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Explore paintings through drama

  1. Preparation
  2. Background research
  3. Starting work with your class
  4. Exploring characters and events

Exploring characters and events

Questions to explore in relation to the scientist are: How would he advertise his arrival in the town? What information would he need to give people?  Flyers, posters, newspaper announcements could all be created using relevant information about the experiment.

The painting has shown one moment in the household but through drama the class can explore the weeks leading up to the day of the experiment in ways that can illuminate further the events shown in the painting. How might the children try to persuade their parents to let them have a cockatoo? The class could work in role as two of the children trying to persuade their father to let them have a cockatoo.

Once the cockatoo has arrived in the house, what impact does the arrival of this unusual bird have on everyone? What are the most delightful things about such an unusual pet? What are its less appealing habits? What adventures does it get up to in the house? 

Improvising scenes

In role as the house's servants, the class could create short improvised scenes that show events that happened once the cockatoo arrived. What might the servants say in a letter to their family about the bird? Or what would the children say in a letter to their cousins?

Having established a connection between the household and the cockatoo, move the time to the day the scientist arrives. The class will need to know the details of the science experiment and what it is meant to show those watching.

This creates an opportunity for discussing what air is and why all living things need air to survive. Further questions include:

  • Why might he ask to use the household pet at the subject of the experiment?
  • What extra impact would it have?
  • What risk is there to the cockatoo?
  • What might the impact be on the family?

In role as the father and the scientist, the class could explore the arguments that are put forward by both sides.

Freeze frame

Look again at 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump' by Joseph Wright 'of Derby'. Discuss with the class what might happen be happening five minutes later? What might that painting look like? In groups of four or five, ask the class to create the freeze frame of another painting showing what has happened.

Look at theses images in turn and discuss the ideas that have been portrayed and what the choices have been made. As with the response to the original painting, those who are looking could offer lines of dialogue and the thoughts of the participants. This could be followed by writing in role as the children telling their cousins what has happened.

Find out more about English and Drama at the Gallery

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