Unit Overview

Summary Description of Unit

In this unit teachers and students explore the many factors leading to depression and its associated stigma.

Students will challenge their own and others' thinking as they explore how the character in the drama world struggles, in the face of depression, to seek support from the people around her. From the perspective of fictional characters in the drama, students will explore the significance of emotional/mental health and balance and the challenges faced by youth and families when this balance is compromised.

Students will use a wide range of drama and dance forms and structures to build understanding, empathy and hope for this character and her family.  Through research, writing, role-playing, and dance, students will become better informed about depression and social stigma as it relates to mental illness.

"We need to talk about depression to become comfortable with the subject. Education and knowledge go a long way to dissolving fears and misconceptions around depression. The more we know about it, the less likely we are to place judgement on it and the less we are at risk of stigmatizing someone."

(Adapted from Gibson, M., Munn, E., Beatty, D. & Pugh, A. (2005). Beyond the Label: An Educational Kit to Promote Awareness and Understanding of the Impact of Stigma on People Living with Concurrent Mental Health and Substance Use Problems, Overhead 15. Toronto: CAMH)

Critical Literacy Focus

This unit provides students with an opportunity to explore their own and societal understandings of how mental illness is misrepresented and/or negatively represented.  Students examine how and why those suffering emotional problems and mental illness feel isolated, silenced and/or stigmatized. In the final performance tasks they reassess their points-of-view about emotional illness and are invited to take action to help others understand what they have learned.

Read more about Critical Literacy and how it links to dance and drama.

Important Note

You may choose to partner with a guidance counsellor or health care professional from your community as you engage students in this unit. There are valuable resources available to support this work and many have been recommended throughout the unit for both teachers and youth.

The following sites include materials that are useful for both teachers and students. These are referenced again in Lesson 7 - Becoming Informed. 

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Caring Minds (wonderful, relevant historical and current material related to mental health)

To explore Health and Mental Health from a variety of perspectives including Aboriginal and Traditional Chinese Medicine see the following link from Caring Minds;

Children's Mental Health Ontario
http://www.kidsmentalhealth.ca/ news_and_events/CMHW_2010.php

Canadian Mental Health Association

Ontario Division of CMHO

GLOBE AND MAIL SERIES (2009) Breaking Through - many articles, stories, videos on mental health and stigma

Distress Centers Ontario

Overall Expectations


A1. Creating and Presenting: apply the creative process to the composition of a variety of dance pieces, using the elements of dance to communicate feelings and ideas

A2. Reflecting, Responding, and Analysing: apply the critical analysis process to communicate their feelings, ideas and understandings in response to a variety of dance pieces and experiences


B1. Creating and Presenting: apply the creative process to process drama and the development of drama works, using the elements and conventions of drama to communicate feelings, ideas and multiple perspectives

B2. Reflecting, Responding, and Analysing: apply the critical analysis process to communicate feelings, ideas and understandings in response to a variety of drama works and experiences

Oral Communication:

2.  Use speaking skills and strategies appropriately to communicate with different audiences and for a variety of purposes


1. Read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic, and informational texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning


1. Generate, gather and organize ideas and information to write for an intended purpose and audience

Media Literacy:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of a variety of media texts.

Big Idea and Guiding Questions

There are stigmas associated with depression and mental health.  Increasing awareness about depression can challenge misconceptions, dissolve fears and reduce social stigmas.

  • How can I use role and movement to explore and better understand the challenges and stigmas associated with mental/emotional balance and imbalance?
  • What strategies can I use to help me cope with and respond to stressors I may encounter in my world? How can I maintain a healthy balance in body and mind?

Drama, dance and critical literacy strategies allow students to explore multiple perspectives with respect to emotional/mental health and balance.  Students make personal connections that allow them to build resilience and empathy for others.

  • How can I use drama, dance and critical literacy strategies to explore, challenge and shift how I read my world and my relationship with others?
  • How do we use the elements of drama and dance to interpret ideas and communicate meaning?


Assessment and Evaluation: How will students demonstrate their learning?

Assessment of learning

Culminating Performance Task

Assessment of Learning

Students will be evaluated using a Culminating Performance-Collective Creation rubric. Students will use the dance and drama forms of monologues, scenes, dance compositions, choral dramatization, tableaux with transitions, writing in role and voice collage to create their culminating performance task based on their learning throughout the unit.

