Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Creating Skits to Teach Math and Science

During History Week, I shared examples of skits that were very effective in my U.S. history classes. You could use the same method with just about any subject or grade level. Here's how:

In general, your skits should be:
  1. Brief
  2. Humorous
  3. Written in a conversational tone
The purpose is to replace traditional direct instruction like notes or lecturing with a more engaging version of the same content. It's easy to see this at work in humanities classes, but it can be applied just as well to math, science and other subjects as well. Take this example from an English/Language Arts class:

Couldn't you do the same sort of thing for any vocabulary? Here's an example I wrote for math:
You Gotta Know Slope

[Scene: Four characters stand in front of the room. Their nametags read POSITIVE, NEGATIVE, ZERO and UNDEFINED.]

POSITIVE: I am a line with positive slope, and I always go like this!

[POSITIVE leans their body and stretches out to point up to their left (the right for the audience)].

NEGATIVE: I am a line with negative slope. I am the opposite of the positive slope, so I always go like this!

[NEGATIVE leans their body and points up and to the right (the left for the audience) and gives POSITIVE a nasty look.]

ZERO: I am a line with zero slope, and I always go like this!

[ZERO lies down on the ground with the audience at their side.]

UNDEFINED: I am a line with undefined slope, and I always go like this!

[UNDEFINED points their hands straight up into the air and makes their body as straight and vertical as possible.]

[End scene]
Now wouldn't that be better than a lecture? It brings to mind the kind of stuff we ask young children to do in school all the time, moments of spirited silliness that we always remember but often ignore when students reach high school.

Your skit doesn't have to have dialogue either. In fact it probably becomes more easily applicable when you just need students to act something out. Your script could merely describe exactly what you want them to do.

I'm imagining a student in a biology class acting out the water cycle, starting as water, then evaporating into the air, becoming a rain cloud (condensation) and so on. I start to laugh a little when I visualize it as a kind of absurd performance art.

This is absolutely worth trying in your classroom. Even if you don't have many kids willing to come up in front of the class at first, once they see how much fun it is, I can guarantee you that number will go up. This is also a great way to engage students who like being the center of attention and end up distracting others. They'll be the first ones in line to be in your skit. All you have to do is invest the minimal time in effort in writing (or finding) the right skit.

What About Having Students Writing Skits?

Obviously the flip side of writing a skit to teach your students is having your students write skits to teach their fellow students (and help themselves). You can pull this off in the math and science classroom by employing the same strategies used by your humanities colleagues.

The key is to give them the tools and inspiration necessary to apply their knowledge in a way they probably haven't been asked to do before. Give them lots of examples of what a skit might look like, whether it's one you wrote as described above or videos you find online. This will help them with the structure of the skit.

Give them a graphic organizer to plan out characters, dialogue and action. If you're trying to teach and have them remember vocabulary, give them what they would need to create their own definition, whether it be from notes, the textbook or elsewhere. The idea is to give them the content knowledge and confidence to apply it to this particular format.

Here's an example written and performed by AP Biology students:

In the end, I think having students create their own skits is a good option to give them. Not all students will want to participate in that kind of activity, but it would be a good way to differentiate a big project to wrap up a unit


If you have created a skit for your non-humanities classroom, please share a link in the comments or email me a copy to share.

If you haven't tried this yet, think of the next few topics you're going to cover in class. Create a short skit that could replace or supplement your direct instruction. Then share it!

I'm very excited to see what people have and will come up with!