Scene Studies Lesson Plan
The Scene Study module utilizes the art of performance to develop a clear understanding of the different communication styles we cover in our course. Participants are placed into groups of two and given written scenes to act out with their partner. They are given time to rehearse and plan out the story and background context of their scenes before performing it for the group. While preparing their scenes, participants will be asked to consider exactly which styles of communication their characters will be using. While rehearsing their scenes, participants will utilize several valued SHIFT skills, including collaboration and team building, conflict resolution, and critical thinking. All of which are highly integral to the workplace setting.
Through performance, the participants will identify and practice using the various communication styles, speaking and behaving in ways that may be new or unclear to them. The process of acting in front of others is a unique challenge that can teach us a lot about ourselves, how we communicate, and is ultimately a very fun form of self expression that can expand and develop our verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
1. Participants will develop an understanding of assertive communication such as facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and gesture by identifying and practicing them.
2. Participants will identify and practice their own communication styles through performance and develop background context for the pre-written “open form” scenes, thus providing opportunity for self-reflection and critical thinking.
3. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss what they observe in themselves and others by watching the scenarios and sharing their thoughts.
1. Participants will rehearse and perform two written scenes that focus on the communication styles.
2. Participants will read the scenes in pairs or teams, assign roles to each member (eg. two actors/one director or four actor-directors depending on group size), develop context for the scenario, and rehearse and perform their scenes for the group.
3. After performing their scenes, the group will review and analyse the choices made by the performers and together have a casual conversation, led by the facilitator, about the performance, the styles of communication that were used, how the conflict could have been handled differently (differently, not better!), and what did or did not work.
Class 1 Introductions, check-in, class norms, outline the course and expectations, “Communication Styles” Video and PowerPoint presentation, check out.
Class 2 Check-in, review “Communication Styles”, PowerPoint on “Performing Assertive Communication”, Scene Study 1 introduction, check out.
Class 3 Check-in, Scene Study 1 rehearsal, performances and debrief, checkout.
Class 4 Check-in, Scene Study 2 introduction and rehearsal, performance and debrief, final check-out and takeaways reviewing content from across the course.
Daily Class Activities
At the start of every class, the daily check-ins are integral to the SHIFT team-building process. It allows for the facilitators and the participants to get to know each other and creates an open and friendly environment for collaboration – which is what arts-based education thrives on. It allows for the facilitator to check in with participants to get a better sense of where everyone is at emotionally and how everyone may be feeling. It also allows the facilitator the opportunity to adjust their materials or approach as needed.
Additionally, the check-ins are meant to empower participants to use their voices to express themselves. In our experience, many participants appreciate a process that gives them the floor, an opportunity to share whatever may be on their minds free of judgment. Participants learn that their words, opinions, and voices have weight - something that is integral to their ability to work in groups, advocate for themselves, and ultimately become better friends, partners, and colleagues. Empathy is the most important skill the facilitator should exercise here.
Check-in questions can vary based on what the facilitator prefers. Some have used the “number scale” to break the ice by asking, “On a scale of 1-10 how are you feeling today (with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best)?” Facilitators will give participants the opportunity to elaborate on their ratings, to express why and/or how they are coming in to class that day.
“Getting-to-know-you” questions can also be a fun and insightful approach. Some examples include:
* Are you a sweet or savory breakfast kind of person?
* What’s a gift you’ve either given or received that means a great deal to you?
* How was your weekend?
* Is there anything on your mind you want to get off your chest?
* Are you excited about anything coming up in your life? (movies, video-games, get togethers)
The check-in questions can be based on the comfort level of the group and each participant always has the option to decline to answer any question they’re not up for. In that scenario, it’s still recommended to get their “1-10 scale” rating or any kind of perception check-in to see how they’re feeling that day.
It is recommended that facilitators establish group norms on the first session of the course that will help guide the work going forward. Group norms are rules that the class will decide on together as a unit. Things like treating one another with respect, giving everyone the space to express themselves free of judgment, listening to one another and not interrupting, to name a few. This is an opportunity for participants to claim some agency over how the classes will function, as well as gaining a better understanding of where their peers are at.
Group norms can be tailored and introduced based on the group and the values of the facilitators. For example, SHIFT instills the group norm of sharing one’s pronouns by introducing ourselves with them, “Hi, my name is Justine and I go by she/they.” This can help everyone in the room feel comfortable sharing about themselves and their ideas. Other group norms have included using “safe words” in the event that the material becomes challenging or too personal, such as “banana,” or “pineapple.” This gives participants the opportunity to let the facilitators know that they need a short break from the material and that they’re allowed to do so. It’s also not a bad idea to help identify the best time for breaks.
We rely on presentations and videos to support this course, including the Communication Styles video and Scene Studies tutorial. The Communication Styles video is provided to you as part of this online guidebook. The Scene Studies tutorial is used to show participants how to approach the activity step-by-step, and is made available within this online guidebook as well.
Presentations are conducted using PowerPoint. We explore the main styles of communication one at a time by discussing their characteristics, how they’re used verbally and non-verbally, and most importantly, the impact that using these styles can have on ourselves, our peers, and our lives in general. Presenting the information requires filling in the blanks and using anecdotes or personal stories alongside other clarifying additions in order to provide context to whatever is being presented. Providing personal examples of workplace scenarios to illustrate a communication style is integral to the participant’s understanding and relies on the facilitator's admission that everyone, no matter their skill or life experience, can improve the way they communicate. We are not defined by how we communicate and everyone uses all different styles at different times. It also helps to identify key indicators in communication as well as encouraging the participants to connect with the material on a personal level. We’d like them to be considering how they themselves communicate, how others in their lives communicate, and whether or not those things lead to conflict in their lives. For example, the facilitator could tell a story from their own workplace experience that exemplifies the communication style being discussed in the presentation, and the participants should be encouraged to also share their own workplace/school/life experiences. If a participant were to say, “I had a coworker who was such a jerk,” you can ask them what made them a “jerk” and relate it back to the content in the presentation about aggressive communicators.
