Teaching English through Drama

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EDB Professional Development for Teachers British Council Hong Kong

Teaching English through Drama


1 Teaching Drama

In part 2 of the workshops we experienced two demonstrations. In this section we review the two teaching sequences and consider the stages, aims and range of activities available for developing English skills through drama.

1.1 A Structured Approach to Teaching Drama

Teaching Drama to large groups places a number of demands on the teacher.

When teaching drama we can expect:

• a fairly high level of conversational noise

• different groupings, with students standing, moving, sitting, and using space to express themselves

• different groups working at different paces towards different goals In the workshop we addressed the fact that learners may not be confident about their English, or may think that drama is just fun and games.

As teachers we are aware that the main aim of this module is to develop students’ language skills – not produce actors or actresses. For this reason we need to carefully structure our lessons so that they have clear linguistic and skills-development aims, and to communicate these aims clearly to students so that are clear on what is expected of them.

In Demonstration 1 we saw that it was important to have clear language aims for lessons. We also saw that a generic structure for a lesson should contain a focus on aims and expectations, warm up activities which target language as well as performance aims, a context – such as a story – within which to develop the drama, a range of drama conventions which focus on skills such as character building, expressing emotion through voice and movement and, of course, creativity and confidence with language. Lessons, or series of lessons, should provide opportunities for students to reflect on their progress and to identify areas for further development.

Demonstration 2 illustrated the process of moving from story to script and we saw how a number of different performance-based activities could be

incorporated into lessons. The EDB scheme of work offers many options for teachers in terms of the type of performance-based work they do within the drama module. Schools could, for example, adapt their class reader or use a prepared script that students can then personalise by editing and adding. Key drama skills developed in this process involve characterisation and staging conventions. In the workshop, we worked through a series of tasks which focussed on these skills, while still being focussed on language skills development.

Part two of the scheme of work allows students to develop, amongst others, their writing skills. Script writing has a number of conventions which students need to be aware of. But the fact that writing dialogue is often easier than, for example, writing a story, even lower level students will be able to achieve something they can feel proud of, given the right support from the teacher.


1.2 Demonstration 1 – Lesson Plan and Resources Lesson plan: A Structured Drama Class

1 Establishing the focus

Aims: To ensure students are clear on the learning objectives and what is expected in terms of behaviour and participation.

T organises starting circle and agrees on the aims of the lesson. Elicit words beginning with C, e.g. communication, co-operation, creativity, content, collaboration.. Check spelling and write on the board.

2 Fixing space

Aims: To encourage learner autonomy and responsibility. To ensure students have a defined work area.

Set up groups and assign performance space.

3 Warm-Up

Materials: 1 set of word cards / 4 or 5 students

Aims: To introduce and provide practice with key vocabulary. To develop range of expression through movement and encourage collaboration / co- operation

Introduce the vocabulary by showing the word cards and checking students understand the words.

Human Sculptures

Introduce by demonstrating with a student. You are a sculptor; the student is the sculpting materials. Move the student to make the object (chair) written on the card. Check students understand what to do: if necessary, get a pair of students to demonstrate for the group.

Students work in groups of 5 or 6, the word cards are face down. One student selects a card and sculpts their partner to form the object. They could use sound effects and movement as well. The rest of the group watch and try to guess the correct word on the card.

Teacher Lift Door

Bottle of water Chair Mobile phone

Scissors Train Firefighter

Example A: Word Cards for Human Sculptures


4 Using Stimuli

Materials: 1 set of picture cards / 4 or 5 students

Aims: To further develop language skills in the context of a narrative. To encourage creativity and confidence with English through developing a group narrative.

Explain that all the words in the last activity relate to a true story about a teacher.

Show big pictures on the board.

Students work in groups to match words to pictures. T checks answers, sticking the word cards next to the correct picture

In groups, students orally create a basic story in groups, using the pictures. They tell the class. Check ideas by re-ordering the pictures and words on the board.

Ask other groups to say if their story is the same or different – if time allows, ask another group to tell their story.

5 Voice work

Materials: Sentence word cards (jumbled order on the board)

Aims: To develop range and control of pronunciation. To learn about the effect of voice on creating a character. To introduce a system of notation to learners for further voice work.

T clarifies the story for students:

‘This story is about a young teacher, Kate. It is Saturday morning and she doesn’t have to go to work. She is going to a hairdresser on Lantau. When she is there, she gets a phone call which changes her day – for the worse!’

T sticks the jumbled word cards on the board. Explain that this is what Kate said when she received the phone call. Give students time to try and reorder the words to make the correct sentence. Elicit suggestions from students and rearrange the cards on the board. Check meaning and students copy the sentence.

‘Well, I’m really not sure that that is going to be possible!’

T works with the students on pronunciation (show students how to annotate using symbols). Make a note of the decisions made about the character’s voice in relation to:

word / sentence stress (draw dots over words to indicate stress)

pausing (use // to indicate any pauses)

accent (British? American? Hong Kong?)

speed (fast? Slow?) (Use an arrow under phrases that are spoken quickly and a dotted line under slow sections)

volume (loudly? softly? whispered?) (write the words on the text)

intonation (use arrows to indicate direction)

pitch (high? low?) (underline high pitch, draw a line over low pitch) Additional practice

Dictate a different, longer piece of speech – possibly a short dialogue between Kate and the hairdresser

Students work in pairs to decide how to say the sentence. They annotate their script, using the conventions above. In open class, students deliver their lines.

