Good Plays to Do With Eighth Graders?
February 10, 2009 5:08 PM   Subscribe

What are some great plays to read aloud with eighth graders?

One of the best experiences of my middle school language arts classes was the chance to read plays aloud as a class. We read a ton of Shakespeare, with each kid assigned to a role. We also read Our Town and The Importance of Being Earnest and Twelve Angry Men.

I'd like to do the same with my eighth grade class later on this year, and I'm trying to brainstorm plays that are good possibilities. Shakespeare is out because that's the spring drama production. And I have a class with more girls than boys, so I'm not sure I could countenance Twelve Angry Men. The other two are possibilities - but I'd like to think outside the box of my own experience.

It's a fairly strong bunch of kids - I wouldn't hesitate to do Shakespeare if it weren't someone else's turf. So it doesn't have to be restricted to simplified language. I'm more interested in something that they'd find exciting and compelling.

This'll be strictly a group read-aloud, not a production performed for an audience.

Any ideas?
posted by Chanther to Education (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What about Abe Lincoln in Illinois? This would be both linguistically and historically rich, as it uses some of Lincoln's own words.
posted by metalheart at 5:14 PM on February 10, 2009

There's apparently a 1940s film of it, too.
posted by metalheart at 5:16 PM on February 10, 2009

My 8th graders have loved reading "The Diary of Anne Frank". There are about 12 parts, some of them long (so I had some students share parts). They really got into it though, and loved the historical aspect of it (many of the students did individual research on their characters). I was excited to see how much they connected with the story, and how interested they were in the character of Anne Frank as she related to them.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 5:18 PM on February 10, 2009

Tony Award winners for Best Play

If you're doing Shakespeare, why not something like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Want to have fun? Noises Off.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:18 PM on February 10, 2009

The Crucible might be an interesting choice: religious zealotry is topical, and its about groupthink & young women.
posted by dydecker at 5:20 PM on February 10, 2009

I have always hated Shakespeare, and I always will.

I read "12 Angry Men" in 8th grade, and we acted it out. I really did enjoy that. However, in fifth grade, we read Taming of the Shrew and acted it out. Everyone in that class HATED that.
posted by majikstreet at 5:20 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love Inherit the Wind like you wouldn't believe. And I believe I did read it in middle school.
posted by spec80 at 5:21 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Now that I actually thoroughly read your question because I wanted to shoot off Inherit the Wind so quickly, since you have so many more girls than boys, I suggest:

Picnic at Hanging Rock

The Children's Hour
Jake's Women
posted by spec80 at 5:27 PM on February 10, 2009

we did, "A Hero Aint Nothin But a Sandwich" but the dialog in the book is almost all slang. since we were in Brooklyn we had no trouble.
posted by kanemano at 5:29 PM on February 10, 2009

Kristen Thomson's I, Claudia is an amazing play about an adolescent girl dealing with her parents' divorce. Written for two female and two male characters; it's wonderful, funny, and warm. It was written for one actor to play all the roles, and it's monologues, not dialogue, but it would be GREAT to read aloud. I gave it to a co-worker's 12-year old daughter and she adored it. Highly, highly recommend.

David Ive's All in the Timing is really fun, smart, Monty-Python-esque humour.

Christopher Durang is absurd and witty in a way I think preteens would appreciate. You could do an edited version of Sister Mary ignatius Explains It All For You (that play starts light & ends heavy, which may not be the tone you want- but the light part is really, really fun).

John Lazarus' Babel Rap is good- a hard worker and a slacker building the tower of Babel, arguing about the existence of God. Funny, snappy dialogue and a fun ending where they forget how to speak English. I did it in grade 9 and we loved it.

Joan McLeod's Little Sister is written for teenagers and deals with eating disorders, and has a nice blend of humour and seriousness.

George F Walker's Tough! is a pregnant teenage girl and her tough best friend confronting the father of the unborn child in a playground. I think there's some swearing but it's a great issue play for teens, and it's fast-paced and funny. There's another play in the same anthology called Zastrozzi that we did in highschool- I remember liking it, too.

None of these are for the right number of kids but you can always swap roles every few pages.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:30 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another vote for The Crucible, Inherit the Wind, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; I read the first two around 8th grade and the latter around 10th (though in conjunction with Hamlet).
posted by scody at 5:39 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, also Waiting for Godot!
posted by scody at 5:39 PM on February 10, 2009

3rd Inherit the Wind - I really enjoyed reading that.
The Skin of Our Teeth - I liked because I thought it was weird.
posted by plinth at 5:46 PM on February 10, 2009

Oh you might also do Arsenic and Old Lace, but there are relatively few parts in that.
posted by plinth at 5:46 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oooh I loved Inherit the Wind in 8th grade!

In 7th grade we read Arsenic & Old Lace, which I thought was hilarious.
posted by radioamy at 5:47 PM on February 10, 2009

Some of the plays that I remember reading in class, performing in, or seeing and enjoying at around that age:

Gogol - The Government Inspector
Chekhov - The Cherry Orchard
Shaw - St. Joan
Sheridan - The Rivals
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 5:56 PM on February 10, 2009

I came in to mention both Inherit the Wind and The Crucible, so consider them seconded. We read both of those out loud at about that time in my schooling, and both left an impression and are fantastic for a largish reading.
posted by piedmont at 6:05 PM on February 10, 2009

Lynda Barry's The Good Times Are Killing Me? I second Waiting for Godot & Rosencratz and Guildenstern.

Three other plays we read in 9th grade drama:

No Exit

All My Sons

The Foreigner
posted by theefixedstars at 6:33 PM on February 10, 2009

One of the coolest projects we did in my high school drama course was a selection of scenes. I studied and enacted (with a partner) a scene from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. I did not read the whole play (although I might now that you've reminded me).
Anyway, the coolest part about it was I had to learn the posh British accent. My teacher had some awesome tapes that I took home and practiced with, but you could very easily just find a couple exercises to do in class.
I like this idea a lot because then you can talk about "My Fair Lady" and also Greek mythology.
posted by purpletangerine at 6:52 PM on February 10, 2009

All in the Timing has some good plays and some questionable plays. The Philip Glass one is hilarious in its way, and I think the Universal Language would be good. However, they're all small-group plays, with only about 2-4 parts.
posted by that girl at 7:16 PM on February 10, 2009

When I was in 10t grade, I completely fell in love with James Goldman's The Lion in Winter. It doesn't have many female roles, but the one it has is a powerhouse.

You should also look into Caryl Churchill. It's been a long time since I read Cloud Nine, but I think it would be a fascinating read for kids who are ready for Shakespeare.

And if they're ready for Shakespeare and Arthur Miller, then they should also read August Wilson. Fences is the play that often gets put on the syllabus, but I'd check out the others in his cycle.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 8:30 PM on February 10, 2009

My son's 8th grade class is reading Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons" right now.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:25 PM on February 10, 2009

Throwing in another vote for "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" especially if you read it in conjunction with "Hamlet."

Also "Inherit the Wind" is surprisingly relevant, these days. And it's good fun...
posted by np312 at 11:03 PM on February 10, 2009

My all time favorite teacher was my senior year English teacher, when we were learning about comedy writing he made us read a script from "Married with Children" out loud, it was really fun. Maybe look away from the "classics" and look at other forms of literature, tv shows or movies that you like and would be appropriate.
posted by BrnP84 at 11:38 PM on February 10, 2009

Thank you for all of the suggestions! I've got a lot of reading to do - sounds like a lot of fun.
posted by Chanther at 5:04 PM on February 11, 2009

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