Deirdre Moore | August 2014

Human Claymation: Using Theatre to Model Class Rules

It’s that time of year again.

Some schools are already in session, and some will be starting soon. Many educators spend time in the beginning of the year creating or exploring classroom rules or guidelines with their students so all know what is expected.  Some educators may create the guidelines themselves and others will ask students for ideas.  Either way, teachers will most often ask students to describe what desired behaviors look like. Some may even ask students to model those behaviors. This year, with arts integration in mind, why not make modeling behavior to establish class rules a more theatrical experience?

Chances are you are familiar with human claymation – the animation of clay figures.  By borrowing from that idea making one student the “clay” and another the “animator” students work together in pairs to transform inappropriate behaviors to appropriate ones. Thus,  applying the theater skills of gesture, posture, facial expression, and tableau.   This can be especially effective with very general rules/guidelines like “Be respectful.”  There are so many ways to demonstrate that behavior and students will have lots of ideas!

Human Claymation

Start by pairing students up into “clay” actor and “animator” director partnerships.  Give the partners a rule and a scenario to demonstrate.  For example, a student is standing in the front of the room giving a presentation, and the rule the actors must model is “Be respectful.”  Have the “clay” actor create a frozen shape showing an inappropriate behavior. Behaviors such as looking out the window in a slumped posture with chin in hand, not focusing on the presentation.

The animator’s job is to gently and carefully move the body of the clay (or verbally direct the clay how to move) until s/he is satisfied that the clay now resembles a student showing respectful behavior to the imaginary speaker.  Facial expression should be directed verbally, or modeled by the animator and mimicked by the clay.  The clay has the responsibility of remembering each change the animator made.

And then….

The animators leave the performance area, and join the audience when satisfied with the final tableau. And, the clay actors resume their original inappropriate tableau body position.  On your signal (saying “curtain up”, clapping your hands, hitting a chime, etc.) clay actors will slowly transform. Making each of the body and facial changes the animators made one at a time until they reach their end shape, and freeze in the final tableau.  The audience shares observations of the postures, gestures, and facial expressions of the clay actors in their final tableau.

You can take a photo of that tableau to post next to the rules on the wall. This stands as a constant reminder of what “Be respectful” looks like in the classroom.  You can utilize this technique for any guidelines you have in your classroom. You may have a group of clay actors working under the direction of just one animator. Or, you could simply continue using the pairing structure.

Although this approach may take more time than just having one student model a behavior there are number of things that make the time investment worthwhile.

  • More student involvement
  • The power of witnessing the transformation of behavior
  • Cooperation between students
  • Empowerment of students
  • Having photos of the students as reminders of expectations
  • Learning/reinforcing/practicing theatre skills

Start your year with some theatre and some fun as you help your students learn what is expected to help them have a successful and productive school year!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.