Five Tips for Creating Theater in a Special Education Classroom

By Fran SillauFran works with theater students.

Theater is a wonderful outlet for young people to express themselves in a supportive and creative environment. Here are five tips for creating theater in the special education classroom.

  1. Know your audience. Balance what activities will make students shine with those that will positively challenge them. If you are working with a group of students for the first time, it is helpful to visit the classroom prior to beginning your sessions.
  1. Make the curricular standards work for you. Theater does not have to be completely separate from academic work. Consider creating work that directly ties into what is being studied in other subjects. For example, if a class is studying an important event in history, students can take on the role of a historical figure or create a new character that might have lived during a particular time. If students are not ready to take on this challenge themselves, guide them through the process by creating characters with them.
  1. Try working without a script. There is no need to use scripts in every situation. If you are working with non-readers, consider using creative drama where students act under the guidance of a narrator.
  1. Use pair and share and differentiating instruction with students. If you wish to use scripts, have two students shadow each other and perform one role at the same time. Each student will bring his or her own talents to the part.
  1. The play is not the thing. Theater in the classroom is all about the students’ experiences and growth, not the final production. It is not necessary to have full costumes and scenery, or that scenes be performance-ready. It is simply the acting out of stories that enables students to understand the threads between them.

Fran Sillau headshotFran Sillau is a teaching artist and former VSA Teaching Artist Fellow. He has led many workshops on utilizing arts in the special education classroom. Fran’s professional activities can be found at


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