rabbit, Penelope Ann Poe’s Amazing Cell Phone, A Tell-Tale Heart, and Fly Me to the Moon, all of which are available on my TeachersPayTeachers page, as well as The Nose, Rikki Tikki Tavi, and The Open Window, from my book: Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories. Finally, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America contains Argument at Mount Rushmore, As American as Apple Pie, and Eagles Over the Battlefield, each of which make for fun, impromptu entertainment that beats a real algebra lesson any day.
If you’ve never heard one of your students attempt a southern accent you must give Box Brown’s Freedom Crate a whirl this February during Black History Month. Ever since I wrote it for Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine back 1999, Box Brown has always been a favorite among my students. Consequently my class learns and performs it almost every year. Even if you’re teaching in the Southern U.S.—where the dialect might not be so unique—there remain many compelling reasons to teach with this play.
Box Brown’s Freedom Crate is based on The Autobiography of Henry “Box” Brown. Henry was the slave who mailed himself to the North inside a wooden crate and lived—just barely—to tell the world about it. Why do kids like this play so much? The Deep South dialect of slaves and slave bosses is certainly one reason. So too is the large cardboard box we use as the main prop. It’s painted to look like an old-fashioned shipping crate and is just big enough for a moderately-sized fifth grader to climb inside. The student playing Henry disappears within it during Scene 4 and then discreetly exits while the curtains are closed. From there he appears to get battered as the box is tossed from wagon to train to steamer until it finally gets cracked open at the Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia. Henry then rises from his coffin only to quickly swoon away from exhaustion and dehydration. This is of course a dramatic moment in Henry’s true story, and one kids don’t soon forget.
There are sound academic reasons to enact plays such as Box Brown’s Freedom Crate. For example, because kids are willing to read and reread their lines over and over again, Read Aloud Plays build reading fluency. The brain science behind this repetition suggests it actually forms the neural pathways that make reading possible. Read Aloud Plays are easily leveled and they provide the exposure to drama the new Common Core Standards demand. They also allow students to experience history “first hand,” which helps them to relate to people like Henry, to understand some of the heartache and suffering Henry might have felt. …Plus there’s still that whole southern accent thing.
Visit my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers to download a free preview of Box Brown or one of my other Black History plays. I’ve used every one in my own classroom, and because most have been previously published in Scholastic classroom magazines, you can rest-assured they’re of the highest quality.
Box Brown’s Freedom Crate is suitable for 4th-8th graders and includes parts for from ten to twenty students depending on your needs. Hear Box Brown being performed by students by clicking on the “podcasts” tab, and to get the most out of your reader’s theater, be sure to download my free article entitled “Why Use Drama?” Happy directing!
Mack’s new play based on the life of Revolutionary War soldier Deborah Sampson appears in the November/December 2012 issue of Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine. History recognizes Sampson as being the first female to serve the country as a soldier–though she had to disguise herself as a man and go by the name Robert Shurtliff to make it possible. “The Secret Soldier” is a true story, but Deborah’s life is far from being easy to map. Regardless of which account one believes, there’s no doubting Deborah served in the U.S. military, was wounded, and eventually received a military pension. To find out more about Deborah, visit archive.org or DistinguisedWomen.com. You can also get a sneak peak of the Storyworks play by clicking here. Follow instructions on the website to become a subscriber, which gets you access to a wide variety of accompanying comprehension activities and Smartboard lessons.