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The Telescope, the Teacher and the Tableau (Part of Making Connections: Using the Arts to Teach Literacy)

Tonja Walsh

Using story drama to link language and literacy, social studies, and drama

I love drama. They love pretending.  I love reading. They love listening,  and interrupting to tell me their thoughts, feelings, and reactions to what I’m reading. I think research skills are great. They think magic is cool. I like inspiring them to write. They like using their pencils as swords. I have a big, big library. They have a crowded portable classroom.  Great. Let’s get to fun. Work.

This activity was born out of our desire – the Grade 4 teacher and mine– to create a partnership that will blend drama and research skills, writing skills and a love of literature, art appreciation and their social studies unit on medieval times. And could we also throw in some discussion  around character education? We created a story drama unit centred around the beautiful picture book  The Spyglass by Richard Paul Evans.

The story drama begins before the story is read, during library time on a March morning. The king strides into the library, wearing a flowing cape over her librarian’s garb, and announces in a grandly affected voice to the audience of 10-year-olds: “I, King So-and-So of the great Western kingdom, do hereby welcome you all to my lands. As my loyal subjects, you all have important roles in the success or failure of my kingdom. But I ask you this: Who are you? What skills do you have? What tools do you require? For I demand that all of my subjects shall be gainfully employed. Thus, I command you, go thither and seek out a job which befits your talents in this our present age, Such-and-Such A.D.”

Removing her cape, the teacher-librarian directs the astonished villagers to the research tables, upon which she has set a variety of books on medieval times. She divides them into groups and instructs them to find and record possible jobs held by medieval commoners, what these jobs entailed, any tools they required, and perhaps where in the village they would find these people.

The villagers return to their classroom with the seeds of their medieval identities and in their journals they reflect: how did they locate the necessary information in the books provided? What did they  learn about medieval society as they researched? Was this research task easy or difficult to do?

When they return to the library, the king is waiting. One at a time, they enter into the drama, kneeling before the king and saying, “Sire, I am your humble servant So-and-So, a miller,” or, “Your Majesty, I am Who-and- Who, a dairymaid, at your service.”

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