Posts Tagged TeachersPayTeachers

New Plays and Product Updates

Click on the cover to preview at TpTTeachersPayTeachers has grown immensely over the last decade. Back when I first started using it as a secondary market for my plays, products could be pretty simple. In fact, most were in black and white. These days there are a bazillion teacher-marketers selling product, so competition has become pretty fierce. Consequently, I’m constantly trying to update my Read Aloud Play packages and post new ones. Thanks to a couple of snow days here in southern Oregon, I was recently able to revamp several products. I’ve added comprehension activities, teacher notes, and answer keys to The Monkey’s Paw, W.W. Jacobs’ fabulous masterpiece about three wishes, The Birthmark, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wickedly wonderful “mad scientist” story, and Cyclops, from Homer’s Odyssey. These three plays are perfect for introducing middle-schoolers to the otherwise difficult original stories. Whether you use the play before or after, student engagement and comprehension skyrocket when you pair the original with a play. But they’re also engaging stories for fourth and fifth graders to read and act aloud. (What could be better than your 5th grade Cyclops eating a bunch of 4th grade Greeks?) All three of these plays originally appeared in Scholastic classroom magazines, so they’ve been “vetted” by Scholastic’s professional editors. Add to that the new comprehension activities and they’re a fantastic deal.

I’ve also updated The Secret Soldier, which has previously appeared in both Scope and Storyworks. It’s the true story of Deborah Samson, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Military. Samson disguised herself as a man to enlist in the militia near the end of the American Revolution, was twice seriously wounded, and even performed surgery on herself to avoid being found out. It’s a must-have for any Revolution unit study. Like the other updated plays, it now comes with the additional support material—as do my other plays from the era. Be sure to check out Betsy Ross: Fact or Fiction, Two Plays from the American Revolution, and my newest product, So You Want to Be President. This last one is another “Two for One” pack. It comes with two of my favorite plays from my 2003 Scholastic title, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America, which is no longer in print. Both plays cover the history of the presidency and the character traits necessary to serve successfully. Given today’s political climate, they’re important additions to your history and reading curriculum, but they’re also a lot of fun to read and enact.

Finally, MLK Day and Black History Month are already upon us. If you haven’t yet read my earlier post about my Civil Rights and African-American history plays, be sure to scroll down and take a look.

Happy directing!

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Please Don’t Be a Troll

Most-excellent illustration by J. TaliaferroOne of my favorite scenes in literature is in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Three bumbling trolls capture Bilbo and then argue about how to cook him. The trolls, which have the ridiculous names of Bert, Tom, and Bill, remind me of a trio of Julia Childs. It’s a silly scene in stark contrast to the grisly Trolls found elsewhere in the novel. I actually like these trolls. Most trolls, though, are nasty creatures who take unholy pleasure in dismembering other living things. They don’t exist in the real world . . . that is, except on the Internet.

Trolls, I’m told, is the term used to describe people who leave unjustly harsh reviews online. They hide behind the anonymity of their gravatar to dismember people with low ratings, negative reviews, and nasty comments. They seem to take pleasure in it. Typically, the bad reviews are undeserved, but even when they are warranted, trolls tend to go overboard with their attack. If you’re a blogger, or if you sell products online, or even if you’ve just posted a few comments on forums, you may have encountered a few trolls. I ran into one the other day and I’m still reeling from it. Drafting this post is perhaps my therapy.

In my case, a person purchased my read aloud play, Ebenezer Scrooge from TeachersPayTeachers. Apparently it wasn’t to his liking so he hammered me with a low rating and a snarky comment about finding a “freebie” on Google that was better. I initially replied with an equally-snarky answer: “And Happy Holidays to you, too. I hope you learn a little something from Scrooge.” But responses like that seem to empower trolls to even greater heights of hatred, so I deleted it and instead pointed out that TpT products have free previews. Buyers can download the preview before purchasing and thereby make sure the product meets their need. Conceivably, given TpT’s preview feature, a product should never receive a negative review. If a buyer hasn’t bothered to take a look at the preview or read the description, he or she doesn’t really have a basis for complaint. It’s especially true when it comes to artistic endeavors. A negative review isn’t justified simply because you don’t like the work. There are a lot of authors, artists, directors, and musicians whose work does not appeal to me, but that’s the nature of art. Matters of personal taste do not warrant bad reviews.

