Play Presentation
Mareika Lubkiewicz

Mareika Lubkiewicz

My name is Mareika Lubkiewicz and I am a teacher with the Halton District School Board. I have been teaching since 2001 and have taught grades 4 – 8 in both the English and French Immersion panels. I am currently teaching grade 8 homeroom in Milton, Ontario.

Table of Contents


This learning object is a unit for grade 4 that integrates curriculum from Social Studies, Language Arts and the Arts with a culminating demonstration of student learning in the form of a graphic story.  Students bring to life a story they have written using puppetry and technology.  At the end of this unit plan, students use Comic Life to create a graphic story about a peasant accused of a crime during Medieval times.

Back to Top

Purpose of Learning Object

Students learn about the court and justice system in Medieval times, compare it to the modern system,  and apply their learning when writing their stories.

Students learn about the form and features of both dramatic plays and graphic novels. They apply their learning when writing their stories and creating their graphic stories.

Students learn about planning, making artistic decisions, and producing 2-dimensional and 3-dimentional pieces of art.  They apply their learning when creating their puppets and the backdrops for their stories.

Students learn about creating, rehearsing, and presenting dramatic works.  They apply their learning as they write and orally present their plays to the class.

Back to Top

Description of Learning Task

The final culminating task completed by students is a graphic story created using Comic Life.

Students work in groups to write a play, which they will then stage using puppets and backdrops they create and design.  They storyboard their story and take still images of their puppets and backdrops.  They use these still images in Comic Life to retell their story.

The unit can be broken down into three parts:  writing the play, creating puppets and backgrounds, and graphic tales.  The following links provide additional detail on how to roll out the unit, and on the gradual release of responsibility from teacher to student.

Writing the Play

Before this learning task is completed by students, the following lessons need to take place:

The Manor System and Manor Law

These two lessons comes from a document called Hands on Social Studies, published by Portage and Main Press. Due to copyright considerations it cannot be posted here however, information on the resource can be found in the Additional Resources section.

In the first lesson, students are introduced to the manor system during Medieval times.  The lesson involves whole class discussion questions, shared reading, individual comprehension questions, and a Venn diagram comparing the manor system to present day life in Canada.

In the second lesson,  students learn about the legal process in the manor system.  The lesson involves whole class discussion questions, reading and performing a play, and planning a new play.

I adapted the lesson to make the planning of the new play to be an individual task.  I had students complete the graphic organizer and then write a brief synopsis of what their play was going to be about, which I used as a piece of assessment.  This assessment allowed me to determine whether students had understood the social studies concepts from the two lessons.

Features of a Play

Before students begin working in groups to write their plays, review the play they read in the previous lesson.  As a  class, outline the features of a play.

Discuss the roles of each feature and how they work together to create a script.  Also, discuss the differences between a play and other narrative fiction, such as a short story or chapter book.

Create an anchor chart of student features for future use.  At this point, there is a great deal of exploring as a class.  In later lessons, as the responsibility is gradually released, students will compare text forms more independently.

Planning and Writing Play

Students work in groups to either pick one idea or combine several.

Before beginning, review the features of a play and discuss how to work in groups when creating dramatic works.

In order to facilitate the rest of the project,  each play may only have as many characters as the group has members.   It is important to circulate from group to group to help facilitate the writing process, as well as to see how each student is contributing to the written work.

Students conference with their teacher about revisions and edits.  During conferencing, the teacher can gain further insight into the input of each student, as well as his or her ability to revise and edit.

Students perform their plays as a reader’s theatre for the class, and the class provides feedback to help them further revise their work as needed.

The performance is also an opportunity for students to present orally to the class, focusing on their expression and tone.  It is important to have reviewed and practised these skills earlier in the year in another contex so that students are comfortable with dramatic presentation.

Creating Puppets and Backgrounds

Before this learning task is completed by students, the following lessons need to take place.

Visualizing Settings and Perspectives in Drawing

Students begin to explore the idea of visualizing the setting in a story by illustrating the setting from a piece of narrative.

