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"Taking the Trauma out of Drama"

Script-less and less scripted techniques for acting out stories and scenes from the Bible in the Drama Workshop

A Drama Workshop article by Neil MacQueen

This article introduces the "over-projection" technique,
which is described in more detail here.  It also talks about how to use the "Newsroom" "Breaking News" drama format for a fun presentation style. And we've added a method of dramatizing a story by posing photos with your cellphone using an updated technique.

boredI sort of cringe every time I see a photo or video of children standing and reading from a multi-page script to "dramatize" a Bible story.

Their bodies are rigid. Their eyes are downward fixed on the paper. And their voices are monotone.  Not especially memorable, fun, or multiple-intelligence informed. And as a young child, that would have been traumatizing to me.  

I also sort of cringe when dramatizing Bible stories require too much teacher setup time, props, and staging/rehearsal. Such things don't leave much time for reflection or fun, and as a teacher all that prep creates a lot of drama on its own!

I feel sorry for the kids who don't read well, or at all, and who don't like standing exposed in front of their peers. Many kids are self-conscious about both things.

And I feel cheated when a drama script is simply a STIFF RE-CAP of the story, offering few if any insights or teachable moments.

So what do you do?

Over the years, I've experimented with a number of techniques and formats to address my concerns and break away from the tyranny of scripts or reducing their handling during a skit. I've also scoured the great ideas here at, looking for scripts and techniques that "do drama without trauma" to the kids, the teachers, the lesson time, or the story itself.

Here's a list of ideas, suggestions, and links to lesson plans.

1. Divide the Acting and Narrating Responsibilities

This insight came from doing puppet lessons where some kids focused on "acting out," while others (and the teaching staff) provided the narration.  This frees the actors from looking at paper, and makes them "listen" more carefully for their cues. Listening requires focus, and focus is a requirement for memory formation. Read further to see how this plays out in the "Selfie stick Newsroom" technique.

Whether you're doing Shadow Puppets, acting out a scene, or posing for photos, NOT having to juggle a script and say words frees the kids to move.

2. Turn Off the Overhead Lights and turn on the Back-light or BLACK light

I love how the Shadow Puppet and Blacklight drama techniques here at, turn off the lights in the classroom --and bring special light to the action.

The secondary effect of special lighting is that it calms and focuses the kids' attention -- especially when the spotlight isn't on them, but on what they're doing.  Backlight or shadow dramas and blacklight presentations give a sense of anonymity that allows kids, especially older ones, to act in front of their peers without feeling self-conscious.

3. Turn kids into puppets or actors, not readers.

There are several ways to do this.  

  1. Shadow Theater with puppets or live actors
  2. Blacklight
  3. "Over-projection"
  4. Selfie stick drama "Breaking News" ...the Newsroom technique
  5. "Instagram" Photo Booth

The rest of this article describes these five techniques...

1. Shadow Theater
2. Blacklighting

There are two big reasons I like the idea of kids using their own bodies as "puppets" to pose or act out a Bible scene behind a backlit screen or in the cool-dark of blacklight.

(1) The screen and shadow light source provide a degree of anonymity, which reduces self-consciousness. Making them glow-in-the-dark under blacklight has a cool factor too. Luanne Payne here at has been a pioneer in this technique. Read her how-to articles. You can also see a great blacklight lesson in the Writing Team's    "Pentecost: Wind, Fire, Faith!" lesson set.

(2) Acting/posing is a form of kinesthetic (movement) learning. Literally, our motions enhance memory formation in a way that standing rigid with a script cannot, and standing petrified in plain sight of your peers will not.

Sunday School teachers have long used movement, song actions, etc., --which are a whole lot easier to do when you don't have a script in your hands, ...and don't have your peers staring at you.

3. Over-projecting

See a longer description and more Over Projecting how-to here.

"Over-projecting" is my name for a video projecting technique I've experimented in several different ways over the years. It shares some of the same insights and reasons for doing shadow puppets and blacklight drama. It takes the pressure off of the kids and teacher because it uses existing video content --into which your kids step and with which your kids interact, ...while you videotape the action.

Over-projecting is when you project a Bible video, music video, or set of pictures onto the wall --which the kids step into and act out.

You can use movies, animations, YouTube music videos, still images of Bible scenes. Whatever you project, the kids can interact with.

Below are two girls acting out lyrics from a Mercy Me music video, "I Can Only Imagine."

danceforyoujesusThe first time I ever did this it was like an epiphany...

