How to Evaluate Memorization

Memorization is a key skill in theatre and in life – but some kids need more or less support. Sometimes it even depends on their ability level. In my experience one point for each word becomes tricky – different students have different word counts and different memorization challenges in a particular script. Instead, I look at levels of memorization. It helps me direct student support for follow up.

Here is a general rubric that I like to use:

“Top Marks” – 10 points for being  Word Perfect

“Job Done” – 7-9 points for being basically word perfect. Maybe some transposition of words or dropped words. Perhaps a missed sentence (depending on length).

“Support Needed” 4 – 6 points, student missed more than a sentence, called for line or looked at script (1 – 3 times).

“Significant Revision Required” –  1-3 points for being unable to complete memorization or in need of more than three prompts.

I’ll assign a Student AD or SM to make notes on any missing or incorrect words by highlighting a revision script for the actors or by making line notes specifically for each actor.

Additionally, it is important to:

  • Give students memorization tools before giving them a memorization assignment (or make sure they have experience with memorization).
    • Tools include: writing and re-writing the lines by hand (speaking aloud while re-writing can also be helpful)
    • Writing cue lines on one side of an index card and the full line on the other side. Students can study like flash cards. Again, speaking aloud is preferred.
    • Memorizing line by line or sentence by sentence in what I call the A, AB, BC, CD, method so that what has been memorized gets linked to what will be memorized and the text is evenly memorized throughout.
    • Physical cues within text. Students can connect physical action such as blocking or character gesture to pieces of text. These gestures are fully implemented as part of performance whenever possible.
    • Sound cues in text. It helps students to use auditory clues such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyming, and rhythm to memorize a text. Sometimes it takes a study of these poetic elements to cue into the memorization.
    • Memorization to a song.  Use an established song melody and fit the spoken words to that song. Play the song again and again.
  • Give students ample time to memorize their texts and scaffold the memorization so that it is not all due at one time. I often tie memorization deadlines to the rehearsal following completion of blocking for a scene. (Alternating in sets of four for rehearsal: 1) Table read and discussion of scene; 2) Blocking of scene, on book; 3) run of scene memorized blocking and lines; 4) working of the scene, “stop, work, fix, go”.





Lesson idea – intro to musical theatre.

What should an interviewing teacher do to show off great teaching for an upper school drama class? My response is as follows: pick one lesson that shows your technical strength as a theatre artist. Perhaps musical theatre. Keep it simple.

1) pre-view and pre-assess (eg. Sing a song about what you are feeling) discuss with the class what they saw. Deploy relevant academic language (Eg. Ballad. Sonnet. Rap.)

2) prep and practice (eg. Give kids an open prompt to sing their feelings/thoughts. They can use an existing song for lyrics or make one up.) let them pair share in rehearsal. Circulate and work one-on-one or in small groups. Give them a simple rubric to follow and peer evaluate. (Eg. Song had emotional content. Enunciation was clear. Voice message was projected.)

3) kids up on stage one by one share 10 seconds of their song. Quick feedback in Oreo style – good performance element – challenge or growth element was – compliment performance. Fill rubric out for student. This should be the third evaluation on the rubric. They did one for themselves. They had a peer do one too.

4) Reflection. On the back of their rubric, students write out one strength of their work and one thing they want to do differently next time. Rubric with reflection becomes exit ticket. Before dismissal establish exit routine. (Eg. Fist bump, bow to rest of class, clap of respect etc.) collect reflections. Be ready to discuss each student’s work with the hiring team.

