The Wind in the Willows


The ability to move freely and fluidly is extremely important in all theatre activities. In THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, Kathryn Popham clearly displays a great variety of movement skills through her various roles. The following outlines a series of specific styles of walk that help the students to develop different characters. Notice that the speed employed in a specific movement also helps to create drama as well as tension. For example, the strong, determined gestures of Mr. Toad clearly display his boastful manner. This contrasts sharply with the hesitant movement of the timid Mr. Mole.

1. Ask the students to form a large circle. Instruct them to walk in a circle, following one another. Each student should take some time to observe the distinctive styles of walk. This is referred to as "their own walk".
2. Another six styles of walk will be introduced - one at a time (listed below). Briefly describe the type of walk then instruct the students to employ the walk in a circle. After 20 - 30 seconds of one style of walk, you give the command to stop or return to their "own walk".

The other six style of walk include:

(a)  hesitant (as if walking through a mine field)
(b)  determined (very fast, strong and direct)
(c)  glue walk (up to their knees in mud or glue)
(d)  hot sand (fast on tip toes)
(e)  flamboyant (17th century flair!)
(f)  spaghetti (very loose as if no backbone)

3. After exploring the various modes of walk, the teacher should quickly change the styles of walk while the students move in a circle.


These seven styles of walk comprise the major types of movement associated with various types of character. For instance, a nervous character may have the distinctive features of a person on hot sand. Do not over-exaggerate, but simply suggest this through subtle moves.

Follow-up Exercises

1. Ask the Students to determine the type of walks employed by the various character in the show. For example,
Mr. Rat - hot sand
The Chief Weasel - determined
Mr. Badger - glue walk
Mr. Mole - hesitant
Mr. Toad - flamboyant

Emphasize the importance of contrasts in character in order to develop interest in a presentation.

2. Divide the students into groups of 7 (may be smaller). Assign each person in the group a specific type of walk. Establish a specific location and have each student maintain their dominant walk. e.g. entering a bus (one at a time) or a classroom scene.


Ask all of the students to play one of the characters from the story. Discuss the results. Analyse why the characters are so different. Again, emphasize the importance of contrasts in a scene. Ask them to think of their favourite TV shows that have two major characters. How do the central characters differ?


Speaking exercises are extremely important. Discuss the different voices that Kathryn uses to portray her characters, eg. the hesitant voice of the Mole, the self-assured voice of the Toad and the nasty voice of the Weasel. Ask the students to consider how their voice changes under the following circumstances: - fear - excitement - anxiety - happiness, etc.


The purpose of the following exercise is to allow the students the opportunity to explore different sounds individually, in pairs and in groups.

1. Distribute sheets with a collection of configurations, each numbered. For example,
1.config1 2.config2 3.config3 4.config4 5.config5

2. Ask the students to sit in a circle (facing out from the circle or get them to lie on their backs).
3. Explain that each symbol represents a sound or series of sounds that they must reproduce (aloud) on a given signal.
4. Move through the list.
5. Ask each one to select their favourite - then produce the sound for the others to guess.
6. Ask the students to find a partner and repeat the exercise.
7. Same as above in groups of 4.
8. Finally - instruct the students to choreograph the movement plus sound for each sound scape.

Follow-up Exercises:

1. Ask the students to work in pairs. Give them a topic for conversation, and ask them to both speak loudly, softly, slowly, then hesitantly.
2. Instruct the students to speak in contrasting styles, eg. one soft - one loud.
3. Spend some time discussing the impact of different styles of speech.


Improvisation is the dramatic art form wherein students utilize voice and movement to create imaginary characters, settings, stories and situations. THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS relies upon improvisation as a vehicle to arrive at the final script. For example, Mr. Toad climbing out the window and stealing a car was created entirely through improvisation. Ask the students to recreate the same scene differently from the way they saw it during the show.


Working in pairs for group improvisations is very effective. Instruct the students to find a partner. Ask them to each assume the role of the Chief Weasel who plans to steal the picnic basket. Divide the class again - this time into groups of four. Allow two students to act the part of the Rat, who confronts the other two playing the chief Weasel.

Family improvisations are often effective. Assign each member of a group of four to five a single role within a family - grandparent, parent, older child and younger child.

Create the stimulus for a potential conflict within the family:
1. the younger child returns home, covered with mud;
2. the older child asks to have his curfew extended;
3. the parent decides that the family is planning to move; or
4. the grandparents feel they are no longer wanted and decide to leave.
Allow the students 2-3 minutes to work on each situation. A discussion with the entire class about their reactions to the various situations should be pursued.

