Drama and Task Based Learning

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This week’s post is from Jane Willis who is a keen supporter of the Hands Up project. She wrote her first post here,  Meaning focused activities   in 2017. In March 2018, she came to Palestine for the ‘1st Annual PALTAG International Conference Roadshow’  organised by The British Council, where she very much enjoyed meeting teachers, trainers  and students and watching plays produced for the first drama competition.

 

Nick tells me that lots of young people in Palestine are very busy creating, rehearsing and getting ready to perform their plays for this year’s Remote Theatre Competition. That is good news because drama activities are fun and can really bring English to life, not just for the lucky students chosen as actors, but also for the whole school.

In my last blog, I emphasised the need to make time in lessons for students to speak freely – to express their own meanings, not just speaking  to practise grammar. I gave examples of tasks that could be done in class to promote free spontaneous interaction.  Many of you wrote interesting follow-up comments.  Nihaya Anaya , Shirin and Rida Thabet all had good ideas for maximising students’ talking time, and Karaman suggested  drama as one way of helping  students to use language for communication.

There is however a danger in ‘doing drama’ –  I worry about equality of opportunity.  Is it not usually the best English speakers who are chosen to act the main parts?   And, as they rehearse, they get even more chances to improve their already good English!    But what about all the other English learners in your school?  Especially those who are weaker at English, less motivated, or who are too shy to speak in class. Surely they could really benefit from the extra opportunities for interacting in English afforded by the process of creating a play?

I want to ask you 3 questions:  1. Is it the teacher’s job to write the script for the play? 2.  How many children in each class are, or could be, actively involved in the process of creating a piece of theatre?  3. How could a task-based approach give all learners opportunities to use their English?

A task, in the language teaching sense, is a meaning-focussed activity where teachers and learners use English freely to communicate with each other for real, to achieve a goal.  Having a clear goal gives the interaction a purpose, and a clear end point.  Achieving the goal brings a feel of satisfaction and success.  Creating a play could involve a whole sequence of tasks with different goals.

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To get every student involved, tasks can be done initially in pairs or small groups in each class.  Then each pair or group can prepare to tell the class what they have done, explaining their ideas or opinions, telling their story, enacting their script.  The teacher and class together can then produce a final draft incorporating the best ideas.  (See my 2017 blog for how to handle the task cycle of Task, Planning and Reporting.  I also suggest roles for group members to ensure they speak as much English as possible.)

So how can we use tasks to involve all learners in preparing a piece of theatre??

There are many stages in the process of creating, planning and rehearsing a play leading up to the final performance which is filmed.  In fact some of you may be half way through this process by now.  But each stage has a goal, and this goal can be turned into a meaning focussed task to get learners talking freely.  So here are some ideas.  Select and adapt, according to the stage you are at.

Early stages:  Creating the ideas and characters.

Pairs or groups in your class or drama club could be asked to:

  • choose a topic or a story for a play.  They then summarise their idea to other groups and say why it is appropriate for an international audience. Teacher can lead a class discussion on their opinions then students vote on the best one, or two, or even three plays, giving reasons for their choice.
  • describe the characters for their play and decide exactly what each character will do.
  • finalise the personalities of the characters, and how they could be made dramatic. Tell another group. Put your ideas together, refine them, and tell the class.
  • refine and flesh out the story for your play; tell the class and compare stories. Decide on the best ideas. Teachers can help learners to incorporate them in a new draft.
  • describe the setting(s) for each scene and narrate what happens in each scene. Share ideas with another group, and incorporate the best ideas into your scenes.

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Middle stages:  trying scenes out to finalise the script and  the cast

Casting – choosing the best actors – can happen during this stage.  Also choose understudies, who will play the part if the main actor is ill.  For examples, several groups or classes can create their own version of the play, act it out and the teacher might pick one or two actors from each group or class.  Here are some ideas for pair or group work.

  • Groups improvise each scene, then plan a draft script, and act it out (using the script).Then other groups and the teacher watch and comment on their performance.
  • Groups evaluate a draft script from a different group, then write a list of 2 things they liked about it and 2 ways to improve it. Teacher helps with language queries.
  • Groups revise their draft scripts in the light of the feedback and share again.
  • Teacher can discuss and decide with the whole class the best ideas for the final script, and groups act out scenes in front of the class and ask for feed-back.
  • Groups help the actors and their understudies – to learn their parts by heart.

Final stages:  rehearsing, refining and performing

Once the actors and understudies are chosen, their classes can still be involved in decision-making.  Before the final filming, the play can be performed to other classes to get audience feed-back.  Small groups can

  • decide and draw the costumes each character could wear for the final performance. Decide who, in the class, will make or obtain each costume.  Tell your teacher in English. Class decides on final costumes and groups refine their drawings, labelling the clothes.
  • write a list of things the actors will need on stage (these are called ‘props’) and who in the class will provide them for each scene and decide a deadline date for collecting them.
  • decide on the final title for the play, and prepare a large written version (with name of class or school), for audiences to read.
  • design and display posters to advertise the play to put up round the school.
  • Invite parents to a final pre-filming performance? Groups write and distribute the invitations.
  • Classes in the school can watch dress-rehearsals and small groups can evaluate them with specific criteria in mind: e.g. entrances and exits,  timings, clarity of expression. Then each group gives their advice to the actors.
  • Groups can watch the final video and write an introduction to the play, or a short review, for new audiences to read.

So  in the process of planning, rehearsing and performing a play,  a series of Task-based cycles can give all learners opportunities to speak spontaneously in small groups and then more formally when reporting and sharing their ideas  with the whole class.  They will gain confidence in speaking freely and develop communication skills necessary both for drama and for subsequent real-world interactions.

I am sure that many of you are already involving the whole school and using this kind of interactive approach (you may not realise you are doing TBL!) Please write your ideas in the comments below!

And a final task for your learners: ask each student to reflect on their part in the drama process and evaluate their personal learning, writing 3 things they liked about taking part, and 2 suggestions for next time.

By the way, my answers to the questions I asked above would be 1. Not necessarily. 2.  all of them, 3.  through the use of task cycles – see the second part of https://handsupproject.org/2017/02/23/meaning-focused-activities/

I wish you much enjoyment and satisfaction in your drama activities. And to those taking part in the competition this year, the best of luck!  I look forward to seeing the videos of your plays.

Jane Willis

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