Playwriting is a great way for students to express themselves and to create interesting performance material. Here are some ideas for teaching playwriting that have been culled from various sources.
Song Lyric Scenes: Have the students divide into small groups or pairs and select one of their favorite songs that is not from a musical. Working from the lyrics and drawing inspiration from the music itself, the students will write a scene. They can use direct quotes from the lyrics if they choose, but they do not have to. The purpose of the assignment is to capture the quality of the song in a spoken word scene.
Scenes from Images: This project is the same as the monologue exercise, but this time the images are of multiple people and the written text should be in dialogue form. The written scene should have a clear beginning, middle and end. Students should work in small groups and consider the individual characters as well as the group relationships.
Personifying Inanimate Objects: Have the students select an object that they interact with on a daily basis (e.g., coffee maker, alarm clock, backpack). Ask the students to shape their bodies like that object and create a sound that represents how that object might communicate. Playing in parallel, have the students speak freely for 1-2 minutes as their objects. Have them record and edit this text to create an original monologue.
Dialogue Pass: In groups of two have every student write down a time, place, relationship and starting and closing lines for a scene. Every student then passes her paper to his/her partner. This person adds the second line of dialogue. Pass the papers back for a third line. Continue to pass the papers back and forth until the scenes have reached the final lines. Share the scenes with the class or with other groups and check for continuity and meaning. Edit as necessary. This exercise can also be done with small circles of students.
Short Story Adaptation: Have each student select a short story from a given list (or bring one in for approval). After they have read the story, ask them to storyboard it. Creating a storyboard requires the students to think about the story frame by framing, drawing pictures for each important moment accompanied by key lines from the text. Working off their storyboards, have the students create dialogue for the characters, incorporate scenic elements and develop preliminary stage directions. The students should edit their own scripts and work in pairs or small groups to critique and edit one another's work until a final version is written.
New Endings: Choose a one act or full length play that is unfamiliar to the class. Either read the full play or read up to a certain point. As a class, brainstorm alternate endings or possible endings given the characters and preliminary action. In small groups, the students will write a new ending for the play and then either read it or perform it for the rest of the class. Compare and contrast the variety of endings created. Read the original ending if the class has not done so already. Be sure to notify students if they should include stage directions as they write.
In the news: Take a current news story and create a scenario for it. Decide on who the characters for your adaptation would be, what the central conflict is, and how you will resolve it.
Ten-minute Plays: Drawing on personal experiences, have the students tell one another stories in small groups or pairs. Either give topics or let the students choose their own. These small groups will become writing groups for the reminder of the assignment. These groups will serve as peer reviewers, advisors and editors. After telling stories, each student will storyboard her idea, create a list of characters and decide upon a time and place. Building on the storyboards, the students will write scripts that dramatize and (perhaps) fictionalize their original stories. They can use the people in their groups to experiment with their developing dialogue and help generate more ideas. This project could culminate in a ten-minute play festival.
Rewrite a chapter in your own life: Choosing a dramatic turning point in your own life, employ the magic "what if" to imagine the results/impact and consequences of the path that you did not take.
Creating a character: Have students create a character using their imagination. Then have them improvise a short scene in which their character is in a specific situation (ex. Waiting for a bus, ordering dinner, etc.) Have the character assess the situation that he/she is in to help the student bring out character traits.