Youth Theater Needs Lessons – not simply games

I’ve been working in the field of youth theater for the past decade. I find that when it comes to training acting skills and getting specific with young actors about the skills they are learning such as voice, speech, physicality, using objectives, and general analysis of a character plot and given circumstances, Drama games do not cut it. Drama or improvisation games are good for general, unspecific, and inferred skills that actors use every day in theater. However, to break through that and actually transfer knowledge in an explicit way, Young actors need formative lessons that are equivalent to a musician playing a piece of music. Similarly, you cannot train a classical musician through jazz improvisation. Drama or improvisation games are good. But, I do not rely on them anyway to actually teach my students. Drama and improvisation games are good for days when I want to depart from a lesson sequence. Yes, fun is essential in learning and especially in a creative discipline such as theater. However, it is difficult to engage student voice and ask students to articulate what they have learned in a drama game. Learning should be based on formative lessons with specific skills that are being practiced in improvisation or a script.

Modeling Digital-Age Learning in a Participation Arts Based Classroom (ISTE 3)

ISTE Standard 3 states that teachers should exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes that are representative of an innovative professional. My content area, theatre arts, is based in human interaction; these interactions must occur in the moment and in person. An actor must learn to act and re-act. Taking the content of theatre arts into the technological realm is equivalent to making painting class into a digital photography class. However, there is a great deal of content that can be delivered in a flipped classroom format; there are digital tools for teachers, students, and actors that are becoming increasingly common place.

Because the world is increasingly tech-enabled and tech-enhanced, how can I as a teacher of theatre arts, demonstrate technological processes that both enhance my curriculum, increase productivity, and build technological capacity in my students?

Kennedy (2009) speaks to the need for educators to rethink education and align learning environments with real world demands so that learning is flexible and can be utilized anytime and anywhere. One of the most tedious tasks of the actor is to memorize lines. One digital innovation seeks to change that. ScenePartnerApp ( is one of many emerging tools for actors to use when the need to memorize their lines. Any student with an iDevice can download existing scripts or upload their own. This makes the program highly adaptable to any classroom, especially mine because much of the theatre work that my students engage with is written by the students in my classes. However, when we do get to the published works (such as Shakespeare), we can simply download the text.

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One of the greatest highlights of this app is that it allows the user to hear only their lines or only the lines of their scene partner. This ability to repeat the text and use a digital scene partner is invaluable. Without this, the technique of memorization with a partner would need to happen in class. By using this app many of my students, those with iPods and iPads, have a highly effective solution that not only saves time for my classroom, it adds digital flexibility for my students. This app is one clear example of how I can integrate emerging digital technology into a classroom based on human interaction. In fact, because of the time I save (due to students memorizing their lines outside of class) I can increase the amount of human interaction in my class.

Theatre arts is not alone when it comes to time saving digital tools. Now because of the Google Institute (shared by Lida Enche in Google+) students can save travel time and virtually visit art across the world. This too increases the human interaction because in the classroom, teachers and students can talk as much as they want. Google Institute can be found at, I encourage everyone to check out both of these new digital tools that help arts classes.


Kennedy, K. (2009). Volume 7, Issue 2 Distance Learning 21 Cross-Reference of Online Teaching Standards and the Development of Quality Teachers for 21st Century Learning Environments. Distance Learning, 7(2), 21-28.

Socially Responsible Practices of Theatre Education: Sign Three

David Orace Kelly, NBCT, MAT, MFA

Journal Entry from October 20, 2014 for Theatre Methods

 What is…

At this point I have a decade of experience under my belt in youth theatre. I have a firm grasp on “what is” in my program. This grasp has been continually transforming over the years and has certainly shifted from a more idealistic to a more realistic perspective on what is possible and achievable. Some of the most cumbersome constraints include administrative oversight and school policy, student interests, and limited instructional time.

In my class, as I often describe, I try to create an atmosphere of respect. One benefit of this is that it serves as a backbone for socially responsible actions. We, society, must respect the identities of the people we interact with. We, each individual, must also respect our own history and identity. Too often in theatre, we take licenses to transgress boundaries that are present…

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Standards Based Education is an essential component to effective teaching practice; teachers must use learning targets that are connected to the standards and effectively measure student progress toward those standards.

