Thoughts About Arts Education

Introduction to Playwriting | Exercising our Creative Writing Muscles

Today in my grade 11 class, we dove into our first playwriting lesson.  This lesson is always a delight to teach, especially since I, as an arts educator, get to create with my students and participate in many of the creative writing exercises. 

Over the next couple of days, we will be exploring various different entry points into creative writing/script development, encouraging the students to develop the initial framework for their one act play. 

Over the past two years, we have experimented with basic playwriting and script writing.  Everything has been very short - 5 to 10 minutes - and focused within a three week unit time plan.  Now, in the senior years, it is time to produce something more lengthy: 30 - 40 minute one act play.  

This is an ongoing one act play project will be the focus of a series of classes between now and January.  The whole goal is to make writing a play accessible for any student, regardless of their passion for the arts or their literacy level/tolerance. 

And we start with the fundamental concept of building writing confidence and strength.  Building blocks.  One step at a time. 

So, here is what we did: 

Minds On (15 Minutes): 2 Different Free Writing/Stream of Consciousness Prompts with Sharing 

  • explaining free writing/stream of consciousness writing, encouraging students to not stop writing during the free writing/stream of conscious writing session, even when they are stuck (instead write “I don’t know over and over again”), encouraging a freedom to write by turning of the “negative voice” (i.e., “this is spelled wrong” or “the idea isn’t working”);

  • round one prompt: what has happened in your day so far;

  • circle three words/phrases and share in group discussion (one student after another);

  • round two prompt: pick one of the phrases to build off of and write about in great detail. Examine and explore that phrase, building on the phrase (i.e. use all of the senses to describe the words in your phrase);

  • circle three words/phrases and share in group discussion (one student after another)

The actual writing sessions were three minutes in length.  We asked each other to respect focus in the studio space and to be silent during the writing session.  Before each writing round,  I encouraged the students to talk to each other for a minute about anything they wanted.  This helps with the silence during the actual writing portion. 

Action (35 Minutes): Aristotle’s Poetics, Three Unities, Story Structure 

  • discussion about Aristotle, Poetics, Three Unities (Action, Time and Place), and the necessary elements of a story;

  • in groups of four, brainstorming possible plot lines that would fit the Three Unities in a secondary school setting. Each group is encouraged to create ten plot lines;

  • sharing of plot lines;

  • play recipe discussion (super-objective, exposition, character, language, conflict, obstacles, stakes, resolution)

Consolidation (25 Minutes): Collaborative Playwriting Using the Elements Studied in Class

  • students pick one plot line from the previous brainstorming activity;

  • develop the plot using the elements from the play recipe discussion

  • share in the larger group

The results were amazing.  The students were focused and willing to take creative risks throughout the whole process.  From bees to injustice (and everything in between), their stories were rich. 

As a writer, the collaborative aspect is important to me.  By discussing ideas and coming to a consensus, the students are learning to stand behind their group’s ideas (and essentially their own ideas).  It makes the conversation about personal writing work less awkward because they are all planning together.  Hopefully this will pay off in the end when we go into feedback sessions and will encourage more confidence and less nerves when it comes to the group workshop/roundtable draft reading of their own work. 

Tomorrow we shall experiment with dialogue and characters.  To be continued…

Important Sources of Inspiration For Today's Lesson (Other Than My Students' Creativity)

Drama Works, The Ultimate Dramatic Arts Textbook    

Aristotle’s Poetics