Free Writing + Collaboration + Theatre History = Some Great Plot Lines
Below is a lesson plan for playwriting, merging Aristotle's Three Unities with collaborative writing. A blog post on this class available by clicking here to take you to the Thoughts section.
I am a big fan of structured collaborative writing, encouraging students to showcase their voice first individually through a series of writing prompts, and then joining together in groups to merge their work into one big collaborative piece.
The basis of this lesson surrounds using collaboration as a way to gain confidence in writing ideas. The free writing starts the "building of confidence" in writing voice by stressing that there isn't a "right" or "wrong" answer. Sharing phrases that speak to the student builds confidence through communicating their writing orally with the large group. Building on that sharing, the collaborative development of plot outlines builds the idea that developing a storyline does not have to be done in isolation, encouraging the students to contribute their voices to construction of a new story idea.
Sample lesson plan below. Feel free to adapt to fit the needs of your learners.
Learning Goal: We will examine how Aristotle's Three Unities can help us develop our writer's voice when engaging in playwriting.
Success Criteria: I know I am success if I...
- engage in all stages of the writing process, including generating ideas, following prompts, and sharing my work;
- articulate and explain Aristotle's Three Unities
- articulate and explain the "playwriting recipe";
- work together with my peers, experimenting and designing a play structure using the concepts studied in class;
- accept, support, and positively respond to my group's ideas in a professional and respect manner (even when I disagree....).
Minds On (15 Minutes): Getting Into A Writing Space And Trusting Our Creative Choices.
- explain the concept of free writing/stream of consciousness writing (don't stop, don't be negative, let the ideas run free without worry of mechanics), encouraging students to not stop writing during the free writing/stream of conscious writing session
- if students get "stuck," invite them to write about what happened before class, in the morning, about their pet, etc. Writing "I don't know" over and over again will help the students work past writers block. It is better to write a series of letters and gibberish instead of stopping
- round one prompt for free writing: what has happened in your day so far
- students will write for two minutes
- at the end of two minutes, invite the students to 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 for two minutes in free writing style, 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)
Note: you might need to bring in writing resources depending on the students in your class. Before we started the task, I reminded the students of our co-constructed norms (i.e. focus, respect for creative process). Before each writing round, I encouraged the students to talk to each other for a minute about anything they wanted. This helps my group of learners focus in during silent writing tasks.
Action (35 Minutes): Aristotle’s Poetics, Three Unities, Story Structure
- teacher lead discussion about Aristotle, Poetics, Three Unities (Action, Time and Place), and the necessary elements of a story. A good recap is available by clicking here.
- 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 possible plot lines.
- sharing of plot lines with class.
Consolidation (25 Minutes): Collaborative Playwriting Using the Elements Studied in Class
- students pick one plot line from the previous brainstorming activity to expand
- expand into a three act structure, clearly identifying protagonist/antagonist, conflict, obstacles, climax and resolution (keep in mind, of course, the Three Unities)
- pitch expanded plot outline to group
- discuss what they noticed about their own learning to finalize the activity
This activity could be used as a beginning activity at the start of a collaborative creation unit, or as assessment for/as at the beginning of a playwriting unit. Students can use this as a "jumping off" point for developing their own individual pieces of creative writing by trying out the structure with their peers, or as a way to enter into the creative process for devising theatrical ensemble work.
You can download a PDF of the lesson by clicking here.