Students listen to the first few paragraphs of a chapter in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in which author Rohl Dahl describes the ‘Chocolate Room’.  After an initial reading, students make notes about what they imagine the room looks like. Then they listen again, further visualizing what the room would look like, and finally they create an illustration to accompany the texts.

It is important to discuss perspective and illustrate how it can be achieved in their drawings to help students be successful in their creations.

Reflecting on Landscapes and Settings

Students continue to explore the ideas of landscapes and settings by reflecting on some pieces of art.  Large prints should be provided for the students to look at and pick from.

When students have selected one print to focus on, they plan out a story that has the setting based on the print.  Students don’t actually write a story, they simply plan how the setting is part of the story.

At this point, students are ready to work in their groups to create their ‘backdrops’ for their puppets.  A maximum of four backdrops helps to limit the timeline involved in this part of the process.Student Worksheet – Art

Bringing Characters to Life

  • The class discusses the different roles that are portrayed in the plays and how they differ in social status.
  • Students use reference books from the classroom and library to find pictures of the different characters that are in the plays, and discuss what they are wearing.
  • Students see an example of a puppet they will make.
  • Students work individually, through an organizer,  on how their character from the play would look and dress.  They should also include a justification for their choices which the teacher can collect for assessment purposes.
  • The teacher uses the organizers to make a list of materials needed for the students to complete their puppets.
  • Students create their character using a Crayola product called Model Magic, which requires a quick demonstration of the process.  Supervision and intervention is required to help them complete the puppets. Student Worksheet – Puppet

Graphic Tales

Before this learning task is completed by students the following lessons need to take place:

Features of a Graphic Novel

Students learn about the graphic novel genre by exploring examples that focus on the medieval periods.  If examples of medieval graphic stories are unavailable,  the activity can easily be done with any type of graphic novel or story.   (Be careful when taking books out of the library, not all graphic novels are appropriate for grade 4!)

In triads, students work together to brainstorm the features that are specific to graphic novels,  and as a class the features are debriefed and discussed.

This is an opportunity to have students work in homogeneous ability groupings, with texts at their reading level.  Some graphic novels can be quite simplistic,  just like a traditional comic book, while others can be much more complex, using techniques such as varying the colour of visual images and text to convey meaning.  Including more challenging and complex texts allows stronger readers to broaden their knowledge and understanding of text forms.

The Art of Photography and Storyboarding and Transforming Plays into Graphic Tales

As a follow-up to the previous lesson,  students learn about some techniques that are used in effective storyboarding, (three major types of shots, communicating emotion through angle, etc.).

  • As a class,  the students compare the text form of plays to that of graphic novels and identify which features exist in both and which do not.  This helps them think about how they are going to storyboard their plays in the new text form.
  • The students work in their groups to storyboard their plays.  They identify which shots (digital still images) will need to be taken and the text/dialogue to be included with each shot.
  • Ongoing teacher conferencing help them to organize their ideas clearly using this new form of communication.  Their completed storyboards provide them with a list of photographs that need to be taken.
  • With the assistance of the teacher, students can now take pictures of their puppets in front of their setting backdrops.

Using Comic Life

Prior to using Comic Life for this project students need to have been exposed to the program.

Working in pairs,  students can explore how to add templates, pictures, and text and how to change such details as background colours.  Students do not need much exposure to get a good grasp of how to use the program.

Back to Top

Curriculum Connections


Oral Communication

Overall Expectations:

  • Listen in order to understand and respond appropriately in a variety of situations for a variety of purposes;
  • Use speaking skills and strategies appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Specific Expectations:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of appropriate listening behaviour by adapting active listening strategies to suit a variety of situations, including work in groups;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of appropriate speaking behaviour in a variety of situations, including paired sharing and small- and large- group discussions;
  • Communicate in a clear coherent manner, presenting ideas, opinions, and information in a readily understandable form;
  • Identify some vocal effects including tone, pace, pitch, volume, and a range of sound effects and use them appropriately, and with sensitivity towards cultural differences, to help communicate their meaning.


