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Lesson Plans Library 4-8 > Theater Arts
Behind the Scenes
Behind the Scenes
Grade level: 4-8 Subject: Theater Arts Duration: 3-4 class periods

lesson plan support
Student Objectives
  • Identify considerations set designers keep in mind when creating sets for plays.
  • Describe the process a set designer goes through in creating a set (discussions, research, drawings, and then models).
  • Create models of sets for specific scenes from different plays.
  • Discovering the Performing Arts: Behind the Scenesvideo
  • Copies of well-known or familiar scenes from plays, one per group, plus copies of one scene for the whole class. (Appropriate scenes can be found inChildsplay: A Collection of Scenes and Monologues for Children, by Kerry Muir (Limelight Editions, 2004) andGreat Scenes and Monologues for Children (Young Actors Series), edited by Craig Slaight and Jack Sharrar (Smith & Kraus Books for Kids, 2003.)
  • Cardboard boxes, 1 per student group
  • Crayons, markers, and colored pencils
  • Glue or tape
  • Scissors
  • Scrap pieces of fabric
  • Modeling clay or plasticine
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Other materials for building dioramas
  1. Have the class watch "Behind the Scenes," a segment ofDiscovering the Performing Arts. Then discuss the work of a set designer. Ask students: Who does a set designer discuss sets with? Why? What do set designers do before setting to work? How do drawings help them? What factors must they consider during the creative process? What sources they use for inspiration and research?
  2. Distribute a copy of a scene from a play and have volunteers read parts aloud. Then discuss the scene. Ask students: What is taking place in this scene? Who is in it? Do we know when it is taking place, such as during a particular time in history, during the day? What is the setting? Is it a particular kind of room or building? What should a set look like? Why? Talk about the props that might be included and discuss some reference tools students might use to research ideas for a set.
  3. Once students have a solid understanding of how a set designer goes about creating a set, divide the class into groups of three to five students and give each group copies of a scene from a well-known or familiar play (each group should have a unique scene). Tell the groups that they will use cardboard boxes and markers, fabrics, and clay to create diorama models of a set for their scene. Then they will share with the class.
  4. Before creating their models tell students to make sure they understand their scene before they begin creating the models. Have them make sketches or drawings of possible set ideas so that everyone in the group agrees. Each student should participate in discussing the scene, presenting the models to the class, and creating the model (either by drawing sketches, researching period architecture or furnishings, or creating pieces for the final set, or all tasks). When students have decided on the appearance of the final sets, give them a cardboard box and let them use the creative supplies to create it. Allow enough time to work in class or as a homework assignment.
  5. Once students have finished their models, have them present their scenes and models to the rest of the class. They must discuss what happens in the scene, where they got their ideas for the set, and why they designed it as such.
  6. After presenting, have students write a paragraph describing the role they played in their group and what they learned about set design. Display the finished models in the classroom alongside a copy of the scene so students and visitors can look at them.

Extension Activity
If students have theatrical experience, allow them to bring in props from a play they were in or pictures of theatrical sets to discuss with the class. For a prop, have them prepare a short presentation on what the prop is and its function in the performance. For pictures of a production, have them prepare a short presentation on the set's appearance and why it was designed that way.

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • 3 points: Students accurately identified several considerations of set designers; clearly described and used the set-designing process (discussions, research, drawings, then models); and created unique, creative, and well-crafted set models that accurately and appropriately reflected their scene.
  • 2 points: Students somewhat accurately identified a few considerations of set designers; adequately described and used the p set-designing process (discussions, research, drawings, and then models); and created somewhat unique, creative, and well-crafted set models that generally reflected their scene.
  • 1 point: Students were unable to identify any considerations of set designers; inadequately described and used the set-designing process (discussions, research, drawings, and then models); and created incomplete or inappropriate set models that did not reflect their scene.

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Definition:To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort
Context:The theater is a place to collaborate; a director does not arbitrarily make hacks and cuts and toss things away.

Definition:To fill with enlivening or exalting emotion; to affect, guide, or arouse emotion
Context:A set designer looks for things that inspire, such as paintings or photos of period architecture.

Definition:Short for a theatrical property
Context:A prop should contribute to the audience’s experience at the theater.

Definition:The scenery constructed for a theatrical performance
Context:A set design helps tell a story on stage in a finite amount of space.

Definition:Dramatic literature or its performance; drama
Context:Theater is all about telling stories in a variety of ways.

Definition:To form a mental image of; envisage
Context:Often a director or set designer will visualize a script at its first reading.

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Academic Standards
Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks,
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:
  • Arts: Theater ? Understands how formal and informal theater, film, television, and electronic media productions create and communicate meaning; Understands the context in which theater, film, television, and electronic media are performed today as well as in the past; Designs and produces informal and formal productions
  • Arts: Art Connections ? Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines
  • Arts: Visual Arts ? Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts
  • Language Arts ? Viewing: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
The National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association have developed national standards to provide guidelines for teaching the English language arts. To view the standards online, go
This lesson plan addresses the following English standards:
  • Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities
  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information)

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