How many of your students have gone to see a play? I’m guessing many of them have seen a school production. Some might have seen a professional production (and by the way, when I ask my students musicals don’t count.) But the reality is students are much more likely to have read a book than been in the audience for a play.
Some of this is about cost. It’s cheaper to buy a book than see a play. It’s also about convenience. It’s not like you can go see any play any time you want like you can with a movie.
However, plays are a great way to bring literature into the classroom. And I don’t just mean Shakespeare. For many teachers, if they teach Romeo and Juliet they can say that they teach drama, but only at the expense of some enjoyable, modern plays that students will love.
So here are 5 reasons why you should be including more plays in your curriculum.
Plays don’t take long to read.
At least not as long as a novel. The running time of most plays is between two and a half to three hours, so it doesn’t take long to finish one. In my class we can read Fences in a week easily. It can be difficult to add a novel to the curriculum. A play is much more feasible.
In addition, I like to do plays as part of lit circles. Because all plays are about the same length, you avoid the problem of a bunch of kids finishing a short novel quickly while others are struggling to finish the longer book they wanted to read.
Plays make it easy to differentiate.
One of the problems with lit circles is that your students may not be reading books that you’ve read before, and it’s impossible to read them all. Since plays are so short, it’s much more likely that you can read them all in advance, especially if you give yourself enough time to do so. I give my students 10-15 minutes at the start of class to read independently and I was usually able to read an entire play in one day if I was reading during this time.
Plays are (relatively) easy to read.
Sure, some plays are more difficult than others. But most plays are very accessible. Students can get bogged down in extensive stage directions (I’m thinking about you, Lorraine Hansberry). But because plays rely so much on dialogue, they tend to be easier for students to process.
I know that the default way to teach plays is to read them aloud in class, but I’ve had good luck with students reading them on their own. This can free up class time and they take even less time to read.
Plays are an effective way to teach symbolism.
The baseball bat in Fences. Or even the fence in Fences. Or the glass menagerie in The Glass Menagerie. Or the apple tree in All My Sons. If you want your symbolism cut and dry, look no further than plays. Students can easily identify the symbols, and usually have no problems explaining what they mean.
Not to mention basically any other literary device you can think of. Is there a better genre to teach dramatic irony that plays?
There are a lot of great activities you can do with plays.
Plays provide you with rich opportunities to engage in a variety of disciplines. Check out this list here for fun activities that work with (almost) any play.
So which plays work well? Here’s a list of plays that my students enjoyed. These are high school seniors – some of the content may not be appropriate for every grade.
Fences –August Wilson. Wilson’s The Piano Lesson is also great.
The Glass Menagerie – Tennessee Williams
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Edward Albee
All My Sons – Arthur Miller. I prefer this one to Death of a Salesman, especially if students are reading it on their own.
A Raisin in the Sun -Lorraine Hansberry
A Doll House – Henrik Ibsen
Inherit the Wind – Jerome Lawrence
Much Ado About Nothing – William Shakespeare (I know that I said that we should be teaching more modern drama than Shakespeare, but occasionally you’ll get a kid who really wants a challenge. This one is pretty easy to read on your own.)
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