3 Ways to Use Drama in the ELA Classroom
Using drama in the ELA classroom is one of those things you may have thought about doing, but never gotten around to. Maybe you don’t feel like you have enough time (a big one for all of us!) or maybe you lack confidence in your own drama-ness. No worries! I’m in the Coffee Shop this week to give you some tips and resources for integrating drama in your secondary English class.
I have loved drama since my 3rd grade class got to be Arabian dancers in the school’s performance of “The Nutcracker”. When I was in middle and high school, I always wanted to do “acting” options for projects, sometimes asking my teachers ridiculous things like “can I show you the parts of the cell as an interpretive dance?”
As a teacher, I seek to give my students the same opportunities. Drama is a great way to build public speaking skills, memory, and community in the classroom. I have used drama with grades K-12 in France, Germany, Puerto Rico, and the US, and students beg for more. Literally. After finals one year, I was planning to show a movie, and students asked to reprise some improv games instead. Awesome!
So, where do you start?
1. Start with improvisation.
Improv is spontaneous, unscripted acting, and it is excellent for building student confidence. First off, improv games are short and funny. Secondly, students are working toward a common goal. Third, improv is not graded and it inherently “low stakes”.
Here is a great game that I’ve used for English, ESL, Creative Writing, and Public Speaking classes and workshops. This is your go-to game if you finish your lesson early, particularly if it’s the last class of the day or a Friday.
“Story, Story, Die!”
Choose four students to be Storytellers, and one Pointer. The Pointer picks one person to start the story, and then randomly switches between people. The goal is to continue telling a cohesive story, picking up where the last person left off. A participant “dies” if they make a continuity error (accidentally change the setting, for example) or if they hesitate too long before picking up the thread of the story. The audience can be the judge, and participants can “die” an exaggerated stage death for more fun. Last person standing wins.
Why this game is great:
*Students are so focused on the story that they often forget 29 people are listening to them give a speech. Awesome!
*Students have to listen to the other participants in order to succeed. Awesome!
*It is hilarious and no-prep for you.
2. Convert “presentations” to “drama”!
Remember how my younger self wanted to do an interpretative dance to show understanding of the parts of the cell? It’s time to brainstorm some ways that “drama” could be your final product.
After reading “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl, my students choose to be the prosecutor or defense attorney in Mrs. Maloney’s murder trial. They write closing arguments as either lawyer, spinning textual evidence to support their case. Each year, I have at LEAST half a dozen students who ask to perform their arguments.
Last year, one of my classes surprised me during our reading of Lord of the Flies. They wanted to act out each chapter after reading it, and even selected a student in the class to provide dramatic narration.
You do have time for this! It may take a few minutes longer to let them act out a chapter summary, but they are more likely to connect to the material whether they are “on stage” or “in the audience”, and thus you can meet your goals for understanding and engagement.
3. Perform a class play
The most complete way to bring drama into the classroom is to commit to performing a whole play, whether it’s Reader’s Theatre or something memorized. This allows students to really dive in and explore characters, plot, and setting, and they will always remember this experience.
In the past, I’ve split my class into groups and each group has been responsible for one act in whatever Shakespeare play we were reading. As a class, they decide to either keep a consistent time and place, or change it up for each scene. Depending on the grade level, they use the original text, an abridged text, or create their own lines but stay faithful to the original story. We’ve had everything from post-apocalyptic Romeo and Juliet to a British comedy version of Much Ado About Nothing. You can have students video these or perform them in the classroom.
It’s also great to share drama with a live audience who comes fresh to the story and production. Last year, my 9th grade Honors classes worked together to do an abridged version (1 hour) of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They worked for several weeks on this project, and completed mini-lessons on parts of the stage, blocking, voice, and levels. They performed their dress rehearsal for an audience of parents, and their final for the middle school.
In addition to weaving it in throughout the school year, I do a dedicated Drama Unit each year (usually with a Shakespeare play). You can grab my Intro Lesson here (an exclusive for the Secondary English Coffee Shop!), and check out how I get students on the same page before we begin.
What are ways that you integrate drama in your ELA classroom? We’d love to hear from you in comments or give us an IG shout-out @secondaryenglishcoffeeshop. Have a coffee-tastic day!