December 6th, 2011

Outer Space Customs: Arts & UDL in the Classroom, Part Four / Richard Jenkins

Part Four: Assigning Traits and Cultural Customs to Characters

With the success of our initial cartooning activity, I was eager to see the students’ characters come to life through the use of improvisation and theater processes. On this fifth day of our residency, I would guide the students through the creation of fictional customary greetings for their Outer Space Immigrants. The activity would last for one period of 40 minutes.

As I learned in my planning meeting with the teachers, many of the students already enjoyed performing in front of their classmates. This recruited immediate interest in the activity. In addition to visual aids and discussion, acting would provide another way for students to comprehend the concept of customary greetings.  

I began by demonstrating the students to customary greetings from Western and Japanese cultures. This activated the students’ background knowledge. I used visual aids depicting the greetings and I enacted the different greetings. I emphasized how the greetings make use of body movements, facial expressions, and/or words. I pointed out the differences between the greetings. Then, the students took turns enacting each of the greetings with me. As they practiced the greetings, I reminded them of the specific details of the gestures, encouraging them to refine their effort. Finally, I invited students to share greetings from their own neighborhoods and two students shared them.


With the introduction finished, I then demonstrated the improvisational creation of a fictional customary greeting for my own Outer Space Immigrant. I stated the criteria: use a variety of sounds, words, gestures, and/or movements. Then I instructed the students to experiment and invent a fictional greeting of their own. They were allowed to collaborate with each other.

The ESL instructor continued to translate my instructions into Portuguese. For the students with special needs, I repeated the instructions. And as they were creating their greetings, I used prompting questions to help identify their best ideas. As I listened to the oldest special needs student, who demanded extra listening and clarification from me, I suddenly understood what the teacher meant by “expressive delays.” This student has so many ideas firing off in his mind at the same time, that he could not get them out fast enough. He had a hard time pinning down a single idea down for his “best choice”, so I would repeat his ideas to him, and then he could quickly identify which one he wanted to use. This new understanding, while very helpful, also made me nervous about his performance in the next activity which would be based on improvisation.

Though a little timid at first, most of the students warmed up quickly and began to experiment with and perform their new fictional greetings. While the students created their gestures, I again used rhetorical “think-alouds” to remind them of the criteria: use a variety of sounds, words, gestures, and/or movements. As the more reluctant students watched the others, they better understood the process. Then they began to vocalize variations that they could use in their own greetings.

Finally, I invited students to come up and share their fictional Outer Space Greetings. As each student demonstrated their greeting, I re-enacted it. I asked them to help me clarify my attempt, in order to get closer to their intended effect. This allowed the students to continue to refine and clarify their own greetings. By the end of the period, the all of the students were eagerly participating and sharing their creations. Click here to view a detailed slideshow of the entire activity.

The ESL teacher was very excited as she witnessed the students’ high level of engagement. She and I were both eager to see what the students would do in our next activity. In my next posting, I will share our second dramatic activity, Outer Space Improv.

Richard Jenkins is a published cartoonist, illustrator, and author currently living in Oklahoma. Since 1997, he has worked prolifically as a teaching artist, engaging students in story and image making though cartooning. Richard is also an arts & education consultant, training educators across the country in Arts Integration and in using Arts & UDL to engage learners of all abilities and styles. He is a Teaching Artist Fellow for VSA. And, Richard is the co-author of “Comics in your Curriculum,” an arts integration manual for elementary educators.  Currently, Richard is hard at work on two books. His latest graphic novel, a horror story entitled “Toil.” And a second as yet untitled teacher’s curriculum book, focused on engaging ELL and disabled students.  Blog:  Website:

Also on ALT/space by Richard Jenkins:
Outer Space Immigrants: Arts & UDL in the Classroom, Part Three
Engaging Diverse Learners: Arts & UDL in the Classroom, Part Two
Arts & UDL in the Classroom, Part One: Meeting Diverse Learners

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In this space, Teaching Artist correspondents from around the U.S. and the world bring you stories of their work at the crossroads of art and learning. ALT/space is a project of the Teaching Artist Journal, a peer reviewed print and online quarterly that serves as a voice, forum and resource for teaching artists and all those working at the intersection of art and learning. Individual online subscriptions of the TAJ print journal gives you access to a very useful, easy to access, 55-issue archive--the only such archive of its kind.