What Are Students Like at This Learning Level?

For many very young students, being in a theater class is a brand new experience. They’re likely to be excited or nervous about what’s expected of them. You can focus their natural energy and enthusiasm on simple, highly structured activities that involve plenty of movement and make believe, while guiding them to respect each other and interact cooperatively as a group. The following is a quick look at some of the behaviors you are likely to encounter within this learning level.


Pre-kindergartners tend to be adventurers who like to explore language. They typically have short attention spans and plenty of energy and often talk out of turn. They may find it difficult to sit still. They can be very clumsy; collisions are commonplace. They love being read to, and make-believe is already a large part of their daily lives, which makes them naturals for theater training. They particularly enjoy simple hands-on activities that use music, repetition, and rhythm.


Kindergartners come in primed for learning. They’re curious, but they need a blend of structure and discovery/exploration. Over the course of the school year these children begin to display much more elaborate language skills. They respond well to rules and routines and tend to enjoy structured games such as Duck, Duck, Goose and Red light, Green light. You will note that they can only focus on quiet, seated activities for about 15-20 minutes at a time. They learn best from social and collaborative play.

First graders

First graders are risk-takers: quick-moving, competitive, noisy, and enthusiastic. By this time, they are gaining more elaborate language skills and can be quite verbally expressive. They begin to move into more abstract thinking. They love surprises, which can be ideal when it comes to participating in theater games and activities. They have increasing physical competence with large motor skills. While they respond well to rules, routines, and repetition, they also love trying new things. They tend to enjoy partner work and individual projects, and they learn best through discovery.

Second graders

Second graders are beginning to notice the world around them. They enjoy games and activities that feature themes from everyday life. They tend to be more serious than children at earlier levels; a little humor on your part can go a long way to lighten the mood. Second graders have a lot of energy so they sometimes work too quickly; on the upside, they bounce back with ease after making mistakes. They love games and puzzles. Because they may tend to give up easily, encouragement and redirection are great teaching strategies to use 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.
Pre-K Students Can…

Grade 2 Students Can…


enter into a make-believe (pretend) situation as if it were real

use movement and pantomime to create human, inanimate, and animal characters


listen attentively and respectfully to teacher and classmates

use the primary tools (body, voice, and mind) to portray characters and feelings


follow directions, respecting the rules of dramatic play (focus, freeze, personal space)

cooperate with peers in small decision-making and artistic choices


identify the primary tools of the actor (body, voice, and mind)

identify story elements including plot, character (traits and relationships), conflict (problem) and message (moral)


develop appropriate reactions to moments in a classroom sharing or theatrical performance (listen, laugh, applaud)

create and use puppets, masks, and costumes in enacting characters and stories



The following brief activities can help you engage students.

Pre-K/Kindergarten Students sit or stand in a circle. Show them photos or cartoon images that illustrate basic emotions such as happy, excited, sad, or worried. Identify several of these with them. Then read aloud a book containing visuals of easily identifiable emotions. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day are good examples. Ask volunteers to identify the various emotions represented as you point to the illustrations.

Grade 1 Students sit or stand in a circle. Tell them to start walking in a circle. They should walk at the same rate. Then tell them to keep walking in a circle but to imagine that it is raining. Ask: "How does your walk change?" Next, you might have them try walking against the wind or with the wind at their backs. As students become comfortable, you can gradually move into sillier, more creative directives, such as asking how their walk would change if they were wading through jelly or stepping on hot coals.

Grade 2 Students work in pairs to make up, rehearse, and perform a brief story. You might have them read an existing story and then work together to create an alternate ending. Alternatively, you could give them a prompt such as "You are decorating your birthday cake when suddenlyÖ" or "You wake up in the middle of the night and to see a star shining through your window. You have three wishes and Ö" Give students some time to work on their stories and then present them to the class. After each presentation, ask the students in the audience to offer feedback about what they found most effective.