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  • 1.  Middle Schoolers

    Posted 12-04-2017 11:49
    I have such a problem with my middle schoolers. They refuse to perform for their final project. They won't memorize their lines, they refuse to commit to the play. I keep reminding them that this is a theater but they don't want to perform in fron of their friends. Any suggestions or help?

    Alison Dingle
    Theater Teacher
    Adelson Educational Campus
    Las Vegas NV

  • 2.  RE: Middle Schoolers

    Posted 12-04-2017 13:11
    Hi! I taught a seven-week long Intro to Theater course to 7th graders for four years. I know EXACTLY what you are dealing with. The way my class was set up, every 7th grader took the class for seven weeks and then performed for the entire 7th grade at the end. The parents/families of the performers were also invited to come. There were always students who didn't want to participate, and didn't try very hard, but I would offer little incentives along the way to try and get everyone on board. If the performance went well, and the cast knew their lines (mostly), they would get an ice cream party on the last day of the class. We would also use small daily incentives, like getting to play an improv or team building game if the rehearsal went well. The students would always have a particular game they wanted to play, and I would tell them that I would reserve the last 5 minutes of class for a game as long as EVERYONE was participating, had a good attitude, etc. There were times when I would have to send a student to the office, and there were certainly individual students who didn't buy into it, but for the most part, they did ok. I also found that if I chose material they were interested in, it helped a lot. We did Greek plays in costume and with minimal props and scenery, but the kids LOVED getting into costume and helping to build and find props. I think the fact that they knew the whole school would see it helped them want to do better. I also found that doing shorter 20-25 minute plays, rather than individual or small scenes helped because they would buy into the story. I would introduce the play by watching a video or movie of the Greek myth. They seem to like mythology a lot at that age. I hope some of this helps! 

    Anne Elisa Brown
    Director of the MHS Drama Department
    Madison Central School District
    Madison SD

  • 3.  RE: Middle Schoolers

    Posted 12-04-2017 13:43
    Ugh. I taught middle school for a decade, and I know exactly what you mean. I agree with what Anne wrote about providing extrinsic rewards; you'd be amazed the impact that pizza can have on a disgruntled adolescent. However, I also managed to convert some students from reluctant foot-draggers to MVPs by pulling them aside for one-on-ones during their "free periods" (study hall, independent reading, homeroom, etc.). One girl, Destiny, refused to participate at all because she felt like she was untalented, and the other students would make fun of her. I pulled her aside for a couple of one-on-one sessions, worked on building her skills, and gave her tons and tons of praise. It only took a week before she was one of the leaders in our theatre class -- encouraging other reluctant students, stretching way outside of her comfort zone, and coming into class full of enthusiasm and excitement. Sometimes, you just need to sit down, talk to them, and find out what they're thinking/feeling. Then you can address the problem.

    Also, I don't know if it's a possibility, but if you have students who are REALLY reluctant, can you put them into ensemble/group scenes only (with no lines) and then give them tech responsibilities? I ended up doing that for quite a few students who really developed an affinity for lighting, sound, etc. One even ended up becoming the first student stage manager at our high school -- all because she hated theatre and refused to step out onstage. Now, she happily volunteers for every show behind-the-scenes!

    Victoria Chatfield
    Executive Director
    National Theatre for Student Artists

  • 4.  RE: Middle Schoolers

    Posted 12-04-2017 13:54
    I second what Victoria said about giving some of the students tech jobs. Many of the students who seemed a bit reluctant at first as 7th graders, have gone on to be in our high school productions as actors and tech crew. My theater program has grown due to the middle school theater class. I will say, that no other class I have ever taught has taken as much energy and patience as my middle school theater class. Even with the best group of students, it was always a lot of work!! More than one prop was broken because I couldn't be in front of the stage and backstage at the same time! Supervising 25 seventh graders in our auditorium was a daunting task. :)

    Anne Elisa Brown
    Director of the MHS Drama Department
    Madison Central School District
    Madison SD

  • 5.  RE: Middle Schoolers

    Posted 12-05-2017 06:39
    Invite people to class to critique them. Make them do it, even with your prompting. Usually the announcement that someone will see them can prompt a bit better behavior.

