In previous posts on this blog (for example here and here), I’ve written about the importance of activities which combine controlled and freer language use; the kind of thing where learners get repeated, controlled practice of areas of language, but also where they have opportunities to use language to share their opinions and personalities with the people around them – what we might call genuine communication.
At first glance it might seem that our competition of creating a play script doesn’t really fit into this category. After all, it’s pretty much just about control, isn’t it? (Writing material that is grammatically accurate, rehearsing the lines so that they are pronounced correctly and appropriately, learning the lines by heart etc) However, as with any collaborative creative activity, good playmaking should also involve lots of free talk. Learners need to talk to each other in engaging and motivating ways in order to decide what to make a play about, to agree on how the lines should be said and the way in which people should act, and to reflect on and evaluate each others’ writing and performances. If students are working together in small groups to make plays, it might be a good strategy for them to appoint one person in each group to be the director – to be in charge of making suggestions as to the direction that the play needs to take.
But however much we might insist on English being used for this, it’s natural and understandable, especially if they are lower levels, that the students break into their mother tongue for these conversations. So here’s where the voice of the teacher become important. I think that sometimes teachers need to take on the role of theatre director, and engage in conversations with learners about the way that their plays are taking shape. In the video below you can see me trying to do this through Zoom with a group in Gaza, but if you’re in the room with them, face to face, you’ll be able to do this much more effectively. And because you’ll know your own students much better than I do you’ll also be able to pitch your English at a level that’s just right for them so that it’s a more of a scaffolded learning experience.