The Wizard of Oz

Study Guide

Thematic Overview

Throughout this study guide you will find discussion questions, improvisation exercises, and creative writing activities all intended to investigate through different points of view, notions of “home” and “family”. More than ever, families consist of extended family, friends, and members of a community — not unlike Dorothy’s experience both in Kansas and in Oz. Dorothy lives with her aunt and uncle in Kansas, not her biological parents. Indeed, there is no mention of her parents. In Oz, she chooses a family in the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion for the duration of her stay. Dorothy, like many of us, is constantly negotiating and renegotiating the definition of family. The exercises in this guide will encourage students to look introspectively as well as beyond themselves, as Dorothy journeys from Kansas to Oz and back again, exploring and expanding the idea of “home”. In keeping with our season theme of “only the best is good enough for children”, YPT is proud to bring this treasured children’s classic back to our mainstage in this new production directed by Joseph Tremblay.

Curriculum Expectations

By participating in the exercises in this guide, students will:

  • communicate effectively by listening and speaking.
  • demonstrate a positive attitude toward themselves and others.
  • identify feelings and emotions and express them in acceptable ways.
  • express their feelings of wonder and curiosity about the world.
  • demonstrate respect for others in group situations.
  • work co-operatively with others.
  • communicate ideas (thoughts, feelings, experiences) for specific purposes.
  • demonstrate the ability to move and control their bodies in space and time (e.g., by creating tableaux in small groups).
  • defend a point of view through speaking and writing in role.
  • demonstrate an understanding of a character’s point of view through writing and speaking in role.
  • demonstrate the ability to concentrate while in role in drama (e.g., during an improvisation).
  • communicate ideas and information for specific purposes and to specific audiences.
  • sort and classify information about communities to identify issues, solve problems, and make decisions.
  • organize information to convey a central idea, using well-developed paragraphs that focus on a main idea and give some relevant supporting details.

About L. Frank Baum

Lyman Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, N.Y. in 1856. When he was five his father became quite wealthy as a result of his business dealings in the oil industry. The family moved to a large country home called ‘Rose Lawn Estate’ where Baum spent the majority of his time as a child since he was home-schooled there until the age of 12. Early on, Baum showed an interest in creative writing and storytelling. At age 15, he began producing his own newspaper called ‘The Rose Lawn Journal’ which is said to have been popular with the residents of his neighbourhood. After dabbling in a number of other professions, including raising chickens, Baum discovered a love of the theatre. He began acting and managing professional theatres — some of which his father owned. In 1882, Baum married Maud Gage and the couple later relocated to the Dakota Territories (North and South Dakota) where Baum owned and operated, among a number of business ventures, a store called “Baum’s Bazaar.” The store carried a number of household items as well as novelties including candy and ice cream. The store quickly became popular with children who would stop in for a treat and stay to hear Baum tell stories about faraway, magical places. Unfortunately, Baum had to close the store in 1888 due to a drought that hit the community hard. The Baum family moved around as Frank made his living as a journalist for a variety of publications. Baum met William W. Denslow, an illustrator, through his friend, Opie Reade. By all accounts it seems as though the men could not have been more different; Baum was quiet and calm- spirited while Denslow was “serious and gruff” (McGovern). The partnership, however, was productive. In 1900, Baum and Denslow published Father Goose, His Book and it was a great commercial success. Later that year, the pair published The Wizard of Oz. Baum and Denslow continued to work together until 1902 and published numerous other books about the world of Oz in that time. The Wizard of Oz had its first theatrical debut in 1902 and became the greatest success Broadway had ever seen up until that time. Since that success, the story has taken on a life of its own. Baum continued to write sequels to The Wizard of Oz as well as other books and articles in numerous publications. In the last years of his life, he also became a prize winning gardener. After suffering through many years of health issues related to childhood heart problems, Baum died in 1919. His last words are said to have been: “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands,” a reference to the boundaries of Oz.

Director’s Note

In the original novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz , writer L.Frank Baum paints a rather bleak and grim environment in which young Dorothy lives her life. It’s a world where the sun and the wind forever torture the treeless landscape. It’s a land that robbed the sparkle from Auntie Em’s eyes and made Uncle Henry forget what joy was. Even in the movie version, Kansas is bleakly filmed in black and white, where the emphasis is on the daily drudgery of hard work and the constant threat of a potential cyclone.

