Begin the lesson by having students stand in a circle, then introduce the game “Pass the Book.”
Teacher: We are going to play two different rounds of “Pass the Book.” This is just a regular book. Don’t worry about what the book is called or what it is about. We are going to pass this book around the circle. Once you receive the book, I want you to react some way to it. DO NOT use words. Instead, use your face, body, and sounds. Interact with it. Perhaps the book is wonderful, smelly, boring, heavy, scary, weird, intriguing, loud, possessed, or something else. Then pass the book to the person next to you. Try not to copy anyone else.
Start off the round by reacting to the book and passing it to the left or right. Once the book returns, begin the second round.
Teacher: Now for the second round, I want you to use words while you animate your face and body. Interact with the book in a way that is mathematical. Use numbers and everyday calculations to describe the book. Perhaps you can hold the book and announce its weight, its height, its length, its number of pages, its age, its price, the time it took to be written, and so on. You are just making it up, so do not worry about accuracy.
Start off the round by reacting to the book mathematically (e.g., “This book weighs two pounds, six ounces”). Once the book returns, have the class members give each other a round of applause.
Teacher: Which round of “Pass the Book” did you like better? Why? What was challenging about either round? You all discovered many ways to describe or respond to a book, both emotionally and mathematically. A book is just an everyday object. And in our activity today, you and your partner will receive a simple script of an everyday interaction. Then you will rewrite it so that you are responding to it more mathematically.
Teacher: There are seven scenes. Each takes place in a different location and involves very simple, normal conversation. Here are the titles:
Hold up one of the papers.
Teacher: Every scene involves two people (except for “On an Airplane,” which involves three, in case we have an uneven number of students). Each paper has two copies of the script. The top version is to be left blank. You will perform this one as written. The bottom one is for you and your partner to change. You can cross out and add words and sentences, but do not add new characters or change the location. Your goal is to change the bottom script so that it heavily involves the use of everyday math. Consider the math we have been studying in class lately. You can include dialogue about money, weight, volume, geometry, distance, height, time, temperature, and whatever else involves mathematical concepts. Have the dialogue be the active solving of a math problem. Many scenes already include numbers. Use that as a starting point, but make it more complex, as if the characters are incredible mathematicians. Then you will perform the scene.
Split the class into groups of two, with one group of three if needed (use scene “On an Airplane” for the group of three). Hand out a different scene to each group. Depending on class size, the same scene may be performed by more than one group. Make sure every student has his or her own double copy of the scene. Give them time to rewrite and rehearse.
Teacher: As you rewrite, make sure the scene still has a strong story structure with a beginning, middle, end, clear characters, and answers to the six storytelling questions (who, what, when, where, why, and how). Also, remember to include enough mathematical dialogue so that a complex math problem is solved. Lastly, this is a performance, so consider how to use your voice, face, and body to animate your characters, just like round one of “Pass the Book.”
Gather the students back up, and have them perform their two scenes for the class: first, they’ll perform the scene as it was originally written, and then they’ll perform the scene after it was rewritten into a mathematical problem. Have the students perform the scenes, in order, from numbers one to seven. If you have more than one group performing the same scene, decide who goes first. As groups perform, encourage the other groups to prepare feedback for after everyone has performed.
Teacher: What did you like about this activity? Why? What was challenging about it? Other than your group, which group’s rewrite did you like the best, and why? What do these scenes of everyday interactions in various locations teach us about the importance of math? For a follow-up, on a blank sheet of paper, write down your rewritten mathematical scene as a word problem. Include the answer on the back. We will turn these in and make a class book of word problems.
If your students enjoyed performing scripted partner scenes, consider having them perform scenes from the book Acting Scenes and Monologues for Kids by Bo Kane. They contain short, relatable, hilarious everyday situations for kids.
This lesson can be used to meet standards in many grades and subject areas. We will highlight one grade's standards to give an example of application.
Image 1: Brenda Beyal.
Images 2-5: Haley Flanders Anderson.