214233_sch_Bessie_Jkt_0.tif March 20


We should always play in the classroom by Kevin D. Cordi

I had forgotten the value of play during the first years of teaching.   I focused more on the discipline of creating final products rather than playing with the process.  I only evaluated the end result until I rediscovered the value of play and story making.

I should have taken more time to play with the student’s ideas as they were experimenting.   Before we assign students a solitary desk, let students “word dance” or play with the words out loud with a partner who can offer immediate feedback.


Playful practice can help build writing and reading ideas.

Students are often fearful they will make a mistake when writing. In play mistakes are encouraged; it is the nature of play.  Play fosters a mindset where the classroom transforms into a safe place to practice.  Students often see writing as creating a difficult text that cannot be changed.  Vocal play, however, helps them experiment with it as a fluid work instead of a fixed one.  Work in play is in a constant state of change.

Imagine the classroom as a rich playground where students can vocally, as well as in writing, share ideas, change voices, create new environments and experiment before they cement words to paper.

Our standard-based system expects outcomes over development not always viewing play as productive work.  In play, students create, experiment, question, and trouble their thinking, developing not only new ideas, but other ways to enact ideas.


Play is an imaginative and deliberative practice. 

We as teachers must first become imaginative thinkers, dedicating more time to address the how and why something is created.  We need to play out loud and encourage our students to do so.  A writer that I met said to me, “I never share my writing out loud…  I don’t want to let it go.”  This type of thinking often stunts idea generation and limits imaginative thinking.

Instead of trapping story ideas, we need to let them dance. When developing stories, let them fly and roam in unknown places because it is in this discovery and suspense that stories blossom.  All stories hinge on suspense.  Storyteller Dan Yashinsky speaks to the allure of suspense when he tells his child a soft story to put him to sleep and as he thinks he is resting, his child bolts upright and declares, “And they suddenly heard footsteps.” Yashinsky wanted to end the story, but the child did not.  He added tension not plot.  I have found when teachers concentrate on creating a plot first, this deadens play, instead, let them build trouble.  Vocally play with the trouble inside the fiction.  We need to ask more questions with students such as “I wonder what would happen if the moose did not get the muffin? Can you imagine if Katniss went to the games with Rue? and What if Little Red knew karate?  With play, we cannot only ask the questions, but we can create the fictional world where students vocally and physically respond to them.


Process Drama

One-way to invite play is to incorporate process drama into the curriculum.  In a classroom taught by Dr. Brian Edmiston, I studied the life of the first African American pilot Bessie Coleman—not simply reading her story, but instead, by experiencing it using role to create dramatic episodes within the classroom space.  Without a stage or props, as a class, we transformed the classroom into a fictional place, the environment of Bessie Coleman.  We entered this world by using our collective imaginations and soon the classroom was transported into the fictional landscape.  This terrain was real because as a class we imagined and enacted it.

214233_sch_Bessie_Jkt_0.tifDrawing from the vignettes of her life contained in the book  (2002) Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes, We used dramatic episodes to enact various perspectives and positions in the world of Bessie Coleman.  We heard testimony from black and white news reporters, family members, and neighbors.  We then were the neighbors or reporters.  We troubled the drama.  In role, I served as that of a white U.S. flight instructor who informed Bessie she was not allowed to fly.  My entire body tensed as I shared this.  Later, we experienced the event when Bessie was welcomed in France where she could obtain a license.

In another experience, as the teacher I worked with this narrative with fourth graders. I watched young minds struggle as I had when Bessie left for Paris.  Both white and black students alike addressed race relations, not from detached positions, but from within the fictional world, together. This deepened the conversation and reflection.


Permission to play

Teachers feel the pressure to help students pass standard tests, however, engagement in the text is just as essential.  Play does this.  It is time to re-consider how and when we ask students to read and write.  Is there a significant point where you can trouble the text using play to increase understanding?  Give permission to bring play back to our classrooms, regardless of age or level of our students, so once again students can join in the co-creative process of learning.  As we read with children and young adults, why not take a minute to enact the next unwritten chapter of The Maze Runner, dance with the idea that the pigeon drives an SUV and avoids the bus, or perhaps have students survive in Hatchet or be the next chosen to compete in Ender’s world. There is room for play; it is a standard we should not lose.  Play on, my friends, play on!


Kevin Cordi is the author of Playing with stories: story crafting for writers, teachers, and other imaginative thinkers (Parkhurst Brothers).  He is an Assistant Professor at Ohio Dominican University and also a Co-Director for the Columbus Area Writing Project at The Ohio State University. Visit online at www.kevincordi.com


@KevinCordi blog http://permission2play.com/the-playground

*Excepts of this article come from the new book, printed with permission.