The Yin and Yang of a Drama Lesson

Applying the Physics of Children’s Energy


When we plan lessons for Dramatic Arts, we deliberately balance the expression of YANG— the pushing, reaching out, extroverting energy with the containment of YIN— the pulling in, withdrawing, introverting energy.


You will use the YANG when you are challenging your young actors to come out of themselves, to extend their presence from Self to audience.

Teach robust self-expression with voice projection exercises, strict articulation, fluid movements, broad gestures and the reading and recitation of short speeches with power and expression.

You will use the YIN when you are directing your class to pull more into itself, to concentrate.

Teach Concentration by using voice and breath exercises. Make the children hold for their cue. Center them within their bodies. Visualize with them regularly. Move youngsters through slow motion, freeze them in tableaux scenes. These activities will expose today’s young people to being awake, quiet and patient within themselves.

You will come to move entire classes seamlessly from self expression activities (YANG) to self control (YIN), always improvising from your written plans to push in some impulsive show offs, and pull out your reluctant slow pokes.

Remember that energy in and energy out is pretty much undifferentiated in the bodies of children.  Expect young actors to get all excited, spill out of themselves, lose concentration, then lose purpose. You will have to stop the activity, wait until static is grounded, then rev up the engines again— or shut them off.

Here I am teaching second graders the conclusion to our special acting company chant. For our grand introduction, our fists strike up in the air and we proclaim, “The Shiny Penny Players are about to start!”

Arms up, chant done, we freeze silently in place.


You can follow the choreography of my whole lesson plan in this captured gesture.

There are contradictory commands coming from each of the director’s hands. His right arm is directing YANG, but the finger on the lips is directing YIN. You are seeing both self- expression and self- control being called forth from 8 year olds at the same moment.

For any company of performing children, extending energy into limb, but NOT out from mouth is an advanced challenge in concentration.

With knowledge of the YIN and the YANG, we are more willing to hold fast the children’s Silence, even as we activate the full throat expression of their voices.

By the authority of ancient Chinese wisdom, we imagine our classes still, as well as moving.

12 Responses to “The Yin and Yang of a Drama Lesson”

  1. Vanessa Brown says:

    Thank you, once again, for connecting the art of teaching to the art of living.

  2. Michel says:

    Wow, this is REALLY cool. It’s great to see these principles applied to teaching.

  3. Jessica Clough says:

    Interesting idea of using opposite parts of the self.

  4. Gary Posner says:

    I am just starting to teach in classes and managing my kindergarten music classes has been a struggle. I am looking forward to utilizing some of these principles for my next class. I love the idea of self-expression and self control at the same time! What a concept. Thank you

  5. LaRita says:

    This is a great prerequisite approach because it empowers the Teaching Artist with critical management tools for balancing the energy of a classroom environment.

  6. Karen Mobley says:

    It is great to see children learning the difference between the Yin and the Yang without realizing that they are incorporating and old and wise technique used many Centuries ago to create balance.

  7. Todd Woodard says:

    Reading this truly brings to mind and body the sensations I have felt being in the classroom as a Teaching Artist. I start to envision and experience it as being captain of a ship, with the students as the crew. We are to lead them onto the open sea with our charts and maps (lesson plans), but what’s happening within the kids dictates the waters and makes the journey an unpredictable one, rarely quite taking the course we oriinally charted. They may create a storm, an uncontained wild Yang, or may strand the boat in dead water with total apathy, lack of energy, or fear of risk – a truly ultra-contained Yin, a ship-in-a-bottle, as it were. We are there to help the kids navigate the waters of their own impulses and energies, to steady the boat but still rock it a little, to not all stand on one end or the other but rather spread out and negotiate balance together to keep the ship afloat and moving forward. We hopefully help create a team where there was less of one, and give rise to a future league of captains. And of course, as is the ultimate duty of the captain, we never abandon our ship or little crew; We assure they arrive safely to the port, but only after having lived and breathed an alternately wild and tranquil ride. …. Wow, I really ran with that metaphor, but it’s really what it feels like: Yin and Yang on open water, a scary, exciting and enlightening voyage, waiting in every classroom. …. Thanks.

  8. Andrew Clateman says:

    Just from reading this I can imagine becoming conscious of Yin and Yang energies will be very useful in the classroom. I am excited to see how being mindful of these energies and the thought of balancing them will help guide me. I expect it could both help inspire me and relax me. And help me monitor myself (and what’s going on in the class) in a non-judgemental way, much as one is encouraged to watch one’s breath while meditating.

  9. Christine Fuchs says:

    I never realized that vocal and breathing exercises teach concentration, and that “waiting for your cue” teaches discipline as well as concentration i.e. learning to listen. It’s not obedience per se, it’s learning to have respect for others (waiting your turn), and enjoying the giving/receiving.

    I never thought about my learning in reference to energy; but now I see they are one in the same.

  10. joy says:

    Excellent! I look forward to trying the Yang and Yin approach.

  11. Joy Prentice says:

    …interesting. i like the physical example.



  12. Lindsay says:

    Sounds great. Ditto on what Andrew said.