Adapting Scenes from the Book to a Play

Get Them Out of Their Seats
Ongoing Activity
Grades 6–12
Language Arts, History, Performing Arts
Small Group, Genre Adaptation, Writing, Editing, Oral Presentation


  • Students will understand and apply skills of adapting one genre to another.
  • Students will effectively understand the author’s intent regarding plot, characterization, setting, and language.
  • Students will practice oral/dramatic presentation skills.


Travels with Charley has a natural episodic structure which can be adapted to the stage; each stop in Steinbeck’s journey can serve as an “act” in the play. Students can easily learn the art of adaptation of genres, a valuable lesson.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Teachers should be familiar with drama conventions. The following two websites are excellent resources for both teachers and students:
  • ~"Stage Affair"
  • ~"Playwriting 101"
  • ~Copies of Travels with Charley.
  • ~Video camera (optional)

Estimated Time

The time spent will vary upon the needs of the class. At the very least, one day should be spent on covering the conventions of playwriting. The time spent on adaptation and performance will depend on the availability of class time.


  • Once students understand the conventions of adaptation, have them break into groups. Each group should choose a “scene” from the book to adapt (or, consider assigning scenes to groups) and adapt the essence of portions of the book or all of it, depending on time, to a stage version. This writing will satisfy descriptive, expository, dialogue, and narrative writing requirements.
  • Students may use dialogue or monologue verbatim from the book, alter it, add new dialogue and action, but all must be in context and in keeping with the spirit of the original (no aliens from space kidnapping Charley and anointing him superpowers).
  • As with most plays, the dialogue furthers the plot and the action. Stage directions should be minimal.
  • This is an incredibly-fun and enriching activity, and students gain great insights into the book as they first-hand “translate” it into another genre. Portions of the new play can then be performed in front of the class.
  • Teachers should constantly monitor each group to make sure that each student in a group is participating and that no individuals are dominating the process.
  • Consider allowing students to video record their performances
  • Extend the activity outside the classroom
  • ~Rather than performing a one-act play, use the above procedures and assign a video project.
  • ~~Student groups can meet outside of class to record their movie.
  • ~For a shorter, similar project have groups create a trailer for their play (using iMovie, Movie Maker, or an Android equivalent).
  • ~At the completion of the project, set aside a “screening day” to show movies or trailers.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

  • Students can spend some time critiquing (respectfully), in writing, each group’s adaptation and performance. This activity will satisfy evaluation writing requirements.
  • Students can also (in confidence and in writing to the teacher) critique the roles of their fellow group members in terms of participation, cooperation, level of enthusiasm, and so forth.


  • Students gain a greater understanding of the book through “translating” it into another genre while learning more about the structure and process of writing for the stage.


  • Students can continue to adapt scenes from subsequent pieces of literature.


  • During the life of the project, teachers will monitor students to ensure they are on track, on subject, and on objectives.
  • Teachers should regularly read the in-project scripts to ensure the above.
  • At the end of the project, teachers should assign a grade to both the groups and the individuals in those groups.
  • How well did students adhere to proper writing style?
  • How closely did the students’ script stay to Travels with Charley?

California State Content Standards Met

  • Performing Arts: Theatre Content Standards 6-12
  • ~Artistic Perception: 1
  • ~Creative Expression: 2
  • ~Historical and Cultural Context: 3
  • ~Connections, Relationships, Applications: 5

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1,2,3
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4,5,6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:7,9
  • ~Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 3
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4,5,6
  • ~Range of Writing: 10
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: 4,6
  • Language Standards 6-12
  • ~Conventions of Standard English: 1,2
  • ~Knowledge of Language: 3
  • ~Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 4,5,6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 2
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 9
  • ~Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
  • ~Range of Writing: 10

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