Primary drama - Sound the fury

5th December 2008 at 00:00
Acting out a book gives so much more meaning, say Josie Clark, Lynsey Cassidy and Anna Elia

Why not use a vividly illustrated children's story as the basis for one or more drama lessons? Our group of three drama teachers has devised three lessons based on The Paradise Garden by Colin Thompson for team- teaching a group of Year 5 and 6 pupils at Longford Park Primary School in Coventry as part of our postgraduate degree at the University of Warwick.

The story describes the physical and psychological journey made by a young boy called Peter as he moves from the hustle and stress of his home life in the city to the peace and contentment he finds in an exotic garden (based on Kew Gardens in southwest London).

Telling the story through drama enables pupils, working in groups, to explore sounds, ideas and their own school environment and promotes their creativity and interpersonal skills. As one Year 5 pupil says: "It is not just about learning, it is actually learning in a fun way."

In the first lesson, we introduce pupils to Peter and take them on a journey through his mind: a PowerPoint slideshow of six jumbled-up images from the first picture in the book, with frenetic music mirroring the intensity and chaos in his head.

We organise pupils into groups of five and ask each to reconstruct the six jumbled up images to represent the sentence: "The noise is driving Peter crazy." They select five sounds from the completed picture and express each one through voice and movement, eventually creating a whole-class "sound collage".

We ask pupils who or what might be the cause of the chaos and confusion in Peter's head. A further staging of the sound collage is interrupted by a teacher in the role as Peter entering and shouting: "Stop".

In a monologue, Peter hints at the monsters within his nightmares and pupils play them - parents, friends, neighbours and teachers - to illustrate his childhood.

In the second lesson, we tell pupils they are about to embark on a trail to a special place far away from the noise and stresses explored in the previous session. Using a combination of signs, images, objects and carpeted floor tiles, we lay a trail leading them to the drama classroom. As they enter the performance space, they hear relaxing music and see PowerPoint images of a waterfall and the garden.

In the third and final session, the class is divided in two and each half is encouraged to consider reasons for or against Peter leaving the paradise garden. Pupils are shown two contrasting headlines based on Peter's return home. One suggests a more positive outcome than the other.

Back in two groups, they create an improvisation that explores what happens to Peter once reunited with his family.

We find that this project not only gives new life to our teaching but also boosts children's involvement and understanding. "Instead of just reading the story by ourselves, the drama made the sounds and emotions clearer," says one Year 5 pupil

Colin Thompson's The Paradise Garden is available in hardback, published by Jonathan Cape, price Pounds 9.99.

Josie Clark is a teaching and learning consultant for drama at Grace Academy in Coventry. Lynsey Cassidy is a GTP (trainee) drama teacher at Foxford School and Community Arts College in Coventry and Anna Elia is a primary school teacher in Cyprus.

This project was part of their research as students on the MA course in Drama and Theatre in Education at the University of Warwick.

Full details of the three lesson plans, with timings, can be obtained from J.S.Clark@warwick.ac.uk.

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