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Using skits to extend literature learning

High school English language arts teachers can increase student learning by planning activities that appeal to multiple intelligences. One such activity which appeals to both kinesthetic and visual learners is the skit. Participating in a skit allows kinesthetic learners an opportunity to move around the classroom, while visual learners retain more information when they see a piece of literature performed. The teacher can also use this activity to check comprehension.

Skits can be preplanned with students knowing ahead of time which characters they will be playing the next day, or skits can be improvisational. In either case, students must show an understanding of the text. This is a great activity to use with students who are reading the epic, Beowulf, since they often have difficulty understanding this long poem. By breaking Beowulf into sections, students should be able to recreate the story for their classmates. Some students may want certain characters to remain the same throughout the 3-4 major sections, or you and your class may decide to have an entirely new cast for each skit. Those students not directly involved in the first skit may volunteer to make simple props to identify the major characters. Someone else in the class may serve as the “director” and help the actors decide where Herot, the mead hall, should be located, and where Grendel will be hiding. If the students are performing the skit as an improvisation, they may need just a few minutes in the hallway to discuss their plan of action before their performance. You may want to add another dimension to this activity by videotaping the skit. If you have more than one section of this course, you can videotape each class and then show the students how the other classes developed their skit.

Give these open-ended questions to the class before they watch the skit so the students will know what to look for. [See the tool called Developing questions that reveal student thinking for help in using open-ended questions.]  After the performance, you may want to discuss the audience responses as a way of wrapping up the activity. By engaging the students in this discussion, you will be able to assess the students’ understanding of the text and clarify any misconceptions they may have.

Observation questions for the audience

  • Summarize what happened in the skit.
  • Did you notice anything in the skit that was inaccurate? If yes, please explain.
  • Were you confused about anything that happened in the skit? If so, please write your question(s) below.
  • Did you learn anything new about the selection by watching the skit?
  • What did you like best about the skit?
  • If the performers could revise this skit, what would you advise them to do differently?
  • Do you feel that the skit helped you to better understand section 1 of Beowulf? Why or why not?