Compose a Collaborative Play
- Grades: 3–5
Creating a movie from a well-loved children's book can be fun and challenging. In this session, students learn about the movie producer's experiences in translating the characters, events, and details of Charlotte's Web into a film version of the story. Using stills from the movie, a sample script, and their own creativity, students will write an original script for the story and bring it to life by performing it for others.
1. Examine movie stills to identify characters, setting, events, and possible dialogue
2. Learn about and discuss thought, and decision-processes used to produce a film version of a popular children's book
3. Read and examine a sample script to become familiar with components used in writing a script
4. Target and organize key events in the story to include in an original script
5. Cooperatively work with others to organize, write, and act out a script for the story
1. Computer: activities can be modified from one computer to a whole computer lab
2. Flashlight Readers: Charlotte's Web: Snapshots and Meet the Producer
3. Meet the Author
4. Printed copies of Charlotte's Web: A Play
5. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
6. Idea Web (PDF)
7. Optional: Venn Diagram (PDF)
8. Optional: LCD or overhead projector to activities
Set Up and Prepare
1. Bookmark Flashlight Readers: Charlotte's Web on the computers students will use.
2. NOTE: If students have limited access to computers, print activity screens and make transparencies to post on an overhead projector.
Step 1: Explain to students that when creating a film version of a book, some things aren't exactly as they are written in the original book. For example, some scenes may be deleted or changed, the dialogue between characters may be condensed or expanded, and some of the characters may even be different! Inform students that many people, such as screenwriters, producers, and actors, played key roles in preparing and filming the Charlotte's Web movie.
Step 2: Gather students around a computer, or use an LCD or other projection device to project the Snapshots from the Charlotte's Web movie for the whole class to see. View the movie stills one slide at a time, taking time to discuss the characters, setting, and action. Encourage students to try to recall what part of the book each scene depicts. Invite them to share how the scene compares to what they had imagined it would look like as they read the story. Use the following as a guide to help students find the passages in the paperback version of Charlotte's Web (published by HarperCollins) that go along with each slide:
- Slide 1: Chapter 1 "Before Breakfast" (pages 1-3)
- Slides 2-3: Chapter 2 "Wilbur" (pages 8-10)
- Slide 4: Chapter 3 "Escape" (pages 13-14)
- Slide 5: Chapter 4 "Loneliness" (pages 27-31)
- Slides 6-7: Chapter 3 "Escape" (pages 17-23)
- Slide 8: Chapter 7 "Bad News" (page 49)
- Slides 9-10: Chapter 11 "The Miracle" (pages 77-85)
- Slide 11: Chapter 16 "Off to the Fair" (pages 120-122)
- Slide 12: Chapter 17 "Uncle" (pages 130-133)
- Slide 13: Chapter 18 "The Cool of the Evening" (pages 138-139)
- Slide 14: Chapter 20 "The Hour of Triumph" (pages 155-160)
- Slide 15: Chapter 21 "Last Day" (page 163)
- Slide 16: Chapter 21: "Last Day" (pages 164 and 170-171)
Step 3: View Meet the Producer with students. Pause after each slide to allow time for questions and discussion. Be sure to pose your own questions to help students consider other issues that might have arisen while planning and making the movie and to gain additional insight into the producer's decision-making processes.
Following are some questions you might ask:
- What are some parts of the book the producer might have considered to be good "movie material"?
- Why would the producer want to include a comedy writer to help write the movie script? How might adding comedy to the story make it more suitable for a film version?
- What problems might have come up as the director and actors worked with real animals to film the movie?
- Why do you suppose the producer wanted to use live animals rather than computer-generated ones?
- Why did the producer need to use so many pigs to play Wilbur, rather than using the same pig throughout the movie? Do you think more than one animal was used to play any of the other animal characters?
- What are some reasons the producer might have left out some events from the book and added onto others?
- What does the producer mean when he stated that he wanted the "Some Pig" web-spinning scene to be the movie's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies"?
- Why was it important to the producer to duplicate some of the book's illustrations in the movie?
- What methods might the producer have used to cause the audience to dislike Charlotte at the beginning of the movie? Why do you think it was important to make her unlovable? What methods might he have used to help change the audience's mind?
- Why was it important to the producer to show a different side of Templeton's world than what the book portrayed? Do you think that in doing so, the audience might form a different opinion about the rat?
- Why might the producer feel it was important to learn as much as possible about E. B. White? How might he have used what he learned in making decisions about the movie?
- In addition to the ballooning spiders, what other scenes might have presented challenges for the producer to capture on film?
Step 4: Remind students that the producer researched the author and considered his viewpoints when making decisions about the movie. View Meet the Author with students to provide them with brief background information about the author. Later, they might research print and online resources to learn more about E. B. White.
Step 5: Distribute a copy of Charlotte's Web: A Play to every two to three students. You can use the script as it is written, or make adaptations in the RTF version to customize the play for your class. (For example, you might reduce the number of characters by using only one narrator, one cow, and one goose.) Tell students that this is one version of the story translated into a play format. Point out the cast of characters at the top of the front page. Ask students to explain the role of the narrators and identify the characters. Then have them page through the play to examine the format. Explain that the play is divided into two parts, each of which is divided into several scenes. Each scene indicates a change in place or time. Discuss how a colon is used to separate each character's speaking part from the name of the speaker. Also, point out how character emotions or actions are set off in parentheses.