I had a cheesy 10 minute David and Goliath video (which I didn't like very much, but it's what we had back in the pre-internet days). We watched it first, discussed it, then assigned roles. I projected the video from my DVD player through my LCD projector onto the wall, and told my actors to "jump in and act out the parts" --trying to stay in sync with what was happening on the wall behind them.  Their attempts at lip-syncing, and inevitably realizing they were out of sync and needed to move/match/catchup to the screen actors was not only hilarious, they asked to do it again (repetition!).  And what were they focused on lip-syncing? The video's script.

Evolving the idea to include music videos...

A few years later I saw a YouTube music video that featured people holding poster-board signs DURING the song. The signs reflected on what the singer was singing about. That gave me the idea to project another Christian music video onto the wall (which didn't have kids with posters in it) and have my kids MAKE the posters and step into the video on cue with the lyrics.  Essentially, we made the song our script, and the song's graphic our stage.  We rehearsed then videotaped their performance over-projection performance. The poster prep was teaching gold. The song stuck in our brains. And they were transfixed watching themselves on video.  It was also a great way to introduce and discuss some of the terrific Christian songs being written today.


The "posters in the music video" idea actually came from several music videos I've seen on YouTube produced by the artist to sell the song. It's a great way to quickly add comments/captions to lyrics and scenes in the video. Of course, what to write is fodder for lesson discussion!

As a member of the Writing Team, I've been part of several Video-Drama lessons now that use music videos in this way.... kids interacting with them, holding signs, etc. Great way to include MUSIC in our teaching and music is an awesome memory hook.

Here's a Writing Team lesson, The Emmaus Story Video~Music Workshop, in which we use Mercy Me's famous "I Can Only Imagine" music video (one produced by a fan) with this over-projection technique.

Another light-inspired moment...

During one projection drama, I noticed one of the kids had a white t-shirt on, which caused the projection to appear on his shirt and make him appear like he was "in" the video. So the next time we did it, I had a teach VIDEOTAPE the over-projection performance so the kids could see themselves in the music video. They LOVED that.  White t-shirts are inexpensive costumes too.  

I took this "music video over-projection" idea and turned it into a Writing Team lesson video for the WT's Jesus Heals the Ten Lepers drama workshop. They act out the powerful lyrics of an awesome contemporary Christian song.  See the kids wearing white t-shirts?

uh-oh.cue.cardFYI:  I turned the "posters" idea into another kind of drama workshop that had them presenting "Yay," "Boo" "Huh?" posters to a creative scripture reading. (It's actually an old youth group idea we updated.) You can see a great example of this in the Writing Team's Judges Drama Workshop, and one for the genealogy of Jesus in the public Advent forum.

Update: The Writing Team just wrote a Road to Emmaus Video-Drama Workshop that turns Mercy Me's "I Can Only Imagine" video into a great "over projection" project.

4. TV Newsroom "Broadcast" or Podcast and Selfie Sticks

One of the first big improvements to the Rotation Model's Drama Workshop concept was what many call the "TV Newsroom." In this type of drama, you actually DO have actors reading from scripts as they look into the camera --hamming it up as if they were local news broadcasters and reporters in the field.  The script gets posted behind the camera like a "tele-prompter" (on a flipchart or chalkboard). In preparation for the newscast, the students can be involved in the creation of the script too.

Non-readers can practice their responses without the use of a script. Only the teacher or a helpful teen is needed to make sure the narrative is followed and questions are asked.

And they love being videotaped, then watching themselves. The playback becomes reinforcement and an opportunity for further discussion.

FYI: There's a great "Channel 7 Breaking News" lesson and script in the "Jesus is Born!" lesson set. We've used this "Breaking News" drama technique in other Writing Team Lessons too -- including a "Breaking News" Drama Workshop lesson plan in our Prodigal Son Lesson Set.

You can also do the "Newsroom" as a "Podcast" -- recording the audio only (like creating a radio broadcast). It's a fun way to allow kids to use a script without having to hold it while acting. And they can add their own fun sound effects!  Check out member Amy's Story of Creation Podcast and Script.

The secret sauce in the newsroom drama that kids act out is having a working microphone and "tele-prompter."  Kids love pretending they are on TV, and I'm no longer amazed how the presence of microphone gets their attention and cues them to start talking. Adding a "tele-prompter" solves the "what to say" issue too.

