We used Frozen Image (Tableau), Personification, and Story to explore the concept of Photosynthesis. This is an excellent way to teach science concepts and theatre skills simultaneously.
A Tableau is a frozen picture — as if one pushed pause on a DVD right in the middle of an action scene. You can see a demonstration of tableau in the classroom here. Younger children may find it easiest to begin with a moving scene and freeze on command to create the tableau. The game Martha is a good frozen-image warm-up that can easily be adapted to science content.
To teach a science through drama, first introduce the science content. Then teach the arts skills and ask the students to create. Then ask students how their drama work applies to what they’re learning in science class. They will tell you the connections. They will find many you had not thought of. Also, things they are confused about will come up – “Oh! The CO2 goes in, not out. We have to change the scene.” Drama activities serve as a type of formative assessment and a lot of learning happens in the debriefing of the activity.
Using Frozen Image and Tableau:
Here are some options for using frozen image techniques to explore photosynthesis while teaching non-verbal expression, focus, and communication:
1. Divide the class into groups of 5 and ask each group to depict the process of photosynthesis in a tableaux. Ask them to use their entire bodies and faces to clearly communicate what aspect of photosynthesis each person is depicting and what is happening in the tableau. Give them from 1/2 to 3 minutes to rehearse (teacher’s choice). Make sure that they spend all or part of that time actually doing the scene — not just talking. Then count them down slowly from 5 or 10 to freeze. Have groups show their tableau one at a time (count each one down again). Let the class guess what each group is depicting and tell what they see that make them think that before allowing the group to share what they were trying to communicate. If the audience was confused, let the class brainstorm how they could have more clearly communicated what they were trying to communicate (after all, the purpose of theatre is communication with an audience.) Ask students about the differences in how each group chose to depict photosynthesis.
2. Or give each group a card with a step in the process of photosynthesis and have them show their tableaux in chronological order. Or show them in mixed-up order and have the class guess what is being depicted and try to put the tableaux in chronological order. (This is another opportunity to have actors hear what they actually communicated to the audience and consider how they might have communicated their objective more clearly.)
A series of tableaux can be the first stage in creating a scene:
As a class, write down the steps of the action of photosynthesis. In their small groups, students assume characters (sun, leaf, etc.) and depict the process in non-verbal scenes. Explain that scenes must have beginning, middle and end and communicate clearly who the characters are and what is happening in the scene. Give students 5 minutes to create the scene, making sure that they spend part of that time rehearsing the scene as they will perform it. Have the groups show their scenes. Discuss what is being shown. Can students accurately guess who the characters are and what is happening? If not, what performance clues led them astray? Does the scene have a beginning, middle, and end? Was the scene an accurate depiction of photosynthesis?
After they have clearly communicated non-verbally, students can add dialogue while continuing to try to use their whole body to communicate character and action. Each character can speak twice during the scene in a way that helps communicate what is going on. (ie. leaf says, “My, that sun feels good!”) Allow students to improvise for 5 min. or so. Then show scenes and discuss.
Or instead of improvisation, students can write a script. Each group gets a set of index cards — some with “A” for “action” and some with “D for “dialogue” on them (3 to 6 action cards and 1-3 dialogue cards for each action card). Students write an action or line of dialogue on each card and place the cards on the floor in the appropriate order. For example:
A: Sun hits leaf
D: LEAF: My, that feels good!
D: SUN: I’m here to save you!
D: LEAF: Thank you. I was dying.
A: Water comes up
D: WATER: Here I am bearing nutrients for your highness. . . . etc.
Then students cast (3 min.), rehearse (5 min.), and perform their play. Debrief each performance in terms of application of theatre skills, communication, and science concepts.
For a younger group, have the class choose actions and lines of dialogue together and write them on the board. The class can be divided into groups of characters (a giant collaborative sun, a group of plants or a giant plant, water drops, etc.) and the teacher can narrate a whole class scene with lots of action while the class pantomimes together and then says lines together on cue (“And then the plant said . . . “). This technique is related to “narrative pantomime”, which works well for all elementary grades.
Conflict and Problem Solving are another good basis for teaching through drama:
These games use a talk show or conference format:
1. Set up a panel of expert characters (humans; personified plants, animals, or objects; or some combination). Set up a problem that must be solved where actors must use their knowledge of photosynthesis or other scientific processes to justify their character’s position. Allow the audience to question the panelists, challenge them, offer their own suggestions, etc. The teacher should guide this scene as host and treat everyone very professionally. (“Thank you, Ms. Oak Tree, for taking time out of your busy schedule to come and help us address this pressing issue.” or “Yes. Sir, did you have a question for the panel?”). You can see a similar activity used to teach social studies here.
2. Or a panel of witnesses to “The Photosynthesis Incident” holds a press conference with a roomful of reporters, who ask for details about what happened and what things looked, sounded, felt like, why the characters did what they did, etc. Encourage students to make imaginary choices that are consistent with what they know of science but to really treat the characters as if they have human thoughts and motivations. Then let them go with the story. The panelists could include The Leaf, the sun, the water, the nutrients, a Carbon molecule, an Oxygen molecule, etc. You could encourage questions from the reporters by pondering, “I wonder what happened to the carbon dioxide molecules after they got inside. Where did they go?” etc. After the story is created, the debrief can compare the story with what really happens in nature (ie. if the oxygen molecules beat up the CO2 molecules and stole their coats and then went out sightseeing, how is that similar or different to what really happens?) In this way, any of the students’ creative choices can lead to learning, as long as they are engaged and working to further the story. The teacher doesn’t have to force students to make choices consistent with science during the creative phase, because she knows they will process it from a science standpoint during the debriefing phase.