The C word in ELT

OMG, you’re so creative! How did you think of that?


I really need your help. I want to do something different with my students and you are so creative… Can you think of an activity for me to use with them?


I wish I were as creative as you are. I would never think of that!


These are some of the many utterances I have heard from colleagues over the years, whether in the teacher’s room or at workshops. All of them have something in common, though: the concept that creativity is innate. Moreover, those who have been graced with the gift of being creative will always think outside the box and control their creativity, being able to access it whenever they want or need it.

All rubbish, of course.


Creativity is hard work for the brain. It is connection, resemblance, contrast and link. Plus, as most of what goes on in the brain, it is inertia. 

Cerebral activity is mostly guided by inertia due to the fact that doing things the way it has always been done saves energy – and that’s the brain’s ultimate goal. Therefore, if making unexpected connections between external stimuli and recorded memories has been part of your mental activities for a long time, it will happen most frequently.

And what do we usually call people who make unexpected connections in order to create something new or solve a problem? Creative.

I was fortunate to have parents who were extremely fond of arts in general and exposed me to several forms of art from an early age. So I grew up having to deal with these complex connections between visual, auditory and kinaesthetic stimuli. Actually, after some time, that became the modus operandi of my learning process. Nowadays I learn a lot easier when bombarded with multi sensorial pieces of information at a time. It has become how my brain works, all the time.

Most of my colleagues whose quotations were mentioned earlier were not used to making these kind of connections and had traditional educational backgrounds. Their brains were simply not used to linking far-fetched ideas and memories. On the other hand, when it came to focusing on a topic at a time, they were a lot better then me at solving issues or performing tasks.

Then when it came to ‘bringing creativity into the classroom’, they thought they would not be able to incorporate it into their teaching for they themselves lacked the skill.

Also rubbish.

Everyone has the power to change mental processes and create new synapses. It might be more arduous for some, though not impossible. I was not different from them owing to an inborn characteristic – I had just been doing it longer.


So how can teachers, more or less inclined to being creative, deal with and include innovation and creativity in their classrooms? 

A panel about creativity in ELT was presented at IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham and the panelists attempted to shed some light into the matter. Here are some key ideas I personally took from each talk:

Dr. Daniel Xerri, University of Malta

-We should try to bring different domains into our classrooms in order to be more innovative as practitioners

-Multimodal communication could be incorporated into our lesson plan, having a topic be explored though different media (text, video, sound, body language, etc…)

-Combination is key for creativity: try to make or elicit link between concepts

-Teachers choose to be creative, it is not inborn. It might seem like hard work to some, but it pays off in the end

-Empowering teachers during teacher training is imperative in order for them to feel confident to be creative themselves

-One concept that might be helpful: seeing yourself as a creative writer when putting your lesson plan together.

-Therefore, engaging in creative writing or attending workshops on the subject might assist with transferring these skills into the classroom

-Another external concept to be considered: teachers, like actors, are improvisational performers. Both have to react to the here ad now, coming up with instant physical and mental responses to issues that may arise. As a result, taking improv lessons or delving into the work of Theatre theorists such as Stanislavski can lead to a practice of disciplined improvisation (structure + freedom)


Gloria Gil, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina

-Creativity means variety: in content, media, form, etc…

-Ludic behaviour and critical thinking also play major roles in fostering a creative environment in the classroom

-Creative interactions stem from the learners’ engagement

-It is paramount to be creative WITH students, instead of being creative myself, as a teacher

-Affective learning might play a large role in making students feel safe to attempt being more creative in class

-Practical food for thought when planning your class: Does a creative activity necessarily lead to creative interactions in ELT? Does this activity allow students to be creators? If not, how can we ensure students’ creativity will be triggered by the proposed task?