Talk to the class about how each one sounds, e.g. high or low pitch, stressed words, speed, etc.


With more advanced groups, ask students about how the voice can help create a character, e.g. does the character sound young or old, what is her background, did she go to university, what kind of a person is she?

6 Sound collage

Aims: To provide opportunities for creativity, suitable to mixed level groups. To emphasise the importance of sound and sound effects in creating drama.

T works with the class. Give students time to brainstorm the different things you can hear at a hairdresser’s.

Elicit a range of sounds that we can hear in the location (a hairdresser’s) T. writes up ideas on the board. Ask students for how the students can make the different sounds. Students copy the list of sounds, for example:

Scissors People talking

Hairdryer Door opening and closing

Water Traffic

Radio / music Receptionist answering the phone / making appointments People reading / browsing

newspapers and magazines Cash register / Video games Example B: Sounds We Hear at the Hairdresser's

Students work in groups. They create a sound collage for the scene (finishing with line of dialogue they practised before). They use their voices and any other object in the room to help them. Work with the groups to encourage and support.

Groups perform their sound collage. Other students listen and identify the sounds they hear. They tick the sounds they hear on their lists.

Additional practice

If you have the equipment, have students practice and then record their ‘sound tracks’, as if they were making a film. Play the sound tracks to the whole class, and identify the different sounds. Discuss how things could be improved or altered.

7 Bodyscaping (Preparation for freeze/unfreeze and thought tracking) Materials: Developing your character – questions (1 per student)

Aims: To practice forming and responding to a range of questions in writing. To focus students on characterisation and prepare them for performance.

T prepares students to create a short performance of the scene. Individually, students think about the character they are playing, writing answers to the

questions. Ask students to write 2 or 3 other questions and to answer them about their character. Tell students that we will ask them questions about their character during the performance

Students work in groups to create their bodyscape scenes. T monitors and helps.

The bodyscape finishes when Kate answers the phone and delivers her line.


1 What is your character’s name?

2 How old are you?

3 What do you do?

4 Where do you live?

5 Who do you live with?

6 Why are you at the hairdresser’s? Is there a special party or is this a regular visit?

7 Do you always come to this hairdresser’s?

8 Do you know the people at the hairdresser’s?

9 What did you do before you arrived?

10 What will you do after?

Example C: Sample Questions for Characterisation 8 Freeze / Unfreeze and thought tracking

Materials: Question on the board (as a prompt for students during the thought tracking task)

Aims: To develop a short, group performance that enables students to freely practice the concepts and techniques covered in the lesson. To provide practice in self-direction and develop confidence

Groups perform their short scenes. Teacher and students freeze and unfreeze the action as necessary.

Performers are questioned on their character and motivation (relating to the questions set in the previous stage). If time, other groups also perform.

9 Evaluating achievements and learning and closing the session (drama log)

Materials: drama log (1 per student)

Aims: To encourage reflection on progress in relation to the aims of the lesson / series of lessons. Develop capacity to critically reflect on learning.

Teacher works with students to reflect on the lesson and complete the drama log.


1 Today we …

What did you do? Why did you do it?

2 Today, I didn’t understand … What language was difficult?

3 Next time, I want to …

How will you improve in the next lesson?

4 How well did you do?

Circle a number

Communication Co-operation Collaboration

    

    

     Example D: Example of a Self-Reflection Journal


1.2.1 Developing Autonomy

A key part of the new curriculum is the development of learner autonomy and in the session we stated that this implies a change of attitude in, first, teachers and then students. We see autonomy as the ability and willingness of the learner to take responsibility for the direction of their learning. In class we need to provide students with opportunities to exercise autonomy and work independently of the teacher.

Lessons, therefore, should include aims and stages which allow students to develop their autonomy. To do this we may choose to incorporate the following techniques

Self-monitoring (e.g. a progress record)

Group work Self-correction (also peer-correction) Project work Variable pacing (groups, rather than

lockstep) Trouble-shooting sessions (i.e.

discussing learning problems Extensive reading and listening Choice of activities, or contexts Use of pupil teachers, either formally

or informally

Sharing objectives (i.e. involving students in some way with the planning of their course)

Figure 1: Techniques for developing autonomy

If we reflect back on these techniques, we can see that the demonstration lesson incorporated many opportunities to develop learner independence. We accept that real independence of the teacher is something most learners need to achieve by the time they go to university. We also see that many learners are unwilling to take on more responsibility.

Developing autonomy is a process and if we permit ourselves to pass some of the control of the learning back onto the student, we can be sure that over time the effect will be beneficial.

1.2.2 The Importance of Warm up Activities

The warm-up is a key feature of a performance-based class and should always be used even if there is only time for 5 minutes. The warm-up works on a number of levels focusing on (a) warming up the body to enable students to use a good range of movement and (b) warming up the voice so students are ready to use the full range of pitch, intonation and volume levels. For our purposes, warm ups should have a clear language focus as well.

In terms of the group, this is the teacher’s key moment to bring about a sense of cohesion and collaboration in the group. Each activity in the table opposite has a different focus and can be used alone. Think about the basic level of behaviour in your class as each activity requires increased focus and greater physical or vocal output.


Warmer Procedures Outcomes 1 Change


Students stand in a circle facing one another and swap places depending on the instruction, eg, change places if you’re wearing black socks.

Ss get a sense of who’s in the group; they think, respond and think quickly and so get a physical warm-up; they have to work using eye contact and so this form of communication increases in the group.