What has always interested me about this journey, is that the Land of Oz, is truly a creation of Dorothy’s extraordinary imagination. She conjures it all up in dream where she invents an entire universe as a necessary escape from her harsh surroundings. So for me, this play is truly a celebration of the power of the imagination. This story shows us that the imagination not only allows us to invent landscapes, to reshape our world, and solve enormous problems, but the imagination is truly what defines us as human beings.

When I started working on the play and began discussing the early ideas with the design team, I wanted to make sure that our approach was always a delightful expression of the imagination and the importance of playing and make-believe. It was essential that many of the elements that make up Dorothy’s world in Kansas, be somehow re-interpreted and re-purposed in Oz. Much the same way, that when we dream, many elements from our real life are still present or familiar, but our imagination has altered them entirely. This allowed us to create the Land of Oz as a kind of ‘imagination game’ where we tried to find an equivalent element (a set piece or a prop) in the Kansas farmhouse that was re-invented in Dorothy’s dream world. For example, an old oil lamp becomes the Oz Machine or the pot-bellied stove becomes the Tin Man.

This way, Dorothy is able to make an incredible journey away from her Kansas, but in fact she never actually leaves her house. This playful non-journey has shaped this entire production. We’ve built and rehearsed the show, as though we were children playing in a single room, and using what few objects we have at our disposal, we travel and invent an epic voyage of the imagination.

This production of the Wizard of Oz, is truly designed as an invitation for the audience to engage their imaginations and play a wonderful game of inventing a make-believe journey from Kansas, to Oz and back home again.

Joey Tremblay

Pre-show Questions

Ask students to consider the following questions:

  • Define “home”.
  • Define “family”.
  • What is a characteristic or attribute? (Brainstorm a list with the class.) Are there any characteristics or attributes students are striving towards?
  • How are friendships formed?
  • What turns an ordinary day into an extraordinary day?

Pre-show Unit: Creating Fantastical Stories

Warm-up: Ordinary & Extraordinary Day


  • This activity provides an opportunity for students to be both storytellers and performers. This warm-up will encourage creative thinking, improvisation, and experimentation with gesture and movement.


  • A space in which to move


  1. Have students get into pairs. Ask students to think about what they did that morning, or what they normally do on an ordinary morning (e.g ‘I woke up, got out of bed, brushed my teeth, ate some breakfast…’, etc.).
  2. Explain that in their pairs, one student will be telling the story of their ordinary morning and the other student will act out the story using mime and gesture. It is the storyteller’s job to speak in clear, short sentences. It is the job of the performer to act out as much of the story as possible, and only the story being told. To do this, they need to listen closely and wait for the next piece of information from the storyteller.
  3. Give the storytellers two minutes to tell their stories. Have students switch roles so each student has a turn as storyteller and performer.
  4. Next, have students think about what could happen on an extraordinary morning (i.e. ‘I woke up, got out of bed and found a tiger in my room…, etc.) Working in the same pairs, repeat the steps above but this time with students telling a story of an extraordinary morning.
  5. Leave some time for pairs to tell and perform one of their extraordinary stories to the whole group.

Have students design a book cover or poster for their adventure story. Send in a copy to YPT!

Culminating Exercise: Adventure stories


  • This activity provides an opportunity for students to be both storytellers and performers. This warm-up will encourage creative thinking, improvisation, and experimentation with gesture and movement.



  1. Divide students into groups of five or six.
  2. Have a volunteer from each group choose one slip from each of the following categories: Title, Characters, Conflict, Place.
  3. Give groups about 15 minutes to brainstorm and create their adventure.
  4. Once students have a clear idea of what their story will be, ask them to write a script for a narrator who will tell the story.
  5. Ask students to identify five main action points of their story and turn each action point into a tableau.
  6. Once students have practiced their tableaux and rehearsed performing them along with the narrator’s script, have them perform their story for the rest of the class.

Post-show Questions

  • The music in YPT’s version of the play is different from the movie. Which do you prefer? Why?
  • Why is The Wizard of Oz still popular, 100 years since it was first written? Why do people still enjoy the story?
  • The Wizard tells Dorothy he is a “good man but a bad wizard”. What do you think he means by this? Do you agree?
  • If the Wizard of Oz could grant you any characteristic, what would it be? Why?
  • Why does Miss Gulch take Toto away? How does that make Dorothy feel?
  • How old is Dorothy? Does she act her age?

