How to Plan a Session
A drama session typically moves from a short warm-up game that engages everyone, followed by a main activity or two or three (depending on the complexity of the activity and the general time it takes to play it), followed by discussion and de-roling, and ends with a short closure. Plan to alternate all drama activities from passive to active to passive or from active to passive to active. If you use this alternating structure, students will not become too wound up from the active parts and will have a chance to catch their breath during the passive parts. An active-active-active session could either have students bouncing off the ceiling because they are so wired or ready to fall sleep because they have been exhausted. A passive-passive-passive session may have students getting bored and acting out or ready to fall asleep.
Think through the skills you want your students to learn. Providing practice for a variety of skills in one session may be more engaging for students than practicing the same skill with all of your activities. A good design would be to choose games that have different structures and goals. For instance, if you play an "odd person in" game in which students are exchanging places, follow that with a passing game, a guessing game, or a story creation game. Vary students' physical game positions between sitting, standing, and moving. Closures almost always should be passive and thoughtful.
Before teaching any game/experiment, the space needs to be prepared. If your classroom is filled with desks and chairs, guide your students to adjust the space. Some activities require an open area in which students can create a circle of chairs. Sometimes an activity needs open space to move around in. Sometimes a separate performing space and audience space need to be set up. The instructions for each game will identify what type of space requirements are needed.
Think of the simplest way to break down the steps of rearranging your room. Give students one direction at a time. For instance:
Everyone stand up at your desk. [Pause.]
Pick up your desk. Now move it to the back of the room. Take your time;
you don't have to rush. [Pause.]
When you get there, stand by your desk. [Pause.]
Now go back to your chair. [Pause]
Pick up your chair and move it to create a large circle in the room. [Pause.] Stand by your chair. [Pause.]
Good. I think we need the circle to be a little bit bigger. Please, move your chair back about a foot. [Pause.]
Now, everyone, sit in your chair.
Always have students stand or sit in the configuration in which the game will be played before starting to give directions for it. Less working memory is required when you do this. They will not have to imagine where they will be as you describe how to play the game; they are already there.
As you explain each part of the game, demonstrate it and have students practice it with you so they can feel it in their bodies. Everyone will understand the game better, especially anyone who has difficulty with attention, sequencing, auditory processing, or sensory integration. In addition to saying "left" and "right," also use gestures to show which side you mean.
Do at least one practice round. Stop. Ask if that made sense to everyone. Practicing a round allows students the chance to ask questions and rehearse sequences before their actions officially "count" in the game. If you need a second practice round, that's fine.
Most of the games in Chapters Two and Three are warm-up games. Warmups help students let go of past thoughts, focus their minds and bodies in the here-and-now, connect with the other people in the group, and engage their enthusiasm. In the beginning of incorporating drama in your classroom, plan your session around these warm-up games because they teach executive functions and basic teamwork. When students are ready to move on to more advanced activities using improvisation and role-play in Chapters Four and Five, refer back to Chapters Two and Three for a warm-up to start your session. This helps focus and engage students. Once everyone is on the same page, it is easier to listen and work together.
When to End a Game
It is important to be aware of the group's engagement or lack thereof while playing a game, so the leader knows when to bring it to an end. When students are totally engaged, their energy is high, and their attention is strong. As they continue to play, you will sense the engagement building. When you sense that students are almost at their most intense enjoyment of the game is the time to prepare for bringing the game to an end. You will be able to feel the moment coming; it feels similar to the energy experienced when a roller coaster car is almost at the top of a hill, right before it crests.
Give students a warning that "There are three rounds left," or "We'll take two more turns and then we'll stop." Then stick to your warning, even if they moan and groan, and move into a discussion or onto a new game. Ending before the players are bored or have mastered a game means they will want to play it again and will continue to find it intriguing. If you wait too long to end the game - after their engagement has peaked and the excitement is waning - you have waited too long. If that happens, stop immediately and move on to something else.
Warning students that the end of a game is coming is much better than stopping it abruptly. They feel cheated if they don't have time to prepare for the end. This is particularly helpful for students who have difficulty with inhibiting behavior and making transitions.
If you sense students are ready to quit a game very soon after they have started that probably means that the game was too simple for them. Stop and see if you can add a level of difficulty to it. I literally say, "OK, that was level one. NOW we're going to learn level two!" If that does not re-engage them, then stop, and move onto another game. You can try the more complicated version another time, if you want.
On the other hand, students could be ready to quit a game because it is too difficult for them. That will become readily apparent when too many mistakes are being made. Double check to make sure they understand the rules. If they don't, re-explain using more examples, and if you see "the light bulb" go off over their heads, you will know you can continue. If not, you may need to either take away a complication of the game to make it simpler or just move on to something else.