Stephanie Xerri Agius, University of Malta

-The teacher’s role has to be redefined if creativity is to be fostered in ELT: from teachers as syllabus followers to actively producing teachers

-We should be ‘doers’, not just ‘givers’

-A suggestion: a 50-50 ratio between attending to syllabus and promoting freer activities

-Writing can be a first stimulus to incorporating creativity in the classroom

-Writing does not have to be an essay, it could be a paragraph

-Stimulate them to think and discuss a topic thoroughly, making enough connections to other stimuli in order to provide them enough opportunity for creative links to be made before they actually put the ideas on paper

-Practical assignments fostering creative writing:

         -Vlog: writing a script, instead of making the video

         -Lyrics: writing for music ideas that have been muted

         -Dramatic texts: gapping lines and filling it out unexpectedly

Well, I hope these ideas sparked new synapses in all of you and that creative thoughts are flooding your brains right now! I know mine is overflowing! May your classrooms and lesson plans be filled with innovative, fun ways to learn English!

And, as usual, have fun with the games!


IATEFL 2015 – Summarized inspirations

Dear ESL Drama Gamers, first of all I am so sorry for my absence these past two weeks. I nearly drowned in information from IATEFL, but I survived! I hope you like the post today!

Lots of artsy love,

ESL Drama Queen



Immersed in the spring British mists, a tsunami of all things TESOL made its way into Manchester, where thousands of brave participants, determined to make it to shore a little more knowledgeable,  did their best to keep swimming through the vast waters they saw upon arrival: hundreds of talks, workshops and plenaries to choose from.

As yours truly had a clear objective, all events to do with arts, games and creativity were soon highlighted on the programme and there I went, swimming up the main stream.

Some talks and workshops on the use of art and theatre in the classroom were inspiring and innovative, others were targeted to newcomers in the art of using art and were therefore more basic. Both useful though, since there is an audience for each one of them.

Today I start a series of posts about my favourite talks and workshops throughout the four days of IATEFL 2015 Annual Conference and my personal comments about each of them.

Some of the quotes  were heard at events specifically about arts, some of them at talks that had completely different topics. Despite being heterogenous, all of them are relevant to one who is eager to include drama games in ELT in one way or another, for transdisciplinary approaches require transdisciplinary theoretical basis.

A few of them may seem obvious, however I believe that the strongest epiphany one can have is truly noticing for the first time what the eyes failed to see for so long.

I hope they can be as useful and inspiring to you as they were to me. And may you all sail through the rough yet fulfilling, known yet fairly unexplored waters of using art, theatre and creativity in ELT.

Frozen in thought? How we think and and what we do in ELT

Donald Freeman


Bio: Donald Freeman is a professor at the School of Education, University of Michigan. For 25 years, he was on the graduate faculty at the School for International Training, where he chaired the Department of Language Teacher Education, and founded and directed the Center for Teacher Education, Training and Research. He is author of several books on language teacher education. He is senior consulting editor on ELTeach and editor of the professional development series, TeacherSource. Freeman has been president of TESOL, and a member the International Advisory Council for Cambridge English.



“Rethink proficiency as plural proficiencies”

ESLDramaQueen: Once the teacher acknowledges proficiency as plural, the lesson plan can be prepared bearing in mind multiple goals for multiple proficiencies, one of them being body language. Here, the teacher can choose to attach a drama game to his/her plan to include a kinaesthetic element to the lesson.

“Strange things happen to language when it goes to school”

ESLDramaQueen: The gap between real-life language, whether written or spoken, and the language present in most classrooms is quite noticeable. Especially nowadays that students have access to all kinds of language via internet (social media, search engines, etc.). Drama games and Theatre in general can be a way to utilize the language students really feel genuine and relevant in the classroom while still covering the syllabus.

“Teachers should connect curriculum to what’s going on in the classroom”

ESLDramaQueen: It is crucial that teachers be cautious neither to follow the materials blindly without taking into consideration the real needs of the group nor to propose super fun activities that have absolutely nothing to do with the teaching point planned for that class. A balance between curriculum and relevance should be pursued and all games should have a clear purpose.

