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Exercise: Picture scenes for large groups

The following exercise gives students the opportunity to practice active listening, teamwork, leadership, and group problem solving. Acting as an ensemble with a student director, group members will create a tableau scene depicting three moments from a familiar story, using each group member in some way.

The word “tableau” comes from the phrase living painting, or “living image”. Students will use their bodies and imaginations to create frozen images to tell the story – no words or sounds allowed. Blinking and breathing are always acceptable – and necessary! You might laugh, but every time I play this game with students, there’s always one person who asks, “Can I still blink when I’m frozen?”

You will need a timer or clock to indicate how much time is available for planning and rehearsal.

Optional: A smartphone or digital camera to take a photo of each painting scene so students can see their work


To get students into the picture mindset, use Picture scenes from a book or Numbered tables as a warm-up exercise.


1. Divide students into large groups of 8–10. Adjust as needed depending on how many students you have, but try to have at least 2 separate groups.

2. Select a directory for each group. This student will be responsible for the final look of the scene, but is welcome to receive suggestions from group members. They must also participate as members of the tableau scene.

3. Give each group a familiar nursery rhyme or story message with a limited number of named characters, such as The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or Sleeping Beauty. Groups will choose three memorable moments from the story to portray in three frozen images on stage. Tell students how much time they have for planning and rehearsal.

4. Every member of the group must be included in the scene of the painting in some way, despite the fact that there are fewer named characters than students. What else can the other students portray? These can be props (such as the spinning wheel in Sleeping Beauty or a bowl of porridge in Goldilocks), set pieces (such as one of the Three Little Pigs’ houses), atmosphere (sun or moon, trees , background creatures) or whatever makes sense for the scene. Encourage students to make creative, thoughtful choices that add to the big picture, but remember that the director must make the final decisions for the look of the picture.

5. Another thing students will have to think about is transitioning between images. How will the group move in each tableau?

6. Students will present their tableau scenes to the rest of the class.

7. Optional: Take a photo of each tableau scene so students can see what it looks like in the frozen image. Ask your students: What worked well in this scene? What didn’t go so well? If you show the photos to students, ask them: When you look at the photos, does the scene look like you imagined it would? What might you change if you tried the exercise again?

8. A reflection (see below) is provided to allow students to reflect on their participation in the exercise.

Additional options:

  • Ask students to plan their tableau scenes silently. How will they communicate non-verbally?
  • Secretly tell each group what story they are presenting and ask the other groups to guess what the story is.
  • Just tell the director what story their group is presenting. The director must instruct the rest of the group without revealing what the story is.
  • Try the exercise again, changing some of the group members, with less planning time.

Click here for a free reflection and column.

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage fighter from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.

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