Culture and History Drama Exercise
The Culture and History Drama Exercise was used during the school year
1997-98 at Willlowcrest Elementary School as a way to engage students
in the process of understanding the importance of respect for other
cultures and diversity. These issues are especially relevant to ESL and
bilingual students, who are themselves often on the margins of American
culture and face issues of assimilation and sometimes prejudice. By
learning about Anne Frank’s experience in World War II, students were
able to see what happened to one group of people when prejudice
resulted in genocide. By writing and presenting the play to their
peers, students were able to put themselves in the shoes of someone in
another culture, also giving them a historical and personal perspective
from which to view an aspect of World War II.
The Culture and History Drama Exercise can be adapted to inform the
study of numerous historical subjects where the dominant culture of a
society oppresses a minority within it.
Background to the Play
Sixteen bilingual students at Willowcrest Elementary School in
Anchorage read books about the Frank family, watched the original movie
of the play The Diary of Anne Frank, and viewed a production of
an original play in Anchorage, put on by the Alaska Children’s Theater.
After weeks of research and discussion, bilingual students got into
small groups to write their own play, scene by scene, about the Frank
Once completed, a director at the Children’s Theater came to
Willowcrest and led a full-day workshop with the students, teaching
them the basics of acting, and working with them on their play. The
students created their own sets and scenes, and finally performed the
work in the library, for several different classes within their school.
The culmination of this work was a performance of The Frank Family Goes Into Hiding: A Play
the following year at the 1998 Bilingual Multi-Cultural Equity
Conference, following a presentation by LaVon Bridges about the power
of literature in helping bilingual students to learn to read and write.
project was inspired and supervised by Yolanda Polanco, bilingual
master tutor at Willowcrest Elementary, who is originally from Puerto
Rico and is fluent in Spanish. She began as a tutor in the Bilingual
Multicultural Education Program at the Anchorage School District in the
1979-80 academic year, and now serves as a Bilingual Master Tutor at
Willowcrest Elementary School.
Yolanda was nominated Bilingual Educator of the Year for Anchorage
by the Alaska Association of Bilingual Educators and was awarded State
Bilingual Educator of the year in 1991. The following year, Polanco
received the honor of being awarded National Bilingual Educator of the
Year by the National Association of Bilingual Educators.