This school year, our district has taken a new approach to writing instruction. Each grade level was given a specific writing project for each quarter which students were expected to produce. The first three quarters saw my 5th graders grappling with scientific inquiry, research-driven technology-based publishing, and dissuasive business communication. The project for the 4th quarter was something quite different, however. Students were asked to work collaboratively to write and, ideally, produce a readers theater play.

We started by looking at existing examples, exploring the elements and norms of scripts and theater. Next, we adapted some short stories in brief readers theater scripts to get a feel for working with the format. After that, we worked as a whole class to write a completely original play that we’d perform for other students and our families. It was the final modelling before students began work on planning and creating their individual projects.

After a significant amount of brainstorming and discussion, we decided to set the play at a hotel during a teachers’ convention. Our main characters were based on the silly alter-egos that one of my colleagues and I have been playing with lately. We joke around that we’re not only teachers, we’re also pro wrestlers in our off hours. My name is Turk Reuben (which was, by the way, derived from the abbreviated receipt description of a turkey reuben sandwich I enjoyed a few weeks ago) and Mr. Hill’s name is Gristly Mutton. My students liked the idea of these characters so much that they insisted on including them.

For the writing, we decided to use Google Apps for Education, creating a shared document. We assigned the various characters to individual students who sit at the computer and transcribe the lines the class created. We also had students act out the characters to help guide us through story issues. At any given time during the writing process, we had about 16 students physically involved in writing the play and the rest of the class verbally involved. It was very exciting for me to see the engagement that my students were experiencing. This has been a challenging group of young people, but they poured themselves into this project and found great satisfaction in their common success.

The students performed the play live about nine times over the course of a week with many different kids cycling through the various roles. I selected one cast and we video recorded the show using multiple angles and shots. In the interest of time, I did the actual editing but the class helped me choose which takes we used.

I am very happy with how the project turned out. It was a high water mark of success for these students and provided an excellent foundation for writing their independent plays. It was also a great deal of fun being able to jointly create something.