Organising a play writing competition is a good way to motivate learners of English, but drama as a tool for learning has more depth, is more holistic, and is much more wide-reaching than an approach which only emphasises the achievements of the few groups that win.
In this post I want to focus on the process based drama work of two Gazan UNRWA English teachers, Sahar Salha and Saida Almadhoon who, each in their own way, have incorporated drama into their English curriculums by turning the playmaking competition into a drama project.
Despite being in the era of global communication, Palestinian children still suffer from the seige, from poverty and many other problems. So they really appreciated having the chance to convey messages to the world about love, peace, hope, dreams, illness, siege, poverty, war and social problems that the Hands Up Project gave them through the playwriting competition.
My students and me had a great experience preparing for the competition but choosing the topic for the play was really difficult. We discussed different ideas a lot and eventually decided to focus on a real story about a student in our school who suffers from cancer.
I’m so pleased that the girls worked really well as a team in writing the script in Arabic. They then individually translated it into English. When everyone had their own translation they all worked together again to produce the best English version they could. It was nice to see them using the internet to look up words and expressions to use in their play.
They then discussed a suitable location to film it, the costumes , props, and background music, and then chose people to be the actors. In the end they produced something pure of their own which made them feel more confident.
In short , the process of creating our plays affects the girls and the teachers to produce their own literature not just for competitions, but also for life. When a twelve year old student has her or his own literature published in a book, this means that the Hands Up Project opens the space for Palestinian kids to become their own Shakespeares.
Here is what some of the actors said about the experience of creating our play “The fighter”:
Roqaya , the narrator
“This drama means that we can write and act . I’m happy because we are little actors”
Sara , the doctor
“My dream in life is to be a doctor and I’m happy that I played this role in the play. When I join such activities, I feel that I am distinguished”
Rawan ,the patient
“I become more confident when I participated in this activity . I want to do more in the future. There is nothing impossible with my teacher –Sahar – and my parents’ support.
Maha , the mum
“I’m not afraid to speak English anymore. I will be on Youtube . I’m a star!”
Sara, the dad
“Engaging in such activity helps to practice my hobby and speak English and transfers our ideas and feelings to the world”
It was a real pleasure for me and my students to participate in the playwriting competition. The students have gained lots of benefits through creating and performing the plays. They have become familiar with standing on the stage in front of others as they performed the plays in front of the school principal and some other teachers. This, of course, has increased their self- confidence.
When I heard about the playmaking competition I decided to organise things in a way that could involve all the students in the school. So, I declared a competition for all students to write a short story in English with five characters or less. A lot of students participated and then I picked the best ones which I felt could be made into a play. I arranged a meeting with the students who wrote the best stories and discussed some ideas with them and with the school principal. As a result, we agreed to create and perform 4 plays including Teddy and Benjamin Carson as examples of famous people whose lives have changed because of good persons behind them.
They started working in groups to turn the stories into plays. Most of this was done in the breaks between classes, using their own ideas, but they came to me to check things and sometimes I suggested modifications. It took about two weeks to agree on a final version of the scripts. Then we set up some after school sessions to rehearse the plays. The students who wrote the original four stories were given the chance to act in them more than others, and to choose who would play each part. Everyone was very enthusiastic during the whole process of making the play, I think because they had a specific goal that they were trying to achieve.