Tag Archives: Drama

The Need To Tell: Monologue Writing in English & Social Studies

Diane Arbus Photograph

Look at the person in the photograph.

Who is this person?
What is her/his name?
What is special about her/him?
Where is she/he?
How does she/he feel about being there? Why?
What does this character want, need, or dream about?
What’s stopping her/him from getting it?
What does she/he need to tell?
Who is she/he telling?
Why is this day different from any other day?

1. To create an individual character and establish a foundation for characterization.
2. To write a monologue based on a photograph used to create a character.

This activity was first presented to when during a playwriting workshop for teachers presented by Young Playwrights, Inc. This activity can work as a creating writing assignment or role playing in response to a story or specific period in history. For example, I use photographs of Japanese Internment and students choose a person in one of the photographs to write about experiences during internment. Integrating tools of creative drama and theater tools – like pantomime, movement, improvisation, scripted drama, oral interpretation, debating, storytelling, readers theater – creatively communicates ideas to others and requires students to become the people they read about and study.


  1. Post a photograph on the SMARTBoard. This will be used for a whole class brainstorm.

Tell the group that there are no right or wrong answers, as you will all be making this up as you go along. Ask the following questions:

Who is this person? – Get a specific answer. You may have to vote between 2 or 3 names.

What is her/his name? – Have writers begin to define the age, occupation, and general biographical information based on what they see in the photograph. Make a group decision who this person is.

What is special about her/him? – Have writers think about the way he or she talks, dresses, walks. We are looking for specific character traits.

Where is she/he? – Get writers to be as specific as possible.

How does she/he feel about being there? Why? Happy? Sad? Worried? Angry? What does the expression in the photography tell you?

What does this character want, need, or dream about? – We are moving away from what can be seen to inferring emotions and thoughts based on visual cues.

What’s stopping her/him from getting it?

2. Inform the group they will now have the opportunity to allow her or his 􏰂􏰋􏰆􏰃􏰆􏰂􏰅􏰌􏰃􏰁 􏰅􏰉􏰁character to speak. to begin writing a monologue or speech Instruct writers 􏰎􏰈􏰌􏰆􏰣􏰜􏰁(written in first person) bearing in mind what the character Needs To Tell. Add three new questions writers should answer individually:

What does she or he need to tell?

Who is she or he telling?

􏰖􏰁Why does this need to be told today?

The character doesn’t need to answer these questions in the monologue, but the answers should be what drives her or his words.

3. Expand the Activity – After students share out ideas based on the class character brainstorm, I have them choose their own photograph (I have a class set for students to choose from around seven or eight different photographs based on the theme we are studying) and complete the assignment on their own. It is often fascinating for writers to see how many different and distinct stories and characterizations can emerge from a single photo.

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A Little Drama

Drama: (n) the performance of an imaginary or real life situation that involves a plot, theme, characters, some sort of conflict, and usually some sort of resolution.

What is Drama?

Acting         Stage-Work         Theater          Taking-Risks         Storytelling

Pantomime    Cooperation    Pretend      Tragedy       Comedy

Imagination     Characterization    Exaggeration       Expression         Creativity

Improvisation      Movement      Concentration       Dialogue

The word “acting” is taken from a Latin term meaning “to do.” Thus, an actor’s primary job is to do something, to show, to use the body with its versatile actions to convey a thought, a mood, or a message.

Drama and acting fit well in a any classroom setting.  Drama taps into Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and supports kinesthetic learners.  Here are eleven activities to try with your students and add a little drama in your content area.

Tableauxs – Students create a frozen picture to convey a person, place, or things.  Other students try to guess what the tableaux is.  In Art class students can create tableauxs to recreate a painting or photograph.

30 Second Challenge – Volunteers are give a topic and they must speak nonstop, without repeating themselves, for 30 seconds. In Social Studies class students can talk about historical figures or topics students are studying. This can also be adapted into a writing activity.

Tableauxs Brought to Life – Students act out a tableaux.  Students become the characters in the frozen picture.  In Social Studies, a teacher can post a picture on the SMARTBoard and ask volunteers to stand similarly to the people in the picture.  Students then act out a scene based on the photograph.  This allows students to step into the shoes of other people and make inferences about this time period.

Story Theater – The teacher can read aloud a scene from a text.  Students come to the front of the class and act out the scene.  In English class this is a great way to visually summarize or introduce a specific scene in a text.  For example, the teacher reads aloud a summative speech from Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet and students then act out the various points in the story Friar Lawrence addressed in his monologue.

Walking – Students walk around as the teacher calls out different emotions. As students head each new emotion, they try to convey it in their walk.  The teacher can also call out characters in a text.  Students picture themselves as the character, walk some more, and then, in character, stop and talk with a nearby classmate.

Envisioning – Students close their eyes and, with prompting from the teacher envision an object or action.  This is a great activity to do in a science class room because it allows students to visualize an object or process and then share their interpretations the large class.

Role Play – Students are handed out a slip of paper that either reads, “for,” “against,” or “undecided.”  On the other side of the slip of paper a specific role is described: “captain,” “solider,” or “wife.” (Think Social Studies during Revolutionary or Civil War.) These specific roles indicate who students are and where they stand on a controversial topic.  The teacher facilities the town meeting. This role play allows for students to think about an issue from perspectives different from their own.

Story Circle – The teacher puts a variety of artifacts in the center of the classroom related to a specific text or unit of study.  Students sit around the artifacts and share what each artifact reminds them of in relation to the text or unit of study.  Bringing artifacts into the classroom gives another visual context.  Students can use the artifacts to act out a scene or situation relevant to the text or unit of study.

Talk Show – Students break up into groups. Each group is assigned a character from the text or unit of study to discuss.  Each group then picks someone to be that character on a talk show role play in which the students question the characters. Students must answer questions as their assigned character in relation to the text.

Picture Plays – Each pair gets a different painting (Norman Rockwell, Chagall) and writes two copies of a six line dialogue based on the painting. Each group practices their dialogue to act out. The second copy is then given to a different group to act out without seeing the original painting. For the performance each group performs their own picture, then performs the dialogue for the picture they haven’t seen.  Writing dialogue forces students to look closely for visual clues in the painting to bring it to life. The two performances of the same dialogue show how different people can interpret the same words. Seeing how people translated the paintings into words gives insight into what people saw in the paintings.

Monologues – Students write an interior monologue to act out or read. The student takes on a character from the text or a historical figure and writes a monologue about a turning point or conflict.  In science class students can even use personification and write a monologue from the perspective of one of the elements on the Periodic Table.  The monologues can be serious or funny.

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