Photo by AmlserPix
For many years, I shied away from skits, because they typically de-evolved into silly, incomprehensible giggle-fests.
One year, a boy asked, “Can we do more skits in class?” I realized I was short-changing my students who enjoyed this type of product just because I didn’t personally enjoy it.
Here’s how I improved skits and turned them into a go-to idea for demonstrating students’ understanding in a novel and often complex way.
I knew the poor state of skits in my class was due to the freedom students had when writing their scripts. They needed constraints to focus their creativity!
I looked to two television shows for inspiration. Both use constraints to push their contestants to higher, and more entertaining, levels of creativity (sorry, both clips got pulled from YouTube):
- I love the the Quickfire events from Top Chef. Chefs must create a dish using a very specific ingredient under a strict time limit. My personal favorite is when they have to use ingredients from a vending machine with limited cash.
- The improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway is full of great constraints, including a situation where one contestant must act out a bizarre ailment, while the others must infer what is wrong with him.
Adjectives vs Adverbs
Here were the directions for our skit demonstrating the difference between adjectives and adverbs:
Police Interview Your group must prepare a skit between police officers and witnesses to a crime. The officers will ask questions about what happened and the witnesses will answer using adverbs and adjectives (five each).
This lead to some very fun, and surprisingly diverse, skits. But it seemed like the important words just sort of flew by, without any emphasis. So I added one more job: the dinger.
The Dinger: one of your group members must ding a bell every time an actor uses an adverb or adjective.
This led to a hilarious change in the skits, because now students put great emphasis on their adjectives and adverbs, facing the class and saying the word very slowly. Of course, the dinger followed this up with a loud “ding,” much to the class’ delight. The audience was much more engaged, as well, shouting “ding” along with the bell.
The skit doesn’t have to be a police interview. It could take place in any interesting situation, including:
- characters at a zoo
- a lost person at the mall
- a job interview
And certainly you could go beyond adjectives and adverbs:
- similes and metaphors
- personification and alliteration
- interrogative, imperative, exclamatory, and declarative sentences
- science or social study vocabulary words
Showing Without Telling
Much like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, we could ask students to portray a certain topic without explicitly naming what they’re doing. The class then infers the topic based on the acting.
Imagine if students are learning about the various types of plate boundaries:
Plate Boundary Family Reunion Your group represents a family consisting of: divergent, convergent, and transform plate boundaries. Each member must display the traits of one boundary without mentioning what they are.
The class would then guess who went with which boundary. The convergent student might push things away from them, while the divergent might want to hug everybody and so on.
If you’re teaching the algebraic properties, you could use a similar idea:
Algebraic Property Luncheon Each person in your group represents an algebraic property: distributive, associative, or commutative. Act out these properties without stating who you are.
Think about the clever, novel ways that students would come up with a way to physically demonstrate the associative property at a luncheon. Oh the possibilities!
And, of course, feel free to extend this idea to other topics: * Chemical Bonds * Biomes * Rivers of the world Finally, students were also required to each have a copy of their script. They either printed this out or I made copies for them. A script per person stopped the awkward paper passing that ruined the flow of the students’ skits. Do you use skits in your class? How have you made them work? Let me know: email@example.com or @IanAByrd
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