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Add Some Drama to your Teaching
by Mitzi Geffen


Abstract:

Using drama in EFL is "in".

Using Drama in EFL classes is definitely "in":
Search Google for "drama and EFL" and you will get a list of 222,000 sites!
Two-out-of-the-three awards for outstanding initiatives in English teaching in Israel were awarded for work in drama.

Why teachers don't use drama-and why they should!
Still, many teachers shy away from including dramatic activities in their lessons. In this article, I'll try to address a few of the most common objections, and then give some practical suggestions for starting off the school year dramatically.

"I don't have time."
This is the reason most commonly given for not including drama in a lesson plan. After all, the kids need at least 15-20 minutes to prepare a skit or role-play or practice a dialogue for presentation. Then, there is the time needed for the presentations, during which most of the class is presumably passive. Before you know it your 45 minute lesson is over and you haven't "taught" anything!

"It may be in vogue, but it's not a serious or effective way of teaching English".
This objection reflects a concept that teaching is more for providing information than providing an opportunity for discovery.

These two objections are essentially saying that dramatic activities are a waste of time, since little or no learning takes place and we can't afford to use our precious time frivolously. I believe that quite the opposite is true: I have seen that the most enduring learning happens when more of the senses are involved, when the level of motivation and pleasure is high and when students are required to engage in problem solving. As one of my young thespians so aptly summed up: "We don't just copy the words. We move them and we act them and they stick in our brains!"

"I'm not creative/dramatic like you. I could never do things like that in class"
I've often heard this additional reason for sticking to a more traditional lesson plan. Some teachers think that if they can't model the dramatic exercise, it won't be possible to get their students to participate.

This objection misses the point of the activities, in my opinion. The idea is to give the students the opportunity to create and act, not the teacher. The teacher's job is to give instructions, set up the guidelines and have a clear purpose or goal in mind (e.g. to provide an opportunity for the students to incorporate new vocabulary or a grammatical structure into fluent conversation, or to improve reading fluency, etc.)

"It's too noisy/messy/wild, etc."
Some teachers don't attempt to include drama for fear of losing control of the class. It's so much easier to keep order and avoid discipline problems, they think, if all of the students are seated and facing the blackboard.

Drama activities are certainly noisier and messier than a traditional, frontal lesson. They are also happier, more exciting and much more memorable. However, noisy does not have to mean out of control. Clear directions, rules and time limits, as well as an agreed upon visual signal for quiet can make a lesson, which includes a drama activity, flow smoothly and successfully.

How to do it!
OK. Now you are convinced that you will include drama in at least some of your lessons. What can you do? The following are a few activities aimed at improving speaking fluency which are good for the first few lessons of the year at every level. Use the structure of the activity and adjust the content for different levels.

  1. "Getting to Know You" This is a "warm-up" activity, meant to get the adrenaline and vocabulary flowing. It can be used alone or as a prelude to more classic dramatic activities, which end in presentations.

    Set up After the directions are given, divide the class into circles of 8-10 students.

    Directions:
    'This is a game of listening and remembering. It's also a way for us to get to know each other a little better.

    You will be sitting in a circle. One person begins by saying, "My name is __________ and I like _________" (*)
    The next person says the same sentence, filling in his/her information, and then says, "His/her name is (first person's name) and s/he likes (whatever the first person said)

    Each person around the circle introduces himself in the same way and then repeats the sentences about each of the students who spoke before him until it's the first person's turn again and he must say, "His/her name is ______ and s/he likes _______" about each person in the circle.

    If you get stuck when it is your turn and you can't remember what one of your classmates said, anyone around the circle may help except for the person whose details you can't remember.'

    (*) Adjust for levels
    Change the second part of the sentence to one of the following or something similar, depending on the level of your students:
    "and my favorite _________ is ___________"
    "and I spent the summer __________ing ___________"
    "and I have never ______________"
    "and in my opinion, ______________________________"

    As a follow-up to this activity, students can be asked to write as many sentences about their classmates as they can in a certain amount of time (5 - 10 minutes), based on what they heard around the circle during the game.

  2. Fact or Fiction - This can also be used as a warm-up.

    Set up
    After an initial individual task, students are divided into groups of 5-6.

    Directions
    "Write 5 sentences about yourself or about things you did during your summer vacation. Four of the sentences should be true and one of them should be a lie. The lie does not have to be the last sentence. Don't show your sentences to anyone before the game begins!"

    After the students write their sentences, divide them into groups of 5-6 and say:
    "Now it is your job to listen to what your friends have written and guess which sentence is not true. Each person in the group should take a turn reading his/her sentences to the group and the group must guess which sentence is false."

    A variation of this game is to have the students tell an anecdote about something that happened or something they make up. They tell the story to the group and the group guesses whether it is true or false.

    This activity can also be followed up by asking the students to write about one of the members of his group based on what he heard during the game.

  3. A Story from your Summer Vacation -

    Set-up
    A short individual task and then groups of 4-5.

    Directions
    "Close your eyes and think of a memorable moment of your summer vacation ... something surprising, annoying, scary, or exciting that happened. It should be the kind of thing that you would tell a good friend about after it happens. Now open your eyes and write 5 or 6 words in English that you would need if you wanted to tell about what happened in English."

    This part of the activity should take no more than 5 minutes. Next, divide the students into groups of 4 -5 and say:

    "Take turns telling your group about the moment you thought about - in English, of course! After each person has told his/her story, choose one of the stories to present to the class. The person whose story is chosen should tell the story again, and the rest of the people in the group should ask questions to learn more details about what happened. When everyone has understood what happened, the storyteller should assign parts to all of the people in the group to act out the incident for the rest of the class. If there were only two or three people actually involved in what happened, add people standing nearby who might have seen or heard what was going on and make up what they might have thought or said to each other. The storyteller can choose to play himself or someone else in the presentation. After you decide on the roles, practice your skit once or twice before we get back together again for the presentations."

    You should allow about 25 minutes for this activity. The presentations should only take a few minutes each.

    In general, it is good to give a listening task to the audience when an activity includes presentations. This helps to keep your audience attentive and involved. You might have your students fill in a chart of basic details about the stories presented - name of student, type of incident, how it ended, etc., or you might have them fill out an evaluation form for each skit - actors spoke clearly, story was understandable, English was correct, etc.

    Afterwards, you might ask your students to write the story presented by one of the other groups.
I have used these activities with varied age groups and levels of English and the results have always been good. I warmly recommend trying one or all of them with your classes. If you are looking for more activities or want to read about using drama as a learning tool, in general, One Big World site offers links to many useful sites on the topic: If you have any questions, comments or requests, you are welcome to send me a message at this address: mitzi100@gmail.com
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