The Classroom Chat Show

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Hello! I hope you’re having a lovely October break removed from the classroom; here’s a little something that you might like to try when you return for Term No. 2!

At the start of the school year, I asked my junior classes (S1-S3) to write me a letter telling me different things about themselves including their favourite subject. I didn’t take a tally, but Physical Education and Drama were subjects that appeared again and again. While my classroom is a tad on the small side for any serious physical learning, I do have room for a bit of drama and it’s something that’s worked well for me before. One of my favourite things to do along those lines is The Classroom Chat Show which is an exercise you can do with just about any text that focuses on characterisation.

First you ask your class if they’re familiar with the idea of a chat show; chances are, they will be, but you can also play a clip from one if not. I’ve always targeted the more bombastic chat shows to use as examples – Jerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle style fireworks seem to make the exercise more appealing to kids! Then you assign roles, either by randomly picking children or by coming up with a cast list in advance. You want between five and seven children to play characters from the text and one host; the rest of the class will act as members of the audience. I’ve always preferred to assign roles in advance because it prevent arguments on the day and means you can pick children who you think will be right for each role. I’ve used it as an opportunity to give quieter kids the chance to be centre stage as one of the characters from the story; on the other hand, not every child will have the maturity and confidence to handle being the host.

After everyone has their role, explain each one in detail so that the children know exactly what is expected of them. The characters must revise their knowledge of the text so that they know what their character is like and what their role in the text is. The audience must come up with good questions to ask the characters on the show. The host has the hardest job as they must have a good understanding of the text and have an idea of where they want the discussion on the show to go. They also have to gather questions from the audience and moderate discussion so that every character has the chance to contribute. As difficult as this may seem, I’ve found that kids really like the responsibility and challenge of the role and respond well to it. Obviously, use your common sense and pick kids who you think will fit each role. Then give them between 15 and 20 minutes to prepare; use this time to circulate and check in with each child to make sure they understand their role and what is expected of them.

After the class have had time to prepare, set up some chairs at the front of the classroom and let them go! Stand at the back to moderate the task, but unless the class begins acting wildly out of control then leave the management of the chat show to your host. It’s a lot of fun watching what your class come up with; while they must remain true to the text, their interpretation of each character is entirely up to them so they can be as creative as they like! I did this exercise using Philip Pullman’s cracking drama adaptation of Frankenstein and the kid I chose for Victor played him as an overprotective father who would not believe his creation capable of stealing food. Another kid who had been assigned the role of the Inspector from An Inspector Calls played him as a French gumshoe who had a fondness for terrible puns.

As well as allowing creativity, this is a great exercise for engaging children with the characters from the text in a more exciting manner than simply drawing up character charts or mind maps. You can build in a written exercise to follow up to ensure that the learning is not lost in the fun of performance by asking children to reflect on what they have learned about each character or to answer a specific question. This activity worked brilliantly with An Inspector Calls as before the chat show, the class were asked to rank the members of the Birling family in order of who they felt was most responsible for Eva’s death.After their performance, they were then asked to reconsider their answers to see if there was any difference in how they saw the characters. This activity also works well with a range of ages; I’ve done it for S1 with Frankenstein and for S5 with Hamlet.

Would you give this idea a go in your classroom? Let me know in the comments and feel free to get in touch with your results!

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