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Warm-up exercise: would you rather …

Starting your class with a bell or a diary is a great way to get students into the theater class mentality. Some teachers like to have students brainstorm a list of ideas or respond to a the question of the day to make their creative juice flow. Here is another request you can use with your students: a “would you rather” question?.

The easiest way to use a “you prefer” prompt is to post the question somewhere and ask students to write an individual answer in their journals. You could use a “preferred” question as a discussion message, either as a whole class or in small groups. You can choose to have the request posted on a chart board with a few sticky notes available for students to post their vote of their choice to see what the breakdown of answers is in class. Maybe 13 of your students would prefer to play in a play and 7 of your students would prefer to play in a musical. You could also make it a physical exercise, in which students move to one side of the room or the other, depending on their choice. (This is a great way to see if students are easily influenced by their friends / colleagues.)

The “you prefer” request can be as simple or complicated as you want. Can you start with ideas like “Would you rather use sound or lights?” “Would you rather be a director or a producer?” “Would you rather play an improvised scene or a script with a script?” Exhortations don’t have to be related to the theater class – you might add a funny one from time to time, like, “Would you rather have dessert at every meal or never eat dessert again?”

Requests may be related to a piece you are studying in class. Think the choices the characters make or problems that arise in the play and ask students to answer those questions. “Would you rather be part of the Capulet family or the Montague family?” “Would you rather go to the rabbit pit in Wonderland or stay in the real world?” “You’d rather be a box of pizza or a box of chocolates? ”

You can also use a “you prefer” prompt as a troubleshooting challenge by adding an “if” scenario at the beginning of the request. For example, “If you chose the lead role in your musical, would you rather throw your worst enemy, who is a fantastic singer, or your best friend, who is totally deaf?” “If your actors didn’t break up at the rehearsal, would you let them do the show as well as they could or cancel it?”

One of the great things about the “preferred” question is that it allows students to practice making a choice. Some students did not have many opportunities to make decisions for themselves or did not have the confidence to do so. They may look at their friends to see what they are doing or worry about making the “wrong” choice. Encourage your students to make their own choices.

Once students have more confidence in their choice, take a step further and ask the following question: “WHY?” What are their thoughts and feelings about the choice they have made? Can they articulate why they would make that choice? Do I answer with confidence or do I feel that I have to defend my decision?

One of the challenges of a “would you prefer” request is that students may try to refuse and refuse to make a choice or try to negotiate a “but” or a “if”. “I would throw my enemy IF he signed a contract saying he couldn’t be mean to me.” “I would choose my best friend, BUT I would make him take singing lessons.” It is up to you whether you want to allow students to do this. In any case, students will have the opportunity to think critically and creatively.

Click here for a free list of “would you like” requests, as well as three exit questions.

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

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