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  • Making a Scene with Norman Rockwell
    By Ellen Moore and Christopher Moore

    Grade Level: 5-6

    This lesson is designed to explore the connection between drama and painting through the illustrations and paintings by the famous American artist Norman Rockwell.


    • Appreciate and analyze Rockwell's paintings by paying close attention to detail.

    • To explore Rockwell's vision of America and to utilize his unique characters to inspire the creation of short theater pieces.

    • Expose children to the art of writing and presenting scenes for an audience.
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    Estimated Time

    40 minutes

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    Necessary Materials

    • Photocopies or postcards of five or six paintings or illustrations (depending on class size) by Normal Rockwell. Reproductions of his work can be photocopied from books in the library or found on the Web at:

    • Lined paper and pencils.

    • Chairs or benches for the students to use when presenting their scenes.

    • Optional: Selected props that correspond to the paintings such as canes, hats, umbrellas, shoes, etc.

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    Teaching Procedure

    Activity I: Thinking about Environment and Character Divide your class into small groups of 2 or 3 students and give each group a different image of a Norman Rockwell work. If there are three figures in the image, there should be three in a group, if there are two figures, two in the group, etc. The image and title of each picture should be known to the group members only.

      Understanding Character and Environment

      Step One: Give each figure in the painting a name and an approximate age. Write the names down on paper. Each student should have one sheet of paper to write down all information so that by the end of the exercise, each student has his/her own copy of the script.

      Step Two: Ask them to look closely at the picture, and to write down three words describing what might be going on in the picture. Where are they and what 'action' is taking place?

      Step Three: Ask them to look closely at the characters in the picture and write down three words describing each character. What is their relationship to one another? What can they infer by looking at the posture and facial expression of each character?

      Step Four: Ask the students to assign roles. Each member should select a character to play. Once they have decided who to play, ask them to imitate for their group the facial expression or posture of their character.
    Activity II: Creating Theater
      Writing the Scene

      Step One: Ask the students to imagine these characters talking to each other. What would they say? If we could observe them for three minutes, what would happen? Then, ask them to write 10-12 lines of dialogue. Give them 10 minutes to write a possible conversation between the characters.

      Step Two: Ask them to then present their scene to the class. First, they must set up their environment by arranging the furniture appropriately. Then, they act out the scene for their fellow class members. If possible, the students might also incorporate props into the scene such as a handbag, a hat, a newspaper, etc. Encourage them to imitate as closely as possible the posture and facial expression of each character.
    Activity III: Audience Response
      Interpretation and Feedback:

      At the end of each group's presentation, ask the class to guess the name of the painting. Then, the presenting group can reveal the actual title and show their picture to the class.
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    Extension/Adaptation Ideas

    This core lesson can be adapted for older or younger groups. If the students are older, the lesson can be broken up into two days and the writing portion of the lesson can be extended to include a scene of maybe three or more pages in length. For the presentation, the students could present without the 'script' having memorized their lines the night before. Also, they might bring in props and incorporate a greater number of furniture or costume pieces. If the students are younger, they could do the same exercise without writing down dialogue in advance but by improvising a scene once the mood and activity of each of the characters has been firmly established.

    This lesson can also be adapted by using any artist. Older students may want to tie their scene into historical and political themes.

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    PBS Materials: To introduce the students to the work and life of Norman Rockwell, PBS offers the program AMERICAN MASTERS: NORMAN ROCKWELL.

    In adapting this lesson for older students interested in history and social issues additional PBS resources are available: AGAINST THE ODDS: THE ARTISTS OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE, AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHY: A CENTURY OF IMAGES, AMERICAN VISIONS, or FIRES IN THE MIRROR.

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    About the Authors

    Ellen Moore taught drama and literature to grades 9-12 at Lawrence Woodmere Academy in Woodmere, New York and served as the Artistic Director of the Theatre Department for grades 5-12. She continues to work as a private tutor and teacher. Ellen holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University in theater, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).

    Christopher Moore is a graduate of the Julliard School, Drama Division and the University of St. Thomas. He is an actor with the acclaimed Pearl Theatre company in New York, and has served as a teaching-artist at several New York City high schools. He is the founder of and recently was awarded a grant from the Belle Foundation for Cultural Development.

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