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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cue Laughter

In third grade, students practice the art of writing in different genres from friendly letters to narrative stories to persuasive essays.  Around this time of the semester, if a school performance is fast approaching, third grade teachers also get to flex their writing muscle in a very particular genre.  You know it.  You love it.  It's that knee-slapping, guffaw-inducing yet informational style known as the Third Grade Skit.

If, for some reason, you are not acquainted with the art of writing the Third Grade Skit, here is the basic process.


*Lay out a loose plot that allows you to cram in a bunch of science or social studies content.

*Anthropomorphize up some rocks, historical documents, or animals to serve as characters.
 
*Continue to introduce a ridiculous number of characters until you reach your class size.

*Render several characters incapable of understanding any terms used by the other characters, thus necessitating explanatory monologues on metamorphic rocks.

*Sprinkle puns and plays on words liberally.

*Have one of the characters keep making mistakes in a comical way.

*Spend the rest of your time counting and recounting all of the lines until each part is relatively equal and immune to complaints of, "He gets more lines!"

Last week, other third grade teacher and I were on a roll--cranking out scene after scene of corny lines mixed with explanations of how sandstone forms, the properties of marble, and what buildings and monuments use granite.  You can be sure that we have a line starting with, "Don't take us for granite....."

The cornier the better.  If a super cheesy thought occurs to you--put it in.  The character who keeps forgetting Bernoulli's Principle will get big laughs.  Not again!  Ah hah hah.

Before Thanksgiving break, we placed the final script in the hands of our eager thespians.  We started reading, and a few corny jokes passed by with no reaction.  "Hold on, people.  Get why this is funny?  Let me explain."  I didn't expect anyone to get our reference to The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, when Marble (the metamorphic rock that limestone turns into) says, "I thought about going by, 'The Rock Formerly Known as Limestone.'"  I had found my co-scriptwriter's line about marble to be a rather exemplary instance of the genre, though, so I invested a few minutes of class time into explaining the joke  "You see, children, before you were born, in something called, 'The 90s'...."  Even after I broke it down, they still did not find it nearly as funny as I did.

We pushed onward to the next act, where some of the lines got big laughs.  I felt inordinately proud for having made a bunch of eight year olds chuckle.  They laugh at pretty much anything, including fake-picking one's nose.  Still, though, I knew the jokes were the right level of corniness.  Oh, that calcite!  Always dissolving in acid!  What will he do next?

Now back after a few days off, with time ticking down until our big performance, we're in big-time rehearsal mode.  Basically what that means is that we spend a lot of time moving around the furniture to clear off our "stage" and then put all the tables back to do "learning," and I do a lot of, "It's your line!"  "Louder!"  We'll see next week in front of a real audience whether or not the script and the acting have hit the mark in the well-loved genre of Third Grade Skit.

If you're in the mood, now, for some acting tips, take this advice from previous experience performing Third Grade Skits.  Here you'll learn what to say to the audience if you have to abruptly leave a scene due to line forgetting.  Or you'll learn what NOT to say to a fellow actor should her or she fail to step into the scene at the appropriate time.
Image: diy-film.com

2 comments:

Nate said...

Jack Donaghy would have avoided much childhood trauma if you had been his third grade scriptwriter.

Sarah said...

I've never had to write a third grade skit, but you've laid out all the instructions so nicely, I'm sure I could now ;). Don't you love it when you have to explain jokes?
Hope the kids "break a leg" for the big performance!