New Plays and Product Updates

Click on the cover to preview at TpTTeachersPayTeachers has grown immensely over the last decade. Back when I first started using it as a secondary market for my plays, products could be pretty simple. In fact, most were in black and white. These days there are a bazillion teacher-marketers selling product, so competition has become pretty fierce. Consequently, I’m constantly trying to update my Read Aloud Play packages and post new ones. Thanks to a couple of snow days here in southern Oregon, I was recently able to revamp several products. I’ve added comprehension activities, teacher notes, and answer keys to The Monkey’s Paw, W.W. Jacobs’ fabulous masterpiece about three wishes, The Birthmark, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wickedly wonderful “mad scientist” story, and Cyclops, from Homer’s Odyssey. These three plays are perfect for introducing middle-schoolers to the otherwise difficult original stories. Whether you use the play before or after, student engagement and comprehension skyrocket when you pair the original with a play. But they’re also engaging stories for fourth and fifth graders to read and act aloud. (What could be better than your 5th grade Cyclops eating a bunch of 4th grade Greeks?) All three of these plays originally appeared in Scholastic classroom magazines, so they’ve been “vetted” by Scholastic’s professional editors. Add to that the new comprehension activities and they’re a fantastic deal.

I’ve also updated The Secret Soldier, which has previously appeared in both Scope and Storyworks. It’s the true story of Deborah Samson, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Military. Samson disguised herself as a man to enlist in the militia near the end of the American Revolution, was twice seriously wounded, and even performed surgery on herself to avoid being found out. It’s a must-have for any Revolution unit study. Like the other updated plays, it now comes with the additional support material—as do my other plays from the era. Be sure to check out Betsy Ross: Fact or Fiction, Two Plays from the American Revolution, and my newest product, So You Want to Be President. This last one is another “Two for One” pack. It comes with two of my favorite plays from my 2003 Scholastic title, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America, which is no longer in print. Both plays cover the history of the presidency and the character traits necessary to serve successfully. Given today’s political climate, they’re important additions to your history and reading curriculum, but they’re also a lot of fun to read and enact.

Finally, MLK Day and Black History Month are already upon us. If you haven’t yet read my earlier post about my Civil Rights and African-American history plays, be sure to scroll down and take a look.

Happy directing!

Girl. Fighter. Hero.

Sybil Cover_ScopeWomen soldiers? It’s not so unusual in 2015, but back in the 18th century, the very idea would have drawn guffaws from even the most liberal-minded colonist. “A ridiculous notion,” one patriot leader was known to have said. And yet, History provides numerous examples of women performing acts of heroism throughout the American Revolution itself. Lydia Darragh, for example, is considered one of America’s first spies. Then there’s Deborah Sampson. She disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Continental Army under the name Robert Shurtliff. Twice wounded, she performed surgery on herself to avoid detection. Another heroin was Sybil Ludington, the 16-year-old girl who rode forty miles on horseback through the Hudson Highlands (on a stormy night, no less!) to muster the militia in defense of Danbury. She’s known as “The Female Paul Revere,” and according to Martha Lamb’s 1880 “The History of the City of New York,” George Washington himself personally thanked her for her stalwart effort. Her story is captured in my latest play, “Girl, Fighter, Hero,” which appears in the November/December issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine. Although it’s available exclusively to Scope subscribers, you can still get it by clicking here.

Whether you use Sybil’s story or not, a kick-in-the-pants way to get kids excited about your American Revolution unit is to build it around a trio of Read Aloud Plays. Start with a FREE download of “Betsy Ross: Fact or Fiction.” It first appeared in Storyworks back in 1999, and then in my book, Symbols of America. It challenges students to examine the facts associated with the first U.S. flag and draw their own conclusions. It’s FREE on my TpT storefront until November 1st. Free. I’m convinced you’ll love it and want to then grab “The Secret Soldier,” a historically-accurate depiction of America’s first female fighter, and “Eagles Over the Battlefield,” a dramatic yet subtly humorous play about how the eagle came to be an American symbol (as opposed to the turkey, the turkey vulture, and the groundhog). Eagles, by the way, is part of a BOGO deal with “A Bell for the Statehouse,” which relives that infamous crack in The Liberty Bell.Cyclops Cover_SW

As with all my plays, these were all carefully-researched, fact-checked by Scholastic editors, and best of all, kid-tested by my own students.

One added note this week is that my play “Cyclops: The Monster in the Cave,” is making an encore appearance, this time in Storyworks. It’s been freshly revised by editor-extraordinaire Lauren Tarshis (author of the I Survived series). Check out the new artwork by Sebastia Serra, too! If you’re not yet a Storyworks subscriber, you should be, but you can also grab the original version of Cyclops off my website.

Happy directing!

Letter Grades: Who Needs em?

The Bellringer (PD-1776)How do you grade a play?

I read an article recently about the merits of “gradelessness” in the classroom. It suggested that the assigning of letter grades to children is neither healthy nor effective. The premise works like this: if “Rafael” works hard on a writing task and shows progress compared to previous work, yet still lacks certain skills, will giving him a C-minus motivate him to improve? Or, is it better if we applaud Rafael for his effort and growth, show him where he did well, and give him specific things to work on? In other words, can a teacher forsake grades while still raising standards and providing effective evaluation?

Yes, and Read Aloud Plays provides an exceptional medium to do exactly that.

Plays provide an avenue to teach your students how to give and receive constructive feedback. Here’s how: Lead your students to define appropriate standards before you begin a play, post those standards, and consistently revisit them as you rehearse.

During practices, ask your students, “What are we doing well?” and “What do we need to work on?” “Maureen spoke with character and personality,” might be a comment you’ll hear. “Paulie lost her spot; she needs to follow along better,” is another.

Early in the year, teach your students to say, “Some of us…” as in “Some of us need to practice more at home so we’re better prepared.” As the year progresses, graduate to more specific statements such as “Charles, you have a really pleasant voice, but you need to speak up more so we can all hear it.” By using this approach, students will be not only be able to provide valuable feedback to their peers, they’ll also synthesize evaluative factors which they will naturally apply to their own performance, all without the negative emotional charge of a grade. As students become proficient at providing constructive criticism, consider applying it to other subject matter as well, such as writing, art, and presentations.

There may be perfectly good reasons to assign grades under some circumstances. You may also be faced with mandates requiring grades, but even in those cases, by teaching students to give and receive feedback, you can de-emphasize the grade and focus instead on developing the given skill through constructive criticism.

Revolution Cover 700x894These days when trolls roam the internet slamming people and businesses with nasty and often unjustified reviews, it’s especially important for students to learn the ethics of giving constructive criticism.

Whatever the case, as you kick-off a new school year, spend some time contemplating your approach to grading and consider using Read Aloud Plays to teach your students to develop their constructive feedback skills. If you’re already using Read Aloud Plays, leave a comment to let us know how you’re assessing play performances.

Speaking of plays, I’ve just released two new ones packaged together for the price of one. Revolutionary War Plays comes with two exclusive plays, comprehension activities, and additional supplementary material. Originally published in my book Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America (Scholastic), “Eagles Over the Battlefield” tells the story of the bald eagle becoming the emblem of the United States, and “A Bell for the Statehouse,” reveals the history of the The Liberty Bell. Both are fun, easy, and ideal for trying out some ungraded constructive feedback.

Happy directing!