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Tips for tableau lessons in elementary drama

“Tableau” is a drama term that you may have heard before, even if you aren’t an experienced drama teacher. But what is it really, and how can you use it effectively in your drama lessons?

What is tableau?

Tableau is essentially a freeze-frame of a scene. Instead of the characters moving, each actor is frozen in a specific position, and together they create a picture of what is happening in one particular moment.

Why do elementary teachers like using tableau in their drama lessons?

Teachers like using tableau because it doesn’t require any dialogue. It relies only on physical expression. It is easy to assign to small groups of students for group work, and easy to manage because students are not moving or talking.

What is difficult about using tableau in your elementary drama lessons?

In order to use tableau effectively, it needs to be more than just putting kids in a group and assigning them to create a tableau of a specific scene. In order for tableau to be effective, students need to receive instruction on how to use their body and face expressively.

It is also important to put emphasis on telling a story with tableau, not just setting a basic scene. A quality tableau will communicate thoughts and feelings, not just identify a physical time/place.

Activity ideas for improving your tableau lessons

1) Establish your criteria for a strong tableau

  • remain still or frozen
  • remain silent
  • pose with energy & expression
  • stay focused
  • pose at different levels
  • choose poses that are relevant and interesting

2) Teach students the common terms for tableau

  1. Action – 2 – 3 – Freeze!”
  2. View the Tableau and then call “Relax.”

3) Emphasize a conflict or problem as a key aspect of storytelling

Teach the difference between setting a scene and telling a story. For example, students might create a tableau of a supermarket. Students take on different roles such as cashier, stock boy and shoppers. But are they setting a scene or telling a story? In order to tell a story, a problem needs to be presented:

  • a child knocks over a display
  • a shopper has forgotten their wallet
  • there is only one turkey left on Christmas eve

4) Try using tableau in a series

Creating a single tableau to communicate a story can be difficult for students to wrap their head around – especially young students. Instead, try asking students to create tableaux in a set of three – beginning, middle, and end.

Tableau Drama Games & Activities

Statues – Students walk around the space. Teacher calls out an emotion (scared, sad, angry, disappointed, jealous, etc) and then counts down from 3 before calling “freeze!”. On “freeze”, each student freezes in a pose to reflect the word called out by the teacher.

Guess the scene – Each small group of students (2-4 work well) is given a suggestion by the teacher. They have a short amount of time to plan and then present their tableau. The rest of the class tries to guess the setting or situation being portrayed.

Build-a-crowd-scene – Give a small group of students (2-3) a specific scene that can accommodate the whole class. Those chosen students create their poses to start the scene. As other students observe, they raise their hand if they recognize what the scene is so that the teacher can give them to thumbs up to also enter the scene. The game is over when everyone has joined the scene – or the theme of the scene is revealed.

Tableau Drama Lessons