Meet Your Best Co-Teacher Ever (or How to Make Your Walls Work for You)

If you are going to be surrounded by them everyday, you might as well make them work, right? No, I don’t mean the kids in your Production Lab classes—I’m talking about your walls. Classroom bulletin boards tend to have a more elementary school connotation and bring to mind images of bright colors and mono-syllabic words with those weird curvy borders around them. But, have those of you on a middle and high school level considered what a resource that real estate is?!

Let’s explore some ways to think about your walls that could maximize students’ learning.

Anchor for Material

When you are introducing a new concept, you will certainly have some students who will latch onto it right away. But there will always be some whose learning style just doesn’t jive with your teaching style. By creating a wall space representing the material and teaching from the area around that space, you have the potential to create a more memorable impact for that information. Colorful posters with information, past students’ examples, and tangible evidence will be one more avenue for getting that knowledge into their brains. It doesn’t need to be cluttered, over-stimulating, or Pinterest-perfect (ahem).  A simple, creative, visual representation of the material will give the opportunity for better recall of the information later for the more visual learners. It will also provide a reference point for future material that builds from the concept.


Pinterest-perfect bulletin boards…

Work in Progress

Like your students and you as a teacher, your walls are a work in progress. The school year is always a journey and the students start somewhere and (hopefully) grow to land somewhere else by the end of the year. There is no rule that says your walls have to be finished before students ever enter the classroom and must remain as such, forever and ever amen. Why not start with simple rules and procedures and build the wall displays in clever and creative ways as the instructional year progresses? The fluidity provides a break from the monotonous and can help get the attention of your learners. This will also make sure that the time you spend decorating your room is going to make a real impact on what students retain when they leave it.


Resources for Objectives

We know you are busy. Between classes, rehearsals, staff meetings, duties, and everything else, there isn’t always time to make the students memorize every detail of every lesson objective. Let’s say for example that you want your students to use Strasberg’s Method in an improvisation exercise. You have discussed this method before when exploring influential theatre practitioners, but your students are getting it confused with Meisner’s repetition exercise. By displaying the information they have already been taught, you spend less time re-teaching and more time empowering the students to discover the differences on their own. So the time you put into creating a wall display while teaching the material could save Future You some time (and frustration) down the road.


Boom.  Learning Achieved.

Interactive Learning

Imagine the possibilities. Maybe the idea of creating a wall-sized presentation isn’t feasible for you for whatever reason. Consider the innumerable possibilities instead of using the wall space as a launchpad for your students’ learning. By having them create the bulletin board ties all of these things together, leaving you with an interactive, reference point that is fluid, interesting, and provides a reliable resource for your learners. Consider:

A Graffiti Wall

A simple prompt is written boldly on the display area and students are encouraged to draw, write, or use post-it notes to answer the prompt.

Example: “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream is…” The objective would be to let students write, draw, or post facts about the play after reading it. Not short opinions, such as “a good play,” but factual statements. Nothing can be repeated, so they could take turns adding to it and having to come up with new, thoughtful responses each round. This could also be used for cross-curricular studies.

A Character Wall

Example A: Cut out very basic/cartoonish shape of a body (think gingerbread person) and give to each student. They will choose a character to represent by creating a makeup design on its face and using fabrics to create a costume.  Then, using the visible spaces in the body or a separate card, they write out physical mannerisms on that body part (particular hand gesture written on the hand, etc) and emotional/situational affectations that occur during the character’s journey.

Example B: Have students lay down on butcher paper and trace one another’s outline (crime scene style.) Each student takes his/her paper character and fills it with physical and emotional traits of the character being portrayed.  This could be used in cross-curricular education with health and science when discussing tattoos, piercings, and body modifications, as well as with literature and history studies.

So as we march onward into a new semester, consider changing your walls or changing your perspective of how you use your walls.  You will enrich the learning experience for everyone!

Please share with us some creative ways you use your walls to help teach your theatre classes and ideas for interactive bulletin boards!


Give Something

Alyssa Mooney, our social media editor, shares a bit of advice from the indelible Bryan Cranston.

Bryan Cranston, of Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle fame, is on tour to promote his new book, A Life in Parts, and I attended the lecture, secretly hoping to get a little inside knowledge on Walter White and whether he’ll ever be on Better Call Saul.  (No confirmation there, darn it.) However, what I ended up with is one of the best pieces of auditioning advice I’ve encountered.

