Creative Corner Playshop

Each month a mix of active learning lessons, and practical tips to keep your creativity cookin’ will be provided.. These practical tips will include topics ranging from making props from found objects, how to get parents and community on board to help with a production, how to make a set with very little money, time or skill, and how to use the creative power of your students to bring the play from an idea to the stage. This cool hub of activity is available for all Dragons & Mermaids members.

Making Inexpensive Props for School Plays

PLAYSHOP  ONE – Backdrops

You have introduced a play to your students and they have engaged enthusiastically with the play including coming up with fantastical ideas for props – dragons-i-airplanes-skyscrapers, etc. Now how do we keep their creativity flowing without breaking the bank?

It is time as teachers for us to use our creativity to come up with ideas for putting together props for a play using resources available.  Remember to think outside of the box when looking for resources to assist in prop making.  School or classroom student plays and presentations create a nice buzz within the school community.  Utilize that buzz by putting out a call to the whole school community – families, teachers, after-school clubs, vendors, administrative staff etc. – to help not only get the materials you need, but also to collaborate on ideas for making props.  This is a great opportunity to collaborate with others in your school community who would like to take part in the project. Collaborations provide a powerful pool of ideas.

Backdrops – Any Theme

MATERIALS :    (Options -Oversize rolls of paper, bulletin board paper, canvas, drop cloths, white plastic showers curtain liners), paint rollers, brushes, sponges, paint, markers, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, staplers.

PROCESS:  Once you have chosen the material and size you will need be sure you have a way to attach the material to a wall, curtain, etc. This may sound like an obvious detail, but sometimes it is the most obvious and smallest of details that trip up a production.  Make sure you have tape, clips, or whatever other types of fasteners you need that are sufficient for hanging or mounting your backdrop.

-test your paint on the material you have chosen

-find an array of images that adequately reflect the setting for your play

-have your students work in groups to come up with poster sketches of ideas particular to the production you are working on. (i.e., make sure students understand that you are not asking them to copy any of the images from the array, but rather to use them as a starting point for ideas for the play you doing in class

-make a decision about the type of image you would like (abstract, representational, etc)

-a good starter for students is to begin with a foreground, middle ground, and background if this fits your design concept. (note: if you are doing this as a group project you may want to begin with an outline of the foreground, middle ground, and background.  Invite those working on the project to add color to the dimensions and add other images.  Use the talent of the art teachers, families and surrounding community if you need help with technique).

NOTE:  A good time saver is using a roller to paint foreground and background. Example: If you are doing a group undersea mural prepare the canvas ahead of time using a roller to make groupings of rocks in the foreground which students can later add fish, coral, and plants.

We welcome your ideas on creating backdrops!

Check back next week for tips on materials to use for making props.


Prop, Costume Making & Creativity Boosters for Kids

You have your students excited   about  the characters in a particular play and they are doing  a great job and having fun role-playing as they are learning about how they can take care of global resources.  Through their role-playing they begin coming up with ideas like – the monkeys need tails, the sun needs a flaming halo, the wind should float, the canoe needs to be on water etc.   What is the next step – call a Hollywood designer, look in a  catalog for cookie cutter cheesy props, tell students there isn’t a budget for props?   WRONG!

Prop-making is another great creativity booster for kids. Here are some ideas that will facilitate the creative process for your students and might possibly result in the best ever props for a student play!

Student-centered Creative Prop Making Process

Remember to work from  a student-centered context.  The student imagination isn’t bogged down with budget, time, and material constraints!  Rather the student mind is ready to work in an imaginative world filled with dragons and mermaids and all things creative and magical.

Here is one way we can help nourish the creative process through prop-making.  Ideally this process can take place in  five  45 minute sessions.  However, you can adjust the process to your time and schedule constraints. As teachers we all know how to be creative with time!

Step One – Session one

Idea Storm!

If you have never done a brainstorm session with your students explain the process.  Inform students that as a class community you will be looking for ideas on “What would our character be wearing?”   Keep poster in plain view  stating – All Ideas are Welcome!   Everyone has Ideas!

Do a practice session with all students using a random character, for example a rabbit.

Ask students and write on poster  “What might a rabbit character in play be wearing?”

Students can either raise their hands to share ideas, or you can go around in a circle.  To warm students up hold up pictures of a rabbit and maybe ask question like:  Is a rabbit soft?  What else is soft?  How can you describe a rabbit?  Are a rabbit’s ears long or short?  Each idea given by student is written in a poster.  At the end of session read back ideas.

-Create groups of students via the characters in the chosen play or other role-playing activity

-Within the group write a statement starter relevant to their character such as – What might a monkey character wear? – or – What might we see in a rainforest? –What might we see in the ocean?

-Depending on the age of the students they may be able to run their own idea storm center by having one group member write the ideas down. They may also take turns writing their ideas on their own piece of paper and then stick them to the poster with the statement starter.

-Set a time limit of 10   minutes on this process.  Check in with each group to make sure they are just giving brief ideas that are being written down.  Remind students that it isn’t time to go into detail or ask  questions about the  idea.   Also remind students that there should be no comments about another students’ idea.  All ideas are on neutral ground without judgment.

