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The goal of Writing is to help students to see themselves as writers by tapping into their interests and experiences and allowing them time to practice writing in a supportive environment. Students need strong writing skills to succeed academically and in the world beyond school.

Practice in Action

What Is It?

Story and literature dramatizations give students an opportunity to act and explore characters, bringing literature to life. Acting out characters' parts engages students while building critical reading skills.

What Do I Do?

Choose a poem, short story, or play that will really engage students. Ask students for their ideas, or talk to their teachers to find out how to connect to the school-day curriculum. Review the story, plot, and characters, then assign roles or let students decide. Ask students to think about their role, discuss what makes each character convincing, and encourage them to really take on that character. Students aren't required to memorize lines unless they choose to.

Why Does it Work?

Afterschool provides the perfect setting for dramatizations. After a day of sitting in classes, students can move around and act things out while building literacy skills. While some programs mount full-scale theatrical productions, there are any number of ways that dramatization can be integrated into afterschool activities through finger puppets, rhymes, reader's theater, or songs.

ELL Enhancements

This practice is especially effective for English language learners because it employs multiple learning modalities (physical, visual, auditory, etc.) that have been shown to reinforce language learning. Repeated readings of a script and practicing line delivery build fluency and expressiveness in English, and the collaborative nature of the practice provides essential opportunities for interaction. Pantomime and follow-up discussions can be very effective for the integration of language and meaning.

Many students who are learning English may not have the same background knowledge related to text structure and content as native English speakers. For example, they may be unfamiliar with the format of a theatrical script, or with a fairy tale that is traditional in this culture (such as The Three Little Pigs). When choosing texts for this activity, select from a variety of culturally relevant texts, gauge students' levels of background knowledge, and provide additional explanation and instruction where needed.

Planning Your Lesson

Great afterschool lessons start with having a clear intention about who your students are, what they are learning or need to work on, and crafting activities that engage students while supporting their academic growth. Great afterschool lessons also require planning and preparation, as there is a lot of work involved in successfully managing kids, materials, and time.

Below are suggested questions to consider while preparing your afterschool lessons. The questions are grouped into topics that correspond to the Lesson Planning Template. You can print out the template and use it as a worksheet to plan and refine your afterschool lessons, to share lesson ideas with colleagues, or to help in professional development sessions with staff.

Lesson Planning Template (PDF)

Lesson Planning Template (Word document)

Lesson Planning Template Questions

Grade Level

What grade level(s) is this lesson geared to?


How long will it take to complete the lesson? One hour? One and a half hours? Will it be divided into two or more parts, over a week, or over several weeks?

Learning Goals

What do you want students to learn or be able to do after completing this activity? What skills do you want students to develop or hone? What tasks do they need to accomplish?

Materials Needed

List all of the materials needed that will be needed to complete the activity. Include materials that each student will need, as well as materials that students may need to share (such as books or a computer). Also include any materials that students or instructors will need for record keeping or evaluation. Will you need to store materials for future sessions? If so, how will you do this?


What do you need to do to prepare for this activity? Will you need to gather materials? Will the materials need to be sorted for students or will you assign students to be "materials managers"? Are there any books or instructions that you need to read in order to prepare? Do you need a refresher in a content area? Are there questions you need to develop to help students explore or discuss the activity? Are there props that you need to have assembled in advance of the activity? Do you need to enlist another adult to help run the activity?

Think about how you might divide up groups?who works well together? Which students could assist other peers? What roles will you assign to different members of the group so that each student participates?

Now, think about the Practice that you are basing your lesson on. Reread the Practice. Are there ways in which you need to amend your lesson plan to better address the key goal(s) of the Practice? If this is your first time doing the activity, consider doing a "run through" with friends or colleagues to see what works and what you may need to change. Alternatively, you could ask a colleague to read over your lesson plan and give you feedback and suggestions for revisions.

What to Do

Think about the progression of the activity from start to finish. One model that might be useful—and which was originally developed for science education—is the 5E's instructional model. Each phrase of the learning sequence can be described using five words that begin with "E": engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate. For more information, see the 5E's Instructional Model.

Outcomes to Look For

How will you know that students learned what you intended them to learn through this activity? What will be your signs or benchmarks of learning? What questions might you ask to assess their understanding? What, if any, product will they produce?


After you conduct the activity, take a few minutes to reflect on what took place. How do you think the lesson went? Are there things that you wish you had done differently? What will you change next time? Would you do this activity again?

Sample Lessons

Freeze Frames (3-8)

Students work collaboratively in small groups to depict a scene or an event from a story in this quick, spontaneous activity.

