John Morogiello teaches play writing and theater to 3rd-5th grades
Thanks to a generous grant from the Bullis Parents Association, playwright John Morogiello worked with Lower School students to collaboratively write, revise, rehearse and perform a play based on a chosen topic.
He worked with the classes eight times. "First, he taught the structure of writing a play: how it looks and the importance of characters (using voice, expression, posture and movement) to convince the audience who the character is," explained 3rd Grade Teacher Carolyn Cohen. "Then he worked on developing a conflict and explained rising action and falling action in stories, using the Freytag pyramid of dramatic arc structure. The students worked with him then on the specifics of writing a scene that tells the story and then practiced revising it. Finally the last couple of days were spent on becoming a character and then performing."
The 3rd grade play was based on the book, The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola. The 4th graders' title was The Budget, based on their studies in math, and the 5th grade play was called Toothpaste, based on their fall social studies unit on entrepreneurship.
Mr. Morogiello had the students use scripts for their performances, using Reader's Theater format. With the scripts in hand, says Ms. Cohen, "the students speak slower and aren't afraid they will skip a line when they perform. Plus, they can focus on inflection and performance rather than line memorization."
Teaching playwriting and performance provides skills for students beyond the production itself. "The gift expands to creating confidence as writers and performers," says Ms. Cohen. "They can now apply this experience to their own writing and reading and understand how a play is more like speaking than a story they read."
John Morogiello is a playwright-in-residence at the Maryland State Arts Council and artistic director of Best Medicine Rep, a theater company in Gaithersburg. He writes, and performs in plays throughout the world. He was a master teacher for teachers at the Maryland Artist Teaching Institute and frequently conducts residencies at area schools.