I have come to embrace the rubric as an essential standards based teaching tool. Used correctly, the rubric can:

  • Guide student learning throughout the lesson.
  • Support student self-assessment.
  • Proved feedback for future student improvement.
  • Direct teacher assessment that is qualitatively and quantitatively equal from one student to the next.
  • Align to standards and measure desired outcomes.

In teaching my introductory monologue unit for sixth grade drama, I utilize a rubric that is effective in all four areas. The rubric provides simple statements that describe student achievement across five essential areas of acting. I expect that all five of these areas will continue to progress across the three year sequence; consequently, I do not expect students to achieve a perfect score in their initial performances.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 10.59.48 AMMany teachers will use a rubric at the end of a unit to grade a project. While this is an effective use of the rubric, there is often a missed opportunity to use the rubric throughout the lesson. In my sixth grade drama class I use the rubric to guide student learning. Students that pre-view the levels of achievement in the rubric have the opportunity to stretch their learning into the desired category. I purposefully include levels of achievement that are beyond typical sixth grade achievement. I introduce the rubric as “level based” and not point based. Using the metaphor of Karate Belts, students can conceptualize the idea that different students will be achieving at different levels. Pre-viewing the rubric will also give students an understanding of the entire project in advance of starting any work. This pre-view will help students make connections from one area of assessment to another and plan accordingly.

A well-designed rubric can be easily read and understood by each student. I take the time to explain the content in my rubric for this unit and ask that students explain it back to me. The student voice component here is an essential element of assessing the student achievement in relationship to the learning target aligned to the lesson. The rubric also includes the content of each learning target that is included in the unit. Because of this, a rubric will also help students to self-assess their progress throughout the lesson or unit. Students that work from the rubric can see where they are fully completing the task and where they need to continue to work (O2).

During the process of the project, the teacher can use the rubric as a quick method of assessment and feedback for the student. They can ask the student where they believe they are at any given level, reflect to the student on their observations, and use the rubric as a common language. The teacher can also point to work on the rubric that would take the student to the next level. If the rubric is organized for learning, each step should follow a logical progression of skills.

Regarding formative and summative assessment, the teacher can use the rubric for assessment. This assessment will clearly have a quantitative value where points are assigned across a number of categories. However, the categories can also be viewed with qualitative assessment in mind. I can use the rubric to describe the academic journey of the student.

Lastly the rubric includes the content that the learning targets support. If students work with the learning targets in each lesson and demonstrate developing or basic mastery of each learning target, they will easily score in the mid to high range of the rubric.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 12.32.03 PMIn future editions of the rubric, I plan to increase the effectiveness and include the actual learning targets for the unit within the rubric. This will increase the connection for each student form the individual lessons to the culminating project of performing a monologue. It will also assist students to assess their daily progress in relationship to the rubric and the learning targets simultaneously.

Comprehensive Theatre: Sign Four

Journal Entry from October 27, 2014 for Theatre Methods

What is…

Lazarus (2012) describes a model of Comprehensive Theatre Education. I strive to create this model in my classroom. I strive to have all students experience all aspects of theatre education. It is through the common experience of acting that I have each of my students also act, direct, design, manage, and research their productions. I also integrate other subjects into my classroom; most recently I have had collaborations with English (in the study of Shakespeare), Art (in the creation of puppets for puppet theatre), Physical Education/Health (in improvisation with Health Topics), and in Music (with creating sound scores for the annual school show). I have Comprehensive Arts Education program. The challenge is, of course, finding the curricular time to accomplish all the goals of a comprehensive program.

Comprehensive Arts Education is defined by three central ideas: a holistic arts education, an interdisciplinary education, and an integrated program. Really, this encapsulates the idea that theatre is every subject. I have told my students for years that they must be scholars if they want to be great actors. It is only through an understanding of academic knowledge of multiple fields that they can bring life to a wide range of characters.

