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for 6th through 9th Grades


unit one: The Use of Pantomime by Prehistoric People

first lesson

unit two: Ritual Drama in Egypt and the Near East

unit three: Greek Drama

unit four: Roman Comedy

unit five: Medieval Drama

a unit five lesson plan

Final Unit--Performance


Unintended Learning Outcomes


Drama has been with us since the earliest times. It has been used in all its various forms--whether that be pantomime, storytelling, spectacle, or typical theatrical, artistic expression--to create solidarity within a society. This can be seen in the earliest tribes of humanity and their use of pantomime to establish and share the thrill of the hunt, or the danger of the storm, or the awe of childbirth. This can also be witnessed in the violent spectacle of a fifteenth century Punch and Judy puppet show and how it provided an emotional release for the children of that time period. It can be explored from the oral tradition of campfire stories and the way they brought the campers together, bonded them in fear.

Drama is a way to explore the values of a society. Each community’s values--whether it be the local Presbyterian church, or the movie industry, or even the classroom--can be defined by the their use of Drama: the church has an established ritual of storytelling, musical performance, and key phrases to which the audience responds vocally, and it is all to extol the glory of the Divine; the movie industry has its spectacle of the Oscars, and the intimate storytelling performances referred to as “pitching” that occurs when someone is trying to sell a movie that pushes the value of conspicuous consumption, wealth, and greed.

In addition there is the actual Art of the Theater itself and how that is used by societies, both historical and contemporary.

The study of the dramatic arts is also key to the students development of self-confidence in public speaking and performance situations and how to work to create in a cooperative environment.

Through a mix of straight drama coaching that explores and develops the art of performance in the physical and vocal sense, and explorations of historical societies studied in the students’ Social Studies, the class will create a modern example of each particular society’s use of theater and share it with others.


This course is a drama course originally designed for sixth grade students in a district on the North Shore of Chicago.

The majority of the fifth and sixth grade students attending here are very well provided for--they want for nothing. At this age there is only a slight stress on fashionable attire, pop music, BMX bikes, and good computers.

Divisions that occur are based less on race and class than on abilities--physical and cognitive--sense of humor, and each student’s individual social intelligence.

Most of the students maintain very active schedules outside of school, being involved in a variety of sports--hockey, figure-skating, tennis, horseback riding. This extra-curriculum may negatively impact on their studies.

The community consists largely of middle to upper-middle income families. The majority own their homes rather than renting. There are some two-income families, but primarily only the fathers work, commuting into the city every morning and normally coming home after six p.m. Crime is low. A recent concern which had taken up a great deal of editorial space over many weeks in the local paper dealt with the allowance of dogs in the local parks. Most families have two or more vehicles. Most children have their own televisions and telephones. Businesses are mostly independently-run restaurants, professional services, and grocery stores. Parents stress college to their children. Many are supportive of the teachers and their roles and maintain a high-profile with the teachers at the elementary and middle school level.

All students have had a course in drama at the fifth grade level. They know how to be a proper audience member; they know how to sustain a believable character through movement; they can demonstrate an understanding of the stage areas; and they know how to communicate through facial expression, body language, gestures, and movement.

This course is designed to take place over a nine-week period. Each sixth grade class takes Drama for one quarter of the school year. The material is delivered chronologically, mirroring their Social Studies but encapsulated within the time allotted. The Social Studies is a survey of world history, beginning with the prehistoric, and then going on to early Middle Eastern Civilization, the foundation of Western ideas in ancient Israel and ancient Greece, the societies of Medieval times. Each unit will be covered in six to eight class periods.

The drama exercises are designed to be examples of the way some aspect of drama was performed in each particular society studied. Each unit closes with in-class performances wherein the students will demonstrate their mastery in the performance technique studied and in the expression of the value that drama extols within the historical community under question.

It is important that each unit begins with a high-impact experience that reflects the culture under study and how it uses drama to reinforce its own values. This would be followed by active learning experiences from which the students can establish how to most effectively convey the dramatic techniques and tools most oft used by each particular community.

Of critical importance is that the students understand this:
the impact the theater artist wants to have on the audience
will decide the choices made.

This understanding can be utilized in any performance situation:
from a sales pitch
a seven-hour Robert Wilson production.


The lessons are to be product-based, not process-based. Each unit culminates in a mini-performance in the classroom, and the course finishes with all the classes performing vignettes from each culture for an outside audience.


1. Develop the use of the primary tools (body, mind and voice) to convey an idea through acting, and through development of a drama or theatre activity.

2. Compare and contrast how the performing arts function in ceremony, politics, communication, and entertainment both in contemporary and historical society.


1. Work cooperatively in group situations.

2. Critique artistic endeavors objectively and constructively.

Course Outline

I.  The Use of Pantomime by Prehistoric Peoples

     A. What was most important to prehistoric tribes--Survival
          1) the things on which their survival depended
          2) what the students have done to survive as a member of this class

     B.  The means by which they reinforced this value--drama through pantomime
          1) value is extolled through what the individual did for the survival of the  group

     C.  How you perform a pantomime
          1) establish the sense of object interaction with one’s body
          2) emphasis of emotion through gesture and facial expressions
          3) create a simple story of conflict and resolution 

     D.  Performance
          1) personal story of conflict/resolution told through pantomime that  establishes one’s importance to the group

II.  Ritual Drama in Egypt and the Near East

A.  What was of value to Egypt--death and rebirth
        1) Rituals concerned with the seasonal patterns of birth, maturity, death, and rebirth
        2) what specific patterns the students see in the culture of the school

B.  The development of a ritual drama of the student’s passage through middle school
        1) precisely defined formal movement
        2) carefully designed group dialogue

C.  Performance of ritual drama          
        1) parallels of birth, maturity, death, and rebirth

III.  Greek Drama

A.  What was of value to Athenian Greeks--ethics
        1) what is considered right conduct in the school

B.  Central character goes through a major crisis that results in understanding that there is a higher law than the self

C.  Group development of a script extolling these virtues
        1) improvisation work
        2) establishment of main character; conflict; resolution

D.  Character development
        1) physical
        2) vocal

E.  Performance 

IV.  Roman Comedy

A.  What was of value to the Romans--escapism
        1) Seneca’s use of violence and preoccupation with magic and the supernatural 
        2) The Coliseum’s spectacles
        3) Plaatus’ and Terrence’s farcical plays

B.  What forms of escapism prevalent in American culture
C.  Understanding of Objective, Obstacle, Action
        1) “Get the Banana”

D.  Development of short comic scenes in small groups or individually
        1) slapstick
        2) the double-entendre
        3) mismatched characters

E.  Performance