It was a Friday afternoon. A quarter of my class was missing, with some sick and some at a pullout program. I didn't want to move on with too much new content, and didn't have quite enough time to get in a guided reading group before our computer lab time.
So I decided to go ahead with something that I'd been considering for awhile. Over the summer, I went with my youngest son to see a children's theatre performance. The entire show was improvisational, and they ended with "60 Second Theatre"--trying to retell a fairy tale in decreasing lengths of time.
I thought that this might work to help students recognize the important and less important ideas in a story. We had just read a 2-page version of "The Princess and the Pea", and had organized and sorted cards that I had made with the events on them. Students knew this story inside and out.
"I need a princess, a queen, and a prince," I said, and the kids eagerly raised their hands to participate. Then, I explained what we would be doing--trying to retell the whole story in the least amount of time. "As we do this, it's important to consider only the important events in the story."
For the first two times, I acted as the narrator. I easily did it in 60 seconds, but didn't quite make it to the end with 40 seconds. The students acted out the events--luckily, there's lots of action in the story! Then, I called on students to narrate. This was hard for them! One girl forgot the part where the Queen puts the pea under the mattress. "The pea! The pea!" students urgently whispered from the audience. This gave us a great starting point for discussion--why was this event so important? Could we take it out? A few more narrators gave it a try, and one actually managed to tell the story in 30 seconds (beating me!)
This whole activity was so successful that I'm going to move it into heavy rotation--not just something that I do when part of my class is missing, but something that I use for real instruction. There was so much richness here, with the acting, the narrating, and the discussion of which events were most important. Give it a try!