Posts Tagged Nathaniel Hawthorne

What’s Your Fatal Flaw?

Click on the cover to preview or purchase!In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic short story, The Birth-mark, the main character becomes obsessed with his beautiful wife’s one and only imperfection and ends up killing her in his attempt to remove it.

It’s a story about love, science, and perfection. It includes a mad scientist, a beautiful maiden, a bloody heart, an Igor-like lab assistant, secret potions, and fatal flaws. Kids love to enact it, and because it includes numerous literary devices that make for engaging discussions or fluid written responses, it’s a great way to teach to the Common Core.

Aylmer (the mad scientist), appears to be the main character, but is he really the protagonist or the antagonist? Both Aylmer and his beautiful wife (the victim) are dynamic characters. They both change significantly. How?  What does Aylmer’s nightmare, in which he removes Georgiana’s heart, foreshadow?  The play includes a character, James, who doesn’t appear in the original story. Why is he included and how does it impact point of view? Toss in the elements of setting, mood, imagery, and irony, and you have a made-to-order Common-Core-meeting reading activity.

I’ve been told by some that they just don’t have time to work “skits” or “drama” into their classroom; adherence to core reading, writing, and math leaves no room for fun stuff like Read Aloud Plays. But I protest! Drama is core reading. Read Aloud Plays, including such classics as The Birth-mark, The Monkey’s Paw, A Retrieved Reformation, and many others on my site, are a perfect way to teach to the CCSs. And now it’s even easier. Click here to download a FREE activity sheet. It addresses Literature: Key Ideas and Details, and can be used with any of my Read Aloud Plays from the classic short stories series.

Happy Directing!

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Act-Aloud Plays

Cyclops: The Monster in the Cave“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.

Happy directing!

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Your Happy Place

The Birthmark scope cover pageAfter announcing the approach of my first grandchild via Facebook, I received a message from a former student thanking me for the year she spent in my class a decade ago. “Samantha” told me how the only happy moments of her childhood were in my classroom. Although I’m proud that I was able to provide her with a safe, nurturing environment, I’m saddened I hadn’t done more to make her life less chaotic. Whatever the case, it has prompted me to ponder what makes a classroom “happy.” Certainly there’s the nurturing that all good teachers provide their kids, loving them despite their flaws, considering their interests when writing lesson plans, being accessible, consistent, and safely predictable.  But in my classroom I’ve also concluded that Read Aloud Plays has something to do with it.  I know this because my students always seem to be happiest when we’re working on a play, and former students always seem to mention a play when reflecting on their time with me.

My current students recently performed my adaption of Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark.” It appears in the Jan. 14th issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine. Like nearly all the plays I craft for Scholastic, my students performed it in advance of publication. Judging by the always-awesome Scope cover, you wouldn’t think it a “happy” play at all, but it had the kids giggling and gaffawing like mad. It’s simultaneously romantic and ghoulish, giving them the chance to express a wide variety of emotions. Why, how often does your average fifth grade boy get to get on one knee and profess his love to a classmate?  How often does your second-language learner get to stuff a pillow in his shirt and pretend to be a hunchback Boris Karloff?

Textbooks, standardized tests, and leveled readers may perhaps be worthwhile academic tools, but they’re not in themselves able to contribute toward that happy place Samantha remembers. If you haven’t tried using Read Aloud Plays, now is a great time to start. Although The Birthmark won’t be available on my website until next year, I have dozens of others–all written with the student in mind.  Black History Month titles such as Box Brown’s Freedom Crate, Sitting Down for Dr. King, and How Jackie Changed the World are consistently ranked as favorites with the kids.  Give ‘em a try and help create that happy place students will write to you about.

Happy directing!

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