Playwriting for beginners

A few weeks ago, I announced that the Hands Up Project will be running a play writing competition for young learners in Palestine. You can read more about the rules of the competition here, and about some of the language learning (and other) benefits that children may get from creating, rehearsing, recording and performing a play in this post.

But as language teachers, how might we best support learners in the process of creating a play? How do we help them to develop ideas and to structure these ideas into something that is accurate and well performed, without taking over too much, and ending up writing the play for them?

Well one simple way of course is to start with a story. This could be a story that everyone already knows, or one that the teacher has told the students in class. It could even be a personal story about something that has happened to one of the students or someone they know.

  • Once the story to be worked with has been agreed upon, ask different groups of learners to write a short dialogue based on a part of the story. You could either assign a different part to each group, or let them choose it themselves. Check their work for accuracy as they are doing it, pushing them to use language at the edges of their abilities.
  • When they’ve finished ask them to think about how they would add gestures and movement to make the scene come alive. If space allows they can practice this. They should also think about how they would say the lines in order to make it as meaningful as possible.
  • When they’re ready, ask them learn their scenes by heart and then perform them in front of the class. The rest of the class can observe and comment on what they see.
  • For homework students might like to develop their scene into a script for the whole story. These could then be performed in front of other classes, presented via video conference link up to other students around the world through the Hands Up Project’s worldwide connections, or filmed and entered into our playwriting competition!
close up Jbene
Girls from Gaza performing a play through Zoom at the IATEFL conference in Glasgow

 

Another way of working is to start with a topic. Last year at the IATEFL conference in Birmingham I attended an excellent talk by Gobinda Puri, a teacher of English in Nepal. Gobinda works with quite large classes (40-50 students) of grade 9 and 10 students and usually encourages his learners to create plays about social issues which are widely seen as problems in Nepalese society.

His approach to helping the learners create a play follows the following main stages.

1) Students work in groups to discuss which social issue they would like to create a play about.

2) They improvise around the chosen theme.

3) They start writing a script.

4) Gobinda corrects and reformulates what has been written.

5) The students plan how they will perform it. They rehearse and learn their lines

6) They perform their scenes in front of other students.

 

Here is a very short extract from one of the plays that was created in this way.

 

Tshomo’s  Father:   Sit here. ( He pulls the cushion close to him and asks her further to sit there) Tshomo, you are grown-up now and moreover, you are female. Today we received Gylpo’s brothers who came here for your marriage with Gylpo. Nanu, you have to marry him for our prestige. We have already decided.
Tshomo:  No, I can’t papa. How come you say so? I want to continue my study.
Tshomo’sFather :  Tshomo, how can you bluntly reject this? You, little girl! You don’t know how good your groom is. Gylpo from lower hill and our in-laws have both name and fame.
Tshomo:  Papa… I can’t … (She cries and runs out of the room. In the mean time, her mother follows her to comfort her. There’s a brief silence for some time.)

 

So what do you think? Would these approaches work with your learners? What other strategies might there be for helping learners to create their own plays? Please leave a comment below so that we can share ideas about ways to help our students create plays in English.

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Playwriting for beginners

  1. How drama dramatically improves communicative skills was my topic for presentation in last year IATEFL presentation in Birmingham. I just shared what I used to do in my diverse large Nepalese EFL classes. IATEFL awarded me with the scholarship to travel to UK and present my classroom practice. I was quite happy to receive positives comments during my presentation. Moreover, one of the participants as well as a teacher and teacher trainer who is working with the interest in drama, Nick Bilbrough made an article for IATEFL voices on the basis of my presentation. I can’t stay without thanking him once again citing my work in this write up as well.

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    1. Well thanks to you Gobinda for your talk and for the inspiring work that you do. I think that it would be nice if in the next academic year we can find a way to link some of your drama classes up with classes in Palestine, and do some online collaborative drama projects. Let me know if you’d like to explore this.

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  2. I asked my students to start with the character, not the story. Maybe starting with the story is better?! I don’t know. I sometimes see things upside down. I thought they could think of any character they already know or they don’t even know, it could be someone they met accidentally. This character might be a neighbour, friend, sister, teacher, trainer, grocer…etc. It might be nice, haughty, selfish, poor, rich, naughty, energetic, lazy, stingy, vulgar, hopeful, brave, talkative…. 🙂
    Once they have their character in mind, they can start to build the story which can be real or unreal.
    Choosing the characters first gives students hints of different life aspects which these characters might come through (difficulties, obstacles, happy moments, mad events..etc) . This would lead, eventually, to create a good story, I think.

    Anyway, I come here to ask about something else. I reckon many students are going to write about political issues, things like hunger strike that the Palestinian prisoners started last April. Is that OK or politics is taboo?:)

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    1. Hi Amal. It’s great to see things upside down some times I reckon. My dad stood on his head every day of his life until he was well into his eighties. Maybe this was part of what made him into a very creative person. I really like the idea of starting by building, and fleshing out a character. I guess this will make plays that are very watchable because we always like watching plays with strong, interesting characters. I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

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    2. Politics is not taboo at all. The idea is that the students create plays about whatever topic they feel they want to. These topics could include culture, politics, social issues – whatever they want.

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