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Home >> Teaching Tips >> Cross-Curricular Lesson Plans

Adrienne Chong, Mark Melnyk & David Butler, Markville, ON

Grade 10/ Drama, History, Language Arts, Music
One to four periods, for any or all units throughout the course.
Small Group Acting (SGA) attempts to re-live, portray, analyse and role-play the events of Canada’s history. They work best when the actors make a real commitment to bring the events and facts to life with costumes, music and documents. SGA can be set up to work throughout the year. We use them each unit, often as a review exercise of the main people and events of the unit under study. We will often set groups at the beginning of the year, allowing students to work with a certain group of students that they might not work with otherwise. SGA at its best brings the actors and the audience into a virtual time machine, transporting the class back into history.
Students will:
  • demonstrate an understanding of the elements of Canadian identity;
  • demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which outside forces and events have shaped Canada’s policies;
  • ask questions, identify problems, and effectively use historical research methods to investigate topics and issues in history;
  • use a variety of information sources effectively when researching historical topics or issues, accurately record relevant information, and then organize this information in a meaningful way;
  • analyse and evaluate information when researching historical topics or issues;
  • communicate effectively the results of research in presentations, and demonstrate an ability to apply insights from history to other situations;
  • make reasoned generalizations or appropriate predictions based on research;
  • demonstrate competence in research and writing (e.g., gathering information, building an argument, supporting the argument with evidence, writing clearly, editing);
  • express ideas and arguments in a coherent manner during discussions and debates, or in graphic displays;
  • demonstrate, after participating in dramatizations of historical events, insights into historical figures’ situations and decisions.
Usually in the first unit, the concept of Small Group Acting is introduced. The teacher should explain the importance of storyboarding and making a good script. Basic drama techniques are useful here, and you might want to bring in a drama teacher to discuss acting, blocking and costume considerations.

Groups of 4-6 are established and assigned a number. For the rest of the year minimal instructions will be required as all you will need to do is assign topics. For example, portray:

Group 1 – how the First Nations helped Europeans adapt/survive to life in northern Canada
Group 2 – how geography affected fur trade posts and routes
Group 3 – why/how development expanded into northern and western Canada
Group 4 – the arrival of the Selkirk settlers and the conflict that arose with the fur traders
Group 5 – compare/contrast the differences between HBC and the Northwest Company
Group 6 – the global factors that influenced the fur trade and what that meant to those
employed in the fur trade
Group 7 – how different individuals might have lived
(Chief Factor and his wife would be different from servants, voyageurs, trappers; how English, French and Aboriginal people lived differently yet absorbed parts of each other’s cultures, etc.)

Students are given a set amount of time to prepare the skit. Normally we introduce the topics and give students two to three 75-minute periods to prepare their skits. It is useful to start on a Wednesday, giving students Thursday, Friday and the weekend to improve the final product.

In the allotted time they must:

  • brainstorm ideas (identify the main ideas and how they want to perform the skit)
  • develop a script (they cannot read from a paper during their performance)
  • establish what types of media they will be using
  • develop a costume list and who will bring what
  • practice the skit (the performance should be professional)
  • perform the skit for the class

Often near the end of the course when students are comfortable with SGA you can do SGA speed rounds, where you hand out topics and have students improvise on the spot as a review activity. The time allotted depends on teacher expectations, time constraints and the students’ involvement.

SGA is a great stepping stone for Heritage Minutes, short film productions, etc. Enriched or Accelerated students can establish a “Canadian History Film Club” where they develop a movie about an area of Canadian history over the course of the term.

Make sure that students list what they will need, typically:
  • FurTradeStories.ca – has images of artwork and artefacts to help inspire costumes and sets, documents and audio to relate details of specific events or daily life activities, etc.
  • CD player or stereo
  • Overhead projector (useful for creating backgrounds)
  • Costumes if available

The initial SGA will require the following handouts:

Students will be assessed at all stages through observation, questioning and teacher suggestions for improvement, ideas and energy. They should be given a copy of:

About the Educators
Adrienne Chong and Mark Melnyk won the Governor General's Award for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History in 2004. They have developed teaching and assessment strategies that breathe life into their Canadian history classes. Role play, heritage albums, heritage fairs as well as course packs of primary documents provide students of varying aptitudes and interests strong conduits for learning. Their History Classroom of the Future activity involves the construction of websites that are used at Markville Secondary and by educators across Canada.