Theater in the Classroom

Literacy, Performance, and the Power of "Play"

Unit Description

… the play’s the thing

wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.

                    - HAMLET, II, ii

What happens when learners assume roles beyond themselves? Theater can offer us the opportunity to viscerally enter and deeply understand—and own—a text. This unit will explore ways to use performance to excavate a story—carefully and systematically removing elements of the texts we read in class in order to find buried remains. Working collaboratively as actors, we will employ group readings, theatricalize events, find where a piece hits us emotionally, and create its physical life from there.

At the same time, like Hamlet, we will look at a play as something beyond performance. As Shirley Brice Heath writes, “He [Hamlet] encompasses all that play means as human beings perform their roles throughout life: the imaginative entry into explorations of identity, chance, fate, celebration, and both social and solitary contemplation of ‘what if?’ or ‘what about…?’”

Using the tools and skills of playwriting and acting, we will explore how “play-ing” offers us new insights—into characters, texts, and an author’s intent—through adding our personal interpretations, assumptions, and questions about literature of the natural world.

UbD Unit Plan

Dress Rehearsal


A Bit of Reflection

UNIT WEEK! Yay! It’s been wonderful and challenging structuring my unit, and teaching it this past week. It was an interesting start because our classes seemed to struggle with the idea of “playing.” When offered creative freedom and permission to use their imagination, many of them struggled at first. I surprised myself by how frustrated their unwillingness to enjoy the classroom activities made me. For most students, it didn’t even appear to resonate from a place of “stage fright,” but simply that using their imagination was “too difficult.”

The student’s reactions made me realize how important a pedagogical strategy like “playing” with a text is for student engagement and understanding. I thought performing would be a fun way to go back and look at our texts in a different light, but through teaching this unit, I realized that entering a text in this way also forces students to look closely and understand the nuances of characters as well as the big picture themes that drive the narrative.

It became tragically apparent how little we ask students in high school to use their imagination in school work. I think trying to incorporate little pieces and practices from this unit into most of what I teach will not only make teaching more fun and creative, but also benefit the students tremendously.