Article Review: Using theater games to enhance language arts learning

ESLDramaQueen_Blog06

I recently came across this article by Sharon Fennessey where she disclosures a few drama games to be used in the classroom and I though it was quite interesting.

The text below is my take on it and a few addaptations of the excercises she proposes to be used in the ESL/EFL classroom.

Have fun and enjoy the games!


Language acquisition through arts is Sharon Fennessey’s academic field of expertise. Thus, her article Using theater games to enhance language arts learning attempts to convey to readers not only the importance but also the use of theater games in the classroom as a tool to enable students to better master English as a second language.

 

In order to achieve her goal, the author leads the subject in by sharing personal experience with her fifth grade class and the learners’ reaction – which according to her testimony is exquisite. Furthermore, Fennessey points out that drama is taken seriously by all of those involved, teacher and students, and it is also recognized as an equally valued subject when compared to math, reading and writing, for instance.

 

That being said, a number of reasons why these games ought to be integrated in the lesson plan are mentioned, together with authors that support these beliefs:

 

  • Improvement of social skills: concentration, confidence, and cooperation (Fennessey, 2000).
  • Development of fluency in language and non-verbal communication skills (Cornett, 1999).
  • Improvement in fluency and pronunciation, especially for ESL learners who are not able to practice much for lack of speaking opportunities outside the classroom (Burke & O’Sullivan, 2002).
  • Development of language and language-related abilities through drama, based on the widespread view of linguists “that language is primarily a spoken art”. (Stewig & Buege, 1994).

 

Since the article is clearly not aimed at teachers who have previously had any sort of theater training, it unfolds by soothing inexperienced professionals and reassuring that “the classroom teacher does not need to be a creative drama specialist to successfully lead a drama activity”.

 

Moreover, the aims of drama games are exposed through the theory of one of the most renowned authors on the subject: Viola Spolin. The aspects of Spolin’s work (Spolin, 1986) which were brought up are:

 

  • Drama games are meant to facilitate actors’ awareness of their work instruments: body, voice and intellect.
  • Drama games are designed to help actors better focus on characters’ tasks, solve problems, interact with the cast, be alert, among other aims.

 

The purposes above-mentioned may also be applied in the classroom for the sake of verbal and non-verbal communication development. This framework of attributes is by no means unimportant or irrelevant to the ESL teacher and learner. It is well known that learners who are focused, have a sense of belonging in the group, feel at ease in the classroom and are alert have a much better outcome in terms of actual learning.

 

Though Fennessey presents only a few points on Spolin’s work, even the most unfocused of readers could grasp the link between acting techniques and abilities that are vital to the success of a language class. In fact, since this link has been disclosed, now there would be a golden opportunity for exposing practical ways in which these two universes could be put together. And that is precisely what the author does.

 

Much similarly to the outline on Spolin’s well-known book Theater games for the classroom, Fennessey chooses to first set the scene to readers and introduce the topic theoretically. Only after that, games and practical tips are given in the form of several short paragraphs leading readers through the steps of the games.

 

Until this point, theory, reasons and relevance have been presented. From this moment on, a series of descriptions of drama games which the author has successfully used in the language arts classroom are exposed and a summary of their aims and possible applications (my own theories) is as follows:

 

  • One-line improvisations:
    • Aim: coordinate body and voice creatively
    • Possible application: vocabulary practice – sports, professions, food, among others.
      • The teacher can narrow down the possible ‘transformations’ of the given object to the pieces of vocabulary learned during class.
    • Identify the object:
      • Aim: enhance concentration and develop “the use of sensory detail in descriptive language”[4]
      • Possible application: grammar/vocabulary practice – modals and verbs to express uncertainty.
        • The teacher can use this game as a less-controlled or freer practice of the language to express uncertainty.
      • Minefield:
        • Aim: developing trust amongst students
        • Possible application: grammar/vocabulary practice – directions and locations.
          • This can easily be incorporated to a class in which the main goal is to enable students to give and ask for directions and locations.
        • Role-playing book characters and Improvising a scene from literature:
          • Aim: promote understanding of traits and developing a character
          • Possible application: post-reading activity.
            • Schools that include readers in their syllabus can surely benefit from this kind of activities. Instead of just demanding students to express themselves in writing, teachers could add these games as wrap up activities or moments to assess them on reading comprehension skills.

 

Last but not least, the author enlightens the readers on the subject of balance. Surely a class which is enriched by having drama games added to the lesson would be enjoyable and effective as opposed to one that is not. However, it is wise to bear in mind the idiom ‘moderation in all things’.

 

Seatwork should also be included, especially since paper and pencil are still most valued by school systems. Actually a balance must be the aim, and the effort should be to combine stirring and settling activities alternately.

 

Overall, the article meets its purpose of introducing the topic of theater games in the language classroom. Nevertheless, had the author indicated more theories or stuck to one with more depth, I suppose the reader could have benefited more.

 

Bibliography

FENNESSEY, Sharon M., “Using Theater Games to Enhance Language Arts Learning” (2006). Faculty Publications. Paper 68. Page 689. http://digitalcommons.ric.edu/facultypublications/6

Spolin, Viola. (1986). Theater games for the classroom. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Lesson Plan: Ice Breaker – Pictorial Presentation

ice breaker

Ice breakers are  a fun way to get to know your students and for them to get to know each other better too.

Also, you can take advantage of the situation to assess the learners’ level of language in a welcoming and relaxed environment.

(I love it when the teacher can assess/evaluate students’ production in a way that students don’t even realize they’re being observed. I think both the classroom environment and the learning process are improved this way.)

So here is a drama game used by many actors to develop characters adapted to the ESL/EFL classroom that I humbly named Pictorial Presentation:


Drama Game: Pictorial Presentation

 

Type: Ice Breaker

Age: all

Language level: all

Aim: Exchange of personal information, Introductions

Interaction Pattern: Whole group

Material: A4 paper

Timing: 7-10 min


Procedure:

Show students your Pictorial Presentation (prepare one beforehand so you can spare some time)

 

pictorial

 

 

Tell them this is you! Your interests, your characteristics, your preferences.

Point out that there are no words in your presentation. The idea of this exercise is to try to guess what other people are like based on images only.

Options to go about the activity:

  1. Ask students to ask you questions based on the images you have on your presentation. This way you can observe question formation.
  2. Ask students to describe you based on the images you have on your presentation, while you show them a thumbs up or down, depending if their guess is true or false. This way you increase STT (student talking time) and you can observe language for making assumptions.
  3. Ask students to present you to yourself, while you show them a thumbs up or down, depending if their guess is true or false. e.g. “This is Michelle. She likes going to the movies and hates Math.” This way, you can observe the use of 3rd person singular conjugation. Also, this approach gives a “role-playiy” (sic) feeling to the activity.

After students perform one of the options above (which was your modelling for the activity), hand out a sheet of paper to each student.

Tell them it is their turn now to make their pictorial presentation paper. Elicit one more time what they have to do to check if everyone knows the instructions. Assign them 3 minutes for it.

Ask students to perform the same option you modelled, but now for each classmate.