Teacher to Teacher
Taking the Moe on the Road
Creating a Classroom Event: Using Student Performance to Appreciate Setting
“Maycomb…was a tired old town when I first knew it.” Students will enjoy a book more if they understand its world, especially if that world bears a connection to their own. Learn how to help your students make pre-reading connections by guiding their creative energy into an engaging classroom performance. The “Moe Method” of creative questioning is based on the premise that our students have something to say and need only the time and the attention to have what’s inside emerge.
After the students have analyzed their pictures (either in-class or for homework), project a large version of each picture up on the screen (an overhead transparency works fine, but you can make a power point or DVD montage if you’re so inclined). When students see their own photos on the screen, they go to the front of the room. Without the benefit of their notes, they spend a couple of minutes explaining to the class various details they have noticed and some conclusions that they have drawn. Students in the “audience” then have an opportunity to point out additional details and make further speculations. By the time you’ve gone through all the pictures/presentations, the class should be fairly comfortable with the world of Alabama in the 1930’s.
Now that the class has a working sense of the time and place of To Kill a Mockingbird, each student generates a list of people/professions who might inhabit an Alabama town in the 1930’s. The kids generally enjoy this part, and it’s a painless review of nouns and adjectives as well. Then break the class into groups of 6-members and have them share their “Personal Maycomb” character lists. The groups should decide which character each group member should portray in the final performance. Tell the groups that each production should revolve around an event or happening that has somehow impacted the life of the townspeople (a fire, a flood, a murder, a scandal, a birth, a bankruptcy, etc.). Responding to a catalytic event provides a unifying focus to the performance. Once their characters are selected, students can expand their characters by answering the questions on the “Alabama Moe” sheets.
Since Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology provided the original inspiration for this project, a youtube clip of a performance can give the class an idea of what the final product could look like. When you feel that the class has a fair idea of what might be done, issue each group a piece of butcher paper and markers. Tell them to make a bubble chart with the focus event in the middle and their various characters’ names clustered around it. The groups should then draw arrows and jot down as many connections as possible among the characters themselves and the event. This activity further establishes a focus for the performance.
Once the basic premise for the show is established, distribute the sample Spoon River free verse character poems. Using these samples as guides, students should then write a rough draft of their own character monologue-poems. Students will then peer edit their groups’ poems and offer suggestions to one another for expansion, clarification, etc. At this point the groups can begin discussing the sequencing, blocking, props, etc. needed to turn the collection into a performance. Depending on your expectations for the quality of the actual performance, this stage can be expanded as you see fit.
On the day of the actual performances, bring in a CD of Depression Era music (the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack works well) and a power point or DVD montage of the original pictures. By playing the CD quietly in the background while projecting the photos on the screen, you’ve added an easy but effective multi-media layer to the performances. Afterwards discuss the plays both individually and collectively. Now when your students go to read To Kill a Mockingbird, they should bring some interesting perspectives on the making of Harper Lee’s “real” Maycomb, Alabama.
Homework: Populating your own Great Depression Era Town.
Homework: Expanding Your Character
Homework: Free Verse Character Poem (rough draft)
Homework: Planning/Rehearsing the performance
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