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Lesson Plan Compelling Drama


Step 1: Distribute this list:

Definition of compelling drama: captivating, irresistible, commanding attention.

10 Features of Compelling Drama:

  1. Atmosphere – tension – suspense – foreshadowing

  2. Momentum. Sense of inevitability as the plot unfolds.

  3. High stakes – characters stand to win & lose a lot.

  4. Honestly from the central characters. Confiding darkest secrets in us.

  5. Emotional & psychological conflict & complexity. Divided self?

  6. Battle between good & evil (internal as well as external)

  7. Audience in privileged position – we know more than other characters?!?

  8. Dramatic irony

  9. Poetic justice

  10. Catharsis

[This list is not exhaustive. After I’d written it I began to think about other reasons we might find the play fascinating and dramatic….

So my no.11 = relevance (e.g. Macbeth’s a tyrant. We’ve still got a few of them in the modern world; we’re still seeing innocents murdered in Syria & back in 2011 we witnessed the toppling of the Egyptian dictator Mubarak in the Arab Spring, thanks to a popular uprising – not unlike the events described in Macbeth, except Mubarak is still alive – not in prison but under house arrest. They didn’t chop his head off! So, watching a drama but connecting what’s happening on stage to what’s happening in the real world – or personally in your own life – is a really powerful reason a person might find a play compelling/fascinating & dramatic).

My no. 12 = emotional resonance (often with a character we connect to what they are going through. This resonance creates empathy – a much stronger emotion than sympathy – and we feel compelled to continue watching as events unfold because we are now invested in their emotional journey. I guess a weaker version of this explains why we often keep watching ‘the X-factor’, or ‘I’m a Celebrity’ long after it’s even remotely interesting, because we feel we’ve gotten to know the ‘characters’ on the show and want to see how it all works out for them). Anyway, my point is, my list of 10 features of Compelling Drama could easily be 12, and there are probably more I haven’t even thought of!]

UPDATE: In the interests of differentiation, I asked students to think about whether they feel they work better alone, in pairs or in groups of 3. I got them to put their hand over their eyes and vote for their preference. Then those who prefer to work alone moved to one part of the room, those who work better in pairs & threes moved forward to the front clusters of desks and we proceeded like this. I’m always a bit sad when very knowledgable students choose to work alone. I know it’s good for them cause they can go at a faster pace, but then the peer-to-peer aspect of the pair/group work loses their valuable contribution. Ah well, swings & roundabouts I guess!

Step 2: Give students, (in groups of 3) ten minutes to define (a) what each of these means & (b) why they appeal to the audience. That’s ONE minute per term so they’d better work fast (or else you can give them a little longer).

Use an online stopwatch on the whiteboard to let them know time is a ticking!

UPDATE: This took 35 minutes! For each term we changed it to 1. Definition 2. Example 3. Effect on audience. It took way longer than I had anticipated & turned into a whole class discussion to clarify each of the terms.

Step 3: Each group must now select what they consider to be the three most compelling scenes in the play. They should prepare some notes, bullet point style, as no-one is bullet proof. Any one of them may be called on to present to the class at the end of the exercise. Allow 15 -25 minutes for this part (I don’t know how long it’ll take, I’m trying it out for the first time tomorrow but we’ve got a double class so there won’t be any rush)

UPDATE: As we were running out of time I asked each student/pair/threesome to just analyse ONE scene and identify which  features from the list of 10 were evident in this particular scene.

Step 4: Using some method of random selection (I’ve got bingo balls 1 – 30 in a bag and if the number that comes out corresponds to the number in my roll book, you’re up!), select 4-5 students to present their “most compelling scene” to the class. If you want to raise the stakes higher, tell them you’ll be videoing it. Be warned, however, this may lead to all out mutiny!

Update: Did this – but discussing just ONE scene, not three.

Step 5: Get them to write the essay. There’s no point haven the craic and not following it up with an extended piece of written work if you ask me – but then I’m such a badass…. (yeah… like those flying pigs over my head…)

Well, that’s one double class prepared. It only took me like… 5 hours?…. sigh. Time for bed!