Notice in the photo above that my students are looking at something OTHER than my camera. They're reading their scripted lines that we have projected onto the wall using an overhead projector! Kids act better when their head isn't buried in a script.  Projecting the script on the wall was also more and "tele-prompter-like" which is playful to the kids. The more imaginative their "play" the better the drama.  Non-readers, of course, can't read a "teleprompter," but an older child or helpful teen can. The non-readers can listen and respond, and act out as cued by the reporter or broadcast.  (Tip: The video camera's record-pause button is your friend.)

You can use flipchart sheets, butcher paper, and chalkboards as your "tele-prompter." Just remember to include the kids in the script development process (such as, asking them to fill out certain answers).

The Newsroom gives you many different kinds of "roles" for many different kinds of kids. Some kids need to have a script, and others just want to act and make noise, which is okay. Some are good at remembering an answer to a question that the reporter will "read out of their notebook." Others need to be the reporter with "what to say" in front of them.

The Newsroom does need a script, but only certain actors use it. See a great "News Team 7" script the Writing Team wrote for its Birth of Jesus drama workshop.

If creating a video recording, use a Selfie Stick to Get "Up Close and Personal" or shoot "aerial" from your news helicopter

One of the most "freeing" and playful things we ever did to the newsroom concept happened when iPhones became our "go to" video camera, and selfie sticks were invented. The teacher puts their iPhone at the end of the selfie stick, and can then swing it in any direction, doing close-ups of some action being acted out, catching "bystander reaction" and doing "Chopper Five" fly-overs of the Biblical scene. The controlled chaos of being able to move the camera around like this sort of puts the kids "on the spot" to act when the camera comes in close to them. More importantly, it works. The video camera on the end of a selfie stick also allows you to get close to their facial expressions, which they will naturally ham-up when the camera comes close. In effect, the camera becomes the prompter to get them from just standing there.  ...And they love those chopper sounds, breathless chopper reporting, and fly-ins!

Heard:  The sound of your news helicopter (a student beating their tummy)

Camera: "Flying" on a selfie stick with the reporter "off camera" for part of the report.

Reporter: "We're live here at the home of Peter, and what's that? Someone is digging through the roof ...and lowering a man down through it. Let's get some reaction from the crowd....  And what do you have to say Jesus?   Let's interview the guy on the roof.  Back to you in the newsroom."

A group of protesters has arrived on the scene carrying signs. Tell me sir, what does your sign say, ...what does it mean?

See more about the Newsroom technique.

5. "Instagram" Photo Booth

Instagram Photo Booth is an updated version on an old tried-and-true drama technique sometimes called "Photo Tableaux" or "Freeze Frame." Essentially, the kids "pose" a scene or character's reaction and you snap a cellphone photo of it.  We called it "Instagram Photo Booth" because the interface for Instagram, the popular photo sharing social media app, has a place to add "captions," "comments," and "#hashtags" to the photo. In other words, the kids not only come up with the pose they want to take a photo of, they have to come up with the written content that EXPLAINS the photo.

We pulled it all together using another old-teaching-trick: turning a refrigerator box into what looks like a giant cellphone with an Instagram app open on the screen.

Here's a photo from Ruth's Instagram Drama Lesson created by our Writing Team for the Story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. Supporting Members can read that lesson lots more detail. It's a technique that can be used to dramatize photos of MANY MORE stories.

Why a box and not just a kid standing against the wall?
Because the box gets them excited, and you can have them write their comments and captions on the box's Instagram interface so that their content becomes part of the photo that you take and share.

Long-time teachers will recognize this "refrigerator box" idea as the "TV Screen Box" we used to have actors recreate scenes inside of. If we were lucky, we snapped a few blurry Polaroids. The difference here is that we capture the scene AND content with a cellphone for instant viewing and discussion during the lesson.

Final Thoughts on Taking the Trauma out of Drama

Many years ago at, we took a poll about "which workshop was the most difficult to pull off." The clear winner (loser?) was Drama.  Expanding your techniques and getting away from "stand and read" will help TEACHERS enjoy teaching this way.

But let me leave you with this one last tip: Your drama teacher has to be playful and great on the fly. No sense taking the "rigidity" out of your drama if it's going to be led by a stiff teacher.

I hope some of these examples inspire you to "take the trauma out of drama" in your Sunday School. These techniques are a blast to teach with, and can be used with a wide age range.

~Neil MacQueen

Related and Helpful Links:

Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister and long-time contributor to He was also one of the lead writers in the Writing Team.


