15th December 2020

Top 10 Tips for Teaching English with Drama

By Ezekiel Chattell

Do you have any tips about teaching English with Drama? After experimenting and learning with English teachers from many different countries and cultures, here are 10 of my most useful tips. All of these tips are simple, adaptable and easy to implement while teaching English with Drama.

Think of the skills, not just the performance

A performance is a reflection of the preparation. Learners who spent time developing their skills: language skills, (body + voice), performance skills, and soft skills will shine through during the performance. Ensure that there are plenty of activities and games related to developing those skills during preparation rather than only reading lines.

Guide the class through the questions

“Can you hear that? What's over there? Why do you think the dragon is angry?” A drama activity can be led through questions; rather than telling learners to do something, guide them through an activity with questions.

Give choices

Part of being creative means to be able to choose between different options or create new ideas. Sometimes during an activity, there can be more than 1 way;  imagine walking through a story with your learners and you need to get to a castle, you can ask “shall we walk or run?”. Check out the difference between open and closed questions for more ideas.

Imagination

Imagination is a powerful tool that teachers can use to engage learners through an interactive learning experience.

When we use our imagination, what we experience is related to our senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste). Asking our learners to use their imagination can be as simple as saying, “look at this picture, what can you see? Imagine you are in that place, what else could you see? What might you hear or smell?”.

In relation to narrative, asking our learners to use their imagination we can say, “what do you think happens next in the story?”.
Remember, as a teacher you can use the collective imagination of your learners.

Questions, questions, questions

Give your learners lots of opportunities to answer questions and respond with an imaginative idea. Use divergent or open questions, these kinds of questions have more than one answer, and will really encourage learners to respond with their personal ideas.

Show the clock + set a time

Give your learners the opportunity to manage their own time (or at least, let them think they are). One idea is to show a timer or stopwatch to let them know how much time they have to do a group task.
Another is to verbally tell them they have "5 minutes" to complete the task, you may schedule 7 minutes in total but after 5, you can say "would you like 2 more minutes?". Often, they’ll think you have been kind, by giving them more time, they will finish the task and feel like their work is important.

Use varied countdown activities as opposed to shouting for the learners' attention.

When learners are doing group work it can be tempting to shout "quiet!" or "Ok, stop now!". But quickly your voice will get tired, or maybe, even lost amongst busy learners chatting away. A simple method used by many drama teachers is to hold your hands above your head with your fingers outstretched. Slowly fold your fingers one by one to show you are counting down from 10. When a learner sees you do this, they must stop talking and copy. Everyone will soon find out who is paying the least amount of attention in class?

What happens next?

This is one of the most versatile and useful questions a teacher can use.

It can be used at any time during a story to encourage learners to think of multiple possibilities and creative ideas. If you are reading a story, script, or simple role-play conversation with your learners just ask, "what do you think could happen next?".

In response to that question they could:

• Act it out in groups
• Draw a picture
• Write about it (a diary entry, newspaper report, letter to a friend, social media post, short video)
• Write a radio presentation talking about it

Feelings & Emotions

Learner engagement with a narrative (story) does not arise because of a perfect plot, or amazing illustrations, often the most engaging part of a narrative is how it makes them feel. In drama, empathy (imagining you are in someone else's shoes) is an important part of developing a character and engaging with the story being told.

Simple questions such as:

• How do you think s/he feels?
• How would you feel if you were them?
• Why do you think they are [emotion]?

Learner focused reflection, teacher-focused reflexive thinking

Reflective thinking

The purpose of reflection within English teaching with Drama is not to just revise the facts that have been studied but to think about the interesting, emotional, and meaningful parts of the lesson.

Reflexive thinking

Reflexion is reflection + action. To think reflexively means to think critically and carefully about your experience and how you can make a change.

In teaching, it might mean to think about "what went well and not so well during that activity?", "how can I encourage deeper development of language, performance, or soft skills during the activity?".

I’ve really enjoyed putting these top tips together and thank you so much for reading through them. I'd love to hear how these top tips impact your teaching and which ones could be adapted to your teaching context?

Are you looking for more teaching development opportunities? Check out our upcoming continued professional development workshops held reguarly throughout the year.

Dr Chattell has lived in China for nearly 10 years. His research focuses on experimental teacher training programmes related to encouraging creativity within teaching practice. His projects have included collaboration with the Centre for Teacher Education Research at Beijing Normal University, a key research institute of the Chinese Ministry of Education. He is a member of the Comparative Education Society of Hong Kong and currently serves as Head of Academic Training and Support for Drama and the Performing Arts for China at Trinity College London.