Overall Expectations:

  • Read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic, and informational texts using a range of strategies to construct meaning;
  • Recognize a variety of texts forms, text features, and stylistic elements and demonstrate understanding of how they help communicate meaning.

Specific Expectations:

  • Read a variety of texts from diverse cultures, including literary texts, graphic texts, and informational texts;
  • Make inferences about texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts as evidence;
  • Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights to other familiar texts, and to the world around them;
  • Explain how the particular characteristics of various text forms help communicate meaning;
  • Identify a variety of text features and explain how they help readers understand texts.


Overall Expectations:

  • Generate, gather, and organize ideas and information to write for an intended purpose and audience;
  • Draft and revise their writing, using a variety of informational, literary, and graphic forms and stylistic elements appropriate for the purpose and audience.

Specific Expectations:

  • Generate ideas about a potential topic using a variety of strategies and resources;
  • Write more complex texts using a variety of forms;
  • Make revisions to improve the content, clarity, and interest of their written work, using, several types of strategies;
  • Use punctuation appropriately to help communicate intended meaning;
  • Use parts of speech appropriately to communicate meaning clearly;
  • Use some appropriate elements of effective presentation in the finished product including print, script, different fonts, graphics, and layout;
  • Produce pieces of published work to meet identified criteria based on the expectations related to content, organization, style, use of conventions, and use of presentation strategies.

Media Literacy

Overall Expectations:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of a variety of media texts;
  • Identify some media forms and explain how the conventions and techniques associated with them are used to create meaning;
  • Create a variety of media texts for different purposes and audiences, using appropriate forms, conventions, and techniques.

Specific Expectations:

  • Identify the purpose and audience for a variety of media texts;
  • Identify the conventions and techniques used in some familiar media forms and explain how they help convey meaning;
  • Describe in detail the topic, purpose, and audience for media texts they plan to create;
  • Identify conventions and techniques appropriate to the form chosen for a media text they plan to create;
  • Produce media texts for specific purposes and audiences, using a few simple media text forms and appropriate conventions and techniques.

Social Studies

Heritage and Citizenship

Overall Expectations:

  • Identify and describe features of daily life and social organization in medieval European societies, from about 500 to 1500 C.E;
  • Relate significant elements of medieval societies to comparable aspects of contemporary Canadian communities.

Specific Expectations:

  • Describe aspects of daily life for men, women, and children in medieval societies;
  • Use media works, oral presentations, written notes and descriptions, and drawings to communicate information about life in medieval society;
  • Compare aspects of life in a medieval community and their own community;
  • Make connections between social or environmental concerns of medieval times and similar concerns today;
  • Use artistic expression to re-create or respond to imaginative works from medieval times.

The Arts

Visual Arts

Overall Expectations

  • Produce two- and three-dimensional works of art that communicate ideas (thoughts, feelings, experiences) for specific purposes and to specific audiences;
  • Describe their interpretation of a variety of art works, basing their interpretation on evidence from the works and on their own knowledge and experience.

Specific Expectations

  • Produce two and three-dimensional works of art that communicate thoughts, feelings, and ideas for specific purposes and to specific audiences;
  • Plan a work of art, identifying the artistic problem and a proposed solution;
  • Explain how the elements of design are organized in a work of art to communicate feelings and convey ideas;
  • State their preference for a specific work chosen from among several on a similar theme and defend their choice with reference to their own interests and experience and to the artist’s use of the various elements of design.

Dramatic Arts

Overall Expectations:

  • Interpret and communicate the meaning of stories, poems, plays and other material, drawn from a variety of sources and cultures, using a variety of dance and drama techniques.

Specific Expectations

  • Enact or create, rehearse, and present drama and dance works based on novels, stories, poems, and plays;
  • Represent and interpret main characters by speaking, moving, and writing in role;
  • Explain the importance of research in producing effective dramatizations.

Back to Top

Required Technology

To complete the Comic Life portion of this project requires a minimum of one digital camera, and a computer that has the Comic Life program on it.

The still pictures can be taken by the teacher (this makes the process go a little more quickly), or the students can take the pictures, in which case they should have learned how to use a digital camera.