“Teaching is central, but we don’t have to think about it in the same way”

ESLDramaQueen: The role of the teacher as a fundamental part in the learning process may be the same in most contexts, however the methods and approaches this teacher chooses to use in order to facilitate learning is completely up to him/her. It depends on the teacher’s experience, knowledge, culture, personality and interests.

The artsy side of teaching

Radmila Popovic

Bio: Radmila Popovic is currently a Senior Education Specialist (TESOL) at World Learning in Washington DC. She was an assistant professor in ETL Methodology at the University of Belgrade and also is a past president of ELTA Serbia. She has worked for many years with teacher training and is now researching the intersections between art and science in ELT.


“It’s hard to define if teaching is more of an art or a science. Art derives from play, while science is methodology. There is no ONE way of doing anything.”

ESLDramaQueen: The discussion about the nature of teaching, if it should be more play-oriented or method-oriented, is a vast and unfinished one. My personal view on the matter is that when it comes to dichotomies, between the extremities there are tons of shades of grey to be explored, each one with a specific outcome and possibly beneficial to a certain audience.

“Leonardo Da Vinci = science plus art / Tesla = science with creativity”

ESLDramaQueen: It could be a good idea for both teacher training and ELT in general to introduce the work and mind frame of DaVinci and Tesla, to warm teachers and students to the idea of using art and science in the classroom (play and method). Maybe through the discussion and application of some of the concepts and praxis present in the body of work of these two artist-scientists, the idea of using art in the classroom can be taken more seriously, instead of being viewed as just extra fun activities for when teachers have time on their hands.

“Art is the difference between technically competent and excellent teachers”

ESLDramaQueen: Teachers that dare break away from the shackles of method from time to time in order to meet the expectations or cater for the needs of the students are the ones on the way to excellency, in my point of view. Improvisation, instinct, translation skills between what students express and what they really mean, ability to summarise, rephrase and symbolise language in order to convey a clearer message to students and also foster these abilities in students: all these can be developed and enhanced by being exposed to art.

“Teacher trainers should nurture not only technical development, but excellence as well”

ESLDramaQueen: Art can be a tool in teacher training to help trainees develop their skills. Instead of just flooding them with information about methodology and asking them to prepare and observe lessons, trainings could also include personal and emotional development through drama games or art projects in general.

“How can art be transplanted into teacher training?

Ask your trainees: If you were an artist/scientist, what kind would you be? Why? Which of these characteristics can be applied to the kind of teacher you want to be?

Tap associative, intuitive and unconscious sources

Give prompts: the more specific the better to generate content

Propose to your trainees: Imagine the opposite of your favourite teaching activity. Describe it and justify why it is bad teaching practice.

Propose the ‘Bad-teaching machine project’:Imagine a machine that signals every time bad teaching is practiced. Which are the signals the machine would read in the classroom in order to identify bad teaching? What kind of signal and to whom would the machine emit?

Play the ‘weather+definitions=metaphor’game: Trainer / Teacher provides some specific vocabulary to be worked on. Trainees / Students have to use weather terms to create a metaphor for the definition of that piece of vocabulary. (E.g. Term: On the spot correction; Metaphor: On the spot correction has to be monitored in order not to become a hailstorm of mistakes crashing on students’ heads.)”


Book: Teaching artist handbook (2013, Jaffe, Cox and Barniskis)

Article: Creativity in the Classroom (2005, Cameron)



Well, these were the two first IATEFL 2015 events to be reported here on ESL Drama Queen.

Stay tuned for more to come the next few days.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Periscope!

And, as usual, have fun with the games!!!!

Review and Lesson Plan – Social activism at school

What should we teach our students?

Textbook content? Structure? Pronunciation? Or could we take more risks and include topics related to critical thinking, such as social activism?

