Fun, Simple, and Sustainable!

Technology has it benefits, but sometimes I wish I could go back to teaching the way it was when there were blackboards, 35 mm film projectors, and life-threatening playground structures. Ah, simpler times! Wasn’t all this new-fangled technology supposed to make things simpler? You’re probably thinking that in many ways it has and in other ways it’s made thing massively over-complicated. Whatever the case, it reminds me that all the products I post on TpT, I’ve created out of a need for materials that are a.) kid-centric (I want my students to love being in my class); b.) easy-to-use (I don’t want to wade through a massive teacher’s edition to figure out how to do something); and c.) sustainable (I want regular routines that won’t keep me up at night). Simple. With all that in mind, here are a few items you’ll want right from day one of the new school year.

Fact Car Rally Race. Mastery of the math facts is the foundation of all things math, so a program that keeps kids focused on truly memorizing their tables is essential. In Fact Car Rally, students create their race cars during the first week of school and spend the year progressing around the race route as they pass fact quizzes—addition and subtraction for youngers, multiplication and division for olders. “Way better than Rocket Math,” say kids and teachers alike!

Super Sentences & Perfect Paragraphs. No need for expensive textbooks, software licenses, or complicated teacher editions! Everything you need for an entire year’s writing program is right here in one, easy-to-use and engaging package. Try out a free sample by clicking here, and if you like it, snag Volume 1 from Scholastic Teaching Resources (it’s cheap), or my new Vol. 2, which will be available on TpT soon.

EZSubPlans. Be prepared for that emergency absence by prepping your plans now, before you’re desperate. It’s easy with EZSubPlans—just click, print, and relax! There are sets for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, but they’re largely interchangeable. In fact, I use all four sets at fifth grade, meaning I’m already covered for up to eight emergency absences. Eight!

Why Use Drama? My free reader’s theater primer outlines ways to make Read Aloud Plays work for you. Take a look, and then download a couple especially fun plays to break the back-to-school ice such as Peter Rabbit, Two Plays from The American Revolution, and Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth.

Have a great school year and—Happy Directing!

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Burned Out?

Folks have been pestering me about why I haven’t released any new plays lately. Like you, I’m a practicing classroom teacher, and when the school year came to an end I wasn’t much more than a mass of vibrating pulp in the corner of my room. Think mealworm pupa. That’s how exhausted I was.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a wonderful class, exciting year-end activities, and a supportive admin. It was one of my best years ever! Yet there I lay for a full week, drooling. Was I burned out, or merely lightly chewed and regurgitated? Upon finally waking from my stupor I stumbled upon a nifty post about teacher stress. It appears on a UK blog called TeacherToolkit. It quotes Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin from her book First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success. To paraphrase Dr. Rankin, there are six big factors that lead to burnout. In evaluating my own stress, I’ve assigned points from 0 to 5 for each.

1.) The overwhelming workload. The job is never-ending. There is always something more to be done and no matter how hard you work, something important gets left behind. Every day. Every week. Every year. I’m just hopeful I didn’t leave one of my fifth graders behind at outdoor ed. Stress points: 5, though I admit a lot of my work tasks were self-imposed. Because teachers tend to be highly motivated, I suspect that’s true for many of you.

2.) The unrelenting school day. Dr. Rankin mentions “poorly vetted resources” here. I take that to mean lousy textbook programs your school district paid thousands of dollars to shove at you. The backrooms and closets of my school building are crammed with them. My best advice comes from a veteran teacher way back in 1998. “Sure I’m using the adopted curriculum. It’s right there holding up that shelf.” These days I’m fortunate because I’m allowed—even encouraged—to use alternative resources such as Storyworks magazine, all my reader’s theater scripts, and programs such as Super Sentences & Perfect Paragraphs. For this last bit, I’ve recently re-acquired the rights from Scholastic and plan on offering a variety of revamped versions of it on TpT. But I think the unrelenting stress to which Dr. Rankin refers is really about being “on” all day, about the constant stimulation, about being pulled in too many directions, about not having enough time to go to the bathroom, let alone plan your next unit. I know I was feeling that stress as the year concluded. Stress points: 3.