Students should have already learned how to use Comic Life.  Ideally access to one computer per group is ideal, but not absolutely necessary as groups can work on the project as a ‘centre’ if access to multiple computers is not possible.  Comic Life must be loaded on all computers that will be used.

If Comic Life is not available, programs such as Microsoft Word or Pages could work for this type of project.  Students could add a picture to a document, and place text below it.  Some programs do allow for the addition of speech bubbles.

Finally, it is possible to complete a low-tech version of this project.  Students could take photos, glue them on paper,  and then add speech bubbles of their own.  Alternatively, they could simply draw the comic by hand.

Back to Top


Throughout the unit there are opportunities to take anecdotal notes based on observations during classroom discussion, small group work, and conferencing. Much of the work is done in groups, making it important to sit with each group at various points in the project to get an idea of each student’s contributions. The students also complete a variety of graphic organizers and answer comprehension and reflection questions by the end of the unit.  These can be collected to get a sense of student understanding. For examples of formative assessment trackers that can be used at various points throughout the unit, click here. For an example of the rubric used to evaluate the final product, see rubric.

Back to Top

Scope and Sequence

This activity should be done either within the middle of the Medieval Times Unit or at the end of the Medieval Times Unit.  To begin the section of the unit entitled The Manor System and Manor Law, students should have already learned about how Medieval society was organized to understand the roles of the peasant versus the role of the nobility and royalty.

Throughout the unit, students learn about and compare various text forms.  At first, students will compare the features of play scripts to other narrative fiction forms, identifying how dialogue plays a much larger role and setting description a much smaller one.

Later, students compare graphic novels and stories to plays, noting where visuals play a bigger role and where narration plays a smaller one.   It is important that students discuss these differences to be successful at writing their script and storyboarding their graphic story.  Throughout the process,  students require reminders to think carefully about how the specific text form and its features communicate information.

When discussing graphic novels and stories in particular,  it is important to have done some work on making inferences.  Graphic stories depend greatly on the reader making inferences from the visual as opposed to simply the text.

There are opportunities for strategy specific lessons on making inferences,  and to assess the students’ ability to make inferences using both text and visuals to make meaning.

Back to Top

Accommodations and Modifications

Possible accommodations and modifications for students who require them are:

  • provide students with a list of ideas from which to begin their brainstorming when planning their stories, or an outline to modify or fill in the blanks with.
  • reduced expectations can be used in terms of amount of lines written or characters included in the play.
  • other technology (e.g., KidPix) can be used when designing character and planning backdrops.
  • typing portion of the process can be done by a scribe, with student prompting actions.

Back to Top


The unit as a whole provides differentiation by integrating aspects of different multiple intelligences. There are opportunities to work individually as well as in groups, which cater to the interpersonal and intrapersonal learners. The writing and performing of the dramatic work provide opportunities for linguistic learners to excel. The artistic and technological aspects of the unit appeal to kinesthetic learners who learn best by doing and making.

Another opportunity for differentiation in the unit is in student groupings. There are points in the unit when students can be grouped in pairs, triads, and larger groups. They can be grouped in homogeneous ability groupings for some of the activities early on in the unit, for example when students are exploring graphic novels and studying their features, students can work in groups that reflect their reading ability and can be given books that will challenge them. For the final group project it is best for the students to be in heterogeneous ability groupings to allow all groups to succeed equally at the final task.

Back to Top

Research Base

The idea of this unit was inspired by my introduction to an amazing software called Comic Life.  I immediately recognized that students would be excited about using it.  As well, the possibilities for Comic Life complement the growing interest in the graphic novel genre (Matthews, 2008).

While the role of graphic novels in the classroom has been debated in recent years, there are strong arguments  in favour of including them in classroom instruction.   They allow teachers to make the most of students’ natural interest in the text form (The Council of Teacher of English, 2005).  As well, they expose some children to literature and topics they would not otherwise encounter, and they  present alternative points of view on traditional ideas (Schwarz, 2002).

