4 Drama Techniques to Incorporate Into Your Class Today | by Andrea Vinyard

4 Drama Techniques to Incorporate Into Your Class Today | by Andrea Vinyard

Drama is a powerful teaching technique that is well-known around the world, but sadly, that is about the extent of it. So many teachers know it exists, yet so few know how to incorporate it into their classes. Why is this?

I think it’s because drama can be intimidating— it sounds like something that needs to be planned to a T, without room for error, something that is hard for the students to grasp and execute, and difficult for the teacher to facilitate. I don’t think that has to be the case, and I hope that I can undo this fallacy around drama, and that you can start using drama in your classroom immediately, at any level!

When I was in university, I took an entire course just on teaching English as a second language through drama. I learned many techniques on how to use drama in the classroom, and I would like to share a few with you today. I’m very excited to share these ideas with you, as I think Story Central is fertile grounds for drama; these techniques can be used around any story! So, without further delay, here are four drama techniques, each with suggestions on how to modify the activity for higher and lower levels, when and how to use it, and its purpose. Also, don’t be shy to try these activities with seniors! Even the most stubborn and quiet of students may have a talent from drama; you’ll never know until you try!

drama

Tableau

I’m going to start with this one, as it may be the easiest, and perhaps the most well-known and can be very easily adapted.

  • Purpose: Character Empathy, Theme
  • When to use it: Predictions, During Story, or Summary
  • Interaction: Group/Whole Class
  • Explanation: Students get in small groups and decide who will be which character.

Then they decide on how to set up a still frame scene from the story (or as a prediction of what will happen). After giving students a minute to practice, groups perform their scene to the class, and when Teacher says “STOP,” the performing group freezes in place. The other students in the class can then talk about what’s happening in the scene, either in their small groups or cold calling individual students. The actors can then say whether the other students are on the right track.

  • General Modifications:

1. The teacher decides a theme or scene for the students to still frame.

2. Students have to guess which scene from the story the presenters are acting out.

  • High Level Modifications:

Students are expected to use more complex grammar structures for explaining what’s happening, e.g. “Lulu is faking. She isn’t sick. She should go to school.”

  • Low Level Modifications:

Students can explain more simply about what happened in the scene, e.g. “I can see Tim. Tim can play the violin.”

Thought Tracking

To bounce off Tableau, we’ll dive into Thought Tracking. This can be used in conjunction with Tableau, if the teacher pleases.

  • Purpose: Character Empathy, Confidence Boosting (speaking in front of others)
  • When to use it: Predictions, During Story, or Summary
  • Interaction: Group/Whole Class
  • Explanation: This activity can be done simultaneously with tableau.

When the students are frozen in a scene, the teacher (or a student not in the scene) can tap one of the frozen students on the shoulder. This student then says something in character, e.g. “I’m the Professor. I am making a pet from Trixie, and I’m very excited!”

drama techniques

  • General Modifications:

1.For shyer students, it may take them some time to warm up to this activity, so you could allow for shorter, less concise phrases or sentences until they warm up to talking in front of others more.

2. Do this activity in groups of 4-5 students, where one student is the “teacher” (the one to tap the shoulder of another “frozen” student), or do it whole class— everyone freezes as a character and the teacher (you) tap a student on the shoulder.

3. The student who is tapped doesn’t say who they’re acting as. This student gives some hints, and the other students have to guess which character he/she is impersonating, e.g. The actor says: “I’m very hungry. I’m getting big.” Students guess the character: Stitch!

  • Higher Level Modifications: As with Tableau, you can expect your students to use more complex grammar structures and complete sentences.
  • Lower Level Modifications: Students can say even just a few words until they are eventually able to use more words to describe their character.

Conscience Alley

This is probably one of my favorite drama activities— the whole class is engaged, speaking, and considering the role of different characters in the story and their relationship to other characters.

  • Purpose: Character Empathy, Character Relationships, Plot
  • When to use it: During Story or Summary
  • Interaction: Group/Whole Class
  • Explanation: *This can be used in the middle of the story or as a summary.

I don’t recommend it as a predictor, unless it is during or after the excerpt lesson. Get the class into two lines, facing each other with enough space in the middle for someone to walk through. Each person takes on a character from the story. For example, in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” there will be the man, the woman, the mom, Jack, the giant, the giant’s wife, and even the goose! The teacher presents a dilemma: for example, “Jack wants to get the goose! What should he do?” One person will ever-so-slowly walk down the alley (in the example, it would be Jack, since he’s the center of the dilemma—the one that has to make a choice), and the people on either side of the walker will give advice (in character) to the walker (Jack). For example, the goose may give the advice to Jack not to take him because he likes his home and he is friends with the giant. The mom may suggest that he take the goose because then their family will be rich and happy! By the time the “walking” character gets to the end of the alley, he/she must have made a decision as to what course to take and then tell his/her classmates.

in the classroom

  • General Modifications: Have one line of students be negative advice and the other line positive advice.

Higher Level Modifications: Have the “walker” explain why they made the decision that they did. What advice did they heed and what advice did they ignore?

  • Lower Level Modifications: Students can give simple advice and simply say what decision they made without an explanation as to why.

Hot Seat

I really like this technique because it can be easily adapted to suit the needs of your students and it is a great way for your students to practice asking and answering questions!

  • Purpose: Character Empathy, Interview-style Language
  • When to use it: Summary
  • Interaction: Groups
  • Explanation: In hot seats, students are in small groups of 3-5 students— one student is in the hot seat (place them in a chair!) and is acting in first person as one of the characters (assigned by teacher or as chosen by the group). The students that are not sat will take it in turns to ask questions to the character in the hot seat. They can ask any questions about the character. For example, let’s go back to “Jack and the Beanstalk.” If I were the man who gave the beans to Jack and I were in the hot seat, someone may ask me: “where did you get those beans from?” (I understand this is complex language for a lower level story— I use this just as an example from a story we all know), the man may answer in reply: “I stole them from Cinderella’s fairy godmother.” (Of course, that would be a brilliant, jaw-dropping response from a JSC 2A student!)

drama class

  • General Modifications: If you want the students to practice writing, you could have them write down a question or two that they would have for each character that will be sat in the hot seat. In that way, you also get to check to make sure there are no errors in their questions.
  • Higher Level Modifications: Just have higher expectations— perhaps require the student in the hot seat to answer each question for at least 30 seconds.
  • Lower Level Modifications: Don’t expect a lot of details— as long as the student understands the question and answers it correctly, that should be sufficient!

Now, I hope these little bits helped to debunk the idea that drama is too hard to work into your lessons. I hope you try it, and I hope you find it is a fun and effective way to explore character relationships, empathy, plot, and theme, in a way that is engaging and unthreatening. When you first start using these techniques in the classroom, it might be a bit arduous to start, both for you and your students, but use it all the time and they (and you!) will get used to it, and they will probably really enjoy it, too!

If you would like to explore other drama techniques or get more information on using drama in your TEFL classes, please visit these websites:

http://dramaresource.com/drama-strategies/

https://eslchestnut.com/2014/06/22/eslefl-ideas-for-drama-in-the-classroom/

http://freeeslmaterials.com/drama.html

Andrea is a teacher from the USA at our Gu Tian branch.

drama techniques

About the Author

Leave a Reply