Lesson Plan: Animal Cruelty

Last updated: January 24, 2013

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A very sad dog on the day it was rescued by the RSPCA. It is on a very short chain in a dirty yard and is clearly starving

Technology Level: Tech Based.

Audience: 9-12 (Years 10-12)

Duration: 80 minutes


Students will explore real life stories of animal cruelty using an adapted version of Enhanced Forum Theatre (see Introductory Information below). By sharing, viewing and taking part in re-enactments of selected stories, students will begin to understand the dynamics and relationships involved in situations of animal cruelty, and reflect on their own and others’ treatment of animals.


  • Internet Access
  • Drama room


  1. Lesson Plan
  2. Activity Sheet: Interpreting a dog’s body language, matching image with text
  3. Activity Sheet: Three steps to greet a dog safely
  4. RSPCA – Presentation: Steps to greet a dog safely

Prior knowledge

Enhanced Forum Theatre

This drama lesson is based on the technique of Enhanced Forum Theatre (EFT) developed by the authors of Cooling Conflict (see Bibliography below). EFT is a mixture of performance and improvised drama based on the Forum Theatre developed by Augusto Boal in his Theatre of the Oppressed. The central drama techniques used are ordered into a tightly structured sequence of work in order to dramatise a serious conflict usually based on a real-life story.

Actors/students prepare and present the stories of conflict in three scenes. The whole play is then performed, with the audience being given opportunities to become a part of the performance in order to understand and resolve the conflict. Not all situations will be resolved – the better the EFT, the less likely it is to achieve a "happy ending". BUT, students end up with a thorough understanding of the dynamics and relationships involved.

In Cooling Conflict, Enhanced Forum Theatre forms the basis of peer-teaching about conflict and bullying through drama. As a long-term program it has been very successful in schools, is straightforward to use with both students and teachers who are unfamiliar with drama and is manageable for younger students, right down to early primary (with support from a teacher).

(**Please note that this session outlines an abridged, one-off lesson using EFT concepts.)

Horrific cases like the recent spate of cat killings and torture across Australia show clearly the need for the RSPCA to continue its campaign to make more people aware of just how serious animal cruelty is and the alarming links between violent offenders and animal torture. For more information go to www.woaw.org.au and click on the Cruelty Prevention Link. The Latham Foundation also provides information on humane education and the cycle of violence. You can find them at: www.latham.org .

The only way to prevent this cycle of abuse is through education – without positive intervention and mentoring, children and young offenders may become locked into a life time of perpetuating cruelty to both animals and people. Research both here and in the US and UK has shown clearly that many serious violent offenders – including some our worst serial killers – have histories of abusing animals and children. If we allow someone to get away with animal cruelty, we’re also giving them the chance to extend their violent behaviour towards humans.

(**The RSPCA Qld website includes a section on cruelty to animals and how to report it.)


Lesson Procedure
Topic Notes
1.Introduction (10 mins)  
1.1 Warm Up(10 mins)

1.1 Today we will be using a combination of improvisation and performance in order to explore some real-life stories. These are stories about animal cruelty provided to us by the RSPCA. What is your understanding of animal cruelty?

These stories are serious and it is a topic that may be quite upsetting for many of you. It is really important, therefore, that we begin this lesson with a warm-up activity that will relax everyone, engage your imaginations and build trust and support.

Play a drama warm-up game such as Magic Box: Divide the students into small groups. A student in each group mimes taking an object out of an imaginary box and using it. They hand it to the next person in their circle who must attempt to mime using the same object, put it back and then take out a different object.

2. Body(1 hour)


2.1 Selecting a story(5 mins)

2.1 Divide the class into groups of about eight.

Students log on to the WOAW site www.woaw.org.au, select their age group and head to the Animals section and click on the Animal Rescues button. They can then read the RSPCA stories as a group. Each group should select one or a combination of stories to work with as a stimulus for the activities in today’s lesson.

2.2 Fleshing out the storyline(10 mins)

2.2 Role Circle
Use role circle to flesh out and fictionalise the original stories.

Group members stand in a circle and in turn add one piece of fictional information to the story. This activity could perhaps problematise the story further and will reinforce joint ownership of the story by the whole group.


Through discussion, the groups consolidate their stories including consideration of the 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why).

2.3 Devising the Plays(15 mins)

2.3 Freezeframes

Each group will illustrate their incident by devising three freezeframes that depict the beginning, middle and end of the story:

Freezeframes - Students create a frozen picture with their bodies as if the pause button had been pressed at a particular moment during the story. Freezeframes are also called tableaux, still images or frozen pictures.

Each freezeframe must include the perpetrator and any bystanders. Other roles may alter and the 5 W’s must be clear. Ideally, the freezeframes will present incidents that occur at least week apart to reinforce the notion of animal cruelty happening over time, rather than being a one-off isolated event. Each group must also select one person to remain outside the action as their ‘host’.

(There will not be time to present the freezeframes during an eighty minute lesson, but should you choose to run this lesson over a number of sessions, at this point each group could present their freezeframes to the rest of the class.)