3.) Oh the tedium! See item #2 and make a ditto of my snarky comments about textbooks, but add in a few more about commercial curricula, and then consider trying out some of my plays and programs. Stress points: 0. Academic freedom is bliss.

4.) Student behavior (or lack thereof). They’re calling it “Disrupted Learning,” or something like that, and it seems to be getting worse. Some experts are suggesting video game addiction is behind it, and if so, one wonders if schools contributing to it with all the additional screen time given to computer-based learning. Stress points: 3. I had a particularly lovely group this year, but behavior management is always a stress.

5.) The pointy-haired man (see Dilbert, Chapter 1). A bad administrator can destroy the school climate in a hurry. I’m fortunate to have one that facilitates a healthful culture. Stress points: 0. I’m lucky.

6.) Disrespect (from parents, the media, Betsy DeVos, et al.). In most years I’d give this a 5, but I feel like the pendulum is swinging back in our favor. From my distant view, it seemed like the public was largely supportive of educators during the strikes in Oklahoma, Arizona, and elsewhere. Although politicians continue to tout test scores and privatization, because the public is starting to acknowledge our stress, I’m only going to assign this 3 points.

So what’s my total: 14 (out of 30 possible). I guess I’m only 47% burned out. Not too shabby given the nature of the job, but I think I’m going to check out Dr. Rankin’s book anyway. If your score is up there, perhaps you should too. Until then, allow me to close with three push-backs against the stress:

X. Tell it like it is. When people make sometime-snarky comments about you being on “vacation,” boldly remind them that this is summer furlough, NOT summer vacation. Like most teachers, you’ve been laid off for a couple months. You’re not getting paid. You’re on a 200 day (+/-) contract and it ended. In fact, you probably only get one paid vacation day off per year, and unlike most professionals, you DON’T get to take it whenever you want. That’s why you’ve never seen the fall colors of New England, the Pendleton Round-up, or a decent price on a plane ticket. (I really don’t think saying this will help combat stress, but in the long run it might lower your stress score for item #6.)

Y. Get involved in your union. I’m not a fan of all my union’s policies and positions, but the NEA and AFT are the only organizations fighting against privatization of public schools. Your state-level union is probably the only organization protecting your retirement or working for adequate school funding. And your local association is probably the only thing standing between you and working conditions guaranteed to burn you out.

Z. Enjoy your summer furlough. Imagine how high your stress score would be if you didn’t have the summer months to recover! Me, I’d still be drooling in the corner. Instead, I’m busy working on some new reader’s theater products…which I hope you’ll come back and check out this fall.

Happy directing!

And the Oscar for Best Comedic Performance Goes to…

Yup, the last weeks of the school year can be rough. The end is near, and the kids (and teachers) all know it. What to do? Well, this time of year is a great time to let your students funnel all that extra energy and excitement into some dramatic roles. There’s no reason to assess anything. You can take your hands off the reins, let the kids direct, and just sit back and enjoy their giggles, forgotten lines, and silly grins.

Here are six play scripts that’ll keep your kids engaged until the very end (and there are dozens more at my TpT storefront):
Fly Me to the Moon Reader's Theater Script Jackie Robinson Reader's Theater Script Cyclops reader's theater scriptFly Me to the Moon re-enacts the Apollo moon landing including such famous lines as “The Eagle has landed” and “One small step….” The story is told from the perspective of a young girl who dreams of the stars while following the event via television—itself a feat of innovation. In my classroom, we made an old-fashioned television set out of a cardboard box (complete with tin foil rabbit ears) and stuck a kid inside it to play Walter Cronkite. It’s not a comedy—in fact, it’s a historically-accurate bit of drama—but it’ll have everyone laughing while simultaneously learning a bit of history.

It’s baseball season! Jackie Robinson’s contribution to the civil rights struggle is profound, but why read about it in a text book? In this play, vendor at a modern day Yankee’s game interact with the audience, telling Jackie’s story while hawking hot dogs and flinging bags of peanuts (I like to use real bags). It’s another important bit of history told in a fun way.

There’s a monster and kids get eaten. What could be better? Cyclops: The Monster in the Cave depicts Homer’s classic in all its vomitous glory. Your students will have a blast with this one.

