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The Seven-Step Planning Grid

This chart is an example (written in Dorothy Heathcote’s own hand) of her “7 step” planning model.

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The chart is divided into six columns. At each stage, the task is defined and broken down into: demands, purpose, preparations, devices, and outcomes. The outcomes always lead into the next task (hence the “7 step” plan). (In some versions of the chart, there is an additional column for "Resources.")

The chart shows Dorothy planning a task where the group write down their thoughts and observations on a large sheet of paper, so that it “blooms with words (symbolic).” They then walk around the paper, and make “ticks” where they agree with what someone else has written. She notes that, as more ticks are added, they become “iconic/symbolic.” She carefully considers each step – even down to such things as the teacher's own stance, position and tone of voice.

Luke Abbott has argued: "I believe that to move onto ever deeper and more advanced practices, we are in need of examining in detail the 7 point task-grid, as the significant implications to practices in drama and theatre form in learning begin to be revealed."

Example: Working with Early Years Children on Giants in Fiction - by Luke Abbott

Here, Luke offers an example of a drama based on the story of "Jack and the Beanstalk," as a way of demonstrating the precision needed in applying the 7-point chart, "and the holding of implication in the living make-believe context under scrutiny".


Images show Luke working at Woodrow First School, with members of the Erasmus Plus project on the Commission Model.

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The Context


The play for the class (Bolton 1974): We are a group of Reception children in the south of Essex, who have been investigating the story of Jack and the Beanstalk with our teachers, under the banner of “Well-known stories."


We have begun to ask a range of questions concerning the Giants and their views of humans, given that they seem to be different from us. Today, the teacher has agreed to use the teacher in- and out-of-role device, as well as the full-role projection, to provide the mother of the Giant, who seems to be very worried about him, as he has not been seen for a long time, even though she has rung the doorbell of his castle lots of times. She has even tried to look through the letter box! She can’t get in through the letter box as she is too big... but she says we could get through, as we are smaller than her... This could be very dangerous if we went in, though, as we don't know what’s up with the Giant - he may even be dead, or he could be waiting for us to get in, and then goodness knows what will happen...


The play for the teacher (Bolton 1974): We are attempting to move into an MoE structure whereby the class might end up as Giant Social Workers... eventually.

The class have become obsessed with the Jack and the Beanstalk story, and it has gripped them for the past 3 weeks. Lots of our play and activities have been about the interests the class have brought to the story, and they have asked lots of questions which we are attempting to tackle together. One was whether the Giant kind have mothers and fathers. In the dialogues, we said we were not sure, but we could find out by starting our next day’s learning by meeting the Giant’s mum in the story.

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The last words I spoke to the class before leaving were, that I would find out if there was such a thing as a Giant mother, and contact one for our story if there was. I used the device of a projected phone call to an imaginary Information Service. As I spoke out loud, as if I was indeed asking the question into an imaginary phone receiver, the class observed my progress in silent expectation, some even shushing their talkative friends so they could hear better.

Luckily for us, the Information Service gave a positive reply. Yes, they said, it so happened that there were such things as Giant mothers and fathers. I then informed the class that one such person, a mother, was ready to be summoned to attend our story as the Information Service said that one Giant was in a bit of trouble. The class were enormously excited. The next day, as we got our coats off in the morning, the class brought up the phone call and pressed me a lot, wanting to know if the Giant mother was arriving, and when.

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Unbeknown to the class, the adults who were leading this learning had a plan. Between the last afternoon’s session and our next morning one, we invented a very tight opening gambit we thought would work. We knew the class were getting excited, so we had to come up with a specifically thought out set of tasks for the class to tackle and in great detail. If you are reading this with the thinking that the class were going to be directed to ‘do things’ as in the orthodox ‘teacher talk’ mode and so on, we deliberately worked against the deployment of such strategies and replaced these with a dialogistic set of speech that demanded the class made verbal contracts with us... but - and most importantly - we didn't seek permissions either. It went something like this...

ADULT: Today we have the chance to meet the mum of the Giant in our story, as we agreed yesterday. To do this, we will have to see if we can all agree that Mrs. Perkins (class Teacher) will represent the mum, and that we can have a good look at her before she starts off talking.... Can we do that, do you think?’

