Bringing language to life through drama

I’ve just got back from 3 weeks in Palestine, running drama club leader training courses for around 120 UNRWA teachers in five different locations: Southern Gaza, Northern Gaza, Jerusalem area, Hebron area and Nablus area. The plan is that these teachers will set up English drama clubs in their schools when the new semester starts in September, and that these clubs will feed into the online weekly link ups that the Hands Up Project organises.

still image gaza

But the courses weren’t just about promoting drama as an extra curricular activity. I also wanted to share some simple drama activities which could be easily integrated into the teachers’ normal English classes, and which could complement their work with the coursebook, English for Palestine.

Here’s a nice activity for practising a dialogue from the coursebook in a motivating way. The dialogue goes down the line and is repeated by each person, but each line is said in a very angry way. It can be very engaging to perform and to watch and, in my opinion, it’s a great way to make the language that they are practising very memorable. It could be done with practically any short dialogue using the target language from the coursebook.

And here’s another, this one involving a volunteer coming to the front to be interviewed by the rest of the class.  The idea is that this student at the front creates a character by answering the questions not as him or herself but by spontaneously answering with invented answers. Here the volunteer is wearing a mask and a hat and has become a pirate. The questions that came up (and his answers) were very interesting, and focussed around what made him choose a life of crime and how he could live with himself for doing it.

When the activity is done with students with limited English it can be just as engaging even though linguistically it may be very simple (What’s your name? Where are you from? How old are you? Do you have children etc?). Here’s the same activity being used in an online link up session at Mamounia girls UNRWA school in Gaza city. After creating several characters in this way the students decided that it would be interesting to see what would happen if some of the characters met.

I first learnt both of these activities from ELT author and founder of the English Teaching Theatre, Ken Wilson, when he demonstrated them more than 10 years ago at a drama and language learning day that I organised at SOAS in London. Ken also included them in his brilliant book, Drama and Improvisation (OUP 2008). Thanks a lot Ken!

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