What Are Students Like at This Learning Level?

From the beginning of third grade to the end of fifth grade, children go from curious childhood to the brink of emotional adolescence. This is a great time to introduce and maintain theater practices and concepts that grab their attention, engage their imagination, and keep them from the fallback mantra of "I’m bored." The following is a quick look at some of the behaviors you’re likely to encounter within this key learning level.

Third graders

Third graders love to laugh and joke around. They play hard and, unaware of their own limitations, tire quickly. Though highly social, they tend to be competitive and argumentative. You will no doubt hear the refrain "That’s not fair" in regard to just about anything. Redirecting their attention to the task at hand is usually the best teaching tactic. Clear instruction and focused theater activities can help them harness their energies, capitalize on their passion for discovery, and work together collaboratively.

Fourth graders

Fourth graders may avoid taking risks because they really dread looking foolish. They enjoy and excel at games, however, and focused theater games in particular can be great for bringing them out of their shells. Bear in mind that modeling new activities will likely be a crucial part of curbing your students’ anxiety and inhibitions. Once they are interested and confident about a project or activity, fourth graders are tenacious about doing well.

Fifth graders

Fifth graders are usually a mix of ten- and eleven-year-olds. Physically most ten-year-olds are still children; by eleven, they are starting to mature sexually and may experience a wide range of emotions. Helping students negotiate this bridge between childhood and adolescence can be tricky. Because they are preoccupied with how they fit into the world, they tend to be very sensitive to criticism. They enjoy teamwork but can be rigid about saving face. Active instruction and hands-on activities work well with them.

What Students Can Do at This Level

The learning outcomes below are based on the Scope and Sequence, which builds instruction sequentially across these levels. Keep in mind that students of different ages may be at the same level.

Grade 3 Students Can… Grade 5 Students Can…

use sense memory to enhance and inform pantomime activities

apply playwriting skills by writing monologues, dialogues, and short scenes


develop appropriate onstage and offstage behavior

make expressive use of secondary tools of theater (sets, costumes, makeup, props, lighting, sound) in activities or performances


identify theater terminology (audition, rehearsal, projection, casting, rehearsing, blocking)

use emotional recall as the basis for character choices


listen to constructive criticism and respond in a positive way

define the roles of people who work in the theater (actor, director, playwright, designer)


create geometric shapes (line, circle, oval, triangle, diamond, square, rectangle, etc.) using body movement, imagination, and spatial awareness

increase literacy skills by dramatizing stories, poems, and books from world literature



The following brief activities can help you engage students.

Grade 3 To help build your students’ ability to focus and use their voices, give them several tongue twisters. Start slowly with an easy one such as "Mad money mad bunny." When they have mastered doing this one slowly, ask them to increase their speed while still saying each word clearly. When they get proficient at this, move on to a tougher one: "Brad’s big black bath brush broke." If students are interested, they might follow up by creating tongue twisters of their own.

Grade 4 To continue working on their vocal skills and projection, assign students an activity in which they create distinctive voices to represent different contexts. For example, inside vs. outside voice; talking in a library; telling a secret; talking on the phone; and so on.

Grade 5 Have students select and retell a familiar story such as a fairy tale in which they use at least three different character voices.