Turning a Poem into a Play

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

Sarah-Bernhardt (Hamlet) / Lafayette - photo - London. Between 1885 and 1900.

Sarah-Bernhardt (Hamlet) / Lafayette – photo – London. Between 1885 and 1900.

Just as watching or acting out a Shakespeare play enables students to access it in ways that reading alone cannot, imagine what insights students may develop if they are offered the opportunity to script and act out a poem and view the performances of others.

Begin by splitting students into small groups. Four students works well, but also consider the number of characters in the poem and whether every student will be expected to act (backstage roles such as set design and costuming could also count as participation). Each member of the group should be asked to contribute to converting the poem into a performable script.

Ask students to choose a poem to perform. A few that may work well for this activity:

A few things for students to consider:

  1. Just because a poem does not seem to have much action does not mean there is not anything happening. They should bring interpretation to the poem as they see fit. This might mean adding dialogue and actions that are not explicit. Or incorporating action that may have occurred before the start of the poem or after its end.
  2. There may not be any need for the characters to speak. Instead they can pantomime the poem while another group member reads the poem aloud.
  3. Artistic license may be necessary when staging the action. Students should feel free to interpret the poem as supported by the text.
  4. The audience will benefit from having a copy of the poem to consult.

To challenge your students:

What poems would you ask students to perform?

One Comment

  1. Tanja Cupples Meece
    March 31, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    As a non-traditional educator, with one student, I have acted out the poem “Jabberwocky”, with my student, and not only was it an enjoyable experience, but it sparked my student’s desire to learn more about poetry and the dramatics. My student has become aware of references to Shakespeare’s works in cartoons and in the television programs he enjoys watching outside of the “classroom” environment.I have recommended this lesson plan to other educators, in more traditional classroom settings, and will continue to suggest that other teachers try it out in their classes.

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