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How to Use Drama in ESL Lessons

Updated on January 24, 2013
BlossomSB profile image

As a child, Bronwen learned Elocution and Art of Speech. After study at the University of Melbourne, she opened her own Drama School.

Using a script
Using a script | Source

Why Use Drama?

Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) can appear to both teacher and students to be rather academic and a matter of learning much grammar and vocabulary, which, of course, are necessary. However, if drama is introduced into the lessons, it can greatly enhance the students' confidence and enjoyment. If students are enjoying the lessons and having fun, they will learn so much more efficiently.

The Students' Background: When introducing drama into the classroom it is a good idea to bear in mind the students' background. Some countries have very large classes and the only practical way to teach is seen to be by writing and learning information and by oral repetition of key words and phrases. Although students may have learned EFL - English as a Foreign Language - for a number of years, they may be quite reluctant to speak as individuals. Students from such a background may feel threatened and lack confidence in the freedom of many drama situations; it may need to be introduced slowly.

The Age of the Students: Another point for the ESL teacher to consider is the age of the students. Young children are frequently much more keen to communicate, regardless of the correctness or otherwise of the grammar, while older students and especially adults may be hampered by a desire to always produce grammatically correct sentences, and so their communication may be halting as they carefully process what they will say before they speak.

While taking these important points into consideration, there are different ways to use drama in the classroom:

  • It may be the brief acting out of a situation.
  • It may be planned by the teacher but appear as ad hoc for the students, and seem to be a time of respite from learning.
  • It may be that the students spend a set amount of time during a series of lessons as they write a script together in a group and later perform their play for the rest of the class.

Drama per se may be fun, but it may not be very meaningful for the students and may not result in learning. There needs to be an aim and purpose when drama is introduced into the ESL classroom.

The Brief Acting Out of a Situation

How this is approached and the types of situations utilised will partly depend on the age and level of English competence of the students. However, there are general situations that can then be made more specific to the level and needs of the students. For example,

  • The Telephone Conversation: This can be very useful as most students feel comfortable using a telephone or mobile phone. It can be a conversation with a friend, where the students work in pairs; telephoning the school office for information, e.g. the time and place for parent-teacher interviews, the doctor's surgery to make an appointment. The teacher can provide the students with a script, with the points the students need to ask, the students can write what they need to say first, or just do it with their partner and then change roles, or, with the case of telephoning the school office, with a small class it may be arranged with the school secretary to actually speak to her.
  • Puppets: Simple glove puppets are a very good way of helping shy children, and even adults, to gain confidence in speaking.
  • Setting the Scene: Some scenes can be set up quite simply, e.g. a shop. The students can take turns in being the shopkeeper or the shopper. There is a wide variety of conversation that can be engendered in this type of situation, whether the main topic of the lesson is the names of products, counting numerals, or learning to handle the money in English.

Drama that Appears to be Unplanned

After teaching a certain point, the teacher may introduce drama without any warning or preparation, so that the students can revise and practice what they have just learned. As it appears to be ad hoc, very few, or no props will be provided and the students will be expected to act out the situation without any books or written instructions.

This can be very effective with older students and is often a good reminder that they should be paying more attention to what is being taught in class.

  • It may be that the class divides into pairs or groups of three or four.
  • The teacher may provide the same topic for all the groups or a different topic for each group.
  • A time-limit is useful and after the group has decided how to act out the situation, who will take which parts, etc. a couple of groups can act out their situation for the whole class.

Simple props
Simple props | Source

Preparing and Acting a Script

If the students have the same language background, they should be warned that all discussion about writing the script should be in English. The writing and preparation can be done over a series of lessons. Sometimes it is best to give a limit to the number of props that can be used and emphasize that they need to be simple props.

  • The teacher may choose the topic or may decide to allow the students to choose from a number of topics provided.
  • The teacher needs to warn the students of the number of lessons, or parts of lessons that will be allocated to this project.
  • The teacher may also give time for the students to learn and rehearse their script.

It can be especially affirming for students who are rather reticent if there is a special occasion when the playlets can be performed for the whole school, for the parents, for the staff at lunchtime, or some other event.

Drama That is More Occupation Specific

When the students are working to improve their English prior to entering college or university, or to actually being accepted to work in a given profession, the English language learning needs to be more occupation specific, this is known as EOP: English for Occupational Purposes.

Although the EOP students will most likely be well motivated to learn, and may at first think that the use of drama in their lessons is unnecessary, it can have great benefits.

  • It can help the students' responses and use of specific terminology to become more automatic.
  • It can also help the lessons to be more fun and enjoyable, thus reducing the stress that many of these students feel they are under.


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    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      cynthtggt: Two years ago you made your comment and it's taken all this time to reply! My apology and thank you for your lovely and interesting response. Drama can be so helpful in so many ways.

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      cynthtggt: Thank you for your comments. Drama classes at school can be so enjoyable for the children and are essential for their well-being for many reasons, including the ones you enumerate so well.

    • cynthtggt profile image

      Cynthia Taggart 

      6 years ago from New York, NY

      BlossomSB - a very well written informative hub about the value of theatre. When I was young I was shy and drama classes helped provide the words I was unable to form on my own. Through practice, drama classes freed my speech because it freed me of my self-consciousness. Drama classes ought to be a requirement for all students, as it provides not only a way to learn language but also confidence and assertiveness - and appropriateness.

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      always exploring: It is fun - for the teacher, too, and a great way to get the students involved. Thank you for your comments.

      teaches12345: I'm glad you enjoyed it. It gives really good opportunities for the students to practise what they've learned in a useful way. Thank your for your vote.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      I love your post here, Blossom. I think that using drama would be a fun way to have them learn a language well. Voted way up!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is a great Hub. It sounds like so much fun. I'm sure it helps the students get better acquainted in a useful way. Thank you for sharing..

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Vellur: Thank you. Yes, it makes the learning fun and also gets the students away from just sitting.

      Rosemay50: Yes it gets them so much more involved in their learning.

      Jackie Lynnley:You're right. When students participate it becomes much more exciting.

      stars439: Bless you, you're such a positive commenter.

      MsDora: It's such a joy when the reticent ones find a way to join in and gain so much more in the experience.

      Frank Atanacio: That's wonderful, Frank. I hope she finds it useful.

      mours sshields: It's sad when, from quite an early age, children seem to get stuck to their seats. Apart from what they are learning, it's beneficial for both their mental and physical health.

    • profile image

      mours sshields 

      6 years ago from Elwood, Indiana

      A great and interesting way to help student's learn! Very useful and interesting!

      Marcia Ours

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      6 years ago from Shelton

      this is very useful and helpful I have a friend who teaches English as a second language over at the University.. im going to forward this over to her.. her students are mostly from Japan.. but I still think she'll benefit bless you blossom :)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 years ago from The Caribbean

      Wonderful hub. You're a teacher's teacher, and you do a great job. Seems like your suggestion will help shy children in any setting, even at home where they can learn English and much more.

    • stars439 profile image


      6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Wonderful hub. It was so nicely written , and comprised of much knowledge. You're brilliance , and skill shines threw from you'r profession as a teacher. God Bless You precious heart.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      6 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I agree, the acting to make it become more real and the excitement of the drama both should be very effective.

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 

      6 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      A greta way to make learning interesting and more exciting.

      Well done

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      6 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub. Using Drama to teach ESL is a great idea. This will help students to understand the language better because actions accompany words and drama will make the learning experience real fun. Voted up.


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