The Cowboy and the Wildcat is a modernized version of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. This is one of four plays from the book Cool Classics by Lonnie Burstein Hewitt and Penny Bernal.
The following is a review from Language Magazine.
Cool Classics: Four One-Act Plays for Students of English
Arm wrestling, spider tricks, jealous friends and siblings, graffiti cover-up, ballroom dancing, and edible grasshoppers. Do these sound like topics of interest to your adolescent and teenage English Learners? By livening up some well-known classics, Penny Bernall's and Lonnie Burstein Hewitt's Cool Classics: Four One-Act Plays for Students of English transforms traditional curriculum into engaging plays for English Language Learners.
In Cool Classics: Four One-Act Plays for Students of English you'll find four plays strategically designed to meet the English language needs of these students. "The Cowboy & The Wildcat," "10,000 Baskets," "The Necklace," and "The Wall" are based, respectively, on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, B. Traven's "Assembly Line," Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace," and "The Great Whitewasher" episode from Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The simple language and lively actions in these adapted plays bring to life the classic themes of all four stories.
In my years teaching English Language Development to middle and high school students, I have repeatedly taught The Cowboy & The Wildcat" and "The Wall," two of the four plays in the series. Always, regardless of the play, I find it remarkable how quickly my timid, nervous limited English speakers develop into chatty thespians. It could be the obvious enticement of getting out of their seats and moving around a bit, but I suspect that latent in many of us, fluent in English or not, is the desire to take center stage and pretend to be someone else.
Even better, in these plays "someone else" may be a smooth-talking, clever cowboy (Pedro in "The Cowboy & The Wildcat"), or a sassy, independent heiress (Katarina, "The Cowboy & The Wildcat"). In "The Wall," young actors can take on the role of an entrepreneurial trouble-maker who outsmarts the school's principal (Tommy in "The Wall"), or one of his fawning admirers in the same story, gleefully cheerleading, "Brush it, don't rush it. Brush it, don't rush it," with each stroke of the paintbrush.
A colleague in the English Learner Department tried her hand at "The Necklace" last year, and was so pleased with the results that she's planning to do it again this year. During their performance for parents and English Learner peers, her students flirted, begged, ballroom danced, cried, worked, and redeemed themselves, all in their new language.
At the same time, my class performed "10,000 Baskets" for the first time. Students showed off their musical abilities in the note of the Mexican street musicians. Picture "De colores," the song that came to represent the fight of the Mexican migrant farm workers for better working conditions, played on saxophones and flutes by Japanese, Korean, and Finnish English Learners!
By their nature, plays have speaking parts of different lengths and levels of difficulty, making them a particularly suitable learning tool for those teachers who face the challenge of teaching English Learners in a multilevel classroom. Even the least proficient English speaker can join in by taking on a simpler role, or helping design and make the set should the class be that ambitious.
Cool Classics: Four One-Act Plays for Students of English plays are a highly student-centered and active way to learn a new language. They're outside of the regular routine, and they reinvigorate the classroom environment, especially when students and teachers need a break from standardized testing, or are running on fumes toward the end of a term. These plays are motivating, and quite simply, they're fun. They require students to use their reading, speaking, and listening skills during the preparation and performance. Further, so as not to leave out any areas of language, Cool Classics: Four One-Act Plays for Students of English contains extension exercises called "Reviews" after each play, focusing on critical thinking and writing.
Sometimes one of my students remains in my multi-level class for both years of middle school (7th and 8th grade), and during her second year she'll inevitably ask me, "When are we going to do another play?" I always look forward to the plays as well, and enthusiastically await the publication of more. They are surprisingly simple but extremely effective, and no other curriculum I have used can engage students in quite the same way while requiring them to wrestle with the language and explore the nuances of pronunciation and meaning.
To complement the scripts and the extension activities, each play includes pre-reading exercises called "Previews" to connect the themes to the students' own experiences and opinions, and vocabulary, "Key Words and Expressions," designed to aid comprehension. There's a short synopsis of the original work on which each play is based, and a section called Stage Directions that teaches different movements and gestures students will use in their acting. In short, this series of plays is an English Language Development teacher's nirvana. The four plays gently guide English Learners through the language, and the stories are so captivating that the students almost forget how much they're learning. You won't forget, though, as you beam at their performance and acknowledge their progress, as subtle as graffiti and as ordinary as edible grasshoppers.
Shannon Merideth is an ESL lead teacher and a Spanish teacher in the San Dieguito Union High School District in California.