Duration: 30 minutes

Learning Goals

  • Apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, and appreciate texts
  • Use dramatization to communicate stories and events
  • Work collaboratively in small groups
  • Present a snapshot of a story or event

Materials Needed

  • No special materials or preparation are required. This activity can be conducted using any book or story that students have read/are reading. It can also be conducted using social studies content, such as a historical event that students are studying.

What to Do

  • Divide students into small groups.
  • Ask each group to pose to create a picture of a specific event from their text.
  • Ask each group member to take part in the picture and say, Ready, action, FREEZE!
  • Ask the observing students to report and interpret what they see. If those who created the picture have details to add, they can fill them in.
  • Go around the room until all groups have had a chance to present their frozen picture.

Outcomes to Look For

  • Student engagement and participation
  • Small group collaboration, with all group members participating equally
  • Presentations, comments, and questions that reflect an understanding of stories, events, key themes, and characters

Shakespeare Club (5-9)

Students memorize a part in A Midsummer Night's Dream, create costumes and a set, and build literacy skills in a fun, engaging way.

Duration: 45 minutes, two days per week

Learning Goals

  • Read and learn about the life of William Shakespeare
  • Read and understand a Shakespeare play
  • Study characters
  • Help create a costume and set
  • Practice reading, memorizing, and presenting a play

Materials Needed

  • Copy of a Shakespeare play for each student
  • Costume materials and accessories for characters
  • Set materials, as needed


  • Read and review the play.
  • Identify the setting, main characters, themes, and plot.
  • List any new vocabulary words.
  • Develop questions for review.
  • Develop a schedule for practicing and presenting the play.

What to Do

  • Introduce the play and its author.
  • Review the setting, main characters, theme, and plot.
  • Engage students in a discussion of the plot and characters.
  • Hold an audition for parts, and let students choose roles for stage management, costume, and set design.
  • Have students rehearse the play by reading it through multiple times and working to memorize their lines.
  • Have students create the set and the necessary costumes.
  • Have students perform the play for fellow students and parents.

Outcomes to Look For

  • Student engagement in story, characters, and plot
  • Expressive, fluent reading
  • Reading and comments that reflect an understanding of literature and characters
  • Creative set design and costumes
  • Collaboration among students
  • A presentation that reflects a knowledge and understanding of the play

Creating Student Advertising (9-12)

Teens analyze how ads work as they develop, create, and enact media advertising that expresses their own voices and values.

Duration: Four sessions, 60 minutes each

Learning Goals

  • Learn to analyze common communication strategies used by the media to influence teen choices
  • Identify messages that teens consider important
  • Collaborate with peers to create a media ad, applying advertising techniques to the message
  • Experiment with the integration of sound, movement, language, and visual elements to affect communication

Materials Needed


Day One

Work with students to:

  • View the "Analyzing Media" video in the Writing practice section of this Web site.
  • Browse teen advertising in magazines and on the Web, noting characteristics that create impact.
  • Watch television ads, discussing the messages and ways they are crafted.
  • Ask What techniques are consistently used by media advertisers to influence teen decision-making? Can we use these techniques for messages we think are important?
  • Distribute copywriting tip sheets and review characteristics of good copywriting.

What to Do

Day Two

Working in groups of three to five members, students:

  • Identify one message they agree is important to a teen audience.
  • Develop a 60-second ad in which everyone in the group has a role, and which is designed to effectively communicate this message.

Day Three

Student groups:

  • Integrate musical backgrounds, sound effects, minimal costumes, and props.
  • Rehearse/refine the enacted advertisement.

Day Four

As a whole group, students:

  • Present their ads and discuss how they differ from commercially produced ads.
  • Discuss powerful/effective aspects of each presentation.
  • Consider ways to improve each one, using feedback sheets with category titles such as: What I Liked, What I Have Questions About, and Ideas You Might Consider.
  • Identify new perspectives on teen advertising and messages.

Outcomes to Look For

  • Understanding of the common techniques used by the media to influence teen choices
  • Ability to identify messages that are important to teens
  • Increased skill in working collaboratively
  • Understanding and application of the principles of copywriting and media communication
  • Ability to integrate language, sound, movement, and visual elements to craft a message

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! (K-2)

After reading and discussing a children's book, students break up into small groups, choose roles, and act out parts.

Duration: 60 minutes or two 30-minute sessions

Learning Goals

  • Recognize fluent, expressive reading
  • Engage with literature through role plays and dramatizations
  • Study and understand a character in literature
  • Work collaboratively in small groups
  • Present a play, based on a story from literature

Materials Needed

  • The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
  • Simple felt or paper finger puppets of the wolf and three pigs (optional)


  • Review the story, noting key themes and any new vocabulary words.
  • Consider questions for discussion.
  • Make finger puppets and a stage (optional).

