Students Build Stories with Berkeley Rep

019-StoryBuilders-20140410For over a decade, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund has partnered with Berkeley Repertory Theatre to bring theater workshops into our elementary schools. The Story Builders program uses “sound, movement, dialogue, and improvisation [to] turn the classroom into a living theatre.” Throughout several classroom visits, students read a story and then bring it to life using theatrical tools. Last year, we offered this program to every 3rd grade in the District.

033-StoryBuilders-20140410Thousand Oaks 2nd grade teacher Megan AbramsonWard has brought Story Builders to her classroom for over 5 years. She writes, “Due to financial need, we estimate that half of our second-grade students have never seen live theater or drama with their families, nor does Thousand Oaks School have a drama teacher. Berkeley Rep is a world-renowned drama organization that provides outstanding drama workshops and teaching at the elementary school level. Their workshops on story building will enhance our students’ interest in and knowledge of drama and theater, their understanding of story structure and language, and the connections between drama, high-quality multicultural and multilingual children’s literature, and reading comprehension skills.”

041-StoryBuilders-20140410The process works like this: the teaching artist leads students in fun exercises meant to warm up voices and bodies. Then students listen to a story from the Story Builders reading list, after which they answer questions about the story: who, what, where, when, and why. Finally, students split into small groups to act out the sequence of events in the story.

After five weeks of this process, the class chooses one of the five stories to “flesh out” and create a full production. Students write the dialogue, set the blocking, and arrange the story to “come to life” on the stage. The program culminates with a final performance for fellow students and families.

AbramsonWard writes, “The project was a total success. Here is a list of how the students benefited from the project:

  1. 004-StoryBuilders-20140410The teaching artist was amazing. He worked with the students in a respectful, professional, and engaging manner.
  2. The material was directed by students’ interest. They chose the story ‘The Hungry Coat’ by Demi to act out.
  3. Students had multiple opportunities to get up ‘on stage’ and act out elements of the stories. Shy students as well as outgoing students participated and enjoyed their drama classes.
  4. Students in the English environment class were the audience in the final production. They are also taking drama classes and my class will go to their classroom to watch their final production.
  5. The families watched students ‘perform’ their final product and witnessed the colorful, extensive, exciting work that the students completed over ten weeks.”

One of the most profound pieces of the Story Builders program is helping English language learners understand the language and in a new way. By integrating drama, movement, and language, students can experience the English language from a wider perspective, tapping into a variety of learning styles. AbramsomWard writes, “Since one of our classrooms is a Spanish/English bilingual program, the Berkeley Rep Story Builders workshops will specifically promote oral language development and comprehension skills in English for these students.”

We will continue offering Story Builders to all 3rd grade classrooms in Berkeley in the coming year. To learn more, contact Berkeley Rep at

*Please note: photos are from a different classroom participating in Story Builders.


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