Post-show Unit

Town Hall Meeting and Newspaper: Exploring Dorothy’s Decisions

Extension 1

Have students:

  • Write an entry in their journal as the character they played in the town hall meeting.
  • Reflect on what was discussed in the meeting. What was decided? Did they feel as though their character had a say in the decision that was made?


  • In this exercise, students and teacher will work together in role to actively investigate and improvise the situations provided. The intention is to create an experience that feels real; in order to do so, commitment to the exercise is crucial.

Town Hall Meeting:

Set the class up for success by outlining the following parameters for students:

  1. Determine how long the improvisation will last (5mins, 10mins).
  2. Will there be a way to stop the improvisation for a moment to discuss things out of role? If so, choose a code word the class can use to stop the improvisation and then resume the action where it was left off. However, students should do their best to hold questions until the improvisation has ended.
  3. Decide on a setting for the improvisation.
  4. Determine what happened just before the start of the improvisation.
  5. Students should decide on a role before the improvisation begins and they should be specific (Aunt Em, Hunk, Uncle Henry, Zeke, Hickory, Miss Gulch, sheriff, a towns person with an interest in the case i.e. police officer) Students may invent new characters if they are appropriate (i.e. Dorothy’s best friend).
Extension 2

Have students:

  • Write an entry in their journal as the character they played in the town hall meeting.
  • Reflect on what was discussed in the meeting. What was decided? Did they feel as though their character had a say in the decision that was made?

As a class, decide which scenario will be investigated. Either “Kansas” or “Oz” (or do both!)

The Situation: Kansas

Dorothy has gone missing. Using the teacher-in-role method, as the mayor of Dorothy’s hometown, conduct an inquiry into her disappearance. Lead the class in an investigation by prompting the following questions:

  • What time did she go missing?
  • Did she leave any clues behind?
  • When was the last time people saw her? What was she wearing?
  • Could she have run away? Why? What would have made her so upset that she would run away?
  • What are we going to do about her disappearance? How are we going to bring Dorothy back home?

The Situation: Oz

Dorothy and Toto have arrived in Oz to everyone’s surprise. Lead the class in an investigation by prompting the following questions:

  • Who is Dorothy?
  • Where has she come from?
  • Has anyone in Oz heard of Kansas? What is Kansas like?
  • How does Dorothy feel when she first arrives in Oz?
  • How do we feel about her killing the Wicked Witch?
  • What are the positive/negative consequences of the Wicked Witch being dead?

Once these and other questions (as determined by the class) have been discussed, bring the improvisation to a close with an action plan of what will happen next (i.e. the citizens of Oz decide to help Dorothy get home.). Keep the Town Hall context alive by referring to it as a real event (i.e., What about when Miss Gulch said ___________ in the Town Hall meeting? What did she mean by that?).

Culminating Activity: Creative Writing Newspaper Assignment


  1. Divide the class in two and create an edition of the Kansas Gazette/Oz Standard (or any other newspaper name) as a group. Use the following suggestions/questions to give students ideas of what they can put in their newspaper OR brainstorm as a class to develop the content for the newspaper. Make sure that students approach the newspaper activity from a number of different points of view and editorial angles (see below).
  2. What are the headlines/main stories on the front page?
  3. Have students draw or photograph the front page picture and include (in the form of captions) information about what happened in the town hall meeting.
  4. What other stories would be on the following pages?
  5. Who would advertise in this newspaper? Create the advertisements.
  6. Have students write editorials using their journal entry from Extension 1 or from the perspective of other characters in the play (i.e., Explain, from the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view, why she finds Dorothy threatening. Or explore Miss Gulch’s point of view and why she may feel bad about Dorothy running away from home).


Baum, L. Frank. Introduction. The Lost Princess of Oz. By Baum. Illustrated by John R. Neill. New York: Books of Wonder/ W. Morrow, 1998.

Baum, L. Frank. The Wizard of Oz. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1999.

McGovern, Linda. “The Man Behind the Curtain: L. Frank Baum and the Wizard of Oz.”Literary Traveler.

Spolin, Viola. Improvisation for the Theater. Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern University, Press, 1994.