In their own write

I decided to write my first book for teachers, Dialogue Activities (CUP 2007), because of an idea which I think I’ve always been very interested in as a language teacher. This is the principle that when spoken language is written down by learners (as in when they create a dialogue for example) it can provide a slowing down of experience so that more noticing of language, and ultimately, more learning may happen. It’s a way of focusing and reflecting on spoken language without the immediate pressure of having to produce it spontaneously in real time communication. This premise is central to many of the activities in the book.

Dialogue Activities

It’s also one of the main rationales behind the playwriting competition that we run for Palestinian children – now about to enter its third year. Of course when creating a play, there are many other things to do before getting down to writing the dialogue (brainstorming ideas, coming up with stories, agreeing on which story to turn into a play etc) but even at very high levels, both the thinking involved in composing a story and the discussion involved in choosing a story is likely to happen in the mother tongue. I would argue that working together in groups and drafting, redrafting and editing the script is one of the stages of play making which is most conducive to second language development, and since as language teachers our contact time in class is never going to be enough, I’d say that this stage is what we should prioritise class time for.

So we could ask learners to do these other stages outside of class time, or it may be more appropriate to give learners ready-made scenarios in small groups and ask them to start working on turning them into scripts straight away. This way there is an immediate focus on spoken English and, because the learners know that they are going to be saying the lines that they are writing, there is an inherent need for what is written to be accurate, appropriate and clear. Learners will also automatically start mentally preparing themselves for saying the lines if they know that the lines are part of a dialogue.

Here’s one of the scenarios that I used with some children in Gaza in a workshop on remote theatre that I was running in June this year.

The hospital window

Two women are lying in bed in the same hospital room. One has a bandage over her eyes as she is waiting for them to heal. She is really depressed about her situation. The other is sitting up and looking out of the window (the audience). The two women talk a lot about their lives and the woman by the window describes all the beautiful things that she can see out of the window to cheer the other woman up. One day the woman by the window dies peacefully in her sleep and soon afterwards the others woman’s bandages are removed. Her eyes are better, and she looks out of the window only to see…a brick wall! The woman can’t understand why the other woman was telling her about all of the beautiful things that she said she could see. The nurse explained that the other woman was blind and she said those things just because she wanted to make her feel happy.

making a play
Children in Gaza working together to create the script for a scenario

Now I know I keep banging on about the benefits of young people creating plays to be performed in the language they are learning (this must be at least the 5th post I’ve written here about the topic!) but it’s because I’m convinced that it’s one of the most powerful ways that there is of enabling learners to move away from just being regurgitators of language supplied by their coursebooks or their teachers, and towards being fully fledged users of language in their own right. If you haven’t already tried asking your students to make a play in English, I’d really recommend that you give it a go.

6 thoughts on “In their own write

  1. I found this negative and distressing to read. While it may reflect the reality many Palestinian people have to live with, the focus on physical injury is not, in my opinion, a positive thing for children.

    Children may need to focus on more positive stories to compensate for the misery around them. If does not mean Palestinian children retreat into ‘fairytales’. Athough why not if they are middle eastern folktales, which they can act out in English? Therefore telling other children around the world (eg Pakistan) about Palestinian culture. So, the Pakistani (or children in other countries) learning English can reciprocate with folk tales from their culture. So the learning of English is also a cultural exchange.

    I recently lost half of my eyesight as the result of a stroke. There has been a recovery of 50% of the vision los. So now I am left with approx two-thirds/three quarters of my previous vision.

    The point I am making is that I am already dealing with the loss of vision ( I cannot drive my car anymore) without the reminder of your post. The same could be true for a Palestinian child. Perhaps someone in their family lost their eyesight. Do the children need the constant reminder of physical injury and trauma? Will this approach help them recover and find happiness in their learning of English ?

    Children are children … perhaps the children themselves need to choose what they want to create in their learning of English.

    I look forward to your reply.

    With best wishes Dee Geraghty

    ________________________________

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    1. Thanks very much for your comment Dee. It’s an interesting area that you raise. I’m sorry that you found the post negative and distressing to read. It’s true that the scenario I included here has some distressing elements but for me its overall message is actually uplifting, ie that our imagination has the power to improve the reality of others. I agree with you completely that it’s great if the children choose the topics themselves – this is why we put on the playwriting competition every year for Palestinian children. Have a look at this play list of plays created and performed by kids from last years competition https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwTmDrk314J4-rCXDiOKC1ddqCXNPs6ob and here for plays from the previous year https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwTmDrk314J41swBDlxDzWMLipGmmYFRM. Many of these plays, though not all of them of course, deal with distressing issues. Perhaps children who created them and acted in them are using drama as a way to somehow deal with the issues of trauma in their own lives.

      On your point about sharing folktales between culture, yes I completely agree too. This is a wonderful thing to do and we do it a lot between students in Palestine and others around the world. See here for example https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwTmDrk314J5czcQ_leUjGkqYcqogldVv
      And since you mentioned Pakistan have a look at this post from one of our volunteers who works there where she talks about exactly the kind of thing you’re talking about. https://handsupproject.org/2017/11/09/a-few-of-my-favourite-things/

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    2. As Palestinian English teacher let me say thank you for your comment. I really like to read the other point of view. But I think language itself is a tool to express our feelings. For our children learning English via using drama to talk about what they really feel is something natural.
      When I started discussing with my students about the topics they really love to write about, the majority chose talking about what they have witnessed during their childhood ie. ( fear,wars,injures…) later I found it is a way for my kids to release from all these negative feelings by talking and writing about.
      Now they are better and they can read fairy tales and have lovely dreams

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  2. Negative?!!! Distressing?!!! This is the last thing we ever think about as Palestinians living here in this darkest place on Earth. As one of the Palestinian playwriters in this competition, I have always been in search for hope but unfortunately the only way to obtain loads of hope for the miserable life we live is to cross the road of distress. My students and I tried many times to write a comedy piece of theatre but we found that it doesn’t relate with our issue that we want to convey to the world. My best regards Mrs. Dee

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    1. Thanks for your comment Imad. One of the reasons why your play was so popular with the judges for the competition is that it’s so uplifting. It focuses on all the problems that there are in living in a place like Gaza and the way that many people are losing hope, but it also offers a solution. It’s a very powerful moment of remote theatre when the main character goes right up to the camera and it’s revealed that he has the words ‘I am a human’ written on his arms. The play can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8o2DgQUH8w&list=PLwTmDrk314J4-rCXDiOKC1ddqCXNPs6ob&index=18&t=89s

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