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CURRICULUM GUIDE

Cambridge Public School Drama Collaborative CPS Department of Drama and Dance


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Playwriting in the classroom: resources

 

Theater games to develop playwriting skills

Character worksheet

Playwriting tips a handout

Assessment rubric

 

THEATER GAMES

These games are designed to help young playwrights learn to develop characters, plot and conflict.

False Autobiographies

Instruct students to think of a fictitious name, family, personal history, work life, cultural heritage, dreams and goals, etc. They can change gender, age, race, anything. Ask them to make the character as different from their real life as they can, but also make it credible. Details students should include are:

How old are you?

Where do you live?

What is a typical day like for you?

What do you usually wear?

What is your nickname?

What are your favorite foods, sports, music?

Do you have any pets?

What makes you happy?

Who are your best friends?

What are you afraid of?

Have students invent a short monologue (a simple paragraph of three to four sentences) about their fictitious character. Older children can write the monologue; younger ones can say it outloud or draw a picture of their invented character.

In a circle, have each student present their monologue using "I." Have them include at least one thing that is really true about themselves. Have the other students try to guess what's true and what's fiction. This is a good way to talk about characters as dramatic inventions that have very real and human traits.

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Collaborative writing

Divide students into pairs. Write a first line to a scene on the top of a blank sheet of paper for each pair. Make sure the first line is an "inciting" line - In other words, any line that implies a conflict. Examples of inciting first lines would be:

Where are you going with that?

She's not who she says she is.

Stop, thief!

Don't lie to me.

This first line is attributed to "A." "B" then responds on paper, gives the sheet back to "A" and "A" writes a reply, and so on. This exercise should be done silently. The resulting dialogue will have an spontaneity and dramatic reality that planned writing does not have.

When explaining this exercise, ask students to refrain from name-calling, one-word answers, and contrariness. The students are working together to craft a scene, they are not in competition with each other.

To build:

Instead of one line each, "A" writes an impassioned letter to "B" asking for something he or she desperately needs. "B" writes a letter back, denying it. "A" responds, "B" answers until "A" has made such a strong case that "B" agrees. This exercise usually produces very good dramatic writing because the stakes are high and the speeches are longer than one or two sentences. It's also a good way to make the point that on stage, every single word counts.

To build thematically:

If you want your students to explore a particular part of a curriculum, you can direct their explorations by providing specific details. Give students WHO and WHAT, then ask them to use either technique listed above to write dialogue.

Here are some possible WHO/WHAT combinations for an immigration curriculum:

WHO: An African slave and an Irish laborer

WHAT: Aboard a large ship bound for Boston, the Irish laborer confides his dreams of riches to an enslaved African prince in the bunk next to him.

WHO: Korean brothers

WHAT: The younger brother has just arrived in America ready to work at his older brother's restaurant so that he can send money home to support his family; when he arrives he learns the restaurant has gone out of business and his brother is unemployed.

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Circle stories

This is a good warm-up to writing. Have students sit in a circle. One person starts a story, and stops it at a crucial point. The next person picks up there and continues for a few sentences, again stopping at a critical point. The story continues all the way around the circle. The more you do this, the better it gets.

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Character Worksheet

To develop a character it is important to think through some details and "background" of the character. This worksheet can be helpful to students trying to invent a character for either playwriting or acting purposes.

You are: (name of character)

How old are you?

Where do you live?

How would you describe yourself?

How would you describe your family?

What do you love to do?

Who or what bugs you the most?

What about yourself are you proudest of?

How would you like to be remembered?

What frightens you?

What do you want more than anything?

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PLAYWRITING TIPS

 

A Word on Playwriting

A play is not a story told from a distance, but your characters' interactions and thoughts in a specific moment in time. In playwriting, there are usually no quick cuts, collages, and leaps in time--that's film.

Getting Started: Be Specific

  • Write about what interests you
  • Write about what you know
  • Have a reason for writing the play - something you want to say, think about or explore

 

Four Simple Steps

 

1. Decide what your play will be about

2. Make an outline of the action

3. Write short descriptions of your characters

4. Think up a great ending - know where you're going 

Five Ways to Get Started

1. Start from a single line

2. Start from imagining a specific setting at a specific time

3. Start from a particular relationship between characters

4. Write with someone else - collaborate

5. Find inspiration in literature, stories of your friends, your own life, a song, a problem, something you read about in the newspaper

Ten Things to Remember

 

1. Character speech should be interesting, not everyday ordinary speech. Make sure each character has a distinct voice - you should be able to "hear" each character

2. Your characters all need interesting actions: plays are about action, not people standing around talking

3. There must be growth in your characters over the course of the play: what have they learned, how have they changed, how has the plot affected them?

4. Your play needs a conflict: is there a compelling problem?

5. Every single scene should add new information about the plot or characters, and each scene should build on the one that came before.

6. Keep ahead of the reader. Don't let them figure out your ending before you get there.

7. If the reader/audience can see it, don't say it.

8. Give yourself enough time to write the play: many plays end too quickly because the author ran out of time

9. Never use a stage direction when you should have a scene - your story needs to be told through the events and actions of the scenes

10. Be original: don't do something you've already seen (on TV or in the movies)

 

A Note on Stage Directions:

Stage directions describe important actions, such as the actor spills coffee when he's about to lie. They don't tell the story - and they're not used for background info. Your story must be told through the events and actions of the scene. Be careful not to use a stage direction when you need a scene

EXAMPLE: Beth and Mark argue in the car. Beth leaves.

This should be a scene. Beth and Mark's argument needs to be written as dialogue. The reader should be able to tell from what you write that Beth is leaving.

Save stage directions for changes of scene, entrances and exits, and to explain things that you see on stage during the real play that the reader wouldn't know from the dialogue, such as "she does a cartwheel."

 

A Note on Narrators:

If you're relying on a narrator, there's a very good chance you're not writing a play, but a short story in play form. Don't be fooled. In a play, the events are revealed through character dialogue and action. Using a narrator takes that away.

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Playwriting Rubric

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AWESOME
GOOD
MISSES


CHARACTER

  • Characters are clearly defined
  • Characters develop over the course of the play
  • Characters have conflicts & desires
  • Characters have plenty of interesting actions
  • Characters are true to life, or true to their own reality
4-5 of 5
2-3 of 5
1 of 5


PLOT

  • Has a central conflict
  • Has fully developed scenes
  • Has a beginning, middle and end
  • Keeps ahead of the reader
  • Has momentum
  • Has suspense, surprise or plot complication
  • Includes scenes of varying emotional tone
6-7 of 7
4-5 of 7
1-3 of 7


LANGUAGE

  • Has proper syntax, spelling, sentence structure
  • Language and vocabulary are more interesting and meaningful than daily life
2 of 2
1 of 2
0


ORIGINALITY/CREATIVITY

  • Idea is original (not related to TV, movies)
  • Characters or plot are/is original
  • Adds an idea to the world
  • Is emotionally engaging
  • Is entertaining
  • Is inspiring
4-6 of 6
1-3 of 6
0

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Curriculum developed by the Department of Drama and Dance, Cambridge Public School teachers and Studebaker Theater artists involved with the Cambridge Public School Drama Collaborative, a project funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency. CPSDC is a multi-year teacher training program that helps teachers integrate drama into the curriculum.