2 Magnets The circle disperses as students walk around the room; the teacher calls out grouping numbers and features, eg, groups of three – wearing trousers; those who are not wearing trousers stand alone or form other groups, eg, skirts

Another physical warmer which also requires quick thinking and collaboration especially when students are not in a group and have to form another group using something they have in common.

3 Raising the flag

Students form a circle again and this time the teacher explains that the flag for the class has fallen – ‘we have to raise the flag again’. Ss work together to raise the flag against a storm.

This is less physical, but requires group work, purpose and focus.

Some people should stand at one end of the imaginary pole lifting it with ‘ropes’ while most stand at the other side pushing it up. An

opportunity exists here for using a vocal warmer with ‘heave; heave’

or a working chant. Make sure everyone shows how much effort they are putting in and drops after they’ve lifted the flagpole with handshakes, slaps on the back and big smiles.

4 Orchestra Use an orchestra layout on the PowerPoint, or on the board, and have students stand in certain sections. Use the

melody you have devised earlier and orchestrate the group in the following way:

(1) Percussion (claps, stamps) (2) Double bass (long, low notes)

(3) Wind & brass section (high notes)

(4) Strings (high, quick notes, main melody)

Bring in each section one at a time, have the group ‘playing’

together for about 40 seconds, then spotlight one group and finally fade the piece out.

This is a good way to organise the group to work together and

complement one another; the use of spotlighting one group while the others play in the background mirrors the spotlighting technique we will use in Part 3. The

technique requires that students take up a rhythm and listen to one other for pitch. As such, it is a good vocal warmer.

Figure 2: Examples of Warm up Activities


1.2.3 Using Stimuli

In language teaching, we generally refer to tasks, activities and exercises.

This language can be used in drama, but there are also other terms used to refer to materials.

The word ‘stimulus’ (singular) or ‘stimuli’ (plural) is used to refer to material the teacher uses to generate a focus or create a story.

Stimuli can come from a range of sources as is listed below, and can be used alone or in combination:-

Stimuli Examples

1 Visual Photographs, paintings, pictures, cartoons

2 Aural A soundtrack, sound effects in a sequence, a song 3 Realia or props A bag containing a character’s possessions

4 Literature A diary entry from a character, a letter, an e-mail, a phone book

A poem, an excerpt from the news, a passage from a story 5 Personal events An anecdote from someone’s experience, for example, the

teacher could tell a story from her personal experience Figure 3: Types of Stimuli

One way to use stimuli is to build up an event or a character through the piecing together of a range of stimuli, for example, the following could be used to create a story:

• a newspaper clipping about a dramatic event

• a song/soundtrack to indicate (a) tragedy; (b) comedy; (c) excitement

• an (invented or real) report from someone who was involved in the event

The use of stimuli is one way to provide opportunities for the students to collaborate communicate and think creatively (three of the nine generic skills).

Students use all the language they have at their disposal to negotiate what kind of story is being introduced and what opportunities exist for developing it.

In our session, we used photographs of distinctly different scenes. The language work involved focused on:-

• describing what was in the picture (mainly vocabulary, eg, truck, crowd, dust)

• describing where it might be (language of speculation)

• describing what people might be doing (language of speculation) 1.2.4 Developing Freeze Frame Activities

Creating a still image (also known as ‘tableau’ (singular), ‘tableaux’ (plural)) is a particularly useful for lower level students, or learners at the beginning of the course. Part of the appeal of mime work, in general, is that it helps to develop the key skills of concentration and physical expression.

Groups can take photographs of their still images and using one person as a

‘sculptor’, they create a still image to best represent the image. Once the


learners have developed confidence with the task, you can begin to introduce some of the devices drama that offers us.

1.2.5 Reflecting on Learning

The session should contain some attempt to evaluate what has been done, what achievements students have made and what they have learnt. There are different ways to do this from simple to complex and the table below sets out some suggestions.

Materials needed Procedure and purpose 1 Traffic light cards: small 3cm

X 3cm cards of red, amber and green (can be


Ss given cards of red, amber and green. T asks specific questions, and students show the card that most reflects how they assess this


2 Minute papers Ss are given a ‘minute paper’ – often boxes with (a) what did I learn? (b) what didn’t I

understand? (c) what do I still need to work on next time? Ss have 2-3 minutes to fill them out with points. They can share them with a partner or with the teacher. The minute paper could be part of a log-book or the portfolio and occur after every session.

3 Self-Rating Ss are given a list of statements about (a) their performance, and (b) what they learnt, which they respond to with a number between 1 and 4, 1 meaning – I didn’t do very well/didn’t

understand X, and 4 meaning, I did very well/I understood X.

There is a worked example of this in Part 4 of the day.

4 Competency badges The teacher has a collection of competency badges, for example, ‘good grasp of levels’;

‘good grasp of gaze’; ‘good use of space’; ‘good unfreeze’, and students nominate who should get them for that session. If they are stickers, these could be mounted on an on-going wall-chart.

Aspect of the drama Visual effect

Relative status Levels You can use high levels and low levels (someone who is standing high; someone who is crouching).

Relationships Distance Physical distance between characters can show the closeness in their relationships. Characters can be lined up behind one another to show support or for protection.

Emotion Stance and gesture The gesture and stance a character takes can symbolise his/her emotional attitude and involvement in the scene. Lack of focused gesture also indicates one’s involvement.