Step 6: Invite students to read the play with each student providing the voice and performing actions for an assigned character. Afterward, talk about how the play remains true to the book and how it differs from the original story. Discuss possible reasons why events from the book were left out and changes in events and dialogue were made in the play version.
Step 7: Break the class into five groups. Tell students that each group will develop a play script based on a particular section of the book. When finished, they will perform their script for others to enjoy. Explain that the groups will perform their scripts in the order of their assigned passage in the book, so that when every group has taken its turn, the entire story will have been performed. Then assign each group a section of the book. Below is one possible way to divide the chapters for group work:
Group 1: Chapters 1-4
Group 2: Chapters 5-9
Group 3: Chapters 10-13
Group 4: Chapters 14-18
Group 5: Chapters 19-22
Have students reread the section of the book assigned to their group. You might provide reading time in class or assign the section for overnight homework. Encourage children to note the characters, setting, key events, and most important dialogue that takes place in their assigned passages. Ask them to also try to visualize which parts might make a good scene for a play. Tell them to be prepared to discuss these things when they gather into their groups the next day.
Step 8: Have children break out into their groups. Make sure each group has several copies of the book. Ask group members to discuss their passages and work together to decide which parts might translate best into a three to four page play script. Suggest that the groups work with one chapter at a time. As students work through their decision-making processes, move from group to group to offer ideas and help keep students focused.
When groups begin to narrow down their ideas, distribute copies of the Idea Web (PDF) for them to use to organize ideas about their play. Have each group appoint a recorder to fill out the web. Students can use the web to write their ideas about a particular setting, a series of events, or a character's emotions, actions, and quotes. Provide as many copies of the Idea Web as groups need to record their ideas.
Step 9: Redistribute copies of Charlotte's Web: A Play for groups to use as a reference for formatting their scripts. Then allow time for groups to compose a rough draft of a script for their assigned passage (they might appoint a recorder for this task). As they develop the script, tell students they may refer to the book as needed, but they should not copy text from the story. The only exception to this would be if they planned to use a direct quote from a character.
Remind students that the play will be a condensed, or shorter, version of their book passage. It should consist mainly of character or narrative speaking parts that convey key elements of the story. Any character emotions or actions included in the play should be enclosed in parentheses next to the corresponding character.
Collect each group's rough draft at the end of the activity.
Step 10: Return each rough draft to the appropriate group. Encourage students to review and critique their script, discussing possible changes or improvements. It might be helpful for students to assign parts and do a rough performance of the script to "test" how well it portrays their passage. After deciding on changes, have groups revise their scripts.
When groups complete their final version, have them plan how they will perform the script for others. They might want to include props or assemble costumes or simple scenes. In the time left during this activity period, invite students to start preparing for the performance of their script.
Collect each group's final script and make a copy for each group member.
DAYS 4 and 5
Step 11: Allow time for groups to rehearse their scripts, as well as to prepare props, costumes, and other items needed for the performance. Students might also create and send invitations to another class, school workers, or parents and friends to invite them to attend their performance.
Step 12: Performance day! After the audience arrives, have groups perform their scripts, starting with group 1 and ending with group 5.
Supporting All Learners
Language Arts Standards (4thed.)
- Uses prewriting strategies to plan written work (e.g., uses graphic organizers; brainstorms ideas; organizes information according to type and purpose of writing)
- Uses strategies to draft and revise written work (e.g., elaborates on a central idea; writes with attention to audience, word choice, sentence variation; produces multiple drafts)
- Uses strategies to edit and publish written work (e.g., edits for grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling at a developmentally appropriate level; uses reference materials; considers page format; selects presentation format according to purpose; uses technology to compose and publish work)
- Evaluates own and others' writing (e.g., determines the best features of a piece of writing, determines how own writing achieves its purposes, asks for feedback, responds to classmates' writing)
- Uses strategies to write for a variety of purposes (e.g., to inform, entertain, explain, describe, record ideas)
- Works cooperatively within a group to complete tasks, achieve goals, and solve problems
- Provides feedback in a constructive manner and recognizes the importance of seeking and receiving constructive feedback in a non-defensive manner
- Distribute copies of the Venn Diagram to each group. Ask students to use the diagrams to draw up a comparison between their scripts and the book. Have them fill in a different diagram for each chapter represented by their script. Invite students to share their diagrams with the class and explain the decisions they made as they wrote their scripts.
- Make a class copy of each group's play scripts. Distribute the copies to students and invite them to bind them into a booklet. Have them decorate and title the covers and then take the play home to share with their families.
- Informally check students' reading comprehension and understanding of story elements by observing their level of participation in group discussions about their passage and in creating the play script.
- Review the scripts to assess students' ability to convert a section of the book into a play script.
- Observe students' level of participation, contributions, attitudes, and behaviors during group discussions and decision-making processes to determine their ability to work in groups.