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Student Projects

Paper Bag Plays

Author: Deanna Driscoll

Grade: 6th

Subject: Drama

Students working on their lines for play
Student working on lines for play
Deanna working with students on play
Deanna working with students on play
Students working on their lines for play

Students will study the process of developing plot and enhance their understanding of story structure and elements by writing plays in cooperative groups.  Each group will be given a paper bag filled with four unique props, which will provide the impetus for the development of the group’s play.  Students will then perform the plays for their peers, parents, and community members. 

For this project, students will first review and/or learn about elements that comprise stories, with a focus on conflict and resolution. They will be introduced to the driving force behind the project, the Paper Bag filled with random props. They will first work together as a whole class to model how to brainstorm ideas based on the props, and how to use drama mapping to plan their one-act plays.
Students will be assigned to a cooperative group of four students. Students will determine individual roles within their groups; each student will have a technical role, but all will be required to participate in the performance. They will be given a paper bag with the props, and must incorporate the props into their play.  Students will brainstorm ideas and decide which one would make the best one-act play. Groups will then complete the setting, character, conflict, and resolution maps for their play, as well as a plot diagram to determine the sequence of events. They will write a script using the proper format, and rehearse their plays.  They will analyze characters within their plays and will participate in the critique process to revise and improve their plays.  Students will perform plays for their class, and analyze the conflict and resolution in each of the performances.

The most exciting part of this project is watching a group of four or five kids go from opening a paper bag full of random props to staging a full production! It starts out with total chaos and becomes an awesome play, with all aspects controlled by the students. I was struck by the way kids really came together to make the plays work. I especially love seeing that pride in their faces when they perform something all original—written, directed, and acted all on their own. The only challenging part of the project comes from balancing group dynamics, like finding ways to keep everyone on task and settling arguments about script writing. But even that part becomes a learning experience as most groups rise to the occasion, learn to cooperate and compromise, and challenge each other to put on the best performance possible. The best part for me is the sense of pride and accomplishment I share with my students as I watch the performances and see how far they have come as actors by the end of the project.

Final Script of one-act play

The performance!

Students will know:

  • What elements comprise the plot of a story/play
  • The format for writing a script

Students will understand:

  • How to develop well-rounded characters
  • How to develop a well-defined setting
  • How to develop a story plot with sequential events
  • How to use active listening skills within large and small groups
  • How to analyze the conflict and resolution in plays

Students will be able to:

  • Develop a story line based on 4 random props found in their paper bags
  • Create setting character, conflict and resolution maps for their plays
  • Create a plot diagram for their play
  • Take on a definitive role in their cooperative group, either as facilitator, director, casting director, or head playwright
  • Use problem solving strategies within a cooperative group
  • Use the writing process of drafting and revising to develop one-act scripts
  • Write a one-act play with well developed plot, characters, and setting, revealing necessary information to the audience through dialogue, action, and props
  • Critique the writing and performances of peers in order to help with the revision process
  • Publish a final copy of their one-act script using the proper format, including title page
  • Rehearse and perform their one-act plays, including props, for an audience of peers and adults
  • Elements of Story Structure
  • Elements of Playwriting
  • Characterization
  • Staging a Drama Production
  • Paper Bags
  • 4 Props per Paper Bags:  Almost anything will work! Here’s a sampling of ideas.
    • Giant sponge, camera, piece of rope, cup
    • Children’s book, hat, set of goggles, medal
Week #
Project Tasks
·   Introduce project objectives
·   Review story elements
·   Form groups and determine group roles
·   Pass out Paper Bags with props
·   Begin brainstorming ideas for plays
·   Work on plot diagrams
·   Work on character, setting, conflict, resolution mapping
·   Writing Plays
·   Writing and Revising plays
·   Finish final scripts
·   Rehearsal of plays
·   Rehearsal continues
·   Critique of performances
·   Performances
·   Complete Audience Guide
·   Project Reflection


Deanna coaching kids
Deanna working with a group


Kids brainstorming
Kids brainstorm to write the script of their plays.


Deanna meets with groups
Deanna discussing options with one group.


Kids at work on script
Students reviewing their script.

bags 6

Memorizing Lines
A student reads through lines.


Cooperative Group Roles
Description of each role and its responsibilities.

Final Draft Requirements
Student handout detailing requirements for final scripts and performances

Student Project Guidelines
Guidelines to help students understand how to create and perform plays

In-Depth Teacher Reflections
An in-depth teacher reflection, excerpted from the book “Learning by Design: Projects and Practices at High Tech Middle.”

Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans
A sequence of lessons to help teachers plan for the Paper Bag Plays Project.


Rubric for scoring final performances and scripts