Peter Rabbit reader's theater The Newsies reader's theater script Poe reader's theater script Over the years, few plays have rivaled my Peter Rabbit adaption for gut busting guffaws. It’s not necessarily supposed to be that way, but fifth graders have a natural aptitude for slapstick. These days, thanks to the motion picture, your kids may want to make some adaptions of their own. Should be a kick!

The Newsies tells the story of a young immigrant girl who goes to work selling newspapers just before the 1899 New York City newsboy strike in which kids stood up to millionaire publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. In this play, kids get to talk in a heavy Bronx dialect, stage a protest, and throw newspapers over the side of the Brooklyn Bridge! Sounds jus’ like da end a da school year, don’t it?

Penelope Ann Poe’s Amazing Cell Phone is a modernized version of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” In this version, the protagonist is driven to madness by her best friend’s annoying cell phone. After smashing it to smithereens, she hides it in the depths of her desks only to later be driven to confess by the phone’s perturbing and inexplicable ringtone. It’s my best-selling play, but not everyone has liked it. “Too Weird,” said one reviewer. Well of course it is, it’s Poe! And that makes it ideal for the chaos of late May and early June!

Happy directing!

Celebrate Our Unsung Heroes

Click on the cover to preview or purchaseIn case you weren’t aware, March was Women’s History Month. Celebrating the contributions of women to history, though, needn’t be limited to a single month. Nor should it be limited to the same handful of heroines we’re all familiar with. In fact, given that the heroic actions of women often went unnoticed or unrecorded, one wonders how many sacrifices we’ve never heard about.

One heroine who was nearly forgotten by history is Sybil Ludington. Sixteen-year-old Sybil is credited with riding 40 miles on horseback to muster the militia when the British invaded Danbury, Connecticut, in 1777. Her story, which had been passed down within her family for nearly 100 years, wasn’t recorded until 1880. My play about Sybil gives students an impression of the perils of living in the American colonies at a time when neighbors–some Patriots and others Tories–might be violently opposed to one another. It speaks directly to issues of equality and gives students plenty to discuss in the way of character traits such as determination, independence, and work ethic.

The play was originally published in the Sept. 2015 issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine. It was so well received that it was reprinted a year or so later in Storyworks. It’s now available for the first time on TpT, so I invite you to check it out. I also want to encourage you to pair it with my other plays from the Revolutionary War, including The Secret Soldier and Betsy Ross: Fact or Fiction, both which examine the contributions of women.

From Sheyann Webb to Christa McAuliffe, from Molly Pitcher to the recently deceased Linda Brown, the impact of heroic women on American history has been profound. Let’s celebrate that year ’round!

Happy directing.

Watch the Movie. Stage the Play!

See the movie. Stage the play.Take advantage of high student interest in the Peter Rabbit movie by enacting my read aloud play script, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. It includes the play script, the original text in an easy-to-read short story format geared toward intermediate and middle-grade students, and several comprehension activities—seventeen pages in all.
Peter Rabbit was the first play I submitted to Storyworks. Though for various reasons it never made it into print, it led to my now twenty-year relationship with Scholastic. One reason it didn’t see the pages of the magazine is that the Peter Rabbit story tends to be “aged-down.” But I can attest, every fifth grade class I’ve ever had has loved enacting this play, and now that it’s hit mainstream movie screens, there’s no question your 3rd-6th grade students will love it too!
The reviews for the Peter Rabbit film are mixed—as if that’s anything to be surprised about. But elementary and early middle school students are attending and enjoying it. Grab their attention while it’s hot and download the Peter Rabbit play today!

Reader’s Theater for Presidents’ Day

Click on the cover to preview or purchaseHere are two plays in one package with which to celebrate and teach about Presidents’ Day. The first, President’s Day Dream, lets your actors portray several well-known presidents from history as a current “student” day dreams about becoming president herself. She, of course, sees only the glamour of the job, while presidents such as William Howard Taft tell her about the hard work, the constant criticism, and the tough decisions. The play gives students an intimate look at the personalities of each president while showing your kids “what it takes to be a good one.”