What does this mean for the teacher of theatre arts? Does this mean that I must be an expert in every subject? I do not believe Continue reading “Comprehensive Theatre: Sign Four”

Socially Responsible Practices of Theatre Education: Sign Three

Journal Entry from October 20, 2014 for Theatre Methods

 What is…

At this point I have a decade of experience under my belt in youth theatre. I have a firm grasp on “what is” in my program. This grasp has been continually transforming over the years and has certainly shifted from a more idealistic to a more realistic perspective on what is possible and achievable. Some of the most cumbersome constraints include administrative oversight and school policy, student interests, and limited instructional time.

In my class, as I often describe, I try to create an atmosphere of respect. One benefit of this is that it serves as a backbone for socially responsible actions. We, society, must respect the identities of the people we interact with. We, each individual, must also respect our own history and identity. Too often in theatre, we take licenses to transgress boundaries that are present in society. Sometimes it is very appropriate; it can provoke discussions that allow society to progress. Sometimes, in middle school, the students are not ready to take on those discussions; to cast Romeo and Juliet with two boys, for example, may provoke content that students are not comfortable discussing.

IMG_2248 Continue reading “Socially Responsible Practices of Theatre Education: Sign Three”

FAIR INSTRUCTION: (Classroom Management)

Classroom centered instruction, including sheltered instruction, must be connected to the communities within the classroom and the school; a teacher must have the knowledge and skills for working with multiple stakeholders within the classroom community.

After observing my mentor teacher for the past several years, I have developed an approach to classroom management that is aligned with my own teaching philosophy and comes from the best practices I have observed in my mentor teachers.

The classroom is home to many individuals; every individual is expected to perform at the same basic level. However, each individual approaches the classroom with a different set of skills, diverse backgrounds, and a wide range of attitudes to any given subject matter or class. The teacher must navigate these differences and provide fair treatment to each student. Fay and Funk (1995), promote the idea that fair is not always equal. Different students need different approaches to the content in the classroom. This concept can be integrated into the general classroom management that the teacher implements in the classroom.

One example of fair treatment is through sheltered instruction. In my classroom, there are a few students that are English Language Learners (ELL). These students require additional support within and outside of the classroom environment so that they can continue to perform at grade level expectations (GLE). Sheltered English instruction engages English Language Learners with grade level content and academic skills that are aligned with the mainstream classroom and aim to increase English proficiency. Continue reading “FAIR INSTRUCTION: (Classroom Management)”

Student Empowerment: Sign Two

Journal Entry from October 12, 2014 for Theatre Methods

When I consider the voices in my classroom – the voices that are shared with the performance space, my first thought is that of the playwright. I believe that the actor, in training or professional, has a duty to the words; the actor must bring the text to life. My second thought, as a teacher, is that the voices of my students must be heard. It is their learning experience; if a student can own the work – put their own name on it, there is an incentive to the student for increased ‘buy-in’ to the process. It is exactly this engagement that brings the words of the playwright to life in new ways. My students have the freedom to approach a text with a fresh and empowered perspective. That is why I am in theatre arts – I relish the empowered perspective of a student that demands full participation of each student. This was certainly true of my education; I received a high school theatre training that emphasized my full participation.

Reflecting, specifically on my high school theater experience, my teacher (much beloved) had a style that emphasized projects – often projects that he did not do much or any teaching for. The teaching in his class came after two weeks of practice. Students would present their scene and he would critique for twenty minutes after each scene. Sitting from the back of the theatre, in his bully pulpit, he lectured on the merits and faults of what we presented. He offered little in the way of technique. What he did offer was a drive for his approval. As far as I was concerned, my theatre teacher was the guru of art. For an angst-ridden teen this was exactly what drove my passion for theatre. Getting the approval of my theatre teacher was more valuable than gold.

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Level 8 (Lazarus, 2012)

Nearly, two decades later, how does this experience reflect and resonate in my classroom? Now that I have been teaching for several years, I have developed a style that is very hands on; my style is almost the opposite of my high school theater teacher. For example, I often base a lesson in a specific learning target that includes a specific acting or performance skill. I Continue reading “Student Empowerment: Sign Two”