Focus of attention Gaze The gaze can be used to show relationships, emotions, focus of attention and, along with the way the head is positioned, can indicate the likely action a character would take.

Figure 4: Techniques for Developing Tableaux


5 Goals to work on This is another technique that can be used with a wall-chart. Make a list of competencies, such as (a) working collaboratively; (b) working in


(c) using the space purposefully; (d) using levels meaningfully; (e) using gaze meaningfully, and so on, and have students put their name next to two targets to work on for the coming session. In this way, they can use this as an aim at the beginning of the session and come back to it in order to assess their focus and progress at the end.

Figure 5: Examples of Reflective Tasks

1.3 Demonstration 2 – Lesson Plans and Resources Lesson plans: Developing Stories and Writing Short Scenes

This following lesson outlines focus particularly on parts 2 and 3 of the EDB Scheme of Work. The aim of the demonstrating was to show the main stages of the progression from introducing a story, or inventing one, to writing and rehearsing the script.

1 Introducing the story

Materials: Cassette (story), Paper and pens (for note taking)

Introduce the story using the pictures from the previous lesson. Put the pictures on the board.

Working in pairs, students listen to the story and make a note of the main action. Play again if necessary.

Check their understanding by briefly eliciting the main action – referring to the pictures to help clarify. Write up the names of the main characters in the story (Kate, Henry)

2 Developing awareness of character

Students do a variety of tasks to develop awareness of different aspects of the main characters in the story.

1) Role on the wall (Character Kate)

Materials: Question handout (1 per pair), A3 paper for role-on-the-wall.

Students work in pairs. They answer a series of questions on their handouts about the character, Kate.

Read through the instructions for the task.

Groups create an outline for their character and write in the information using colour, etc.

Characters are published – groups look at each other’s characters and answer some questions (e.g. Which version of Kate would you most like to have as a teacher? Which one do you think is funniest? Most strict or serious?)


Figure 6: Sample Task Sheet for Role on the Wall

Role on the wall - Kate

Think about the character, Kate. Write answer the following questions.

• What’s her job?

• How old do you think she is?

Is she at work today? Where is she? Why is she there?

• Can you describe what she looks like? How tall/heavy/slim is she?

Which words best describe her personality?

Reliable Unreliable

Funny Serious

Lazy Hard-working

Practical Flaky

Clever Silly

Confident Nervous

Decide on three more words to describe her personality.

How does she feel when she receives the phone call in the hairdressers?

Write three feelings she has at the same time. For example: angry, happy, sad, surprised, etc.

3 Draw a body template for Kate. Think about the clothes she is wearing.

4 Decide where you will write the words that describe:

• her physical appearance

• her personality

her feelings after she gets the phone call


Remember that you can write outside the outline and inside the outline; close to the body and far from the body. You can use colour for different reasons, and you can add words to this character at any point.


2) Good angel / Bad angel (Character Henry)

Materials: Handout (1 per student) – Good angel / Bad angel

Students explore another character and do some simple performance / vocal warm ups. T introduces the activity and guides students with language.

In groups of three, students role play good angel / bad angel. T monitors and helps with language.

If time allows, students perform for other groups.

Figure 7: Sample Task Sheet for Good Angel / Bad Angel

Good angel / Bad angel

1) Read about Henry, the local resource assistant.

Henry the resource assistant

Henry is in his early 60’s, is a widower, and has adult children and grandchildren. He has been working at this school for 25 years; knows everyone; knows all the

routines, and is very organised. He is friendly man, who likes to chat. When things do not go to plan, Henry feels responsible for finding solutions, and will sometimes try to do or talk about doing heroic things that are beyond his physical ability.

Cover up the text. What can you remember about Henry?

2) Work in two groups.

Group 1 – think of all the positive things about the situation. Write sentences giving advice or suggestions for Henry.

Example: ‘Why don’t you relax, Henry. Everything is OK!’

Group 2 – think of all the negative things about the situation. Write sentences giving advice and suggestions for Henry

Example: ‘It’s your fault. You should say sorry to Kate.’

3) Work standing in groups of three. One of you is Henry, one is the good angel and the other is the bad angel.

Good angel: make suggestions to Henry about the best way he can react in the situation, and all the good opportunities that exist at this moment.

Bad angel: tell Henry about all the bad things about this situation; frighten him with fears about the worst possible things that can happen both now and when he eventually gets out of the lift.

Henry: listen to what the good and bad angel each say to you and see how you feel about each comment and suggestion. Which has the best advice and suggestions? Is it the good angel or the bad angel


3) Thought tunnel

T introduces the task. Students listen and decide on their ideas. They plan short lines of dialogue for the character’s thoughts.

Students work in two groups. They take it in turns to speak the character’s thoughts and walk through the tunnel listening to them.

(See section 1.3.1 for more conventions) 3 Developing awareness of plot structures

Materials: Matching cards (1 set / group or 3 or 4), answer cards, A3 paper and pens

In pairs, students match different plots types to their definitions. T checks answers using the large cards and clarifies as necessary.

Students make a ‘poster’ with examples of each of the plot types and decide the type of plot of the story (introduced in stage 1)


The ‘W’ plot

This plot begins with background information.

There is a small 1st problem, and a solution. Then, a much bigger problem happens. After some difficult moments, this problem is solved and life returns to normal.

Used in TV soaps, Hollywood films Simple & recognisable for audience

The Episodic plot

This plot is really series of events which may or may not be connected to one another.

