A soap opera, BC style

27th June 2008 at 01:00
Presenting lessons as a series of cliffhangers will keep everybody hooked, says Jo Morrell
Presenting lessons as a series of cliffhangers will keep everybody hooked, says Jo Morrell

Ages 7-8

The audience is on the edge of their seats waiting for the outcome of the story: a mother must fight for her newborn twins and risk certain death, or condemn them to slaughter while saving her own life. You may be forgiven for thinking that you have stumbled into the middle of a Hollywood storyline, but this is a Year 4 history lesson. The mother was the priestess Rhea Silvia and her twins were Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome.

It's a challenge covering the national curriculum objectives for key stage 2 history, English speaking and listening, and drama criteria 3 and 4 in a single series of lessons, but it is possible - even when enacted in a hall, with few resources and mixed-ability Year 4 pupils.

Starting with the most dramatic dilemma and asking pupils their opinions can be a great hook. Set up a "conscience alley" (two rows of pupils facing each other, representing opposite opinions) and ask, in character as the mother, for the pupils arguments for and against giving up the babies. Meanwhile, you walk down the "alley" listening to their opposing viewpoints.

After setting up the dilemma, I plunge into the story, getting the pupils to act out what they think will happen through role play. Only then should the whole story and connections to Romulus and Remus be outlined, just as the pupils are hanging on for the ending. Their work can go in an endless number of directions:

- Use still images and narration to "tell" the story as a whole, with a focus on vocal and physical storytelling.

- Role play reactions based on the uncle finding out the twins have not been handed over.

- Use thought and speech-tracking with several of the characters at certain points in the story to hear their thoughts and focus on emotions.

- Focus on how to build arguments realistically - for example, when the twins argue over who will rule the new city.

- Use the "angel and devil" technique when Remus is deciding whether to jump over the wall, by getting pupils to verbalise the good and bad sides of his conscience.

- Use role play and soundscaping (when a mass of sound is created by pupils to create atmosphere) to recreate the storm and Romulus' disappearance. Organise a thought circle to hear the Roman people's reactions.

By using a whole host of well-known drama games that are close cousins to popular Roman games, such as tig and keeper of the keys (known as "jar" in Roman times and possibly closer to our blind man's buff), history really can be brought to life right before your eyes

Jo Morrell is a drama teacher and primary link worker at Fulwood High School in Preston, Lancashire

You can do it too

- Focusing on the human and personal elements in history can provide a connection for distant events.

- Drama can be done in a limited space and with limited resources. All that I used for this scheme was a storyboard of Romulus and Remus and a classroomhall space.

- Start with the most exciting and human angle you can find in history lessons.

- Drama techniques are useful tools in structuring any lesson. For a quick reference guide visit: http:dramaresource.com index.phpDrama-Techniques

- Structuring Drama Work by Jonothan Neelands and Tony Goode (Cambridge University Press, 2000) helps teachers plan drama lessons using dramatic techniques.

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