What's the Magic Word?

story by Wendy Cheek , illustrated by Amy Golbach

Learning Intention:

I am learning how to use a range of interaction skills in a drama game so that I can participate in a humorous presentation to an audience.

Success Criteria:

  • I can identify examples of humour in a text and explain why they are humorous.
  • I can experiment with the interaction skills of offering and accepting to advance humour in an improvised scene.
  • I can deliver an improvised scene to an audience.

Before reading, ask students to be text detectives. While reading they look for answers to the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of this text? (To entertain)
  • Is this a serious or a humorous text? (Humorous)
  • What are some examples of how this text is serious OR humorous? (The text is funny due to Luca’s wordplay. Some scenarios are absurd due to the word he substitutes for please: ‘Mum, can I go over to Zoe’s, TADPOLE’ Other scenarios cause trouble for Luca, such as when his grandad tries to serve him Cod Liver Oil when he substitutes stomachache for please.)

Read the story aloud to the class, or if you have a digital subscription listen to the recording on The School Magazine website. Discuss the answers.

Generate a class list of other word games that they have read about or played. Some examples might include:

  • The word association game.
  • Auntie Cathie / The Suitcase game.
  • Paul Jenning’s story ‘Without a Shirt’.

Outline the task for the class: they will participate in a drama improvisation game based on the word game Luca invented. The class will then determine whether any groups get themselves into as much danger as Luca, when he almost had to drink Cod Liver Oil.

Provide a definition of three key drama terms:

  • Improvisation: a type of drama where the plot, characters and dialogue are made up on the spot.
  • Offer: to suggest, request or demand of the other characters to drive the narrative.
  • Accept (also called yield): to say yes to all the offers of other group members, even if you don’t want to.

Prior to commencing the activity you may wish to play the warm up game, Yes Let’s to consolidate students’ understanding of these terms.

Then, conduct the drama game: ‘What’s the Magic Word’ using the steps below:

First, ask all students to write an unexpected noun / noun group on a sheet of paper. Use the examples of ‘tadpole’ and ‘stomachache’ and explain that these words will become a substitute for please. Place them in a hat, jar, or similar.

Second, divide the class into teams of three to four.

Third, decide whether your groups need the opportunity to rehearse. If this is the case, conduct the first few rounds with all groups attempting to devise a short skit based on the word and without an audience.

Fourth, whether in the rehearsal stage, or the performance stage, play the game using these rules. Ask one group member to select a word from the hat. Then provide the group with a location and characters (e.g., zoo and students on an excursion). Explain that they have two minutes to deliver a performance which uses their chosen word instead of please as much as possible. They should also have a humorous complication.

Finally, repeat this activity until all groups have had a chance to perform. Collate a list of the humorous complications that appear in the skits and discuss how they compare to Luca’s problem in the story.