How to Use Drama in ESL Lessons
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.
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.
More ESL Ideas
- Children's Drama Activities
Children's drama activities can range from its use as a simple revision of a lesson to a large production. It can be fun for both the children and the teachers or leaders. Training and organization are necessary.
- Tag Questions in ESL Lessons
Teaching about the different types of questions used in English is important in ESL. One type is the tag question that may use either an auxiliary verb or a modal. It is said that tag questions are gender markers and that women use them more than men
- Fun with Idioms in ESL Lessons
A study of idioms, clichės and English expressions can be interesting and fun for both the ESL teacher and the students. As some idioms can be confusing, it is best to wait until the students are at an intermediate level before introducing them.