Drama Teacher Guide


(5 minutes)

Q: Do you think the story of Hercules is a comedy or a tragedy? Why?

A: Answers will vary. Allow students time to share.


You’ve probably heard the terms “comedy” and “tragedy” before. We generally use these terms to mean that a story is either funny or sad. For the ancient Greeks, it was a more complex term.

(5 minutes)

Review the definitions of dramatic terms from the textbook. Discuss examples of modern entertainment or performances that may be familiar to students. Do they fall into any of these categories? Why or why not?

(10 minutes)

Review the following content with students or use the digital resources to present:

The Greeks are often given credit for inventing the first dramatic plays. Originally, a group of actors known as the chorus would recite poems and songs about history or mythology, along with dancing on stage. One day, an actor from the chorus delivered his own lines and interacted with the chorus—creating the first dialogue and a new form of dramatic art.

The Greeks had three main types of plays—comedy, tragedy, and satyr plays. A Greek tragedy was about a noble character who goes through terrible circumstances and sorrows—often of his or her own making. A comedy might be about more common characters and their adventures, while a satyr play was usually more physical humor that mocked various characters from mythology or current news. All Greek plays featured song and dance and invited the audience to consider lofty ideals of philosophy, history, or current political events.

The Romans always had a hunger for entertainment, and their earliest forms were adopted from the Etruscans. Early Roman theater featured songs, dances, and acrobatic feats. As their territory grew and they encountered new cultures, they were inspired by Greek forms of theater and the Roman stage showed plays that were translations or loose adaptations of Greek plays. The Romans didn’t copy the idea of the chorus in their plays, but they did add music to go along with the words. For the Greeks, violent actions were reported by a messenger and weren’t portrayed on stage, but the Romans loved gore and would reenact violent scenes of combat or death for their bloodthirsty crowds. Soon they developed their own popular playwrights, like Plautus and Terence, though the themes and characters still echoed a Greek influence. Romans were not as interested in philosophy as the Greeks, so they soon favored performances without words called pantomime, where the story was told through dramatic gestures, costumes, and spectacle.

In both Greek and Roman theater, the actors wore masks to help emphasize the facial features of their characters from far away. Feminine masks were especially useful because men played women’s parts, and female actors weren’t allowed until much later.
The mouth of the mask was also shaped in such a way to help project their voices—like a megaphone! For both groups, plays were performed for special occasions. The Greeks held theater contests and throughout the competition, they honored Dionysus, the god
of theatre, fertility, and merry-making. The Romans would hold performances for many different festivals and events throughout the year—it could be for a public holiday honoring any of the gods, or a political official might pay for a day of entertainment in order to win favor from the Roman people.

Theater Masks

(15 minutes)

Materials: Cardstock paper, hole punch, scissors, markers, construction paper, gluesticks, yarn

Instructions: Review how masks were used in ancient theaters. Let students choose if they want the expression on their mask to be happy, sad, or angry. If possible, show examples of these expressions on masks and point out the angles used for eyes and mouth to achieve specific emotions. Distribute materials to students. Students should hold the paper to the face to determine where the eyes should be placed, marking the spot to cut out later. Then they may cut out and decorate their masks. Use construction paper to make hair, beards, or crowns. Use the hole punch to place a secure hole on either side of the mask, and use these holes for yarn to create a strap to wear the masks.

TIP: If time is short, students may just use markers to decorate. You may also wish to provide templates of masks for students to cut out.

Whose Mime Is It Anyway?

(15 minutes)

Instructions: Divide students into small groups. Assign each group (or let them draw from two hats) a situation and a dramatic element (comedy, tragedy, satyr play, pantomime, or chorus). They must develop a short skit that expresses the situation and adheres to their assigned genre.


A person is very distracted while others see and try to warn him that a tree is about to fall on his head.

An enthusiastic teacher tries to teach a class of very sleepy students.

A parent follows around a very messy toddler, cleaning up after him/her.

Athletes compete in a footrace; one is overconfident, one tries to sabotage others, the underdog wins.

A group of people watch a scary movie.

A salesperson convinces someone to buy something that is silly.

A friend is angry with his/her best friend, and the best friend tries to apologize in different ways.

Two or three people arrive to sit in the same seat at the same time; awkwardness ensues.

VARIATION: Instead of assigning genres, let each group perform their scenario as a silent pantomime while wearing the masks they made. Discuss afterwards how much they were forced to rely on gestures and body language due to their facial expressions being covered by the mask.

TIP: Let the audience guess which dramatic form is being presented.


(5 minutes)

Q: What do you call a drama without words, told through dramatic gestures or other spectacles?

A: Pantomime