Argument at Mount Rushmore, meanwhile, imagines the four faces on the monument can actually talk. They celebrate their accomplishments while revealing their own distinct personalities: the stoic Washington, the underappreciated Jefferson, and the wise-cracking Lincoln contrast the bravado of a bullish Roosevelt. A great line in the play comes when Roosevelt says to Lincoln, “We’d have made a great tag team, Abe!” It’s a fun play to read and enact. Both plays provide students with some historical background about the presidency and democracy, and both come with standards-based comprehension activities and support material–a perfect fit for your Presidents’ Day instruction. Both plays originally appeared in my book, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America (2003, Scholastic). Visit my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers to preview or purchase.

Happy directing!

Try These for Black History Month

February is Black History Month! In addition to all the MLK plays featured in my last post, here’s more great reader’s theater that’ll make your black history curriculum stay with your students for years to come. Like nearly all my plays, these scripts have been previously published in places such as Scholastic News and Storyworks, so they’ve been professionally vetted to meet the highest standards. They also come with comprehension activities that are designed to be straight-forward and easy to use. And because I use all these plays and activities in my own classroom, they’ve been kid-tested. To preview or purchase, just click on a cover and you’ll be taken to my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers.

Claudette Colvin Twice Toward Justice PlayBlack History Reader's TheaterBox Brown's Freedom Crate

The Girl Who Got Arrested tells the story of Claudette Colvin, the first person to be arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery city bus. Claudette was a teenager at the time and was deemed “unfit” to represent the Civil Rights cause, which makes her story that much more compelling. Pair the play with Philip Hoose’s book Twice Toward Justice for even greater engagement. The Library Card, meanwhile, can be paired with original text from Richard Wright’s autobiography Black Boy (for mature students) or the picture book entitled Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller (younger students). The right to possess a library card helps depict the value of reading. Box Brown’s Freedom Crate tells the true story of Henry “Box” Brown, the slave who mailed himself to freedom inside a wooden crate. This is particularly fun to enact on stage (see my post “Why You Need a Cardboard Box for Black History Month“).

Jackie Robinson reader's theater scriptCivil War reader's theaterClick on the cover to preview on TpT!

My Jackie Robinson play is another especially fun play to enact on stage. It features a peanut vendor and a hot dog man narrating the story from the audience as they sell their imaginary snacks at a Yankees game. And don’t underestimate the significance of Jackie’s struggle to the Civil Right Movement. The sports world has historically set the tone for progress when it comes to social justice. Freedom for the First Time is about the end of the Civil War, the “Day of Jubilee,” when slaves knew freedom for the first time. I consider it my most beautiful play. Finally, Spies & Rebels does not include any African-American characters, yet it’s depiction of Pinkerton agents working to save Lincoln is a nice compliment to your African-American Month curriculum.

Be sure too to peruse my numerous original scripts about MLK, as well as all my plays at ReadAloudPlays.com and my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers.

Happy directing!

Great Reader’s Theater for Martin Luther King Day

Whether for RT or stage performance, here are half-a-dozen kid-friendly scripts to ramp up your MLK Day celebrations and Black History Month curriculum. To preview or purchase, just click on a cover and you’ll be taken to my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers.

Martin Luther King Jr. reader's theaterMontgomery Bus Boycott reader's theaterSelma to Montgomery March reader's theaterAll my plays are carefully researched and fact-checked, providing accurate representations of the historic events themselves. Martin’s Big Dream was originally published in Storyworks under the title, “I Have a Dream.” It comes directly from MLK’s own writing and depicts an incident from his childhood that helped set him on the path as a champion civil rights. In the Jailhouse with Dr. King views the Montgomery Bus Boycott through the eyes of a troubled teen, culminating in a historic moment in front of King’s own home. Gonna Let it Shine tells Sheyann Webb’s true story of courage during the Selma “Bloody Sunday” events. Just eight years old at the time, Sheyann was known as King’s “youngest crusader.” All of these stories are fun to stage and offer poignant conclusions your kids will be talking about long after MLK Day has passed.

I Have a Dream Readers TheaterMartin Luther King readers theater Here are three more compelling titles. Like all my plays, they come with detailed teaching notes and comprehension activities. Sitting Down for Dr. King looks at the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-ins from the perspective of a ten year old white boy. When the sit-ins interfere with David’s celebration, he’s faced with a tough decision. MLK’s Freedom March comes from the viewpoint of a working class family who overcome challenges to attend the March on Washington where King delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech. And We Shall Overcome, my best-selling MLK script, offers a creative look at the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Kids enjoy posing as a television crew to narrate this one, but like the bulk of my plays, the perspective is that of a child similar in age to your students. It also embeds protest songs from the Civil Rights Crusade.