Assessment for Learning

Assessment for Learning > Checkpoints

Check Point #1/Lesson 1: Stigma

Anticipation Guide, Dance Phrase, Learning Logs

Check Point #2/Lesson 2: Finding Balance

Dance Compositions, Elements of Dance Anchor Chart, Learning Log Responses

Check Point #3/Lesson 3: Losing Balance

Choral Dramatization, Elements of Choral Dramatization Checklist (s), Anecdotal Observations, Exit Card

Check Point #4/Lesson 4: Introducing a Character-Building Context

Role on the Wall, Hot-seating, Role play Rubric

Check Point #5/Lesson 5: Growing Up/Changing Worlds

Writing in Role Rubric

Check Point #6/Lesson 6: More than Sad

Role Play Rubric, Learning Log Responses, Anecdotal Observations

Check Point #7/Lesson 7: Becoming Informed-Reaching Out

Writing in Role Rubric, Anecdotal Observations


Unit Lessons: How will assessment and instruction be organized for learning?

Approx. Duration 1 class= 50


Lesson 1


Students are introduced to challenging, open-ended statements about mental health and depression in an Anticipation Guide and are asked to decide whether they agree or disagree with the statements. They are introduced to a monologue that invites them to consider the meaning of stigma and how it relates to depression.  They are then invited to re-visit one of the statements from the anticipation guide and develop a short piece of movement in response to the 'Balance is......' statement.

2 class
Lesson 2

Finding Balance

Students are invited to kinesthetically explore the concepts of BALANCE and IMBALANCE. They brainstorm a variety of words and concepts connected to both emotional and physical balance and then create dance compositions based on the concepts of symmetry and asymmetry in body shapes, movements and spatial formations.

2 class
Lesson 3

Losing Balance

Students are introduced to a poem, I Have Lost My Balance. This text sets the context for the drama exploration. Through the elements of choral dramatization, students investigate the language, meaning and images in the poem. They share their inferences and generate questions they have about the character and the character's situation. Students use techniques explored in the lesson to create and perform a whole group choral dramatization. Students then consider the complexity of emotional health and balance by creating metaphors.

2 class
Lesson 4

Introducing a Character-Building Context

Students consider what they know and want to know about the character (R) from the poem. They generate questions about her life by using role on the wall, hot-seating and teacher in role, and elicit background information about R through questioning significant people from her life. Students re-cap what they have learned about the character and then construct and communicate theories about her current situation through tableaux with transitions. Students are asked to make connections to their own lives by considering what factors contribute to their own sense of belonging and happiness.   

1-2 classes


Lesson 5

Growing Up/Changing Worlds

Through writing in role, students explore the character's past and her struggles of moving through childhood into adolescence.  In the form of a RAFT, they choose from one of four perspectives to write from and collectively share excerpts from their writing in the form of a voice collage and inner outer circle. Students devise short scenes between R as a child and herself in her current situation, and acknowledge and name the space between these two times in her life. Students consider what they themselves can do to reach out for guidance if they are feeling overwhelmed by the events in their own lives.

2 classes



sson 6

More than Sad

Students are introduced to an artifact from R's life. They investigate her journal page, making inferences and building more context around her current state. They explore, in role the reactions, interaction and multiple perspectives of the people around her, including those who are concerned and those who do not understand. Students are introduced to, and asked to imagine,  R and her mother through a YouTube scene. They continue to co-construct and unravel her story by interviewing her mother in role, and developing scenes between the mother and a sibling. They step out of role and in gender groups to consider some of the differences in how we perceive males and females with respect to emotional/mental health and depression.

2 classes



Lesson 7

Becoming Informed-Reaching Out

Students engage their media literacy skills by closely examining a poster designed to increase public awareness of children and mental health. They increase their knowledge about depression and mental illness by exploring related statistics, myths and facts, in movement. Using the elements of dance, they interpret their findings by composing dance phrases. Students make connections to R by creating and sharing their pieces, imagining R as the audience. Through sharing their new learning they build awareness, challenge stigma and send a message of support and understanding to R.

2 class
Lesson 8

Collective Creation-Sharing New Perspectives

Students re-visit the statements from the Anticipation Guide in lesson one. They consider whether or not their opinions have changed or stayed the same. Students consolidate their learning by creating, combining and weaving a variety of dance and/or drama forms, into a collective creation. They create small group pieces first and then sequence them into a whole class piece. They draw upon the dramatic material generated in the previous lessons, new knowledge and personal writing and reflections, to inform their artistic choices. Using a Choice Board, they identify a thematic focus that guides their creations about emotional health, balance and depression. The unit concludes with questions that invite students to reflect on their creative process, the performance of others as well as what they learned about mental health, emotional balance and themselves.

Unit Extension: Critical Literacy-Call to Action

Students continue to build awareness and work to diminish the impact of stigma related to mental illness by designing a presentation for an audience, within their school community.

4 classes