Getting dramatic with elementary curriculum
Everyone who has seen A Christmas Story knows Ralphie Parker has a specific item he wants for Christmas.
But, what if he didn’t get it?
What if the gift he opened on Christmas Day was something else? How would Ralphie — or any child — react?
Westmount elementary teacher Katherine Richard gave that assignment to her Grades 4/5 class last month, with the directions they were to mime the entire episode, from picking up the box to setting it down to opening it and reacting.
From those actions — a la the classic game of Charades — the other students were to guess what the gift was.
Richard said she ensured the students knew they had to use actions that made it fairly easy for the students — and some of the skits included finding a puppy to pet and a hockey helmet to put on and fasten.
The inspiration for the exercise was a study guide created for A Christmas Story, Western Canada Theatre’s holiday-season production, and, in particular, a suggested assignment based on Ralphie receiving a bunny-suit pyjama set rather than the BB gun he wanted.
Jennifer Jones creates the guides and, as a teacher, she said she tries to overlap the various components with existing school curriculum.
For example, the guide she did for Where the Blood Mixes, a story of First Nations residential schools and redemption, Jones had units that could be used in English, history, social justice, theatre-production and drama classes at various grade levels.
Richard liked the guide for A Christmas Story because there were many ways to use it to deal with educating her students about bullying.
For The Importance of Being Earnest, which opens at Sagebrush Theatre on Thursday, Jan. 24, one of the units Jones has included in the guide deals with what British society was like in the late 1800s, the time period in which Oscar Wilde set his satirical farce.
Another unit uses suitcases — a key element in the Wilde play at one point.
Jones said she approaches each guide with the viewpoint of what she as a teacher would find beneficial for teachers and appropriate for various age levels.
Some plays aren’t suitable for younger grades and the guides are geared toward older students.
Others — each WCT season has at least a couple of family-friendly productions — are written with an eye to the younger demographic.
Teachers who register to take their students to production matinees are sent the guides, said WCT education co-ordinator Terri Runnalls, although the guides are also posted online.
They go to principals and to teachers who have attended matinees in the past as a way of enticing them back, Runnalls said.
It’s all part of a strong focus on education and the role of the theatre in schools, she said, something Richard agreed has taken on a new life with the arrival of artistic director Daryl Cloran in 2010.
“Since Daryl has come on, he has turned that theatre around to be more proactive with kids,” Richard said. “And, I just don’t understand why more teachers don’t take their kids to them. They’re not expensive.”
School matinee tickets are $7 each.
The program is popular, Runnalls said, particularly any production geared toward younger children.
Matinees of the family-friendly plays are always sold out and, last year, with the addition of Where the Wild Things Are — brought in specifically to help introduce young children to the theatre — 10 matinees were scheduled and each also sold out.
Richard took her class to one of them, although she thought the Maurice Sendak story might be too juvenile for them.
“They absolutely loved it,” she said.
“It was interactive and they got right into it.”
And, the teacher said, you never really know how great the impact of seeing a play might be on a student.
She’s seen it, she said.
In her first year at Westmount, teaching a Grades 6/7 class, she took her students to one of the plays.
One girl in particular who Richard described as animated and fascinated with voices had never seen a live production before.
“She saw it and she saw something that affected her and, now, that girl wants to go into drama.”