ROBOT – an extended drama lesson

Posted: October 21, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Looking to do some drama in your English class – perhaps something more developed than a warm up game? Then I present the Robot Game – which I originally saw in Peter Moore’s When Are We Going To Have More Drama, now out of print.
This is probably the most requested (long) drama activity that I have done with students. The ‘performance’, which takes most of a lesson, can often be hilarious, as students who have not prepared sufficient ‘actions’ realise that there may be some tasks that their ‘robot’ will struggle with.
In doubling in this post, I have also decided to upload my first Explain Everything video, created to introduce the task to the students – so I am looking to explore the practicalities of this app (part one) in the English/Drama classroom.
So, before any embedded videos, here is the ‘print’ form of the task, aimed at teachers:

Premise: You are captured in a prison on an alien world. Your only resource to help you escape is a ‘robot’ that does not speak English. You must learn its language in order to guide it through a ‘maze’ in order to retrieve a set of keys.
Procedure: DAY ONE: Divide students into groups. At first, the students work together to create a fake ‘language’ of about 5-15 commands (you don’t need to tell them this) in order to pilot the robot. Foreign languages are out, or other simplifications of English (eg Left = L). In the past, things like Simpsons characters, car brands and jibberish have been popular. Students then rehearse/test the language with the robot (the robot will NOT have the commands on the final run).
DAY TWO: While you set up the course with the course planners, drivers have a final practice run. Robots sit outside until called. Drivers are brought in and the course is demonstrated to them. Then each robot is brought in and the drivers have to pilot the robot around the course.
THE RUN THROUGH: A robot (that is, a student) is brought in and sits down on a chair. The two drivers (the other two students) ‘sit’ on their hands, with the instructions in front of them and can only offer the rehearsed “commands” (i.e. no eye contact ‘offers’, no pointing etc). Any use of English (e.g. accidental calls of “NO!” or “Stop!”, incur a 5 second penalty. The total amount of time is (usually) 5 minutes. A robot may get ‘stuck’ at a point and you may offer the drivers the option of a one-off, 30 second penalty to ‘advance’ past this procedure. The total time having expired, may see robots finish while still on the course, so keep tabs of where they finish (plus penalties).
Other Observations: The only ‘caveat’ is that robots will need to be outside, for up to (in the case of the last robot), the bulk of the period. This has never been a problem for me, but could be an issue, depending on your class. The lesson is usually hilarious, based on the absence of necessary commands, with students walking “into” tables because they haven’t thought about climb over or crawl under in their set up. You can make it as hard or as easy for your class as you need. I’ve usually run this with year 7 but it would work up to year 9 potentially. You will need to keep the changeover of robots tight, otherwise you’ll easily run over time.
Possible Marks/Extension: You can use this as a group mark, based on their ability to work in a group (esp in period 1) effectively. A reflection task can be to have the boys discuss ideas of communication and how they were challenged by expectation and what happened.

Explain Everything – a reflection

Below you will find my first ‘attempt’ at Explain Everything. All up, it probably took about an hour of solid work to get it done, and I beg your indulgence at my efforts! There were a few issues with crashes (and some odd slide clashes) that probably made the process a little more frustrating than one would hope and expect. My aim was to create this solely using my iPad – so that the idea of lightweight, portable content creation became the focus.
Here are some other observations about the app from my first go:
1. Ensure that you have your ‘script’ created beforehand. I did this, which worked well. Having all of the images, photos and the like set up (my son drew the rocket ship) before, rather than stopping and sourcing/creating them as you go, would also be advisable.
2. Overall, the feel and use of the app is great. It is easy (the help ‘manual’ is good, although perhaps not as extensive as one might like) to use and mostly intuitive. I would liked to have seen the ability to copy images from one slide to the next (unless I’ve missed how to do this), as this is a common trait that makes the iPad a boon in most areas. Instead, I sometimes tried to duplicate the slide and erase elements that I did not want. The only downside from this was that (for some reason), some of the erased elements would magically re-insert themselves later on – frustrating. I’m sure this is a glitch that will soon be fixed.
3. Consider how you are going to ‘animate’ it ahead of time. I found trying to make it look ‘smooth’ while doing any voiceover (again, apologies for the tone that suggests “I’m concentrating here!”) at the same time. However, it is relatively easy to pause and break the animation and thus the voiceover.
4. Practical uses for the English Class. Thus far I can see two main uses. The first is for something like this, where you can make it a story tied to a series of instructions. Students could look at this the night before (reflecting possible ‘Flipped’ class models), work online together to come up with their “list” of commands, and come in ready to go with the rehearsal/performance the next day. The second would be as an explanatory tool. At present at my school, Year 9 are working on a unit studying a range of sonnets. Explain Everything would work quite well as a ‘study guide’, that covers the structural elements that make up a sonnet. The advantages would be that, despite some time investment (several hours), you would have a resource that you could use again and, perhaps more importantly, a guide that students can visit more than once in order to help with their study of the form.
I think I’ll see how I go with that as my ‘second attempt’. In the meantime, the first attempt is below. Let me know if you need any clarification with the task, or wish to make suggestions about other ways Explain Everything might work in the English (Drama?) classroom.

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Comments
  1. mrmomyp says:

    This is fantastic! Thanks a lot for sharing!

  2. […] at nearly double the next best Post’s effort (a lesson plan for a drama activity called ROBOT) at 154 to 84 views. Sure it is one of the oldest posts, but it still pops up as the one sought out […]

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