Abby Whittredge’s seventh grade English class is currently doing a unit on drama. In order to introduce her students to the basics of theatre, she divides them into groups and has them work together to each act out a different picture book.
Seventh grade English teacher Abby Whittredge welcomes her students to the auditorium on the day her students present their projects. Whittredge has been using picture books in her drama unit for about four years. Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
The first group of students to present performs their rendition of Margaret Wise Brown’s bedtime classic Goodnight Moon. Seventh grade English teacher Abby Whittredge organizes the project by putting her students in groups of three or four by their abilities in front of a group. “Shy kids are always with shy kids,” she said, “and loud kids are all together. Medium kids are all together. The reason why is because I don’t want the loud kids to take over all the groups. I want them to know what it’s like to work with kids who are like them. I want quiet kids not to stand behind other people who are not comfortable on stage. I want everybody to learn how to compromise if you’re one of the vocal people, to learn how to accept other people’s ideas, or to shut up and listen. And the quiet kids need to learn how to take charge.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
The next group of students uses props, singing, and dancing to reenact Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, a book written by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambeault and illustrated by Louis Elhert that teaches the alphabet. Seventh grade English teacher Abby Whittredge assigns the book she wants each group to use. “They memorize the book as an actor,” she said. “Then, as a director, they have a vision for what it’s going to look like on stage. Then, they do the choreography where they block it all out, and they also do the costumes and everything.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Another group in seventh grade English teacher Abby Whittredge’s class acts out Snuggle Puppy by Sandra Boynton. In preparation for the project, Whittredge introduces her students to several important elements of drama, including projection, annunciation, eye contact, and voice inflection. She also teaches her students about looking at the audience, projecting one’s voice, speaking clearly, and how to change one’s voice to create a tone. Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Seventh grade English teacher Abby Whittredge chooses a different set of books for each of her classes. For the block being photographed, she selected Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy E. Shaw, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Goodnight Moon (both already mentioned), and, written by Sandra Boynton, Moo! Baa! La La La!, Hippos Go Berserk, Snuggle Puppy, and The Barnyard Dance, performed by the group shown above. Whittredge chooses the books based on what her son loved when he was younger. She also has a master’s degree in children’s literature, and tries to keep up with the new trends in picture books in order to add new things to her list. Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
The last group to present their performance stages Moo! Baa! La La La! in front of Abby Whittredge’s seventh grade English class. The picture book project is the beginning of Whittredge’s Shakespeare unit. “I teach them all the hard stuff – projection, annunciation, voice inflection, those things – with something simple and easy like a picture book,” she said. “If you can do it with a picture book, you learn it on something easy, then you can transfer it to something hard, like Shakespeare.” The project is worth several participation grades, and the performance acts as a quiz. Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
As her seventh grade English class watches their fellow students perform, Abby Whittredge grades each group’s project. Student feedback has been extremely positive every year Whittredge has used the project in her classroom. “Everybody loves it, and I’m always shocked at how good they are,” she said. “Very few people get less than a B-plus, because they work really hard! And not because I’m an easy grader, it’s because they work so hard to do a good job.” Whittredge’s favorite part of the project is seeing her students demonstrate their creativity. “They’ll take something that I think ought to look a certain way, and they’ll change it, and do something way cooler than I ever thought about doing. And it looks awesome and it’s so smart and good, and it’s just a way for me to see them in a different light.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online