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.