Participants may sometimes express interpersonal issues they’ve experienced or are currently facing. Being able to engage with those conversations is crucial to supporting a participant’s learning – with the understanding that facilitators are not therapists or counsellors. It is less about offering advice and solutions,and more about providing the space for participants to express themselves and relate everything back to the material.
At the end of every class, similar to how we check-in, we also debrief and check-out with participants. When debriefing, it is important to preface with the idea that there is no wrong answer. The SHIFT program will often end the class with the question, “Which communication styles did we use today, and what did we maybe not use?”
Another way of approaching the debrief is to ask participants to observe the communication styles in their own life and time outside of class. Remind them that they are all things to be practiced, honed, and noticed.
The debrief doesn’t have to be 100% related to the class activities but could also be something fun or apply to whatever is coming next in their day. It is also worth asking if a participant’s mood has changed or shifted since the check-in. If the number scale was used, a facilitator may ask what number they sit at as they exit the class.
While asking them to reflect on the class helps retain learning, it’s important to be conscious of how the participants are feeling and if they have the energy to keep reviewing.
There are two Scene Study acting activities participants will be given on separate days. In the first, participants are given written scenes that contain no subtext or context: no character names, places, or even references to the situation, nor the relationship between the characters or the stakes of the situation. These are what are called “Open scenes,” where the language is simple and up to creative interpretation. Participants are also provided a worksheet with questions which help them to generate a context for the scene. It is entirely up to participants to work together to fill in all the blanks and determine how they will perform the scene.
The goals of the open scene study assignment is threefold. The first step is the creation and teambuilding of establishing context for the scene itself. Second, the rehearsing and performing of the scene. And third, the dissection and debrief of the scenes and what they mean, how they look, and how they are perceived by the other members of the group.
(For facilitators: be prepared to do a demonstration for the group! Seeing it done by a facilitator can help make it easier for participants who may feel nervous and is your chance to show off your own creativity! It is recommended to portray a communication style that is familiar to the facilitator in order to be as clear as possible, but be playful and enjoy the opportunity to perform a little bit!)
The second Scene Study activity contains more context and focuses on real life interpersonal conflicts. Participants are again given scripts and asked to take what they learned from the first activity and apply it to the second. These scenes will also have a question worksheet for the participants to answer, but it is ultimately up to them to decide how the scene will play out and to really engage with the performative elements of this activity.
Throughout each scene study activity, be open to helping each participant discover facial, vocal, and physical traits of the characters they decide to portray. Encourage play and “being too much,” to try to get the most out of each participant. It is encouraged to ask groups to perform more than once in order to dissect scenes and push them further.
When debriefing with the group after each performance, focus on the positive. What was clear? Funny? Enjoyable? In your feedback, aim to have two examples starting with “I liked how…” and one “I wonder if…” The positive should always outweigh the negative to encourage further play and positive response to the feedback provided. It is worth noting that negative feedback is sometimes necessary if the assignment wasn’t followed or if things were unclear. However, taking critique is an important workplace skill and that is something which can be honed during these moments. Be willing to pull teeth if necessary since any feedback at the end of the day indicates a form of understanding, retention, and learning.
We also often ask participants to talk about how they displayed/understood a certain communication style through the activity they just did. For example, if a participant was playing the “passive-aggressive” character and displayed a sassy or abrasive tone of voice, or decided to roll their eyes, the facilitator might ask why they chose that voice and that action, thus relating back to the material as well as helping to identify some key indicators of passive-aggressive communicators. Alternatively, if a participant were to play the same character and perform it more aggressively, it’s worth dissecting in the debrief since communication styles are nuanced and perceived differently by different people at different times. This helps participants to understand that it all varies and that each experience is different.
Broken into steps, the scene studies activities ask participants to:
Step 1: Read through the scene aloud.
Step 2: Ask any questions you may have about language or the activity.
Step 3: Follow the worksheet to create context and personalities for both characters and make those decisions as a group.
Step 4: Assign roles and responsibilities to each member of the group.
Step 5: Read through the scene again with the newfound decisions the group has made.
Step 6: Rehearse the scene by moving around and making it as physical as is desired.
Step 7: Rehearse and ask questions until it is felt that the group is performance ready.
Step 8: Take a deep breath and have fun performing your scene for the group.
*It is not required to memorize the scene and remember this is all for fun artistic practice!
YouTube examples: Participants watch an example workplace conflict scenario from the youtube playlist here:
They are then asked to identify the type of conflict and the points of view of each “character” as well as discuss what they noticed and can refer back to the material covered in any SHIFT module.
Sample Lesson Plan Model
The following lesson plans are based on a 2 hour x 4 sessions workshop model. The timelines are only suggestions - pace yourself with the group’s needs and make adjustments where necessary.
During this class you will check in with the participants, introduce yourselves, and outline the course content. Based on the duration of the class, create a timeline that suits the needs of the group.
During this class you will check in with the participants, revisit the information presented in the first class to solidify the points, and dissect the performative aspects of communication. You will also introduce the first Scene Study activity.
During this class you will check in with students and host a work period as well as performances for the first activity.
During this class you introduce Scene Study activity 2, host a work period, performances, and debrief. You will also have a final checkout with course takeaways and goodbyes. Be sure to touch on things learned over the workshops during the performance debriefs and final check-out.
Celebrate all efforts, creativity, participation, and focus on growth!