It’s a whole new season of First Grade Operas at the Brooklyn Children’s School. The three first grade classes have all begun the process of creating their own original opera, or musical, with performances set for the end of March. You can read about last year’s First Grade Operas here and here and here.
The first order of business, after discussing what goes into making an opera (words, music, characters, scenery, costumes etc.) is the class choosing a theme for their opera. Last year the kids in the three classes chose “Space”, “Knights” and “Under the Sea”. We first discuss what a “theme” is, and talk about whether the theme of Cinderella may be “Love” or “Family” or “Dancing” or something else, then make a long list of “things that are important” to us, like Friendship, School, Food, Toys, Parents, Pets, Air, Pokemon, anything the children offer, to put on the list as possible theme words.
Eventually we break up into four small groups, each of which will discuss and nominate a theme. Then the whole class discusses and votes on the four frontrunners, and this year’s opera theme is chosen. This is what the opera will be about.
Opera themes over the 16 years I have been doing this at the Children’s School have included Cousins, Toys, Animals, Silliness, Space Pirates, Candy, Past & Future, Graveyards, Electricity, Vampires, Dogs and Cats; Friends used to be a favorite but it hasn’t come up lately.
This year class 1-1 chose Magic.
Class 1-2 chose Magic.
And class 1-3 chose Magic.
This had never happened before. Magic had been chosen a couple times before, but what had never occurred in 16 years was that all classes would choose the same theme in the same year. Possibly once before two classes chose the same theme in one year, but I’m not certain even that happened.
The adults, the teachers, paraprofessionals and me, none of us were thrilled. But hey, it’s the children’s choice. One of the most important aspects of the opera program is making sure all the creative decisions come from the children. (And with the voting that is necessitated by making a big consensus decision like “what is our opera’s theme?” the opera project also becomes an object lesson in democracy.)
As limiting as having all three classes write operas about Magic may seem, I hoped that this week’s lesson would lead each class into diverse directions. This week we chose to write a “Theme Sentence” (actually a thesis sentence, if you are going to be correct about writing terms, but this is first grade, so I simplified). What can we say about our theme, magic, what sentence might be write that may give us an idea of what our story may be about or what we want the audience to learn about magic?
Again small groups write sentences and nominate four frontrunners. Then the whole class discusses the sentences proposed and again chooses their favorite by election (not secret ballot but “hands raised with eyes closed so you vote what you want and not what your friends want” – first grade peer influence is potent).
So here are this year’s Theme Sentences:
For 1-1: “Magic can control people’s minds.”
For 1-2: “Kids teleport back in time to meet their younger selves.”
For 1-3: “Magic can make money so you can buy anything you like.”
It looks like we will still manage to have three very distinct first grade operas again this year, even if the theme initially is the same for each class.
To read more posts about teaching, including the kindergarten and fourth grade musicals, click on The Teaching Artist category.