To the Master in Education Nasy Inthisone Pfanner, “our job is not only to teach grammar, vocabulary and literature but also to prepare pupils for the real world”. The Austria-based teacher depicted this idea in an article published this month on Voices magazine – the bi-monthly newsletter of IATEFL – entitled ‘Social activism at school’.

In the article, she exposes how she went about implementing a social activism activity with her students, aged between 12 and 13. The teacher encouraged students to think about rules and social behavior that they considered unjust or needed to be changed in order for the world to be a better place. After leaving her students intrigued, she assigned the task as follows:

“For individual homework, they had to make a poster about an issue they were interested in, get signatures from at least ten people (but not someone from our class) in support of the cause, and give a brief presentation in class. (…) As a class, we then discussed what they could do to make the world a better place.”

Nasy Inthisone Pfanner


She also suggests a few vocabulary items to be taught before assigning the task, such as ‘injustice’, ‘resistance’, ‘politics’, ‘profit’, ‘public opinion’, ‘strike’, ‘change’, ‘activist’, ‘corruption’ and ‘commonsense’. These could be presented before the whole debate begins, as a means to trigger students’ curiosity and also engage them..

The tasks elaborated by her promoted improvement not only in the use of the language – focusing on structure, vocabulary, writing, speaking and listening – but also involved students in their community, facilitating a more natural use of the language as a tool to communicate thoughts and ideas, instead of mere second language classroom practice.

Pfanner does not mention drama games in her article, however I thought it would be a perfect match if some games were incorporated as the different phases of the activity unveil. Below is how I would go about the whole thing with either teenagers or adults. (I wouldn’t recommend this project for young learners since the concepts dealt with are far too abstract for them. Perhaps I can think of a young learners adaptation for this activity and post it later)


Drama Project: Social Activism


Type: Project

Age: Teenagers and Adults

Language level: A2 on

Aim: Promote real-life language production through social activism and enable students to think critically about their environment

Interaction Pattern: group work

Material: Video, Paper, Candy (Red, blue and yellow)

Timing: 15-20 min for each phase / 5 weeks in total


This project is designed to last 5 weeks and is going to be divided as such in this lesson plan.


Week 1

Tell students you are going to work on a long-term project.

Today they will watch a video and learn new words and expressions about what is it is.

Ask students to take notes of what they see – people, places, actions – as they watch the video.


Show students the following video about modern social activism.



It is possible to turn English subtitles on for this video on Youtube. Maybe it would be a good idea, especially for lower levels, since the objective is not to explore deeply the language in the video, but engage students in the topic.

After the video is over, have students compare with other students the words they have.


Ask students to report their findings to you and write on the board all the words they came up with.


Tell students they will play a game in groups. Either you assign them, or they arrange themselves in groups.

Also, write in bulk letters ‘Social Activism reminds me of____’.


In the groups, students should take turns saying ‘Social Activism reminds me of____’ and add a word. They can use the words on the board (elicited from the video) to help. The first student should say Social Activism reminds me of + his word. The second student should say Social Activism reminds me of + first student’s word + new word. Third student should say Social Activism reminds me of + first student’s word + second student’s word + new word. And so on.

The objective is for students to drill the words in a lively way through a memory chain game.

Have students play for around 3 minutes, then stop them.

Elicit some of the ideas that arose that are different from the ones on the board.

Tell student the project is going to be about social activism.

Set the task for the next week: students should write a paragraph explaining what social activism is in their opinion.

They will have to present it in class, so they have to make their presentation interesting by either using audiovisual or props.


If you have large groups, presentations could be in pairs, to take less time.


Week 2

As a warm up and vocabulary review for the activity, play paper balls with the words and expressions students came up with the previous week.

(If you don’t know how to play paper balls, click here for a full lesson plan)

Divide students in groups.


Try mixing your students and not letting them always group up with the same people. This way, your group should be more integrated and students will have the opportunity to be in contact with different opinions and values in the classroom, as they will in the real world.

Tell students that during the presentations, each group will have to come up with a question to each presenter. Groups write the questions during the presentations and ask them right after the presenter is over.


