22nd April 2019

5 Drama Techniques for Language Production

By Laura Wilkes

Communicative language teachers often borrow drama techniques to facilitate study and production of language in their classes. A popular example of this is roleplay from improvisational theatre to get learners using functional phrases whilst in role to fulfill a communicative aim. For example, learners may assume the role of service staff and customer(s) to make a reservation over the phone, order food in the restaurant, make a complaint about the food…the number of settings, communicative functions and roles you can use for roleplay are endless.

From a study perspective, a recording of a roleplay interaction can be used to contextualise the language and support learners in identifying the language the speakers use for the communicative function. In the case of ordering food in a restaurant, you can get learners to identify what the customer wants to order (listening for gist), and then have them listen a second time to identify the use of would instead of want, used by both speakers to form polite questions and statements (listening for detail).

The use of roleplay is just one example of how drama can be integrated into the language classroom to engage learners in the study and use of language. The following list outlines five drama techniques that can be adapted for the language classroom.

  • Narration

                                                                      What is it?                                                            This is a form of storytelling where a speaker describes what is happening, or what happened, in the story.
How does it work? The role of narrator can be assigned to one student, shared between a pair of learners, or divided between a group who take turns to narrate a scene.
Puppets, pictures or video clips can be used to support the narration of a story. Alternatively, a group can act out a scene while another narrates what is happening – acting out a scene can be done silently, or a scene can be paused for a narrator to step in to add to the story.
Lesson Ideas The narrator describes a bad day using phrasal verbs (e.g. trip over, fall down, slip over) while a group mimes the story.
  • Talk Show

                                                                              What is it?                                                                                               A talk show host invites guests onto their show to interview them about their life and work.
How does it work? The role of talk show host can be assigned to one student or shared by a group that act as a panel. Other students can be assigned the role of guests or be a member of the audience. The audience can participate in asking the guests questions. You can also hide some guests in the audience as part of a surprise.
Lesson Ideas The talk show host interviews famous actors who are appearing on the show to promote their latest film.
  • Whoosh!

                                                                                                            What is it?                                                                                                                   This is a narration game that is reset every time the narrator says ‘whoosh’.
How does it work? Students sit in a circle. The narrator starts by telling a story. Students listen and decide whether they want to step into the middle of the circle to take on the role of a character to act out a scene and/or add dialogue to the story. When the narrator says ‘whoosh’ the students acting in the middle of the circle move back to their seats– this signals the start of a new scene or story whereby other students can take a turn to narrate the next scene and/or act out a scene.
Lesson ideas This lends well to stories that include multiple characters and interactions, such as Goldilocks and The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood etc.
  • Vox Pop                 

What is it? This is often a short radio or tv show segment where members of the public are interviewed on their opinion on a popular topic.
                                                                                                            How does it work?                                                                                   Students decided on a trending topic, or series of related topics, that they would like to discuss. Students work in groups to come up with 3-5 questions that they would like to ask others on the given topic. Students then use their questions to survey as many people in their class, school or community and record their answers. They can record answers on a smart device that can later be compiled into a short video or podcast.
Lesson ideas Vox Pop topics can range from ‘Where are the best places to hang out?’ to ‘Do you think companies should get rid of 9-5 working hours?’ This is a great way to get learners sharing their thoughts and ideas on trending topics they are interested in.
  • Hot Seat                                                                                                                     

     

                                                                                                            What is it?                                                                                                                                             Students take on the role of a character and answer questions from their classmates.
How does it work? Students take on a persona and sit in a chair in the middle of the room – the persona can be a job or a character from a story they have studied.  Classmates take turns to ask questions and the student in the ‘hot seat’ answers in character. This can be done as a whole class, with stronger students taking on the role of a character, or conducted in small groups. Learners will need time to think about the character they are playing and what questions they want to ask before playing hot seat as part of the pre-task.
Lesson ideas This drama game can be used to help learners to develop a deeper understanding of characters in a story, or their understanding of different perspectives from a historical or modern-day event. The latter is a good way to help learners to develop empathy by considering others’ points of view.
Alternatively, learners can take on the role of their dream job and answer questions about what they do and what they think about their work.


Further reading and resources

Much of my inspiration for this blog came from Black Box Education’s Drama Techniques and Conventions flashcards. To find out more, go to Blackbox Education.

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Laura Wilkes, teacher trainer, has worked in a range of TESOL settings over the last 8 years, from teaching students of all ages in China, training teachers in Russia, to developing and facilitating online courses for TESOL staff across the world. In addition to her teaching and training experiences, Laura trains teachers enrolled on Trinity CertTESOL courses, as well as observes and provides feedback as part of the Trinity DipTESOL teaching practical block.  Laura holds a CELTA and a Diploma in TESOL, achieving distinctions in both the Phonology and Teaching components. Recently, Laura graduated from her hometown University of Leicester with a distinction for her PGCE in Learning Technologies and continues to research ways in which teaching and training can be enhanced through technology.