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Adapting Literary Texts: Themes, Images, and Performance (Part 3/3)

Context for this Lesson


GRADE LEVEL: English III/Grades 11/12 (can be applied to early HS as well)

FOCUS QUESTIONS: How do we adapt a literary text for performance? How does our creative process relate to our research process?

MATERIALS NEEDED: Copies of selected passages from Toni Morrison texts



§110.33. English Language Arts and Reading, English III (B)(5) Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Fiction. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the structure and elements of fiction and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. (26) Listening and Speaking/Teamwork. Students work productively with others in teams. Students will continue to apply earlier standards with greater complexity. Students are expected to participate productively in teams, offering ideas or judgments that are purposeful in moving the team towards goals, asking relevant and insightful questions, tolerating a range of positions and ambiguity in decision-making, and evaluating the work of the group based on agreed-upon criteria.

§117.64. Theatre, Level I (c) Knowledge and skills. Perception. The student develops concepts about self, human relationships, and the environment, using elements of drama and conventions of theatre. The student is expected to: (C) employ stage movement and pantomime consistently to express thoughts, feelings, and actions; (D) develop and practice effective voice and diction to express thoughts and feelings.

Common Core State Standards: 

College and Career readiness anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening: (1) Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Reading Standards for Literature Grades 11-12:

Key Ideas and Details: (2) Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text. Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed). (3) Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).



“What did we do last class?” After hearing some answers and recalling the main events of the last class, explain how we are going to build on the foundational skills of identifying themes and creating tableaux. “Today, we’re going to activate the themes you’ve identified from your text through tableaux.” 

Transition: “Before we start, we’re going to work with the passages you chose last class to synthesize the information you’ll be communicating through your tableaux.”



Define dramaturgy (shaping a story and representing it on stage, but different from playwriting and directing), what dramaturgs do in theatre (research, new play development and production-specific work) and how we are going to use it in this class.

Explain what a beat is (a single moment of dramatic action) and the signals that a beat has changed:

  • A new character enters
  • A strong shift in emotion
  • A strong shift in action
  • A change in setting

Distribute copies of Toni Morrison passages. Give students five minutes to divide their passages into three parts (keeping in mind the beat change signals), and title each segment.

Transition: “Now that you have synthesized the information from your passage into three titles, we are going to get up on our feet and create a sequence of frozen pictures to represent your text.”


Within in each group, assign each person a number. Explain to students that this is a silent activity, and we will be creating these pictures quickly. Students may choose to play characters named in the text, inanimate objects and parts of the environment in their tableaux.

“Just like we did in stage picture last time, we are going to add one person at a time to the picture. Keep the title of your first beat in mind as you create this first tableau. Person #1, please start the frozen picture. Three, two, one, freeze. Person #2, please add to the picture.”

Continue this until all group members are in the picture. Invite Person #1 to step out of the picture while everyone else remains frozen. “You are the director of this picture for the next thirty seconds. You have thirty seconds to revise this picture to make it more interesting and communicate your beat title more clearly. Go.”

After that thirty seconds, have Person #1 rejoin the picture. “This is image number one. Remember this image. Actors relax, and we will create the second image in the same way.” Repeat this process to create images two and three, asking different group members to step out and revise the image.


Once all three images have been created, go back to the first image and guide students through a silent rehearsal of moving from one image to the next. Move through all images once to remember what the images are. Before moving through the sequence a second time, encouraging students to be intentional about their movement. “Think about the pace with which you move. Is it fast or slow? What level are you moving on? Keep in mind the theme you want to communicate. What is going to communicate that most clearly? Discuss for one minute.”


Have students return to their text and choose up to two lines or phrases that best represent of the theme they are choosing to highlight. They will be speaking this text out loud during the transitions. Students may choose to use text in only one transition, but the choice must be intentional. Once they have chosen their text, encourage students to think about how the text could be used and distributed. “Will everyone say everything? Will there be one voice? Two voices? Will you speak your text as you’re moving or once you have established the next frozen image? Think about how your use of text affects how you’re communicating your theme and message to the audience.”

Give students three minutes to discuss and choose the lines of text they would like to use and rehearse their whole sequence twice more on their own. In the last thirty seconds or so, have students synthesize their work and come up with a title for their piece.


Establish a playing space and audience space in the classroom. Tell students that you will be asking them to share observations after viewing a piece and to be thinking about the intention behind the choices the actors are making, as well as how they relate to the text. Then the actors will have a chance to share some of their process.

Invite the first group to come up and get ready. Ask them to tell the class the title of their piece and share. Processing each piece with the following questions:

Questions for the audience:

  • “What do you remember from this sequence? What stood out to you?”
  • “How did those choices affect you as an audience member? What thoughts and/or feelings came up for you as you were watching?”
  • “What would you say the theme of this piece was?” Questions for the actors:
  • “What theme were you communicating with this piece?”
  • “How did the text inform the choices you made as a group in creating your performance?”



  • Describe your experience of the process of creating these pieces with your group.
  • How did non-verbal communication affect your process?


  • Based on your process of choosing how to represent the theme in your performance, what do you think Toni Morrison’s purpose was in writing this book?


  • How does this creative process mirror the research process that we use in class?
  • What question or task did we begin with in this process?