GIRL: But she’s not really going to be a Giant [giggling] that would be silly... [Class all get the giggles]

ADULT: Well, of course, you are right. [Mirrors class giggles] It’s just that, if we want to get into our story, we have to agree that it’s not Mrs. Perkins for a minute. it’s our mum Giant! That’s all we have to do, I suppose... Maybe if she wore something else when she’s in the story...

[Looks around ,and eyes rest on the box, now in a more prominent position. Class read eye clue.]

CLASS: We could use the dressing up box / She could wear a crown / We could cover her face / Or the wig / She needs the golden gloves... [etc. etc.]

ADULT: Right, I see, so if she wears something from the box, we know she’s in the story and not Mrs. Perkins?

[Class agrees... so we select some items (not the wig as teacher fears nits!)]

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In effect, in the dialogues, we achieved our first task by what looks like an accident. The task we planned is as follows.

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TASK 1: ( to achieve, or the medium-term task, or the target we are trying to hit, etc.)

To agree with the class that the story-form mother of a Giant could come into our story, for further inquiry about parenting one. The implication here was that, even with parenting, Giants apparently do like to eat children - so someone/something must have taught him it was ok to do it...


Teacher and class together, dress Mrs. Perkins as if she represents a giant’s mother from a selection of clothing in a large wooden box.



For the class to create and agree a fictional Giant’s mother together, without fear, and create a role projection, in order to find out what's up with mum, and what’s happening in the land of Giants...



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The question is, what this little plan will do in the hands of professional teachers, in the demands it places on the class – if, indeed, they agree to take up such a task...


Firstly, the class will have to foresee the experience in their heads for the moments to come, so there is a demand on the projective imagination in the children’s psyche for a start.

Then, there is the demand on the use and extension of class levels of language, as well as their states of readiness in interpretation, as well as reading the signs that something and someone can stand as something and someone else.


Then, of course, the shift of the known adult from one they are already aware of, to one that will be different, as the task indicates a change from the normal. Especially if they agree! So the demands on risk-taking are evident here too.



Here lies the skill set of those who have achieved some mastery of pedagogy, melded with drama techniques applied to learning. In this particular example, I will just list the ones we used as a small, tight learning team.


  • We used a language code that mixed in-fictional mode and out-of-fictional mode. For example:

ADULT: ‘I was just thinking, when we get to Giant land, I'm going to ask his mum what it’s like there... and I'm going to have a good look at the things that are growing on the ground...’ This is known as Twilight Role or Shadowy Role.

  • We used the box, and placed it prominently in a way that cast the possibility of: something different will happen today maybe...

  • We set a precedent of ‘contracting’ together; in other words, we made agreements as in the above dialogues.


Rather than define in detail the resources we needed, I’ll leave the images in your head to fill in... They are, of course, the obvious ones, such as the box, the teacher devices to go into a full role, and so on.

Other resources we wanted were at a later stage. For example, some time in the future of the investigation, we had in our heads that the class would make a castle out of found materials, and a map of where the mum lived, and the one her son lived in, which were accessible...



As it happened, we achieved the outcomes we expected, in that the class agreed, and conversed with the Giant’s mum. But, as we used the CoDA codex (Role seen in the making, objects of significance of the role, role activated to speak only, role activated to hear only), we made a series of discoveries in the dialogues.


One was, that Giants live to a great age. They seem to prefer and like living by themselves, which we thought, when we had a moment, to mean that if they do. they may not be able to ask for help easily... This was an example of foreseeing the implications, and some would say, perhaps, a matter of reading the future.

In this context, with very young children, the means of sequencing experiences are many, depending on the teacher’s skill set.

(Luke Abbott, October 2021)

You can read a full version of Luke's article, by clicking on the PDF file



Gavin Bolton (1979): Towards a Theory of Drama in Education (Harlow: Longman)

Coventon, John (ed.) (2011): Drama to Inspire: A London Drama Guide to Excellent Practice in Drama for Young People (Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books)

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