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  • Instagram Photos with "comments" and "captions"
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How to Create a Teleprompter (aka Cue Cards)

so that your actors don't have to hold a script

student holding drama script in Sunday School

Sometimes you need a script -- whether it's something you or the kids wrote or you found elsewhere, or you simply want to read the words from an illustrated Bible.

Of course, you can have an off-screen reader narrating the scene.

Or for stories that it is okay to have a little more fun with you can have the onscreen character "lip syncing" (mouthing the words of the offscreen reader/character).

But when you need kids to read things from a script, having that script in their hands can really get in their way and make their acting STIFF.

Here are two solutions I've used in my Drama Workshops:


Put your script on a laptop, tablet, or cellphone and connect your device to a large screen or projector.

Now you have a "teleprompter" that everyone can see (i.e. the script).

By the way, small LCD projectors are now under a hundred bucks. Check Amazon.


Project your script pages on the wall using an overhead projector.

If you have an old-fashioned "bright light bulb" style overhead, then copy your script onto transparencies.

If you have a modern "overhead camera" style projector, then you can simply place your paper pages under the camera one at a time.

Camera Style Overhead Projector for Sunday School

Tip: Newer overhead camera-style projectors cost less than the price of replacing the old style's bulb!


  • Use a LARGE FONT for easy reading even on a large screen.
  • Have someone change the script pages as the action unfolds.
  • Write "directions and reminders" in the margin of the document for all of the actors to see.


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  • Overhead Projector Options for Sunday School
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"Prompt" Scripts:

Scripts that are not word-for-word

Sometimes a script can simply have PROMPTS in it, where the kids have practiced knowing what to say or do when they see the prompt on the script. (See the "Group" Roles ideas below for using "prompt scripts" with non-readers.)

For example:

Jesus: Welcome the Pharisee and ask if he has any questions.
Pharisee: Ask Jesus your question.

Below is a simple "prompt" script for the Parable of the Good Samaritan which you would use after some Bible reading and rehearsal.

Pharisee: Introduce yourself to Jesus.

Jesus: Welcome the Pharisee and ask him what he wants to know.

Pharisee: Ask what the Greatest Commandment is.

Jesus: Ask the Pharisee what HE thinks it is.

Pharisee: Invite everyone on the set to say the Great Commandment with you.

Jesus: Remind him that you have to DO the commandments not just memorize them.

Pharisee: Ask what to do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus: Tell the story of the Good Samaritan (using your Bible).

Actors: Act out the Parable of the Good Samaritan as Jesus tells the story.

Jesus: So who was God's hero in this story? The religious people? Or the Samaritan that you didn't like?

Pharisee:  Even though I don't like Samaritans, I'd have to say "the merciful Samaritan."

Jesus: Awesome, now go and be just like the Samaritan and you will live a life worthy of God's gift of eternal life!!

Create "Group Roles" with Non-Readers

If you're using this kind of "prompt script" or other types of scripts with NON-READERS, create "Group Roles" to overcome students' inability to read the prompts.

Group Roles are when you assign more than one person to a key role, like making two or three people be the Pharisee in this story.

Then you assign your young teen or teaching assistant to be the "lead" Pharisee in the group. When Jesus asks the Pharisee a question, the lead Pharisee turns to the other young Pharisees and engages them to come up with their answer and decide who will say it to Jesus.

Your Group Role "Prompt" for the Pharisee in the story could look like this:

Lead Pharisee to Other Pharisees: Jesus wants to know what we're doing here. What are we going to tell him?  (discuss) Ok, go ahead and tell Jesus that!

All of this is captured on video, of course. Playback is fun, a great opportunity to add insights, and an important memory reinforcement.


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  • kids acting out the parable of the good samaritan in sunday school
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Narrating the Story and Action the kids don't have to handle scripts

Having off-screen narrators (kids and/or teachers) is a great way to free up your actors to act. Great technique with non-readers, too.

In addition to just having the actors silently act, you can also try having them "lip sync" to what the narrators are saying. Of course, you do want to be careful matching your technique to the story. You don't want to be "having silly fun" in a cross scene re-enactment.

There's a really fun version of Narrating the Story offscreen we call the "Flat Lay" drama technique. In drama circles it is sometimes known as "Bird's Eye" and in improvisational circles it is sometimes called "Sideways Scene."

Lay Flat Drama Technique Basics

We have another topic here all about how to do "flat lay"

Supporting Members can see the Writing Team Psalm 23 lesson that uses Flat Lay and the Shepherds and Angels lesson that uses Flat Lay to illustrate a song.


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