This practice keeps students alert and focused on the presentations. Also, Viola Spolin always affirmed that when everyone – presenters and audience – have a clear task to perform, it is easier to keep focus and enhance productivity in drama. For more on Viola Spolin, click here.

One by one, students present their ideas of social activism,

The groups decide whose question is the best to be asked.

The presenter is asked one question per group and a brief loose debate is held after each of them.


In order not to interfere with fluency and engagement, do not correct them at this point. Take notes and save them for later correction with the whole group.

After all of the students have presented and all discussions were held, have a brief correction moment with them.

Ask students to give you examples of causes in their community that could be benefited from social activism.

Elicit from the whole class.

Tell students this is their task for next week: think about something that is unfair or has to be changed in their community. Write a paragraph explaining what the cause is and why it is important to act on it.


Week 3

As a warm up and review, play Candy Colours using the following sentences for each colour

(If you are not familiar with this game, click here for a description):

  • Red – What is Social Activism in your opinion?
  • Blue – How can people fight for a cause?
  • Yellow – What can people fight for? What are the most popular causes in your opinion?

Arrange students in groups.

Have them get as much candy as they want.

Assign 3 minutes for the discussion.


In order not to interfere with fluency and engagement, do not correct them at this point. Take notes and save them for later correction with the whole group.

After the time is up, have a brief correction moment with students.

Tell students this is the moment they will present their paragraphs about what is unfair or needs to be changed in their community.

Have the students show you briefly their paragraphs individually while the others rehearse their presentation. When they show it to you, correct it on the spot.


The correction of the paragraph in this case is to avoid students to fossilize mistakes in the next activity, in which they will have to repeat themselves a lot.

Ask students to sit or stand in a circle. They will play Gossip.

(If you don’t know how to play this game, click here for a full lesson plan)

Students will ask partner 1 ‘What is unfair or has to be changed in your community?’, ‘Why does this situation needs to change in your opinion?’.

Students gossip to partner 2 the information received from partner one.

Walk around and help them express their ideas if needed.

In the end of the activity, elicit from the whole class the causes each one is going to fight for and take notes for your own further analysis.

Write on the board and tell students that for next week they should think about an action that they can take in order to change the situation.


Elicit from them ways activists try to change things. (Ideas are: collecting signatures for a petition, organizing a demonstration, using social media, going on a hunger strike, etc…)

For next class, students should write a paragraph saying what is the best course of action to try to change the unfair situation in their community and why.


Week 4

As a warm up and vocabulary review, arrange students in pairs and play Word Sneak.

(If you are not familiar with this game, click here for a description)


Provide students with words, expressions and structures they have struggled with or that they haven’t used much during the first three phases of the project.

Ask students to look back at the three paragraphs they have written so far – explaining what social activism is in their opinion, saying what their chosen cause is and why it is important to act on it and saying what is the best course of action to try to change the unfair situation and why.

Tell them they will be given 3 minutes to assemble all of them together. Later they will present the whole project.

Assist students if they have vocabulary or presentation doubts.

Ask students to imagine they are representatives in the United Nations. Everyone in class represents a community and is responsible for listening to all presentations and deciding which causes are easily applicable.

Students have to choose half the causes in class as ‘applicable’ – if you have 10 students, 5 will be chosen; if you have large groups and 10 groups are presenting, 5 groups will be chosen.

One by one, students present and other students take notes.


In order not to interfere with fluency and engagement, do not correct them at this point. Take notes and save them for later. Instead of correcting with the whole class, you could prepare a feedback for each student based on their production during the whole project and give it to them the next class. This could also count as their final evaluation for the project. This way, you’ll be evaluating the process, and not only the result.

At the end of all the presentations, hold a very brief vote of the easily applicable causes.

The winners get to choose other students that did not win to work with them in pairs or groups. These groups will put the proposal to practice.