This was very common in 18th century, for example Charles Dickens.

This plot type is like real life because the dramatic sequences are not so extreme

The Hero’s journey

This is the story of a hero who is called to adventure. The hero is tested in a minor situation & wins

The hero is then tested in a major situation & although it looks like s/he will lose, finally wins. Finally, the hero returns to society.

This plot type is used in myths, legends, fairy-tales, fables, folk tales

The Mountain plot

The characters face a series of increasingly dramatic incidents, responses, and solutions or

complications – each one worse than the last.

This plot type is usually exciting because it develops dramatic tension.

There are often subplots, which keep the audience interested.

Figure 8: Samples of Plot Type Matching Cards


Figure 9: Sample Plot Graph worksheet (a) 4 Planning and writing the script

Students learn about the basic conventions of script writing and begin to develop their own scripts.

Materials: Handout – Focus on plot structures

T introduces the plot graph. Students divide the story up into scenes and write these on their graphs. They note the main action in each scene. T checks in open class.

Students make a list of the main characters in each scene. They write these on their handout.

T introduces the next activity by eliciting language for how the characters feel during each scene. Students continue making a list of adjectives to describe the feelings of the characters at different points in the story.

a) Name the 3 main scenes in the story. What action happens in each scene? Complete the graph with your ideas.

b) Who are the characters in each scene? What are they feeling? Complete the table with your ideas. Use the words in the box to help you.

1 2 3

happy relaxed angry scared tired sad excited surprised relieved


Materials: Handout – Writing scripts

T introduces the main features of a playscript. T writes up the information on the board.

Setting, props, new characters, costume, what happened before, stage directions, lighting, sound effects

Students look at the example scene and label the different features of the introduction. T checks in open class.

T begins working with dialogue. Some of the dialogue is written in, students work in pairs to complete the missing parts.

Introduce some adverbs for the manner of delivery (e.g. hurriedly, calmly, happily, sadly, angrily, etc.)

Students practice reading the dialogues. They decide which adverbs (or adjectives) describe the manner of delivery, writing the adverb/adjective at the beginning of each line (e.g. happily. sadly, calmly, tired, angrily, etc.)

In open class, students practise reading their dialogues. Other students listen and decide on the emotion in the voice.

Read the example introduction for Scene 3. Match the words to the information in the text

Setting, props, new characters, costume,

what happened before, stage directions, lighting, sound effects

The Sub and the Lift Scene 3

Kate has finally arrived at Kwai Hing school after a long and difficult journey where she nearly gets lost.

She is met in a messy staffroom by Henry, the Resource assistant.

There are desks, chairs, papers and a hamster in a cage.

(Kate enters stage left, Henry appears stage right)

2) Work with a partner. Write your own introduction for a different scene.


Figure 10: Sample Task Sheet for Analysing Playscripts

Figure 11: Sample Task Sheet for Developing Dialogue

5 Towards performance

T introduces the basic parts of the stage and their notation. Students listen to the instructions from the teacher and do the action (e.g. walk slowly up stage left, run down stage centre, stagger stage right, etc.)

Students practice their short scenes and block in the moves on their scripts.

Read the example dialogue for scene 1. In pairs, continue the dialogue for a few more lines.

Kate: (hurriedly) I’m so glad to see you, Henry.

Henry: (calmly) We thought you got trapped on the MTR or something, but here you are!

Kate: ( ) _______________________________________


Henry: ( ) ________________________________________


10) Write a short dialogue for a different scene. Don’t forget to include information on:

a. How the character is feeling b. What the character is doing

c. Where they are and the objects they use

d. Any special effects with light or sound


1.3.2 Discussion factors affecting plot and script development

Developing stories

A number of human situations can be worked out through drama. Each of the following situations involves either a critical moment that the drama hinges on, a process of being in one state and becoming another, or making connections between people, events or things:

• self-discovery or the discovery of knowledge

• achieving a goal through hard work, luck or influence

• being tested (truth, temptation)

• getting to know someone or something – encountering the unfamiliar

• experiencing a connection with the world around us: animals, nature

• facing a dilemma and choosing a course of action

• being caught in the act of doing something wrong

• keeping or breaking promises/trust

• escaping from difficult circumstances

• persuading someone to do something

• taking revenge or resisting taking revenge

• facing the same problem and tackling it in different ways

• maturing as a result of going through a difficult experience


A second area to consider when deciding what stories to work with is the theme. Many teachers find that a problem that is familiar can be worked out well in a drama class. Themes that might resonate with your class include the following:

• family relationships and pressure

• leaving home

• competing demands at school

• cheating, bullying

• the pressure to smoke

• the pressure to conform – fashion, language, possessions

• the need for a boyfriend/girlfriend

• the origins or effects of guilt, pride, greed

Alternatively, teachers might want to focus on social issues with wider themes, such as:

poverty vs. wealth

• racism / ageism / sexism

• crime

• mental health and illness

• teenage pregnancy


• divorce

• the effects of war

• the effects of mass media messages/perspectives

• the extent of the portrayal of violence in society and its effects

• the treatment of animals Plot structure

Plot structure is the term we use to refer to what action takes place in the story which hooks and keeps the audience interested. Many stories we see as drama on TV, read or listen as plays follow familiar structures.

