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Teaching Dramatic Writing: The Elective Series Continues

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Today on the show we’re hearing from Valerie Boehm, who teaches a Dramatic Writing elective in Georgia as part of the state’s initiative to help more students find their way to good jobs in the film industry. Keep reading to learn more about the Elective Series!

So cool, right?

This episode is part of our continuing series on electives, which has been SO MUCH fun to record. I hope you’re as excited to be hearing from all these wonderful teachers about the creative things they’re doing with their courses as I am! (Check out past elective episodes on Socratic Seminar, Genius Hour and SciFi & Fantasy).

Whether you’re considering a new elective proposal or a new unit in one of your current courses, I think you’re going to be really intrigued by the way Valerie helps students start to understand what goes into a successful piece of dramatic writing, the ten minute play competition her students participate in, and her popular personal logo project.

You can listen in to this episode below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

Meet Valerie

Valerie Boehm is a full time ELA teacher who started her journey in education as a music teacher in New York City after attending NYU. She has always been passionate about the importance of using music in all classes, including core classes.

From the start, as a person who loved and valued the arts, Valerie was on a mission to break down the walls between the arts and other disciplines in education. She eventually landed in the Arts Integration program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It was the only program she found at the time that was trying to answer her own questions about the role of arts in schools.

After graduation, she returned to her Alma Mater in Georgia, where she is now teaching ELA. Today, she’s sharing her work with a relatively new statewide elective course in Georgia – Dramatic Writing for Film, Theater, and Television – that allows her to incorporate her love for the arts.

Connecting Dramatic Writing to the Film Industry

The State of Georgia houses a significant part of the film industry, but a few years ago it was lacking qualified applicants for many of the jobs within the industry.

Enter, the Dramatic Writing Elective.

Georgia’s schools would train teachers to inspire and coach future screenwriters at school, providing a pathway to an industry ready to hire them.

As part of the course, which is taught across the state, Georgia puts on a dramatic writing competition for its students each year, culminating with professional readings of the winning plays by qualified actors. Of course, this authentic audience and context makes the work that students are doing more meaningful and encourages them to excel.

You can learn more about Georgia’s 10 minute play competition in the video below, and get ideas for a similar project at your school.

Of course, students don’t just start with the playwriting competition! So now that we know about this cool context for the elective, let’s rewind a bit.

Dramatic Writing: Groundwork for The Elective Series

To prepare for the 10 minute play competition, and the 15 minute screenplay every student will also write, Valerie begins the course with a lot of personal narrative writing (journals, memoirs, etc.) to help students learn how to connect with other people through their words. The goal is for students to learn to write a story that has some element that readers can relate to (falling in love, leaving home for the first time, etc.).  

As part of this personal writing, students complete a personal logo project, in which they design their own logo and write about how it represents them. Valerie recalls how one student really captured the attention of his classmates with his logo, then attached it to the front of his notebook for the year and ended up winning the student playwriting competition and seeing his play performed by professional actors. What a year for him!

Alongside their writing activities, students watch films such as Rear Window, Hidden Figures, and The Founder. They also dig deeper into dramatic writing with texts like Monster by Walter Dean Myers, and Blood Don’t Lie by Aaron Levy.

Try Pen Names for Workshopping Dramatic Writing

Throughout Valerie’s course, students have many opportunities for peer critique. To help make this meaningful while protecting their anonymity, students create pen names for the course. It’s a great way for them to workshop their work without feeling like their personal life is on display.

Students create pen names to workshop their dramatic writing

Final Advice: The Golden Nugget

To help draw students into the course, Valerie suggests emphasizing the film analysis component. Students are naturally attracted to analyzing film and television, and they’re motivated when you can highlight what they’re currently watching. From the start of the course, talk to students about how you’ll be analyzing film and television. Not only is this course element a great hook, it’s an easy way to teach the story structure you need to cover anyway.

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