Happily Ever After? Exploring Character, Conflict, and Plot in Dramatic Tragedy
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How would the story have changed if Romeo had received the letter? This lesson encourages students to pick a turning point in a tragedy and show how the action of the play would have been significantly altered had a different decision been made or a different action taken. Students use a graphic organizer to analyze the plot of the play. They identify a turning point in the play, alter the decision that the characters make, and predict the characters' actions throughout the rest of the play. Students create a plot outline of their altered play and present their new stories to the class. Teachers can test students' content knowledge and understanding of conflicts within the play while also challenging their creativity and their understanding of plot. This lesson focuses on Shakespearean tragedy, but it can be used with any tragedy that students have read or as a book report alternative.
Drama Map: Use this online tool to outline the characters, conflict, resolution, and setting of the story.
Plot Diagram: Students can use this online tool to outline the events of a story.
Ideas for "Happily Ever After" Presentations: This handout offers suggestions for presentations of students' alternative endings to a tragedy, but the ideas are adaptable for other literary presentations as well.
From Theory to Practice
As Mary Maloney Toepfer and Kara Haubert Haas explain, process drama give students the opportunity to engage directly with a piece of literature in ways that allow critical thinking and encourage exploration. Toepfer and Haas explain that "According to Jeffrey Wilhelm and Brian Edmiston, leading practitioners in the field, process drama is ‘creating meaning and visible mental models of our understanding together, in imaginative contexts and situations. It is not about performance, but exploration' (xx)." Through this exploration, process drama works as a "tool by which students assume the persona of characters in a literary text and improvise what the characters might say and how they might react in challenging situations" (30). In this activity, students not only must assume the role of the characters, but they must also think through the influence that the decisions that their characters make play on the overall plot of the drama.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
The text of a tragedy, such as Shakespeare's Hamlet or Ibsen's The Doll's House
- Students should read the tragedy before working on this activity.
- Decide how you want students to complete the assignment (computer accessibility often plays into this): do you want students to complete the assignment individually, in pairs, or in groups of 3 or 4?
- Preview the student research sites linked below so that you can answer student questions during the research phase.
- Test the Drama Map student interactive, Plot Diagram student interactive, and the additional interactives included on the Ideas for "Happily Ever After" Presentations handout on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- develop an understanding of character motivation.
- analyze how decisions characters make affect plot.
- determine a turning point of a tragedy.
- develop strategies to change the decisions characters make at/in that turning point to positively affect the plot, resulting in a "happy" ending.
- present their stories in a concise, logical, and visually pleasing manner.
- reflect on the activity to identify insights about the play.
- If you need to review the major elements of the story, use the Drama Map student interactive to outline the characters, conflict, resolution, and setting of the story.
- As a class, use the Plot Diagram student interactive to outline the events in the tragedy.
- Print the diagram and make copies for the class so that students can refer to the completed diagram as they work through this lesson.
- Ask students to brainstorm to identify the major decisions that the characters make and plot them at the appropriate point.
- Choose one decision to model as a class and ask students: What other decisions could the character have made at this point in the plot? How could the remainder of the plot have changed as a result? List student responses on the board or on a transparency. Work toward a happy ending for the story.
- Explain the project that students will work on by comparing the activity students just completed to a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book. Tell students they will essentially be choosing their own adventures from the point in the plot where the decision they are changing occurs. Stress that the actions and decisions that are made in the story need to fit the character and setting.
- Pass out or display using the overhead projector the Ideas for "Happily Ever After" Presentations, Group Assessment questions, and the Grading Rubric. Answer any questions that students have about the project.
- Divide students into groups (or let them work individually, if you prefer), assigning each group one of the decisions identified during the brainstorming activity. Students who work in groups take their plots from the point when the decision is made and carry it throughout other decisions to the end of the story. Each group member should contribute to the new plot. If students need additional resources as they reshape their stories, the lesson plan Fiction, Plotting the Story, from ArtsEdge can provide a quick mini-lesson.
- Have students complete the Plot Tree Worksheet, which will encourage students to not only identify alternate decisions characters could have made but also how these decision affect later the plot.
- At the end of the session, explain that the next two class sessions will be structured work time for groups as they work out their new plots and prepare their presentations to share with the class.
- For homework, ask students to make a journal entry focusing on their discoveries about plot to this point. For a specific response, try the following prompt: Pick one character from the play and decide what one main factor seems to motivate that character. How do you see the factor influencing the character throughout the play? Do you think the factor is an equally influential force for people today? How?
Sessions Two and Three
- Allow students additional time as necessary to complete the Plot Tree Worksheet, thinking through each of the new decisions and outcomes in their revised version of the story.
- If students need a more structured exploration of the choices in their newly version of the story, use the Drama Map student interactive to outline the characters, conflict, resolution, and setting of the new series of events.
- Ask each group to use the Plot Diagram student interactive to outline the events for their new ending. Before students begin this work, demonstrate the abilities of the student interactive, showing students that the central point in their story can slide to the left or right as appropriate for their version of the story.
- Ask students to pay particular attention to how the structure and speed of the story changes (or doesn't) based on the new "happily ever after" ending, recording their observations in their writer's notebooks.
- Display or refer to the Ideas for "Happily Ever After" Presentations and encourage students to choose a project and begin working on it by the end of the second session.
- Circulate among students while they work during these sessions, providing help and feedback as appropriate.
- At the end of each session, ask students to make a journal entry for homework, focusing on their discoveries about plot to this point and their work on their presentations. For a specific response, you might suggest the following: How has the structure of the play changed as the decisions and actions changed in your story? What do you notice when the climax occurs or the number of events between climax and the end or the beginning of the play?
- Give students five to ten minutes to make last-minute preparations and to practice their presentation.
- Have groups present their new stories to the entire class, sticking closely to the five-minutes-per-group guideline that you've established.
- Once all of the groups have presented, ask students to discuss how the characters' decisions affected the shape of the overall plot (e.g., Does the climax come closer to the beginning or end, for instance? Does a happy ending have a faster resolution?)
- If students worked in groups, pass out copies of the Group Assessment handout and ask students to complete their reflection and feedback and submit the handout and their presentations before the end of the class.
- At the end of each session, ask students to make a journal entry for homework, summarizing and reflecting on the project. If you prefer a specific writing prompt, ask your students to focus on the following question: What did you like best about preparing for the presentation? Least? What have you learned that you might not have had this presentation not been assigned?
Create a "choose your own adventure" Website that incorporates all the proposed solutions, using the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Choose Your Own Adventure: A Hypertext Writing Experience for more information and ideas.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Throughout the sessions, students write journal entries reflecting on the insights they have about the play or reading drama. Journal responses, if graded, should be graded based on the depth of reflection.
- If assigned as a group project, have each student complete the Group Assessment handout to help you identify what each group member contributed to the final project.
- Use the Grading Rubric to structure your feedback on the presentations and projects. Take into account all the work that students have done, including printouts from the student interactives as well as the final presentations themselves.