Distance Learning: The Student Written Play

Seems like a lot of us will be sheltering-in-place for a while longer. While distance learning isn't ideal, potentially our students (and us) have some found extra time now that we're all at home.

Seriously: Remember when we were out and about with each other and we all said, “I just wish I had more time!”?

It’s here. COVID-19 has, in some cases, gifted us with time. It’s time to write that play! No excuses.

Why Write a Play? Why NOW?

There is a wonderful freedom in writing a play. Anything can happen in a play. The action can happen anywhere and characters can say almost anything. Students can feel like their voices are actually being heard. With all of the possibilities and all of the freedom, it can be difficult to focus the story. And just how do we begin?

I’ve taken exercises I usually introduce to a class and adjusted them so a teacher can offer them through Distance Learning. If you have video conferences with your students, I imagine you could try these exercises with the group.

My goal with these exercises is to guide the student who wants to put every idea they have into their play to stay on target. The activities start with big, broad strokes and, hopefully, unlock a treasure trove of ideas. At the end of these exercises, your students will have devised strong stories rooted in some imaginative play.

I truly hope writing a play is an enjoyable process for your students and offers them a bit of escape from their shelter-in-place. Happy Writing and Stay Healthy!

Distance Learning:
The Student Written Play and How To Get Started

By Maria McConville

Essential Question
How do we begin to write a play?

Ideal Group
You can modify this lesson to work with your Middle School or your High School group.

Students will have a strong idea of what they want to write their play about and a loose outline of a beginning, middle, and end.

Materials Needed
Markers, notebooks/loose leaf, pencils.

Warm-Up: Personal Survey

Normally, I would have students interview each other with these questions. Now, they can take a quiz about themselves. I used to take quizzes in the back of Teen Magazines!

You can add whatever questions you like and make a print out or Google Doc for them.

  1. What's your favorite food?
  2. What's your favorite season?
  3. Do you like parties or hanging out with small groups?
  4. Have you ever been to the theater before?
  5. Have you ever been in a play before?
  6. Do you think you will like writing a play?
  7. What are you longing for?

If there's a certain topic you are trying to encourage your students to write about, you can lead them in that direction with the guiding questions here.

Activity 1: Lists!

These get the ideas flowing and they don’t have the heavy weight of having to be THE idea that the students are writing about.

ABC Locations:
The student creates a 2 column sheet of paper and writes the alphabet down the left column. Set a timer for 2 minutes. They must write down a specific location that starts with the letter A ie. Alabama, Attic. Then they move down the list. Encourage them to be as specific for each Letter Location as possible. At the end of two minutes they have a menu of interesting locations where a play could take place.

Best Things/Worst Things:
In class, I like to play music while students get up 2-3 at a time to write down their thoughts organically. At home, on one sheet of chart paper, have your students write down what they think the WORST things in the world are. This could be as huge as Famine and as simple as a Hang nail. They should, again, set the time for 2 minutes. The other sheet is for the BEST things in the world. The ideas could be as big as World Peace or as simple as binge watching your favorite show. It’s their BEST things in the WORLD list.

One more list idea...

Types of Relationships:
I like to have the students call these out to me and I write them down on chart papers. At home or on a google doc, have students list relationship types. They can be simple like Parent/Child or Teacher/Student. Once they have the hang of it, encourage them to get more specific. For instance, Strict Mom/Wild child or Lazy Boss/Diligent Employee.

Activity 2: Once Upon a Time...

As a class, you would create a short story all together. I like to move around the room and randomly select students to complete these sentences.

For doing this at home, send the story sentence prompts and encourage the students to set a 2 minute timer to develop a story quickly.

Story Sentence Prompts:

  • Once upon a time there was...
  • And every day...
  • But one day...
  • And after that...
  • And after that...
  • So finally...

Create a few stories. Encourage them to notice to the information that comes before to help them build on their idea. They can use some of the ideas that are up on the lists that they just created to help develop this story.

Activity 3: Story Outline

(You will need paper and pencils)

Writers can refer to the lists they made on earlier and select up to three locations, best/worst topics, and types of relationships that interest them.

Use those items, either from the lists or the writers ideas, in three different "Once Upon a Time" story structures. Perhaps there is a play in one of them! And if there's a story that the student writer is most excited about, that could be their play!

  • "Once Upon a Time..." is Page 1.
  • "And Every Day..." is page 2/3.
  • "But One Day..." is page 4/5.
  • "And After That..." is page 6/7.
  • "And After That..." is page 8/9.
  • "So Finally..." is page 9/10.

After one day, you have an outline for a 10 page play!

Maria McConville has been a NYC Public School teaching artist since 2005. In the past she has worked with the Theatre Development Fund, LeAP! Onstage, and Periwinkle Theater for Youth, and as a Shakespeare and Playwriting teaching artist with Theatre For A New Audience.  Her students have performed and adapted the work of Shakespeare, written their own plays, devised ensemble performance pieces, sang and danced in musical productions, and performed their peers work on a Broadway stage. Growing up in New York, Maria attended LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts for Drama, and recently adjudicated the auditions for incoming students. Maria is also a playwright; her published plays include "#Censored" and "#Viral" (Stage Partners) and "To Date or Not to Date" (Playscripts).

Plays by Maria McConville - Stage Partners