-Ask each group to present their ideas to the whole group.

-Explain to all students that in their groups they are going to note which ideas are similar.  One way to do this is first give students a red marker and with  instructions to circle in red all ideas that are similar, then in blue etc.  Depending on age of students  this part of the process may need teacher monitoring.

(note: This process is a nice opportunity to layer on a lesson about acceptance and community.)

Step Two- Session Two

Must Have!

Pre-Session Prep:   Make  lists  of all similar ideas that each group designated. These are the list that the student groups will work with in this session.

Inform whole class that today they will decide 4 essential items, or must haves,   for their character from the lists they made in the previous session.

-Students work in their groups. Each   student checks 4 items she or he believes  is essential for the character.

-Students are then instructed to determine  which  are  the 4 items with the most check marks.

(Note: This portion of lesson is great to layer into a math lesson)

-Each group presents their four top essentials to the rest of the students.

Step Three- Session Three

Material Store

Pre Session Prep – Stocking the store

This is where teachers get to use their creativity in putting together the store.  Keep in mind the characters as you “stock” the store. For example if there is a monkey character have some fabric the color of a monkey, and something that could be turned into a monkey tail.  The possibilities are endless!

Here are some items you might consider stocking the store with.  Students will creatively turn their choices at the store into a costume or prop for their character.

  • empty paper towel and toilet tissue rolls (great for building a rainforest, oversized rabbit ears, wings, insect legs, panda ears, microphones, etc.)
  • empty wrapping paper tubes (rainsticks, bamboo, wings, magic wands, etc.)
  • variety of fabric pieces that can be cut from old clothing
  • strips of tulle, felt or another soft fabric  that can be used to tie pieces together and make accessories, etc.)
  • large pipe cleaners
  • poster board
  • various sized pieces of cardboard
  • tissue paper cut into pieces
  • cotton balls
  • yarn
  • plastic water bottles

Anything else you can think of that may be useful for the store.

Remember to think from the perspective that anything is possible!

-Announce to whole class  that each group is going to be able to choose five  items from the prop store.  Before going to the store the group must decide together  which  five items they will need from the store.  Students may choose multiples of a particular item but it still counts as part of the total of five items.  Be clear in that students are going to be putting together their characters costume, persona, or props based on their 4 must have  list.

Announce to whole class that today will not be for building but for coming up with a plan on how they hope to build their costume or prop using the materials they chose.

-Break class into their groups with their must have list for their character.

-Each group  comes and looks at all of the items in the store and then goes back to their group to decide which items they will chose.

–One group member goes to the store to do the “shopping” based on the groups decision.

-Groups talk about and sketch how they will use their materials to make their characters costume or props.

-Teacher should keep checking in with groups to assure they are staying on track with the task and not getting side tracked by the materials.

-Teacher should also check in to make sure the plan for making the costume or prop is realistic and facilitate alternative planning process when necessary.

Remember:  This is all about the process and not turning out Broadway quality costumes and props!

 Step Four – Session Four

Let’s Make It!

Pre -Session Prep:  After looking at each groups materials and plans choose whatever extra building supplies they may need such as stapler, masking tape, etc.

-Announce to whole class that today they will be putting their materials together to create the costume or prop for their character.

-Model how materials can be tied together, or attached to one another with a pipe cleaner, taped together etc.  Assure students there are many ways to accomplish the assembly process.

-Break students into groups and let the fun begin!  

-Check in frequently with each group.

-If they are putting together a costume suggest one person from the group act as the character model while the others construct the costume on the model.

-Each group at will share their piece   with the whole class.  Each group will share what they liked most about making the costume or prop, and what they liked least in the process.

–Each group will get a wish list of 3 more things they would like to complete their costume or prop.

-Teacher looks at the wish list and fulfills the wish list store order by putting items in a bag for the group for the following session, substituting items where necessary.

Step Five – Session Five

Finishing Touches

Pre- Session Prep – Teacher labels each wish list bag with the groups name and an inventory of what is in each bag connecting items to the wish list.  You may need to get a little creative here. For example if a student puts a microphone on the wish list for their singing rabbit character you can cover a toilet paper with tin foil shaping it like a microphone.  This also models flexibility and the creativity for the student.

-Announce to whole class that the store has prepared the wish list delivery for each group.

-Class breaks into groups with their character costume or prop and teacher deliver their wish list items.

-Students have 7-10 minutes to add wish list items and bring their character or prop to life by announcing the arrival of their character or prop to the rest of the class.

-Let students know that this announcement can be in any form they wish such as a rap, news report, song, theatrical role-playing etc.  Inform students that will have 7-10 minutes to decide and rehearse before presenting to the rest of class.


Have all of the characters, props come together and talk to each other as the characters in the play.  This is the start to another lesson – how to make your characters come to life!

Watch for character building exercises next week!

Thanks for joining us at Dragons & Mermaids…Creativity Boosters for Kids


REMEMBER:  Keep your creativity cooking by keeping in mind that the possibilities are endless!


Cathy Skora