MLK Plays Free Preview PackReaders Theater Teaching TipsFree Stage Acting Hacks mini posterBecause nearly all my titles were originally published in Scholastic classroom magazines, they’ve been vetted by professional editors and are designed to meet the latest standards. Still not sure? Download my FREE MLK Preview Pack. It provides a detailed look at each of four African-American History plays including the first few pages of each and a glimpse of the accompanying comprehension activities. Also download my FREE guide to teaching with RT, which provides tips and ideas as well as the brain science behind using drama to teach reading. Finally, my mini-poster, 5 Stage Acting Hacks for Kids, will help keep your students focused on some of the more important elements of performing. It’s also free.

Explore ReadAloudPlays.com for More

That’s right, I have a ton of other professionally-published read aloud plays for the elementary and middle school classroom.Start by taking a gander at my collections: Classic Short Story Plays such The Monkey’s Paw, Black History Plays such as Box Brown’s Freedom Crate, and American History Plays such as The Secret Soldier. They’re all available at ReadAloudPlays.com or at my storefront on TeachersPayTeachers.

Thanks, and Happy Directing!

Free Reader’s Theater Teaching Tips

My class of fifth graders recently staged a nifty trio of plays. Eric paced about the dais as the insanely villainous narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart, Jacqueline put on her best 1930’s gangster dialect, performing the roll of safe-cracking Jimmy Valentine in A Retrieved Reformation, and Emilee engaged us with a delightful French accent in The Necklace. Though staging these plays can be hard work for the teacher, the rewards are gargantuan. A few carefully-selected props—a cardboard safe for the gangster play, for example—help turn the plays into memorable performances, but over the twenty-plus years of doing this stuff, I’ve come to the conclusion that for young actors, there are five areas of greatest importance.

Projection: I’m not a believer in microphones. Instead, I want students to “fling” their voice into the audience, to “almost yell” their lines—and by way of example, I admit to myself doing a lot of shouting to help get them there.

Attention: Students often get lost in the performance, becoming spectators instead of performers. My best performers pay attention to the script so they come in on cue. We repeat whole scenes over and over again until performers recognize their cues without thinking.

Characterization: Memorable performances come from actors who use dialect, accents, and inflection to put personality into their parts. Jacky’s gangster dialect, Emiliee’s French accent—they brought their plays to life!

Enunciation: I’m painfully aware of my own tendency to mumble—especially when in a rush—and I bet you’ll agree your many of your students have the same issue. Instead, we want our kids to slow down and speak crisply. This flies in the face of so-called “fluency standards” in which success is measured by words per minute, so you might have to do some “unteaching” to get your kids to enunciate properly on stage.

Direction: My kiddos think it’s funny when I say, “No one wants to see your rear end!” But said often enough, it does the trick, getting kids facing the audience, a critical element when acting.

To help teachers turn kids into good actors and even better readers, I’ve put together a little poster called “5 Stage Acting Hacks for Kids.” It’s available for free on my TeachersPayTeachers site. If you like mnemonic devices, it uses the “PACED” acronym to help students remember the five elements “of a well-paced play.” You can print it as an 8 ½ by 11 handout in color or a low-ink versions, or you can enlarge version #3 by 154% to create an 11×17 mini-poster.

Happy directing!

How to Swipe a Free Play Part 2

Veterans' Day Reader's TheaterA few weeks ago I blogged tongue-in-cheek about swiping reader’s theater scripts through nefarious means, so I thought I’d follow it up with a legitimate opportunity to grab some free reader’s theater while simultaneously honoring America’s veterans. I’ve repackaged my play “War Stories,” which originally appeared in my now out-of-print book, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America, and am presenting it free from now until Veterans’ Day on November 11th. It comes with a set of comprehension activities and full reproduction rights, which means the original downloader can copy a full class set for use in his or her classroom every year. It’s an engaging way to reveal to your students the real meaning of the holiday. Happy directing!