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Text work

A Shakespeare or Nestroy play may seem daunting at first glance and one might think that pupils cannot understand these texts at all and are overwhelmed by them. This detailed step-by-step guide for text work is intended to describe exactly how to approach even seemingly incomprehensible and outdated texts and work on them with children. Without simplifying or changing the text, the following can be stated: A thorough examination of the texts contributes to clarity! The focus is especially on understanding the essence of the content.

Here we explain

  • how to tell the text in your own words

  • how to learn a text

  • how to act naturally and convincingly

Most of the text work is done independently BEFORE the rehearsals.

In text work it is important to find ways to get the students to actively engage with their roles and understand the character they are playing. There are several ways to do this:

  1. Read the scene/text once or twice with divided roles. AFTER reading the text, the children can ask you for words they do not understand. Then read the text again. Of course, the children do not understand everything, so working on the text is really unavoidable.

  2. Discuss the characters and their motivations with the pupils.

  3. Ask the 5W questions together (see below)

  4. Explain how the children should do text work at home

Have the students underline any words you don't know and have them guess what the meaning of them might be as a first step.

It is important for the actor to have clarity about the character of a role in order to be able to portray the role believably. To this end, some essential questions about each character should be answered. On the one hand, these are questions concerning the character of a role, and on the other hand, they also concern relationships between the actors in the play.

The character of a role results not least from the relationships to the other roles. There is no right or wrong answer to most questions. Many questions cannot be answered objectively from the text. It is also possible to try out different possible answers during rehearsals.

Is Titus fat or thin?

The answer can be found by the children themselves. This is another way the children can actively contribute to the creation of the play.

The questions - 5Ws

In order to look at the current situation, the progress of the plot and the conflict, it also helps to ask the questions with the 5 W's: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHY, WHERE.

Flora, Act 1 ; scene 16: Who is Flora? What is her purpose in this scene? When does the scene take place? Why is Flora dissatisfied with her situation? Where does the scene take place?

Just learning by heart is boring. Start with improvisations. For example: Titus tells us about his life. We know that he is hungry and doesn't know what to do. How did he get into this situation? (This can be quite different depending on Nestroy's planning and come from the actor's personal experience or imagination). Or why does Peter Squenz want to direct a play? What are the problems?

Once students start working on a text, the challenge is to sound and act believable. Never let a sentence happen that is "just said". Let the actor go back and render it in his or her own words. Then return to the text. This can be repeated.

The 5 Ws: Together ask yourself the 5 W questions (WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHY, WHERE) about the selected scenes!

Instructions for independent text work

Text work happens at home. EVERY child should do this for themselves, no matter what role they are assigned.

Before the children do the text work at home, you need to explain to them what this should look like. As an example, you can work out a scene together in class.

A script (unlike a school notebook) may be scribbled on, written on and smeared with pencil. Here the child may write down everything that is important for the role and the direction. The children should always have a pencil with them at rehearsals.

A few rules for text work

Under each change of topic, make an underline in the text: In many scenes there is a change of topic. For example, first they talk about the weather and then about a good meal. That is a change of topic.

  • Underline important words. Discuss with the children what might be important!

  • "I, you, we..." are never (or very rarely) underlined, because you can hear it anyway.

  • When the subject changes, the volume and rhythm change. In scenes, changing the subject is important because everyone reacts differently when the subject changes.

  • Write down the core of the statement of a sentence in keywords.

  • For example, "Romeo is not allowed to marry Juliet", "Salome meets Titus and likes him immediately".

  • The text should be explained by children in their own words. It is quite essential that the children can speak the text in their own words, as this helps them to understand the core of each scene. Each child should be able to tell the text freely (to parents or a friend, for example).

  • Voice change for punctuation: With a comma, the voice must go up because it is not the end of a sentence. With a full stop, the voice must always go down. With a question, the voice goes up! (For example: Really?)

  • Emphasis
    When editing the text, think about emphasis. There is no rule for emphasis. For example, you can stress every word in a sentence or none, but again, a conscious choice should be made. Every stress or lack of stress changes the rhythm of speech and also the meaning. For example, as an exercise, only the underlined word could be stressed:


How can a blessed man have such an unfortunate idea? (without emphasis)
How can a blessed man have such an unfortunate idea?
How can a blessed man have such an unfortunate idea?
How can a blessed man have such an unfortunate idea?
How can a blessed man have such an unfortunate idea?
How can a blessed man have such an unfortunate idea?

What do you want again?
What do you want again?
What do you want again?

The father recommended not to contradict the teacher.
The father recommended not to contradict the teacher.

Mr Müller said the neighbour is a donkey.
Mr Müller said the neighbour is a donkey.

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