The most common and easily accessible plot structure is Freytag’s, which when written as a diagram, is like an upside down ‘V’. In the simplest terms, it contains some or all of the following sequence:

• setting and context

• an event that starts the action (called ‘dramatic hook’ or ‘complicating action’)

• pursuit of action, development of character (see processes above)

• crisis

• resolution Creating Dialogue

Dialogue has four key functions. It creates the context of the play; establishes and maintains the theme; reveals and shows development in character, and is used to advance the component parts of plot.

Key guidelines to bear in mind when helping students to write dialogue are:

• the motivation and aims of the characters (based on processes – see above)

• the relationships that are formed and developed

• the conflicts and struggles that are created and resolved

• the relationship with the audience (builds & maintains or breaks the fourth wall)

To achieve this relationship to best effect, the following techniques can be used:

• Establish and find synonyms for important words and themes and make them appear in the dialogue of different characters, for example, one character may refer to his grandmother with a negative word, and another with a positive word, but the character of the grandmother is present and maintained between them.

• Simplify speeches by restricting each speech to one key idea

• Develop ideas by using more than one character, e.g., use the main character (the protagonist) and his opponent (the antagonist), or the main character and a support character with different but not opposing traits (a foil).

• There is a traditional rule of three in drama writing. This is interpreted in different ways, but can be used as a rule to state and re-state


important information in the play. For example, a character may be warned in three different ways not to pursue a course of action.

• For the purposes of emphasis, when stating names, put them at the beginning or the end of the line. When introducing new information, especially references to key events or objects in a play, place it at the end of line.

• Ensure that the last line before a character leaves the stage in each scene (the exit line) is memorable. Ways to do this are to (a)

summarise an overall feeling about what has happened in the scene;

(b) make a hint about what is to happen in the forthcoming scene; (c) make reference to someone’s response to events.


Blocking is the word we give to the stage directions; where the actors must stand/sit; which direction they should face; how they should move across the stage or set. Blocking is an important consideration as the audience needs to maintain its sight of events and action. We refer to the audience’s ‘sightlines’.

Blocking is a feature of the play that is worked out in performance, but script writing should always include reference to the stage set, and give some idea of where the actors enter and exit.

Up stage right (UR) Up stage centre (UC) Up stage left (UL)

Stage right (R) Centre stage (C) Stage left (L)

Down stage right (DR) Down stage centre (DC) Down stage left (DL)


Figure 12: Stage areas and shorthand names

Play script conventions

The following contains a basic description of the organisation and writing conventions used in play scripts. As an example, we will take the story we worked with in the workshop, ‘The Sub and the Lift’.

1 Acts and scenes

‘The Sub and the Lift’ divides best into a one-act play divided into three scenes. The act deals with an event that happened to a teacher; and each scene follows the plot structure we discussed in section c above.

Scene 1 Sets the scene (in the hairdresser, having haircut) Complicating action/narrative hook (call to substitute a class)


Scene 2 Build up of action (rushing out of hairdresser’s/awful sandwich)

Scene 3 Crisis and resolution (arriving at the school, getting stuck in the lift, being rescued by the fire brigade)

In this way, each scene takes a part of the plot structure and develops and conveys it in the following ways:

• through use of space and visual image

• through action

• through symbol and props

• through lighting, (colours, darkness) and sounds (music, sound effects)

• through dialogue

The convention is to write Act 1, Scene 1; Act 1, Scene 2, and so on.

2 Setting, background

Each scene starts with a short, perhaps 3-line, description of the setting of the scene. It might also give a little background to the scene. This is especially important if the play incorporates the use of (a) flashbacks to an earlier time in the history of the characters (not the main focus of the play, but perhaps the reason leading to some action), or (b) cross-cutting, which is when the focus of a play moves to a very different scene (this is a technique commonly used in film; first we see what character A is doing; then we see what character B is doing at the same moment). Background might also be important if a

dramatic incident has not been included in the play.

3 Setting tone, dialogue conventions and props

Students can further enhance their scripts by adding in details about how the character is feeling or how s/he will approach the scene. For students

learning English, the most accessible way to do this is to use adverbs.

Kate: (hurriedly) I’m so glad to see you.

Henry: (calmly) We thought you got trapped on the MTR or something, but here you are!

Note that the name of the character appears followed by a colon (:), then the description of the emotions/approach of the character and finally the line of dialogue.

Finally, there needs to be clear reference made to props used on stage.

These need to be included in all rehearsals so that the actors can get used to bringing them on stage at the right time and holding and using them for effect.


4 Adding in sound and lighting cues to create atmosphere

This may come at a much later stage in the script-writing process, but students will almost certainly want the adventure of adding some of the following to help create atmosphere:

• lighting, use of darkness, use of colours, use of shadow, spotlights

• sound in the form of sound effects (e.g., footsteps, a glass smashing)

• music

Make sure that students add lighting and sound cues into the script so that actors are aware of the effects that accompany and augment the action. As well as placing the cues in the script, there should be a separate cue sheet for students who are responsible for making sure the effect takes place at the right time. Here is an example:

Cue Lighting effect

Act 1, Scene 1

Kate: Oh, that must be my phone. Scene goes dark, spotlight on Kate as she takes the call.

Kate: Okay, then. I’ll do my best to not get stuck in the traffic. Bye.

Floodlight/normal light resumes.

Figure 13: Sample lighting cue sheet

There would be a similar sheet for ‘Sound effects’ and cues.

Sound effects

Here’s a list of commonly-used sound effects. Sometimes the sound effect is used to show the result of an action, sometimes it is used to show the inner state and feelings of a person. Examples are given.