In my experience, children have been motivated to choose books from the library based on the fact that these were graphic novels.  They showed eagerness to read a graphic novel, regardless of  its subject matter,  and later would recount tales of the new things they had learned, or the stories they had loved.

It has been argued that more complex reading comprehension skills are required to make meaning of some graphic novels.  To this point, exposure to this text form is helping students improve their ability.  For example, graphic novels depend heavily on the role of the visual and so require that the reader make inferences from images, as well as written text.  (Schwarz, 2002, The Council of Teacher of English, 2005)

Don Jones (2005) argues that the role of media instruction exists not only in the language classroom, but also throughout the curriculum.   This project integrates curriculum from many subject areas.  It also provides a meaningful, authentic opportunity to communicate knowledge and understanding of a content area that could otherwise be seen as quite dry.   Moreover, it gives students the chance to explore media literacy techniques such as the impact of camera angles (Schwarz, 2002,).

Students experience many ‘ah ha’ moments.   For example, they realize that the impact of an image changes according to how a subject is framed in the picture, and that size and choice of font can affect the reader’s understanding.

This project assures a high level of student engagement.   As well, this initiative is supported by solid research on the benefits of integrating both graphic novels and media technology into the classroom.


Gretchen E. Schwarz, Graphic Novels for Multiple Literacies , 2002, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy

Don Jones, The Case for Media Education, 2005, Volume 35, issue 2, Orbit Magazine

Cindy Matthews, A Comic Life, April 2008, ETFO’s Voice

The National Council of Teachers of English, Using Comics and Graphic Novels in the Classroom, 2005, The Council Chronicle

Back to Top

Evidence of Innovation and/or Exemplary Practice

This learning object is creative and ahead of the curve in that it turns the idea of writing a play into a new, exciting concept.  Comic Life is a fairly new program and it feeds into the considerable interest in graphic novels on the part of students.

Students are engaged as they learn to make connections between concepts and take risks by trying out new skills.

Back to Top

Other Applications (Extensions)

Subject Matter

The unit, as it is proposed,  incorporates from the grade 4 Social Studies curriculum.   It could easily be adapted to incorporate expectations from different grade levels.   The following are only some possibilities.

For Grade 5:

  • Ancient Greek Myths Explained
  • Election Day Scandal!

For Grade 6:

  • The Meaning behind Aboriginal Legends
  • Adventures of an Explorer

For Grade 7:

  • Life in New France
  • How I Survived a Natural Disaster!

For Grade 8:

  • The Great Debate: the Confederation of Canada
  • The Trial of Louis Riel


The unit, as it is proposed, was designed for grade 4.  It could easily be adapted to incorporate expectations from different ability levels.

To simplify:

  • provide photos for students, have students write a story around the photos provided;
  • eliminate the puppet aspect and have students storyboard their stories and take pictures of themselves in the roles of the characters;
  • provide the story for students, have students plan the visuals;
  • If you don’t have access to Comic Life, the project can end with the storyboarding activity, and students can do a puppet show instead.

To deepen:

  • allow for greater choice in topic;
  • allow for a greater number of characters;
  • have students play the characters themselves, videotape it and then use iMovie or Windows Movie Maker to create their stories.

Back to Top

Impact Analysis

The greatest impact on the student is in terms of student engagement.  The software program, Comic Life, is  very simple to use and creates such amazing products that students are immediately hooked.  Even reluctant writers are excited to complete tasks so that they can progress to the final step of the project.  As well, the inclusion of artistic elements provides interest to more kinesthetic and artistic learners.

The unit allows teachers to identify strengths in all students.  The activities involve so many different strategies and tasks that there are multiple opportunities for students to succeed, while still providing opportunities to focus on areas that need improvement.

The program is not only student-friendly, it is also easy to teach, making it ideal for teachers who typically shy away from technology.

Back to Top

Additional Resources

  • Hands on Social Studies: Grade 4, Revised Edition, Portage and main Press, ISBN 1-55379-069-3

Back to Top

Proper Copyright and Citation Concerns

In the project detailed above there are no copyright considerations.  Resources not included here are from a resource that is listed above in the additional resources section.

Back to Top