Tell students they should try to follow their own courses of action and present the outcome the next class. They will have to present it in class, so they have to make their presentation interesting by either using audiovisual or props.


Week 5

As a warm up, play the same chain game from the first week.

Write in bulk letters ‘Social Activism reminds me of____’.


With the whole class, students should take turns saying ‘Social Activism reminds me of____’ and add a word. The first student should say Social Activism reminds me of + his word. The second student should say Social Activism reminds me of + first student’s word + new word. Third student should say Social Activism reminds me of + first student’s word + second student’s word + new word. And so on.

Have students play for around 3 minutes, then stop them.

Tell students they will present their results now and at the end of every presentation, they should ask questions to the presenters.

Assign the presentation order.

Groups present one by one.

At the end of the presentations, conduct a brief debate.

When all the groups have already presented, hand out to each student their individual feedback.


The feedbacks should contain three parts: praise of what was positive, correction of most common mistakes and tips on how to improve certain uses of language.

Thank students for their cooperation and praise them on the outcomes.

Well I hope you enjoyed it!

See you next time, and have fun with the games!

Book review – Dramapädagogik im Sprachunterricht (Drama Pedagogy in the language classroom)

„Dramapädagogik ist ein Ansatz, der die Mittel des Theaters zu pädagogischen Zwecken einsetzt. Im Vordergrund steht dabei nicht primär das Ergebnis, nämlich die Produktion eines Theaterstücks, sondern der Lernprozess in allen seinen Dimensionen: physisch, ästhetisch (sinnlich), emotional und kognitiv. «Drama» kommt aus dem Griechischen und heisst «Handlung». Dramapädagogik ist dementsprechend eine Pädagogik, die handlungsbezogenes ganzheitliches Lernen herbeiführt.“

Elektra Tselikas-Portmann

“Drama Pedagogy is an approach that utilizes Theatre for educational purposes. “Drama” comes from the Greek “action”. Result – or presentation – is not the primary goal, but the learning process in all its dimensions: physical, aesthetic (sensual), emotional and cognitive. Drama Pedagogy is therefore a pedagogy that allows acquisition to be practical and empirical”

(our translation)





Dramapädagoggik im SprachunterrichtA promisse of insights. That is the feeling one gets when embarking on the journey that is Dramapädagogik im Sprachunterricht. I have just begun to read it, however I could not wait to share it here with you guys.

The book is in German and, as far as I know, there are no English versions. So I have humbly set myself the task of reading it and summarizing the most interesting parts the author brilliantly exposes.

Elektra Tselikas-Portmann has extensive work as a drama therapist, psychotherapist, drama teacher and supervisor. In Dramapädagogik im Sprachunterricht, she depicts the idea of using Drama Pedagogy in the language classroom by giving the reader reasons why this approach is beneficial, manners to start practicing it, ways to achieve diverse goals with it in the classroom, a few practical exercises and theoretical basis for her thesis.

As mentioned before, I have just started reading it and here I will try to disclosure my impressions of the very first part of the book – which honestly seems very promising.

The author begins with a brief commentary of what Drama Pedagogy – Theaterpädagogik – is: an approach that utilizes theatre as a means to achieve pedagogical goals. This practice does not base itself in presenting a theatrical play, but enabling the dramatic process which students go through via drama games and, therefore, fostering a diverse kind of learning. In this sense, Drama Pedagogy allows participants to acquire knowledge in a more natural way via dramatic practice.

Tselikas also affirms that Drama Pedagogy is a means to include new ideas and creativity in the communication-oriented lesson plan: it provides the classroom activities with lifelike situations and places that the students are studying and allows them to practice and experience those scenarios in a safe and controlled environment before using the language in the ‘real world’.

After this introduction, the reader is presented with a table of contents which includes information about the inborn human susceptibility towards playing and acting – abilities explored by the Drama Pedagogy.