Impress upon the students the fact that contrasting characters results in a more stimulating, provocative type of drama.(Refer to the section on Movement to assist in the development of different types of character.) The teacher should introduce the topic and initiate the stimulus for creating controversy or conflict within the group.

After the class is comfortable with improvisation, the teacher may introduce more extended types of situations. Allow the students the opportunity to explore a more extended version of a story. For example, after watching the play, discuss the storyline with the students. Divide them into groups - assigning each one a specific role. Then, ask them to dramatize the story. Alternatively, select a fairy tale they are familiar with. Initially, ask the students to relate the story orally. Outline the play on the board and establish the characters and scenes. Emphasize the fact that all improvisations have a beginning, middle and ending. Each scene should be clearly established through dialogue or setting.

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS was developed through a selective process of various scenes from the novel. Look for the conflicts that are developed in each scene and ask the students to comment on the contrasting characters within the story. The scope for improvisation is infinite - it is as broad as the universe itself.


Mime may simply be defined as action without words or as the art of creating the illusion of reality by the movement and positions of the human body. Kathryn employs mime throughout the show. Although mime at the professional level is highly stylized, the elementary stage is relatively simple. We constantly communicate non-verbally, through body language and facial reactions.


1. Initially the students should work on their own. Ask them to pick up an imaginary pencil, then print their name. Follow this with a crayon, a small paint brush, a paint roller, spray paint, etc.
2. Have the students in their own space or moving about the room while doing individual mime activities such as the following:
(a) sew a button on a shirt
(b) tie a shoelace
(c) make a pizza
(d) vacuum a rug
(e) walk a dog
(f) eat a piece of cake

Variations: teacher calls out a series of descriptive words to alter the way the students mime the activities, eg."fast speed", "slow-motion", "sadly", or "with fear."

1. Inform the students that it is very important to use the correct amount of energy to complete a given task in mime. Ask them to pick up the following objects and clearly show the difference in energy through body positioning and facial expressions.
(a) a ping pong ball
(b) a tennis ball
(c) a basketball
(d) a medicine ball

2. Group Activities - Concrete Mime. Ask the students to select a partner. They must create an inanimate object that moves and makes sounds.
(a) a washing machine
(b) a vacuum cleaner
(c) a cash register
(d) an elevator

3. Emphasize the fact that all pantomime must be larger than life. An element of humour is usually present and like improvisation, the story should have a beginning, middle and ending. Have the students, working in pairs, act out the following scenes:
(a) painting a house
(b) bowling
(c) dentist/patient
(d) policeman/pedestrian

4. The reaction to an event is as important as the action. Select a simple story (a fairy tale, for instance). Divide the class into groups of 4 - 5. Then, ask each group to present their story through mime.


Listening is our primary communication activity. We spend about 80% of our working hours communicating, and 45% of that time is spent LISTENING! Listening is not a simple automatic process. The listener must: Pay attention, concentrate, think, interpret, evaluate and remember. Real listening occurs in Four stages:

1. Hearing the message

2. Understanding it

3. Evaluating it

4. Responding to it

Improving Listening Skills

Ask the students to list the benefits of effective listening followed by the consequences of ineffective listening.

1. Assign students a specific topic they must prepare, then present to the class.
2. Allow the students to prepare a brief outline on a topic of their choice.
Observations and Discussion

Ask the students to discuss the difference in the quality of presentations. Compare the amount of information retained in each case.

Some major factors that determine the quality of listening relate to:

(a) the speaker - clear, precise, positive, smiling
(b) the subject - stimulating, relevant, concise - and
(c) the listening environment - comfortable seating, good visibility of speaker and good lighting.


Ask a series of questions based on the viewing of the play, to ascertain the quality of the students' listening skills. Try to determine the reason for the students' ability/inability to listen well.

Some common listening problems:

1. Viewing a topic as "uninteresting."
2. Criticizing a speaker's delivery or personal mannerisms, rather than the message.
3. Listening only for isolated facts.
4. Allowing distractions to interfere with your concentration.
5. Mentally debating with the speaker before understanding all the data.
6. Pretending to pay attention.
7. Day dreaming.
8. Concentrating on easy material only.
9. Interrupting the speaker before he/she has had the chance to finish making a point.