A grad student asked for advice on what is the most important step in beginning your artistic journey after graduating and Cranston jokingly replied, “The first one.” He went on to explain a mindset he started to take early on in his auditioning process: stop thinking of auditions as if they are job interviews.  

From his book, A Life in Parts:

“…[it was suggested that] I focus on process rather than outcome. I wasn’t going to the audition to get anything: a job or money or validation. I wasn’t going to compete with the other guys.

I was going to give something.

I wasn’t there to get a job. I was there to do a job. Simple as that. I was there to give a performance. If I attached to the outcome, I was setting myself up to expect, and thus to fail. My job was to focus on character. My job was to be interesting. My job was to be compelling. Take some chances. Serve the text. Enjoy the process.”

Cranston went on to talk about how freeing this was, how it gave him confidence, and how it allowed him to be truly happy for other people who got roles from good auditions.  

Sitting there in the small auditorium, it struck me how simple this advice was but also how it helped eliminate a big roadblock to many young (and seasoned) actors in the audition process. Actors are constantly told to relax in auditions, to have confidence, but it can be a grueling and scary experience that wears on your self-esteem. Chorus Line even has a song about it, with dancers joining as one agitated voice in the key of A minor, “God, I hope I get it. I hope I get it. How many people does he need?” Cranston’s idea allows the actor to let go of that anxiety and to stop worrying about getting it and care about doing it and doing it well.

Like most good advice, this is blindingly simple but also difficult to master; especially if you’re already an established actor who need the audition to go well so you can pay rent. However, educators can help their students to start to incorporate this into their mindset early on, so they’ll find it easier to do when the stakes are higher than OAP or the spring musical. If actors learn to treat their auditions as not a prize to be won but a gift to be given (without arrogance) then who knows…maybe one day they’ll be the next Walter White or Dr. Tim Whatley, Dentist to the Stars.


Ten Tips for Beating The Mid-Semester Doldrums

It’s the day before school starts.  Your classroom is ready. You are ripe with wisdom and inspiration from the many inservice meetings you attended.  You have visions of your students’ excitement and enthusiasm for learning.  This year you will be present, energetic, infinitely patient, and wise beyond your years!

Fast forward to mid-terms.  Your classroom is a mess, the kids are a little too comfortable in your class, and there is not enough coffee in this world to get you from your conference period all the way to end of rehearsal.  What to do?

Here are some tips we like to use to keep things fun and interesting, reconnect with your students, and beat those mid-semester doldrums!

1. Change your warm-up routine.

That fabulous activity you have the kids do every time they enter the classroom might be getting on your nerves by this point.  Change it up!  Give them a new set of vocal warm-ups, a new puzzle to solve, or improvisation exercise to do.  It will break up the monotony and be more effective in engaging the children.

2. Rearrange your classroom.

Nothing freshens up a space quickly like moving furniture around!  Switch up that floor plan and create a new zen!  Add some new decorations or educational resources to make the learning space more fun and appealing!

3. Attach “googly eyes” to things.

Because even a stapler can be a puppet if you believe.stapler_with_googly_eyes

4. Interrupt your class with a yoga/stretching break.

Put the lesson aside for a moment and move those muscles!  Just a few moments of deep breathing and stretching can increase focus and oxygen to the brain.

5. Try this hilarious improvisation game.

Have the audience choose an item or a classroom-appropriate topic (the more inane, the better).  The actor will then have to go on a full, ranting tirade about this item!  Then sit back and listen as they give their best “just saying,” #sorrynotsorry diatribe about socks and how they are a scourge on our society!

6. Organize a messy space.

Costume storage, desk, car, file cabinet.  It doesn’t matter.  Choose a cluttered area that you see every day and organize it.  You will feel proud and accomplished and have a more efficient space!

7. Teach in a costume.

You have all those great costumes just sitting there, go ahead and teach the parts of the stage as a 1920’s flapper girl!  It will entertain the students and give you something fun to do!

8. Classroom scavenger hunt.

Hide ten paintbrushes around the room and give a prize to the first student to find them all during class!

9. Post-It Note wall.

Give a prompt such as, “What theatre is to me…” and let the students post their responses.  Inspiration galore!


10. Schedule a Happy Hour with friends.

Take a break to enjoy friends and talk about things that are not job-related!  Have some chips and salsa, maybe a beverage, and unwind!  You deserve it!

Did we miss something?  What do you to stay fresh in the middle of the semester?  Leave a comment below!

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