What to Do

  • Ask students if they know the story of the three little pigs.
  • Invite multiple volunteers to tell each part of the story.
  • Explain that today students are going to hear the wolf's side of the story.
  • Read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! aloud, pausing to ask questions.
  • After the read-aloud, ask students questions such as: How is this version of The Three Little Pigs different from other versions you have heard before? How is it the same? Does this story change how you think about the wolf? Why? Which story do you think is really true? How do you know?
  • Divide children into small groups. Explain that in order to help them decide which version of the story is true, they are going to act out both versions for the group.
  • Assign each group a version of the story and help them prepare a play from their story. Very young children can use finger puppets or a felt board. Older children may want to write a simple script for reader's theater. Help children identify and clarify the main characters and key events of the story as they prepare their skits.
  • Have each group perform for the remaining students.

Outcomes to Look For

  • Student engagement and participation
  • Application of a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, and appreciate texts
  • Use of spoken, written, and visual language to communicate understanding
  • Comments and answers that reflect an understanding of the story, key themes, characters, and new word meanings


Technology Tip for this practice

Let your students take their dramatization to the next level by creating a video. If your program doesn't have a video camera, try to borrow one from a school or business. A local business might even be willing to donate a camera to your afterschool program. Once you have your camera, visit YouthLearn for a complete explanation of student video production as well as its place in reading and writing education.

Text Resources

Theory, research and practice

  • O'Neill, C. (1995). Drama worlds: A framework for process drama. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Press. The complex improvised event called process drama is considered, with discussions of factors such as texts, roles, audience, dramatic time, and the leader's function in the event.
  • Wagner, B.J. (1999). Dorothy Heathcote: Drama as a learning medium (rev. ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Press. A full explanation of Heathcote's techniques -- the pedagogy of drama -- with descriptions and analyses of Heathcote's improvisations with young children in a variety of classroom settings.
  • Winner, E. and Hetland, L. (2000, Fall/Winter). The arts and academic achievement: What the Evidence Shows. Executive Summary. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34. Retrieved September 12, 2006, from:

Guides for constructing dramatization activities

  • Manley, A., and O'Neill, C. (1997). Dreamseekers: Creative approaches to African American experience.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Press. Several teachers, working with African American students or subjects, describe active and engaging classroom work.
  • Saxton, J., and Miller, C.S. (2004). Into the story: Language and action through drama. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Press. Ten lesson units with story drama structures that have been piloted in elementary and middle schools, creating accessible models for further work.
  • Smith, J.L., and Herring, D. (2001). Dramatic Literacy: Using Drama and Literature to Teach Middle-Level Content. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Press. Strategies for using drama to connect middle school students with content and stories in language arts, social studies, science, math, and second language instruction.
  • Swartz, L. (2002). The new drama themes. Portland, ME: Stenhouse. Many rich theme-based storybuilding ideas are presented, appropriate for elementary age children.
  • Wagner, D., and Larson, M. (1994). Situations: A casebook of virtual realities for the English teacher.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Each chapter opens with a vivid situation drawn from real-life experience, offering readers the opportunity to think about how they would respond to difficult dilemmas, offering great drama-based teaching models for high school students.

Web Resources

General Literacy Web Resources

General Literacy Text Resources

  • Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G. (1996). Guided reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. A comprehensive resource for implementation of guided reading activities
  • National Research Council. (2000). Starting out right: A guide to promoting reading success.Washington DC: National Academy Press.
  • Braunger, J. & Lewis, J.P. (1997). Building a knowledge base in reading. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. This synthesis of research on how children learn how to read provides a baseline for educators and policymakers to consider in helping all children to meet higher standards.
  • Novick, R. (2002). Many paths to literacy: Language learning and literacy in the primary classroom.Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. This resource provides guidance on selecting children's books, and specific strategies to build comprehension from emergent literacy to independent reading.
  • Curtis, M. & Longo, A. (1990). When adolescents can't read: Methods and materials that work.Cambridge, MA, Brookline Books.
  • RMC Research Corp. (2001). Put reading first: Helping your child learn to read. A parent guide. Preschool through grade 3. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
    Describes the kinds of early literacy activities that should take place at school and at home to help children learn to read successfully. Designed for parents, based on the findings of the National Reading Panel.
  • Armbruster, B.B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2001). Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read, kindergarten through grade 3. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. Summarizes what researchers have discovered about how to teach children to read successfully. It describes the findings of the National Reading Panel Report and provides analysis and discussion in five areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.