The groups then use their three freezeframes as the basis for three separate scenes by allowing each character first three words of dialogue per freezeframe, then six and then by improvising each scene all the way through. Of primary concern are the narrative and the motivation of each of the characters.

(Violence) may well form a significant part of particularly Scene 3. The students must be reminded firstly to be careful towards each other, secondly to remember that the purpose is not just to be realistic but also to show the audience clearly what is happening and who is in control. A very good technique, if there is time, particularly if the class has some experience in drama, is to use a non-naturalistic technique, such as to go into slow-motion, or use a series of frozen ‘snapshots’ or freezeframes. This stylised action can be controlled by the host, quite artificially. It also needs to be stressed to the actors, that this will only work if the non-naturalistic convention is quite clear and distinct – it needs to be exaggerated and unnatural. It may seem funny and the audience may well laugh, but curiously enough it will not destroy the tension if the audience is believing in the authenticity of the storyline they are seeing. The actors just have to be in control of what they are doing, and do it confidently. (O’Toole, Burton and Plunkett, 2005:99)


Groups rehearse their three scenes and each host devises an introduction for their group’s scenes that will make clear to the audience what cannot be seen e.g. setting, gender, age and race.

The host can also help by directing the other group members. The entire play may only run to about a minute long.

2.4 Performing the Plays(30 mins)

2.4 (Ideally, at this stage each group would perform their play in turn and carry out the whole scenario of follow-up as outlined below, with the rest of the class as audience. For the purposes of an eighty minute lesson, however, it is really only feasible to choose one story as a focus.)

Performance 1

Each group performs their play all the way through with their host introducing each scene.

Work with the class to choose one story to focus on for the remainder of the lesson. Select the story that offers the greatest opportunity for intervention and discussion.

Performance 2

(At this stage, the teacher may take over the role of host.) The host of the selected story introduces the second performance which is in two parts:

1. Hot-seating: The "hot seat" is placed close to the audience and the actors line up along the back of the performance space. The host explains that the audience are going to be asked to help resolve this conflict and in order to do that, they can now find out more about the story and the characters. The host invites the audience to nominate which character(s) they would most wish to talk to. The actor(s) playing that role steps into the hot seat in character and the audience ask serious questions.

2. Thought-tracking: The host explains that the play will now be performed a second time and that this time, the audience can find out exactly what any character is thinking at any key moment in the story by using thought-tracking. Any audience member can call out "freeze" at any time and the actors will immediately immobilise. The audience member then nominates a character /characters who must speak exactly what is going on in his/her mind at that moment. The action then re-starts from the same point.

Performance 3

By this stage, the audience is familiar enough with the story to experiment with resolving it in some way. The host explains that during the third performance, the audience will take a direct part by intervening as "spect-actors" and "magic-spotters", and through discussion.

The forum performance – a "spect-actor" may call "freeze" when a point is reached at which it is felt an intervention could be made that would alter the end outcome of the story. The "spect-actor" takes the place of one of the characters and intervenes. "Magic" is called when the action becomes unbelievable i.e. the perpetrator suddenly grows wings or miraculously changes their ways and repents for no apparent reason.

Re-start the action from the same point, until "freeze" is called again. Continue through the play giving students the opportunity to try several interventions.

It is quite likely that the third performance will culminate as before, with no clear-cut resolution or easy answers being reached. This is actually true to life and leads well into the reflection and discussion phase.

3. Conclusion(10 Mins


3.1 Reflection and Discussion(10 Mins

3.1 Divide the class into small groups of four or five.

Give each group a copy of the document provided below on education through intervention and mentoring. The groups are to decide which character in the story would be the most appropriate to target for positive intervention through education and mentoring as well as where, when and how that could happen.

As a whole class, discuss and compare the suggestions.

Curriculum Links

Queensland Curriculum Links

This lesson allows teachers an opportunity to explore all three general objectives of Forming, Presenting and Responding from the Queensland Drama Syllabus 2007. This syllabus can be found at: www.qsa.qld.edu.au

Suggested Extension Activities

  1. Make time for each group to take part in the whole scenario of follow-up as outlined above.
  2. Use a similar performance technique to bring to life the suggestions for intervention through education and mentoring made during the reflection and discussion phase of the lesson.
  3. Apply the Enhanced Forum Theatre technique to incidents of animal cruelty to which the students themselves have been witness.
  4. Apply the Cooling Conflict model of peer-teaching to the RSPCA stories and have older students facilitate the same process as above for a class of younger students.
  5. Use the stories as the basis for a theatre-in-education performance.

Suggestions for Adapting this Lesson for Lower or Higher Year Levels

As stated above, Enhanced Forum Theatre has been used successfully in the past with younger students. Obviously, greater teacher guidance would be recommended and the lesson may need to run longer than an eighty minute session. It may also be advisable to edit the story content to make it age appropriate.


O’Toole, J., Burton, B. and Plunkett, A. (2005) Cooling conflict: A new approach to managing bullying and conflict in schools, Frenchs Forest, New South Wales: Pearson Education Australia.


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