    Sent from my iPad

  • 6.  RE: Middle Schoolers

    Posted 02-27-2018 10:44
    Many teachers get that a lot even on classical education type of subjects. Making it interesting would lessen it I suppose.

    sandy hill
    mesa AZ

  • 7.  RE: Middle Schoolers

    Posted 02-27-2018 12:51

    I have that this year, teaching seventh graders in an "elective" that is actually a classroom-shaped shelf for the kids that didn't opt for band, film, or art.

    What is working for me right now is games. Lots and lots of them. It pulls many kids out of their shells, and entertains the rest. Just make sure as you play them that you are teaching, refreshing, and enforcing the basics of being seen, heard, and understood by the audience.

    Participation grades are also an incentive that is keeping them a bit more involved.

    Then, occasionally, a break to watch a movie, or some YouTube videos of the skills you've been working on, so they can have some modeling. (Make sure you screen everything you watch before you show it to them - don't make my mistake!) Even allowing an occasional "free day" or study-hall if they want to socialize and/or catch up in other classes.

    It's an elective, right? And for middle school, right? I have to keep reminding myself that electives shouldn't stress kids out the way their core classes probably do. And the kids (and their parents!) need to remember that middle school grades don't reflect on anybody's permanent record, unless your district operates very differently than mine. Translation: We can all relax.

    Josh Kauffman
    Winfield AL

  • 8.  RE: Middle Schoolers

    Posted 02-28-2018 11:37
    I teach a full three level middle school curriculum with over 300 students involved in the program. The only section I ever have problems with students not wanting to perform is my beginning drama 7th-8th grade class. I also teach beginning drama to 6th graders, and we never have problems in there. The biggest issue you may be having is that by 7th grade students are starting to move from the dramatic play phase of child development to the formation of ego in child development. In the older middle school aged students it is best to find material that is relatable and fresh. Really create a structured classroom from day one. I use Exploring Theatre as my go to text for that beginning class because it really addresses artistic discipline from the start. Also, rehearsing individual parts should also be very structured. For example, when we are rehearsing monologues I give them a rehearsal log. Students pair up (I make them change partners often and require them to work with people they have not worked with before, etc.) and are required to write down everything from start time, constructive criticism, daily goals, etc.

    Angela Martin
    Henderson NV

  • 9.  RE: Middle Schoolers

    Posted 02-28-2018 12:58
    I have spent a lot of time working with middle schoolers and my mentor when I first started teaching theatre was a middle school theatre teacher. She taught me something that I use to this day (with my 9th graders now because a lot of the same things apply). Start with pantomime. We spend months of Acting 1 working just on pantomime. No lines, not someone else's script, not someone else's story, low commitment, they can be inanimate objects, animals, people, even a kid that just stands or sits there will end up a part of it. The rest of us end up having so much fun that everyone ends up at least playing along a little bit. Over two or three months at the start all we do is pantomime and by the time we are at the end they will perform for each other, for others, and most of all they are begging to get to talk on stage. Then we do narrated fairy tales next and play with archetypes and such, but again only one person talking and they get to have the script in front of them narrating. This takes away all of the chaos and fear of speaking in public (no lines in pantomime) and of memorizing which can be new and difficult and instead puts the focus on the acting and the fun of it. Usually by the we get through all of that, they are pretty hooked even the ones who walked in hating the idea of the class have laughed enough with us to at least play along a little. Low risk is the way to start for sure.

    Kathleen McNulty Mann

    Arnold High School Theatre
    Panama City Beach, FL
    Program Director and Thespian Sponsor

    Florida State Junior Thespians
    District 10 Chair

    Florida Association for Theatre Education
    Board Member
    Membership Committee Chair