Sound effect External action Internal state

Sound of applause To show a crowd clapping To show that a character feels that s/he has done well and the world approves.

A glass breaking To show a minor accident To show that someone has made a mistake

Footsteps on gravel (crunchy noise)

To show that someone is coming

To show that someone is expecting something (bad) to happen – comic

Phone ringing (same) To show some example of

communication that has taken place or needs to take place

Alarm bell For an emergency To show a character is

panicking about something A thunder storm or strong


To show weather conditions outside

To show that a situation or character brings trouble with them


Someone humming a tune

(same) To create an atmosphere of

happiness and sense of being carefree

Figure 14: Common sound effects and what they can represent


1.3.2 Activity Bank: Theatre Conventions

Just as in English classes we use activity types such as gap-fills or sentence completion, in Drama there are many established activities, which are known as conventions.

In this section we list some of the most widely used drama conventions, in the order that you may do them in class. These should be integrated into a lesson structure similar to demonstration lesson 1.


Still Image - also a component of ‘freeze-framing’

Working definition

(a) A student, or students in groups form the static image of a scene

(b) Can be used as a means of focusing the audience on a moment in the drama when the performers ‘freeze’ in position while action either continues on a different part of the stage (called ‘split staging’), or one character continues acting/moving in the spotlight (called ‘spotlighting’) while the others freeze around him/her.

Stimulus Visual: painting, photo, advert Aural: music, sound effects

Verbal/written: poem, story, advert, report, headline, a named feeling

Grouping Most often small groups

Procedure After using steps to access the meaning of the stimulus, learners physically form a replica of it, but may also change one part or interpret it differently.

Other members can ‘sculpt’ the still image participants into the right form.

Used for 1 Group dynamics: co-operation, quietening, concentration

2 Improvisation: the first ‘entering in’ to a mood, idea, concept; the first collaborative piece; it can be the starting or end point of a scene 3 Live performance: can help the audience understand the key moments in a scene and heighten tension. Used with effective (spot) lighting and the use of sound or music, it can greatly enhance a piece. It can be used at the beginning (to create focus), in the middle (to mark a moment for attention), or at the end (to give the audience time to assimilate what they have just witnessed).

Problems Human It can lead to ‘corpsing’ (one meaning of this is that students start to giggle as they realise that they may look silly).

Technical It’s important the audience’s sightlines are considered when freeze-framing. Can each character be seen?

Are students using the three basic horizontal levels (near the floor;

crouching; standing tall)?


Thought-tracking Working definition

Using freeze-framing or still image, the teacher taps a character on a shoulder and asks her/him to give 60 seconds of thought from that character’s perspective. This can be repeated with other characters.

Stimulus The stimulus comes from the importance of the moment in the drama to each character.

Grouping Done while in small groups

Procedure The freeze-framing or still image should be well established before going into thought-tracking by tapping someone on the shoulder.

There should also be an audience to hear what the character says so that s/he feels that s/he’s speaking aloud for a reason, and not simply for the teacher.

Used for 1 Accessing a character’s interior thoughts, emotions, responses, motivations

2 Useful when different characters may be experiencing different reactions to the course of events, e.g., if someone wins a prize, character A may be delighted, character B may be disappointed, C may be proud, and D may be jealous.

This will be in response to the dramatic moment of the prize- winning.

3 (TEFL) Useful to encourage spontaneous speaking, fluency and confidence-building

4 Could be used in a live performance accompanied by specific coloured spotlights for effect, e.g., Character C speaks proudly and is lit by a bright white light, Character D has jealous words and is lit by a moving green light.

Adaptations An adaptation for in-class improvisation is to freeze the character being focused on, and have the people around him/her say the character’s thoughts for him/her. For example, Character A wins the prize, and characters around him reveal different aspects of his thoughts and feelings through speaking while Character A stays frozen and quiet. Helps others to build up an understanding of the interior of a character. This technique is called, ‘his thoughts, her thoughts’ by Brian McGuire.


Writing in Role

Working definition

Students are given the opportunity to write something whilst in character and therefore express themselves in writing from this perspective.

Stimulus This can take place after some improvisation work has taken place with still image, freeze-framing, or role-play.

Grouping This is an individual activity.

Procedure After having had some time to be in role, and perhaps after experiencing an event or an exchange with another character, students are given a choice of written tasks, e.g., to write a postcard, a diary entry, a letter, an e-mail, a text message, to update a blog, to write on ‘parchment’, to graffiti on a

prepared wall. If taking part in a thriller or history, students may wish to recount what they witnessed in a police report or for a historian’s document.

Used for 1 To develop the feelings and thoughts of a character

2 To help a student (a) understand and (b) create the perspective a character has towards a set of events or towards another character 3 (TEFL) To create a balance between the oral skills using in role- play and written skills. Ensure that students have a clear model of the format they might be using.

4 Add the writing to the portfolio build-up for that character, e.g., it could accompany role-on-the-wall diagrams.

Problems 1 Students may draw a blank so it is important that the writing is in response to something that has been experienced or witnessed.

2 (TEFL) Some support with key words and spelling will be needed. Keep the writing short at first and encourage students to add to it.



Working definition

A way to explore a character creatively

Stimulus A character from a play or still image such as a painting

Grouping Small groups encourage collaborative thinking; individual work can promote concentration and depth.

