This month I’m looking at how drama can be used productively as an educational tool.
Drama is all about communication so it is a perfect partner for language teaching. Furthermore, it’s a good way to overcome one of the greatest challenges that ESL teachers face – getting students to speak English.
Before sharing some examples of fun ways to use drama in the classroom, I’m going to enlist the help of a professional to get some insight on this topic from Natalie Taylor an international school teacher, professional drama practitioner and founder of the Chiang Mai Drama Centre.
‘Hi Natalie, I wonder if you could suggest some ways for ESL teachers to use drama in the classroom.’
‘Drama is a great tool to use in the classroom as it gets students on their feet and forget that they are actually learning at the same time as having fun! Some good drama activities for ESL are:
– Roleplay (playing a character in a scenario). This helps them to practice speaking English in front of others and develops their confidence.You can base the characters and scenarios on topics you have been covering in English class.
– Mime games (e.g. charades). These helps students to recap new vocabulary by acting out a word using mime an the other students have to guess.
– Script writing. This helps students with their English writing skills and their confidence and speaking skills when they act out their scripts once they are finished’
‘How do students benefit from studying drama?
‘Students benefit from drama in the following areas: confidence, self esteem, creativity, communication skills, English language skills, team work, helps to build positive peer relationships and develop their imaginations through the act of ‘play’.’
‘What advice do you have for students that would like to further develop their drama skills’
‘Students should join a local drama group or youth theatre company to get involved in acting and the performing arts. They should also be in their school play and get as much practice as they can. It can be a bit daunting at first but once you get involved with a drama group, make friends and start growing in confidence and skill, you’ll feel great!’
‘Thanks Natalie, great advice and I think that’s an important point to remember, that alongside language skills, drama also develops confidence, creativity and collaboration skills – skills that are essential for 21st Century Learners.’
Drama Activities for the ESL Classroom
As Natalie said, in roleplays students adopt characters in scenarios. Popular ESL scenarios include; asking directions, shopping, ordering food in a restaurant, checking in at a hotel.
It’s useful to scaffold these learning activities by providing students with key phrases and vocabulary at first. Once the students are confident with the basics of the situation, I ask my students to include a problem in their scenario – e.g. booking into a hotel which is full, being served the wrong food in a restaurant, etc
This challenges the students and gives opportunities for them to use more vocabulary. It also gives the students more scope to display their drama skills.
I also encourage my students to add some humour to their role plays, this helps to engage all the students and makes their final presentations great fun to watch.
This is an extension to a regular role play activity which develops it from a practice activity to a language production activity.
For this project i usually break the students into groups of 4 and then ask them to create their own scenario and conversation based within the topic we’ve been studying. I then give their scripts a quick check and then have them perform and record their roleplay. Finally, they can upload their work to Youtube or just submit on a disc/ memory stick.
I usual ask them to record their projects at the weekend and submit on Monday. I find the students often like to meet up at the weekend to film projects at exotic locations such as Chiangmai zoo (Kenya), Fuji restaurant (Tokyo) and Royal Flora (Bollywood). The students really enjoy this and most come up with excellent work.
As Natalie suggests, mime is great for reviewing vocabulary. It can be used at all levels from grade 1 students acting out basic adjectives ( happy, sad, hungry, ugly) to high school students acting out advanced vocabulary and whole sentences.
I always use mime activities after I have taught past continuous and past simple.
– He was walking down the street when it started to rain.
– They were playing football when he broke his leg.
Conditional sentences also make for fun mimes
– If I pass this test, my parents will be happy.
– If I won the lottery, I would fly around the world.
I have the students collaborate in groups for 5 minutes before presenting their mime and during the presentation I ask all the students to write down the vocabulary/sentence/grammar in their notebooks. This keeps the ‘audience’ engaged in the activity and then the students can check their answers.
This can be a really fun activity and I’m always impressed how creative the students can be.
Shakespeare ?Natalie, also mentioned about how school performances are great opportunities for students to develop their skills and increase their confidence. I couldn’t agree more and I also recommend it for teachers who have the chance to get involved, it can be very rewarding and a lot of fun.
At the schools I’ve taught at in Bangkok & Chiang Mai I’ve worked on adaptations of Shakespeare which have been great fun.
I know some critics will say that Thai students performing Shakespeare is nonsense, ‘the students can’t relate to it, it’s just not relevant’ – but I have to disagree, I mean have you watched Thai TV recently- feuding families, tragic lovers, evil relatives, kings, queens, witches, greedy fools, clowns, cuckolds, playboys and tarts – It’s like these scriptwriters have lifted their characters straight from the Elizabethan stage.
Of course to help students connect with Shakespeare, the language needs to be updated, there’s no need for the students learning to speak 16th century iambic pentameter but the students are well able to relate with the characters and plots. And believe me they really enjoy playing these characters.
Classroom Drama 🙂
Drama is a great way to stimulate your students, develop their confidence and create a productive environment in the classroom. Drama also engages kinesthetic learners in a way that traditional book work doesn’t.
And as if that wasn’t enough, these activities also help students develop essential 21st Century skills such as; creativity, collaboration and communication.
If you would like more information about Chiangmai Drama Centre which run courses for individuals, students and school workshops, you can contact Natalie Taylor at