Drama with a small ‘d’

Sometimes when we think of drama we think of Shakespeare, or we think of complex archaic language, or we think of struggling to feel the motivation for a particular line, or if, like me, you went to primary school in Britain in the 1970’s, you may think of standing for what seemed like hours and being a tree!

But drama as a tool for teaching English as a foreign language to young learners can be a much more straightforward and down-to-earth matter. It’s something that can be incorporated into almost every lesson, and it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of acting skills, or lots of time or practice. Having said that, its potential to promote learning is high. It’s a great way to bring to life the language in the coursebook and to make it meaningful and memorable, and on top of all this it is fun. Here’s how applied linguist, Guy Cook (2000) sees the root of its power.

‘The rehearsal and performance of an appropriate play combines the best of both structural and communicative syllabuses: rote learning and repetition of a model, attention to exact wording, practice in all four skills, motivating and authentic language and activity, instances of culturally and contextually appropriate pragmatic use, and integration of linguistic with paralinguistic communication

‘Language Play, Language Learning’ Cook (OUP 2000)

And here’s how Samir N Salama, a teacher of English in Gaza, put it, straight after working with his class of boys on the simple script of ‘The Lion and the Mouse

‘Quite honestly, it was an extraordinary, unique and beneficial experience for the school kids who participated in the drama storytelling work. I found that the kids who took part in the play were so active and studious as well. This resulted in a positive effect on the rest of the learners in the class for they were all so touched and showed readiness and a tendency for more participation in the classroom activities. Truly, drama activities improved reading comprehension, and both verbal and non-verbal communication of the kids who performed in the play, and this seems to prove the studies that have demonstrated a correlation between drama involvement and academic achievement’

Samir N Salama. Gaza, Palestine.

Here’s a drama performance by pupils in a girls school in Gaza, doing the traditional Arabic story, ‘Juha and the meat’.

 

And here’s the video of  Samir’s class of boys performing ‘The Lion and the Mouse’. If you would like to use either of these scripts with your learners they are now available to download, along with several others, on the Resources for teachers page.

 

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12 thoughts on “Drama with a small ‘d’

  1. What a great performance by your boys Samir! You can really see that they are getting a lot out of doing this. Sometimes teachers are put off using drama activities like this because they think they don’t have the time. It’s interesting that they all learnt their lines off by heart rather than just reading them. Was it hard for them to learn the lines? Did they do this during class time or after the class? How much class time would you say it took to get to the stage where they could perform it like that?

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    1. Hi Nick,
      I am so glad it ended up that way. The performance’s really fantastic.
      As to whether it was hard for them to learn the lines off by heart or not, as a teacher, I thought it would be somehow difficult but when they have heard for the first time by me, they were all thrilled and wanted to act it themselves.
      I photocopied the bits of the story and distributed them to the kids.
      They came the next class and I found that they learnt most of their bits bu heart alone.
      I encouraged them to work on it much better and they did it.
      Concerning the time when they learnt about it, as a teacher, we normally begin our classes with warm-up activities. Thus, I used about from 5 to 10 minutes each time they have English class to help the kids perform the play.
      Here in Gaza, kids grade eight receive 5 English classes per a week. It took them about one week to nine days to master it that way.

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    2. Thanks Mr. Nick and Mr. Samir for sharing this . I really appreciate the efforts of our teachers with our creative and brilliant kids . I’m really glad to see these happy faces using English in an atmosphere of fun .It would be more beneficial when teachers discuss the theme of the story with kids and ask about the hidden lessons in each story .Here comes the role of critical thinking . THIS IS AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE THAT WOULD LAST FOREVER . 🙂

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      1. Thanks for your comment Sirin. Yes, you’re right that these stories (especially Aesop’s fables) do have a lesson, or a moral in them. We could discuss this with them but we could also just see what they do with it themselves. I think that even if these morals are not made explicit in class they can still have impact and sometimes that impact may even be stronger if they discover it for themselves. Just a thought! Thanks again for your input.

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  2. Thanks Samir. I think this approach of ‘little and often’ with drama is great. Learning lines can take up a lot of time but it’s something that they can do outside of class and it’s a great way of putting English in their heads on an ongoing basis. My experience is that children generally quite like doing it too.

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    1. You are right Nick, this way really helps much in putting English in the heads of the kids and it is preferable way since it arouses their interest and doesn’t require much effort.

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      1. I really think you’re onto something with this Samir! One of the biggest problems for language learners in non-immersive environments is that they only hear and use English in their English classes (and sometimes not much even then!) Giving learners the text of a script to learn by heart outside of class is a great way to keep English in their minds outside of class too. I guess the key thing is that they should be learning things by heart that are not too difficult for them, and which they feel motivated by. From the video it looks like you got this level right for these learners.

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  3. Congrats, Samir. You and your pupils did a really good job! Really inspirational. Mee too, I’m using more and more storytelling with my adult students. I think we humans are constantly telling stories, our own and othets’, and that should be mirrored in classrooms.
    Thanks Nick for sharing this on your blog.

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    1. Hey Amadeu Marin,
      Heap of thanks for your kind comment.
      You mentioned that you are using storytelling technique with your adult students.
      How old are they by the way?
      How long have you been using this technique with them?
      What benefits have you got from using such technique?
      What are you looking forward to achieving from its use?

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  4. Thanks a lot Mr.Nick for sharing my video.
    We can’t forget your great efforts in training us on how to deal with stories in our classes. Really, it was a fruitful training. I consider it as one of the most interesting and useful courses I have ever had.
    Thank you again because you led us to the right way.

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    1. Hi Saida. It’s a great video and it’s useful for showing how much can be achieved with these simple scripts. I hope they are very proud of their performance! I’m very impressed with the level of their English as well as their acting skills. The learners I work with in Gaza tend to be at a much lower level.

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  5. Defintely, you did strike the right note by bringing it up!
    I mean, it really is a thorny problem for language learners in non-immersive environments to use English very often and as you know the school kids here are exposed to English language only in their English classes, that is a class a day, 5 days a week.
    Thus, it was very helpful and beneficial for the kids to take the text of the script outdoors and learn it off by heart.
    This thing increased their self confidence and they were on the go while acting the story.
    I guess that it was right for their level to learn it off by heart for it resulted in such a wonderful performance.

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