I recall another troll who downloaded a copy of my modernized Tell-Tale Heart script, Penelope Ann Poe’s Amazing Cell Phone, and then had the gall to complain that it was “too weird.” Of course it’s weird. It’s Poe! Had she bothered to read the description or download the preview, she would have seen that it was weird before “wasting” her money. I suspect most TpT users saw the two stars she gave my product and realized she was rating her own intelligence level, or at the very least her own diligence. Trolls, like the bunglers in The Hobbit, are easy to spot.

I ended up telling the Scrooge Troll that Scholastic had valued my script enough to publish it not once, but three times, rewarding me handsomely each time. In fact, since Storyworks originally publishing it in 1998, Scholastic has commissioned me to write nearly fifty classroom plays. The editors at Scope, Storyworks, Scholastic News, and other divisions of the world’s biggest children’s publishers apparently think my work is pretty darn good. So take that Mr. Troll.

So, if you’re shopping on TpT, whether on my storefront or someone else’s, don’t be a troll. Take the time to read the descriptions and check out the previews before placing an order. That way you won’t be surprised or disappointed. Certainly, if you download one of my Read Aloud Plays and have an issue with it, just shoot me an e-mail. I’ll find some way to make it right.

And if you’ve been victimized by a troll, take heart! When the cloak of darkness—their anonymity—is removed, they merely turn to stone. Just like Bill, Tom, and Bert.

Happy directing!

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High Stakes Testing Leads to High Blood Pressure

The Birthmark scope cover pageThis time last year I admitted to a high degree of frustration when it comes to standardized testing. It drives my blood pressure up when fifth grader after fifth grader gets pulled out of class to either test or get remedial instruction. Rarely (if ever) do I have my full group. It makes for some dysfunctional lessons requiring the reteaching of material to kids who were already struggling to grasp material from previous missed sessions. Still, as my Admin is fond of saying, “testing is the reality in which we live.” Embrace it or die (at least that’s how I translate it). And with the Smarter-Balance test hitting the streets next year, it’s evident this testing craze isn’t going away anytime soon (can’t wait to hear from parents when their kids go home and say they flunked the ‘smarter test’).

Well, I’m happy to say my current students have once again done just fine on state standardized tests, especially in reading where nearly all either met standards or growth targets and average fluency scores soared. Why mention it here? Because I long ago abandoned traditional text books and instead built my reading program around read aloud plays. Along with chapter books and content reading (primarily history content from Storyworks magazine), read aloud plays are the mainstay of my instruction. Not only do they build fluency and provide the framework to teach comprehension skills, they also increase the love of reading.

While some of my colleagues look at the new Common Core Standards with trepidation, I’m confident my young thespians will continue to thrive. As always, I’m already mapping out another year of plays. You can see my tentative plans below, and if you’d care to jump on the reader’s theater bandwagon, you’ll find all of the titles (and many more) either on my TpT Storefront, in one of my books^, or coming soon via this website*.

I’ll close with one warning: using read aloud plays to improve test scores means more than just handing out scripts and inviting kids to read. To see the nuts and bolts of how it’s done, download my free article, Why Use Drama?

September–Introductory: Rikki Tikki Tavi^, Peter Rabbit, Argument at Mount Rushmore^

October—Just for Halloween: Penelope Ann Poe’s Amazing Cell Phone, The Tell-Tale Heart^, Cyclops v Odysseus

November/December–Holidays: Ebenezer Scrooge*, Gabriel Grub*, The Necklace^

January–American Revolution: The Secret Soldier*, The Legend of Betsy Ross^, Eagles Over the Battlefield^

February–Slavery & Civil War: Spies & Rebels, Freedom for the First Time, Box Brown’s Freedom Crate

March/April–Civil Rights: How Jackie Saved the World, Selma to Montgomery: Let it Shine*, I Have a Dream: The Childhood of MLK^

May—Just for Fun: A Piece of String*, Ransom for Red Chief*, The Nose^

All right, I’ll close (for real this time) with the fine print: Using Read Aloud Plays won’t stop your classroom instruction from being interrupted by standardized testing. Nor will it prevent your blood pressure from soaring due to the same. But done right, read aloud plays will have a positive impact on your reading test scores.

Happy directing!

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