Procedure An outline of a character is created on a piece of paper. This can either be life-size, or small so that it can fit into a folder. If it is large, it allows access to many, and can be a focal point for the group facilitating collaborative group work and opportunities to develop each other’s ideas.

Students think about the character and start to write things they know about him/her outside the outline of the body such as his/her mannerisms, appearance, gestures. They may also consider the forces that other characters exert on him physically, emotionally or mentally. Students then think about the

character’s inner states possibly in response to others,

motivations, emotions, needs and wants. Often, the inner states can only be worked on as the improvisation progresses so it is useful to start a session with the role on the wall, keep it up on the wall, and add to it over a number of sessions as students’

appreciation and understanding of the character develops and deepens.

One adaptation is to have three A4 size role-on-the-wall templates for students and give them a few minutes in an early session, a mid-way session and a later session to show the additions they made to the role and why, reflecting the experience that triggered it.

Used for: 1 Developing a character – especially if used over a few sessions

2 Can show clear the pressure one character exerts on another 3 Helps students link inner states to outer gestures and actions 4 (TEFL) Prepare to demonstrate and expose students to lexical items to describe dress, posture, eye/hair colour, and

characteristics. Remember to show language that collocates, (keeps his eyes lowered), and word stress, (unKEMPT).

Problems 1 Can lead to stereotyping and shallow, exterior characters if used once only and not developed over time

2 If the students don’t consider the relationships between characters in a piece, the role will remain basic and undeveloped 3 Ensure that you have sufficient materials (paper, coloured markers) for everyone to contribute to avoid one person’s view dominating.



Working definition

A character is interviewed in depth by a group Stimulus

Grouping One character sits in the hotseat while other sit around him/her ready to interview. This is generally not done in character by the rest of the group, who are themselves.

Procedure Choose a character which needs developing. Place her/him in the hotseat and give some preparation to the others to develop

questions about the character’s role and his/her relations to other characters including:-

Why did you do …?

Who’s closest to you? Who do you dislike and why?

How did you feel when? How does it feel when s/he does…?

Why are you tired/happy/noisy all the time?

If I gave you $1,000, what would you do with it?

Have you ever done (something bad/adventurous/kind)?

How do you eat noodles? (mime)

Used for This technique is used in improvisation to help a student develop his/her understanding and connection with his/her character. The speed with which the questions are asked can sometimes help a student move into character more deeply. It also helps other characters understand the hotseating character.

Problems Corpsing and stage fright – it may be too much for the student. If you sense anxiety, agree to limit the questions to 2-3 and check before going on.

Lack of empathy with the character. In this case, you might want to resort to a quick session of pair-work where every other student takes on character A and is interviewed by another student on 1-3 key questions and take the most perceptive answers.


Thought Tunnel

Working definition

A means of helping students to articulate the thoughts of a character especially when s/he faces a dilemma in the role-play or improvisation

Stimulus A character’s dilemma or problem Grouping Whole class group of 20

Procedure Students are divided into two equal lines facing each other and join hands to form a bridge. The character focused on slowly and deliberately walks down the human tunnel. As s/he passes, each student makes a statement about (a) what s/he is thinking; (b) what s/he needs to consider; (c) action and decisions that need to be made in response to a dilemma or problem that the character has.

Used for To develop a character and highlight considerations that need to be taken into account.

Problems Depending on the class profile, this activity may need to be run with fewer participants to ensure students stay on-task.


Good Angel / Bad Angel Working definition

A means of helping students consider two sides of a problem the character is dealing with

Stimulus A character’s dilemma or problem encountered in improvisation

Grouping Groups of 3 with one main character being focused on Procedure Students encounter or decide on a problem one character

has, for example, whether to lie or not. On one side stands the ‘good angel’ – the voice of reason, morality and

goodness; and on the other side stands the ‘bad angel’ – the one who has no moral code, tries to take advantage of any situation for short-term material or status gains, and will use any means to advance him/herself.

The central character asks a question, eg, ‘Should I lie to my father (about something that has taken place)?’ The good angel should come up with reasons and ways of avoiding lying; the bad angel would come up with reasons for lying and of gaining advantage through the process.

TEFL teachers may want to use this as an opportunity to feed in language forms for hypothesizing, suggesting, or for the bad angel, ways of masking the immorality of what s/he’s suggesting:-

If you lie, you’re likely to…

Why don’t you…?

You could always…

Have you ever thought about …?

Would it be such a big deal if you…?

It’s only the once, and he wouldn’t even notice…

What you don’t know can’t hurt you.

Used for To help a character consider courses of action, and decide how to mould the character.

Problems Can lead to superficial or inflated suggestions. Give students time to think, or brainstorm before they try this out.

Alternatively, let them try it out twice in different groups so they can refine some of their suggestions.


Fixing Space

Working definition

The way in which actors mark out the area they are to work within either for improvisation or role-play.

Materials Student may do this with available materials such as tables and chairs, shoes, or even chalk on the floor.

Grouping In improvisation or role-play groups.

Procedure Students divide the space they have available for role-play, and proceed to choose their way of marking out their

performance space. It may include deciding where rooms or parts of a street/village are.

Used for The most practical use of this is to help establish relative movement of one character to another, lines of sight and direction of sight to different parts of the landscape of the play, and clear sight lines for the audience.

Problems Students may find it difficult to conceptualise what the audience sees, therefore, it is important to give class time to working in the area to be performed so that students can work through the way they look, the way they move their arms in particular (so as not to block their face, or to block others) and how to use the space to best effect.




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