How to Teach Elements of Drama, or Plays

Elements of drama include cast of characters, dialogue, and stage directions. Each play may also be broken into scenes and acts. When teaching, provide lots of examples – and let them act it out!

Ms. Sneed Teaches Elements of Drama

Our favorite fourth grade teacher stood in front of her class. “As you remember,” she said to her class, “we’re working on forms of literature.” She turned and read a standard poster that was posted at the front of the room:

Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose.”

Turning back toward her students, she continued. “Since we’ve already explored poetry and prose, it’s time for elements of drama.”

Providing a Definition of Drama

Next, Ms. Sneed turned on the projector. Then she sat down at her computer.

“Okay, can anyone tell me what drama is?”

A few hands shot up.

“A play?” one child tentatively said.

“Right. What can you tell me about a play?”

“That people act it out?”

Ms. Sneed nodded and typed: Drama is literature that is acted out.

“Do any of you know some parts, or elements of drama?”

Slowly, they built a list:

  • Setting
  • Cast of characters
  • Dialogue
  • Stage directions
  • Scenes
  • Acts
When teaching elements of drama, start with a definition Drama is literature that is acted out.

Explaining Elements of Drama

Now we’ll explore each element in more detail,” said the teacher. “Additionally, we’ll use this play, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, as an example.” She held it up for all to see.

Cast of Characters

“First,” said Ms. Sneed. “Who can explain a cast of characters?”

“It provides a list of actors,” a boy in the back offered.

“Correct. In this drama, the cast of characters includes the shepherd boy, pastor, baker, wolf, and merchant.” With that, she placed the play on the projector.

One element of drama is the cast of characters. It lists the actors in the play.


“Second,” Ms. Sneed continued, “dialogue.”

“The words actors say,” responded a girl at the side of the room.

Again, Ms. Sneed nodded. She pointed to some dialogue at the beginning of the play. “Notice how the character’s name appears at the beginning of the line. In addition to the colon after the name, the name also appears in all caps. This character tag tells who should say the line.”

In drama, dialogue is listed after a character tag, which tells who should say the words.

Stage Directions

Now Ms. Sneed pointed to some italicized words in brackets. “Here you see one example of stage directions: The SHEPHERD BOY watches a flock of sheep.

As she pointed to a second set of italicized words in brackets, she continued. “And here, you see another: in a loud voice.”

Turning to face her class, she asked, “What purpose do stage directions serve?”

After a bit of discussion, the class agreed: Stage directions tell how the stage should look or what actors should do.

Stage directions can tell how the stage should look or what the actor should do.

Scenes & Acts

“Finally,” Ms. Sneed said, “let’s talk about how drama is organized. When the setting changes, the playwright generally begins a new scene. Yes, I know this is a bit confusing. Of course it’s a new scene. But additionally, we use the word scene to describe a section of a play.”

As she spoke, Ms. Sneed flipped to the first page of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Then she displayed it on the screen. “As a matter of fact, this piece of literature is broken into five scenes. Furthermore, two bigger divisions, or acts, appear as well.

A Quick Review

As they wrapped up the lesson, Ms. Sneed reviewed elements of drama:

  • Setting – where and when the play takes place
  • Cast of characters – list of actors
  • Dialogue – exact words actor should say; begins with character tag
  • Stage directions – tell how the stage should look or what actors should do
  • Scenes – section of a play with the same setting
  • Acts – major divisions of scenes in a long play

“Easy peasy?” Ms. Sneed asked. As expected the kids all nodded. Adding plays to the ELA block was fun and easy.

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