Excerpted from Actively Engaged:Theater Games as a Dynamic Teaching Tool in the Classroom, written by Priscilla Kane Hellweg and due out in 2016.
Notes: I invented this game when I was in residence in a school doing an arts integration unit on Weather with 4th graders. It was mid-winter and the students were noticeably in need of physical activity and engagement. We were working with extreme weather patterns, and exploring the Beaufort Chart of Wind Force. I thought the idea of standing up to imagined gale force winds presented a formidable and exciting opportunity for them. They loved the physical challenge this game provided.
I have since adapted this game to become Predator and Pray for an Animal Adaptations unit, and Flotsam and Jetsam for a unit on Water Ecology.
Object of the Game: To stand motionless to an observing eye for an agreed upon period of time, one to five minutes, in the position of a tree standing tall against the wind.
Recommended for: Groups in Grades 2 – 8 Time Needed: 5 - 10 minutes Room set up: A cleared space with room for group to stand in a large circle. Materials Needed: A stopwatch. Skills Development: Energy, Focus, Intentionality, Motivation, Patience, Self control
“The minute game has helped me relax and do my work. I have learned to work better in a team now. I have self-control of myself since you were here, and I still do. Thank you for helping me.” ~5th grade student, Holyoke, MA.
Invite the students to find a place to stand in the room where they will not be in close proximity to anyone else, but still be in clear view of you, the facilitator.
Ask them to choose a type of tree that they like: a tall oak, a weeping willow, an old apple tree. (In urban areas, you may need to describe the tree shapes or bring in pictures to give students an actual image to work with.)
Explain to them that you have a challenge for them – a really hard challenge. You’re going to ask them to stay absolutely still, frozen in place for a full minute, which is probably longer than they’re going to be comfortable with. (NOTE: The challenge part of this set up is really important. The more you challenge them, the more you’ll motivate them to want to do it!)
You’re going to ask them to take the shape of a tree. They should imagine they have roots that dig deep into the ground, and branches that reach up high into the sky.
Let them know that you’re going to time them with your stopwatch, and that anyone who moves during the timed minute will be asked to sit down. Set up the ground rules with them. Laughing = moving. Turning their heads to see where you are in the room = moving.
My strategy has been to challenge them to try this. “Who has self-control? Who will be the last tree standing?”
Then, begin. Instruct them to get into the position of their tree. Encourage them to take a position they’ll be able to hold- to set themselves up for success. Count backwards from five: 5-4-3-2-1 - start.
As you walk around the room, watching the standing trees, give them markers along the way. “You’ve just completed 15 seconds. You have 45 to go.” Try to speak in a calming, supportive voice. “… 35 seconds. You have 25 to go.” Encourage them to breathe. “… 15 more seconds. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-relax!”
The release in the room when they let down their arms and relax will be palpable. Give them a minute to enjoy their accomplishments—and then discuss what the experience was like.
The first time you try this it will most likely be necessary to tap a few students on the shoulder to ask them to sit down. That’s alright. It’s important for them to be accountable.
The conversation that follows is sure to be rich. I am always asked by students, “Can we do this again? Let’s do 2 minutes?” I’ve seen whole classes of middle school students standing still for 5 minutes at a time. They feel tremendous pride with this accomplishment, and rightly so.
Arts Integration Activity:
When you adapt this game to fit various curriculum units, change the TREE.
If studying animal adaptations, the tree becomes the PREY. Have each student take on a different animal that is prey for some predator. Ask them to be very specific in their choice. Take on the shape of that animal. A rabbit must remain motionless or else the fox will eat it! A chipmunk must control their twitches. A bobcat must slink down low. Remind them that any movement, even a shift of their eyes, can alert their predator to attack. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-relax!