Dramapädagoggik im Sprachunterricht quote

She explains, though, that these processes – although inherent in every human being – are blocked as time passes by rationality and moral values learned in social life. One of the goals of Drama Pedagogy is also to restore these abilities and bring them to the surface once again and through them, enable a free and creative environment in the classroom.

Neither the teacher nor the students should be professional actors in order to benefit from Drama Pedagogy, according to the author: the objective is merely achieving educational goals, and not contributing to training new actors. And to achieve these educational goals, one must build a challenging representation of real life through drama in order to promote the development of the students’ language skills through metaphors, symbols, roles and emotion.


Honestly, isn’t that mouth-watering?

I will keep posting summaries of this book to you guys, so stay tuned!

As usual, have fun and enjoy the games!

Workshop review – Learner-tainment

Last Saturday the 21st of February I had the privilege of attending the workshop ‘Learner-tainment’ in Geneva, Switzerland that was organized by E-Tas (English Teachers Association of Switzerland).

The workshop was brilliantly conducted by Mary Patricia Schnueriger – an ESL/EFL teacher and ELT consultant at Pearson Switzerland – who was kind enough to give me her blessing to report here at ESL Drama Queen the content of what was discussed.

Here is an overview of the event and my personal take on it.



21.02.15 – Bell School Geneve – E-TAS


Mary Patricia Schnueriger – Pearson Switzerland

Subject and scope

Suggest and facilitate the elaboration of games to be used in ELT

Intended audience

EFL/ESL Teachers with students of all ages and levels

Schnueriger was throughout the workshop the very definition of a facilitator for a hands-on workshop: she proposed many activities and promoted several discussions to attendees and kept the focus on the subjects discussed rather than her personal views on the ideas. The overall feel of the event was that the participants themselves were active in the delivery of the talk – which I personally think is great.

She started with a quote that set the tone for the whole afternoon: “There is no right or wrong, only ideas’. Since it was a very heterogeneous group of people from different parts of the world with diverse views on what the ELT classroom should be like and also with eclectic goals, this first moment was quite important to make sure everyone felt welcome and all ideas would be heard and respected. As one might say, everything is try and error – many activities may work for one group and not for another, and vice versa.

During what I can surely refer to as a very pleasant afternoon, many games and activities for the ESL/EFL classroom were mentioned by both Schnueriger and the participants.

Although no one mentioned the word Drama during the workshop, there were lots of ideas that emerged and were clearly connected to the idea of Drama Games. That makes me both happy and worried: happy because there are lots of teachers out there willing to use this amazing technique to teach their students a foreign language; and worried because I guess this approach is still fairly unexplored academically and very poorly advertised.

Next is a brief description of the ones I personally felt more inclined to trying out due to its proximity to Drama Games. For full lesson plans of the games below, stay tuned for the next posts.



Paper Balls


Students write questions on a piece of paper

Make a paper ball with it

Throw it at someone (teacher or other colleague)

Whoever has the paper ball reads it and answers the question


Elfti with Art


Present students with a painting (connect the theme of the painting to the topic you are covering in class)

Elicit from students single words that the painting evokes from them Show students the structure of an Elfti: an 11-word poem



Ask students to come up with an Elfti based on their feelings towards the painting and the topic of the class


Candy Topics


Offer colourfully-wrapped candy to your students

Each student can get as much candy as they like

Show them the colour code

Candy topics


Arrange students in groups

Each student should talk about the topics they have (depending on the colour candy they picked)


‘TABU’ variations


  1. Writing the description without using the tabu words instead of speaking (can be used in unison with Paper Balls)
  2. Vocabulary Box: at the end of every class students come up with a word they learned that day and 3 tabu words; they write it down and place it in the vocabulary box; the next class starts with a TABU game with the vocabulary they came up with.
  3. Tabu poster: teacher writes a few words per class on a poster and students are not allowed to say them (can be used for advanced classes to use more elevated vocabulary instead of simple words)

Word sneak


Arrange students in groups or pairs

Give each students a set of words or phrases

Students should engage in natural conversation, trying to sneak in the words or phrases without the other students noticing

(Jimmy Fallon, an American comedian, plays this game on his TV show. For the Youtube video, click here)


I hope this post could be as helpful and enlightening to you all as the workshop was to me and I’ll just leave you with a last quote from Mary Patricia Schnueriger: “Any games you see can be adapted into language learning”.

