Deirdre Moore | June 2016

Scenes in 2 Lines: The 5 Ws of Theatre with Vocal and Body Expression

About a month ago I shared a progression I like to use to help students to explore vocal and physical expression.  This was based on the idea that students who have little to no theatre experience will have trouble reaching the following third grade National Core Arts Standards. Here’s the 5 Ws of Theatre you need to know.


a. Collaborate with peers to revise, refine, and adapt ideas to fit the given parameters of a drama theatre work.
b. Participate and contribute to physical and vocal exploration in an improvised or scripted drama/theatre work.
c. Practice and refine design and technical choices to support a devised or scripted drama/theatre work.

The progression I shared focused on part “b” of the above standard.  This next activity incorporates both “a” and “b”, gets their imaginations involved and requires deep thinking.  It also allows other students to help pairs refine their work to make things more clear to the audience.

After warming them up by reviewing what was covered previously, I introduce them to the 5 Ws of Theatre: who, what, when, where, why.  Then I show them the following dialogue:

A: I’m sorry
B: Turn around

We talk about why I do not include punctuation (because that would tell them what type of vocal inflection to use and I want them to determine that based on the scene they create).  Then, as a whole class, we generate ideas about the 5 Ws of Theatre.  Who could be in this scene where this dialogue is said?  What is happening that is causing them to say this?  When and where is this scene taking place?  Why are they there and why are they saying these things to one another?  Some groups can turn to a partner and figure out a scenario on their own and share out with the class.  Others need a little more help to get them started.  If they are a group that needs help, this is one interpretation that could be used.

Who: Criminal and police officer
What: Criminal was chased into an alley and could not escape
Where/When: Alley with a dead end at night just after the crime was committed
Why: The criminal was apologizing because he was hoping the police officer would go easier on him, the police officer wasn’t having it and was simply prepared to cuff the suspect

I have 2 students volunteer to act out the above scenario (or another that was suggested by the group).  Once it’s done, as a class they talk about what the actors did to convey the 5 Ws of Theatre.  Normally the students begin by just saying the lines with some body movement and vocal expression.  This gives the opportunity to dig deeper and ask what else the actors could do to set the scene and convey all 5 Ws of Theatre.  Here are some possibilities:

Who:  The fact that the police officer is chasing the criminal and the criminal is running and trying to hide something or hold onto something
What:  The criminal stops abruptly and looks around trying to find an escape route but gets frustrated upon not finding one
Where/When:  The criminal is still holding the stolen goods and shows that no matter what direction s/he turns there is nowhere to go, the police officer is holding a flashlight and shines it in the face of the criminal who shields his/her eyes from the light
Why: The criminal puts up her/his hands as s/he says “I’m sorry” but the officer simply says “Turn around” as s/he takes the criminal’s hands to cuff them behind the criminal’s back

To get all the students involved, you might split them into pairs and allow them to try acting out that interpretation of the scene or allow them to create new interpretations and show them to the whole class or just to another pair.  Then have the “audience” tell what they actors did to show the 5 Ws of Theatre and what else they might try to be more clear and give the audience more context.  You may be amazed at where their imaginations can take them and how many different scenes these 2 lines can produce!

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.