Saint George and the Dragon
This lesson was designed to go along with the picture book Saint George and the Dragon, retold by Margaret Hodges, Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. (Little, Brown and Company, 1984) The book is based on a part of Spenser's Faerie Queen. No doubt there are plenty of other versions of the same story that would work just as well. The lesson teaches analytical thinking and involves both improvised and structured dramatic performances. I use it with my Kindergarten classes, but it would work with older students as well.
This is a pretty violent story, and the book is pretty graphic, but my students love it. You must, of course, make a responsible decision about whether it is right for your group.
Begin by reading the book. Pay particular attention to the actual battle between George and the Dragon. Then begin discussion and demonstration as follows:
When we were reading this book, I noticed that the Dragon has many separate, important parts, and that each part plays its own role in the story. Who can raise their hand and tell me what one of the parts of the dragon is? (Without too much coaching the students should be able to come up with: Head/Mouth, Tail, Wings, Claws, and maybe Body.)
Why are the wings special or important in the story? (They let the dragon fly, at one time he flies into the sky with the Knight, and it is in the wing that the Knight first wounds the Dragon.) (I like to point out, because the children think it's funny, that with a wounded wing the Dragon must only be able to fly in circles.)
Why is the tail special or important in the story? (It has two sharp stings on it, it is half a mile long, and when the Knight is trapped by it, he cuts off the end of it.)
Why are the claws special or important in the story? (They grab the Knight, and later in the story he cuts one of them off.)
Why is the head and the mouth important in the story? (It breathes fire and almost cooks poor George, and it is by running a spear through the mouth that George finally kills the Dragon.)
Who can think of a way to use their whole body to make the Dragon's tail? (At this point I take volunteers, who demonstrate different ways of "becoming" the Dragon's tail. Eventually, usually without coaching, they realize they can make a longer tail if they work together. I don't move on until we seem to have exhausted the group's ideas.)
Who can think of a way to use their whole body to make the Dragon's Wings? Claws? Mouth? (I give each as much time as seems appropriate.)
Building a Dragon
Once we have explored each part separately, I tell the class we are going to make one Dragon out of the whole class. I take volunteers to become each wing, each claw, the head, the body, and (with whoever is left) the long tail. Each person makes his or her body part in the way that he or she wants. (In other words, I don't try to make sure that the left wing looks like the right wing, etc.)
When the "Dragon" is finished, we carefully practice moving about the room. It takes some work, but usually Kindergartners can do it with concentration.
Finally, we act out the epic battle between Knight (the teacher) and Dragon. There are four major confrontations, during each of which a different body part is affected. The whole thing is done in slow motion and carefully. I choose the more alert "wing" and "injure" it with an imaginary sword. That child pretends to be an injured wing, and the Dragon flies in circles. The "tail" swings around to stab at me with its "stings" and I hack off one or two children, who wriggle on the ground separate from the rest of the Dragon. I hack off the most alert "front claw" in the same way. Finally the dragon opens its "mouth" and I run it through. It generally dies a noisy death.
In order to finish off the lesson on a more positive note (not that the students care, but it makes me feel better) I usually have them act out the peasants celebrating after the Dragon is dead.
This is always one of the favorite lessons of my Kindergarten classes.