Do Be So Dramatic: Ideas for Integrating Plays into the ESL Classroom
Most ESL classes do not spend a lot of time reading and discussing contemporary drama. Just because drama is not common in the ESL classroom, though, does not mean there is not value in that genre of literature. Plays can be integrated into the ESL curriculum and classroom, and they can serve your students well as both reading and speaking resources for all areas of language learning. Read on to see how you can integrate plays into your ESL curriculum.
How to Integrate Plays into Your ESL Classroom
Dialogue in Many Forms
Plays are written in a unique format – the speaker is listed before each line which is written just as the person is supposed to say it. Because of this unique writing style, plays are a great resource when you are teaching your class about quoted and reported speech. The lines listed on the page represent the actual words of the characters. Choose a scene to read aloud with your class, and assign roles to your students before reading through the dialogue. It does not have to be too long of a selection. After your class has read the scene, review the difference between quoted speech and reported speech. When writing quotations, the words that a person said are written in the same tense and agreement, but the punctuation must follow a special pattern. Reported speech, on the other hand, does not use a special punctuation pattern but does change the verb tense and its agreement at times. Have your students practice using both forms by taking the lines from the play and writing them first as quoted speech and then as reported speech before reviewing it together. To follow up this activity, have your students write their own dialogue in one of three forms: quoted speech, reported speech or play format. Give the students who would like a chance to share their dialogue an opportunity to do so in front of the class.
Since plays are written to be read, they are a ready resource the next time you are looking for a class dialogue for pronunciation activities. By assigning parts and having your class read aloud, you can work on general pronunciation and intonation patterns with your students. Not only that, you can also challenge your students to act out the dialogue from the play as they read. This will add to their listening and reading comprehension and give you a chance to evaluate the pronunciation of individual students in isolation of their spoken grammar.
After your class has read a play, ask a volunteer to lead this question and answer activity. Have a volunteer pretend to be one of the characters in the play (you can either assign the character or let the volunteer choose it himself). Then give your class an opportunity to ask questions of the volunteer to try to identify who he is. They should be allowed to ask yes or no questions but not open ended questions. If the class is able to guess the character with ten or fewer questions, they win. If they are not, the volunteer wins. Repeat with as many characters as you like, and use a different volunteer each round.
A scene that your class reads aloud can also serve as a unique story starter for writing class. After reading a scene, challenge your students to write a continuation of what happens with the characters. They should include details about the setting and characters in their piece as they write in pros form.
Another writing activity that you can use with a play your class has read is letter writing. Challenge each of your students to put himself or herself into the position of one of the characters in the play. What does that character think and feel? Have your students imagine themselves as that character at the pivotal point of the play, and in character ask your students to write a personal letter to another character in the play. Your students should keep in mind what is happening in the play at that point and the perspective of the character.
You can also challenge your students to write their own short skits and present them for the rest of the class. If your class has watched a movie at any point in the year, use the deleted scenes from that movie as a starting point for this speaking activity. Using the deleted scenes as a model, have your students work in groups to write their own additional scene that was “cut” from the play and then have them perform it for the class.
If you are able to get a copy of a performance of a play your class has read, watching it as a class will be a unique experience for your students. Since a play is written to be watched rather than read, your class will likely increase their comprehension by viewing actors speaking the lines they have only seen on paper up until that point. After watching the play, ask your students to comment on the stage directions, costumes and props used in the performance and how they compare to what the playwright wrote. Was it what they imagined as they were reading? If your students were the directors, what would they have done differently? What would they have done the same?
Drama is a unique genre among literature, but it is profitable for your ESL students to be exposed to this type of writing.
By including plays in your ESL curriculum, your students will have a more rounded literature experience and still gain valuable language skills though its study.
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