What does drama have to do with ESL? A lot.
Drama is about dialogue, about language, and interacting with others in specific “scenes” with appropriate language--all activities we as teachers try to get our students to engage in.
Reasons for Incorporating Drama in the ESL Classroom
Drama can be a valuable teaching tool. It gets students up and moving around and interacting with each other. It’s particularly appealing to kinesthetic learners but can be used successfully for all learners. It also contextualizes language, making real and three-dimensional that which is on the printed page.
Students will improve the speaking and listening skills in performing scenes and also their writing skills through such activities as dialogue writing. Drama also teaches the “pragmatics” of language, how we appropriately use language to get something done, like make a request. Finally, drama promotes class bonding: in drama classes, there is usually a great deal of comradery.
Methods for Incorporating Drama in the ESL Class
Act out the Dialogue
One of the easiest ways to incorporate drama in the classroom is to have students act out the dialogue from their textbooks. Simply pair them up, have them choose roles, then work together to act out the dialogue, figuring out for themselves the “blocking,” or stage movements. This is effective for a beginning activity of incorporating drama in the classroom.
Perform Reader’s Theater
Another good beginning exercise is to do Reader’s Theater. Hand out copies of a short or one-act play, have students choose roles, and then read the play from their seats without acting it out. However, do encourage them to read dramatically, modeling as necessary.
Act out the Story
If students are reading a short story such as “The Chaser,” about the man who buys a “love potion” for his unrequited love, have students act out the story or part of the story, working in groups and assigning roles and determining the blocking. This is particularly effective with “short-shorts”: brief, one-scene stories with limited characters.
Write the Dialogue for a Scene
Watch a brief clip of a movie without the sound on. Have students write the dialogue for it and act it out.
More Advanced Activities
- Once students have had some experience with the basics of character, dialogue, and stage movement, they can move on to some more advanced dramatics, involving more of students’ own creativity and critical thinking skills.
Act out and Put Words to an Emotion
Give students an emotion, such as “anger” or “fear”. Have students, either singly or in groups, first act out that emotion then put words to the emotion.
Give “Voice” to an Inanimate Object
What would a stapler say if it could talk? Or an apple? Have students write monologues with inanimate objects as the character. A monologue is a short scene with just one character talking, either addressing the audience, God, or himself or herself. Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy might also be termed a monologue, for example.
After writing them, students can read the monologues aloud.
Create a Character
Have students develop a character, writing a one-page profile on the character’s background, appearance, personality, etc. Have them introduce the character to the class, explaining what interests them about their character.
Write a Monologue
Using the character they’ve already developed, have students write a monologue for that character then perform it.
Mime and Dubbing
Have students act out short scenes without dialogue. The rest of the class then supplies the dialogue, developing the “script.”
Put students in groups of two or three, and assign the characters and the situation to the groups, perhaps using 3x5 index cards. Give a time limit of two to three minutes per scene. Students go from there, extemporaneously creating the dialogue and movement themselves.
Drama is an effective tool that can be used to promote interaction and language skills in the ESL classroom as well as create a class bonding experience.
With careful planning, use of drama can enhance your English classroom curriculum.
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