As usual, see you next time and have fun with the games!

Article Review: Using theater games to enhance language arts learning


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.



FENNESSEY, Sharon M., “Using Theater Games to Enhance Language Arts Learning” (2006). Faculty Publications. Paper 68. Page 689.

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

Book Review: Theater Games for Classroom – A Teacher’s Handbook

Theater Games for Classroom – A Teacher’s Handbook

Viola Spolin is an institution. Writing about her feels both like talking about an old    well-known friend and reviewing the works of a genius. It is gratifying and terrifying at the same time. But I will try to do my best.

The woman did it all: research, development and advertisement. Had she not decided to look further into the academic side of Theater and Pedagogy and make her ideas available to the world, many would have never come into contact with Drama Games and their use in the classroom (yours truly included).


My first experience with Viola Spolin’s work was through a book that a former teacher and coworker gave me for teachers’ day: Theater Games for Classroom – A Teacher’s Handbook. It was one of the best gifts I have ever received. Really.

The book changed my perspective in such a way that I immediately got caught in the fantastically inebriating Drama spider web. The book is edited in such a way that she is able to convince you little by little that you will no longer be able to teach a class without drama anymore. It worked on me.

The book is divided in 20 parts, however I can see three big blocks grouping them together:

  1. Why one should use these games in the classroom
  2. Categorized drama games
  3. Preparing a theatrical presentation

The first part can be either a trigger for a teacher that has already been curious about the theme or the basis of a convincing argumentation for the skeptical teacher. It is successful in explaining when, where and how these games can be used and how helpful they can be in the classroom environment.

Part number two is the bulk of the book, where Spolin depicts a plethora of games for several objectives: movement, voice, observation, character building, communication, etc…

It is a guide, almost like a lesson plan, where all the games are there, ready to be used. It is one of the most mouthwatering ready-to-use game menus out there!

The last part is a compilation of tips and activities for the teacher to develop and manage all the phases of a theatrical presentation with the students.

In utter shock with that new world of never-ending options, I wondered: how could I apply those amazing ideas to my day-to-day classroom routine without interfering with the syllabus I was supposed to follow? And there it was, my first bump on the dramatic road.

Everything that was written on that magical book was fantastic – on paper. My reality was a much different scenario: I did not have the freedom to choose my own syllabus or the pace of the course where I worked at the time. Everything was already formatted and handed out to me, and my coordinators expected me to teach that exact content at that exact pace. There was little room for my own spice in the recipe.

Right then and there I knew that using Theater would be virtually impossible with my students. There simply was not enough time for that. Also, I have always enjoyed classroom activities that are intrinsically connected to the topic of the day’s class. So how could I connect the entire syllabus of the semester to a play? I would have to do that in order to make the content of the theatrical experience be meaningful to both the students and my coordinator. But it was just too much work with little chance of actually happening.

And that’s when the light bulb went on in my head: maybe I do not have to provide my students with the complete theatrical experience. Maybe they could benefit just from the drama games from the second part of the book, without even noticing that those activities have anything to do with theater whatsoever. Bingo.

As soon as I realized that, me, my coordinator and my students starting benefitting from the works of the marvelous Viola Spolin. Of course every game had to be adapted to the class, syllabus and classroom that I was teaching, but it was worth it!

Each activity would take me a maximum of 15 minutes, the students were more communicative, engaged, alert and also getting along better. I too noticed that fluency, intonation, pronunciation and overall awareness of the language was improved considerably in all groups that were exposed to Spolin’s material.

I highly recommend the book as reference and inspiration for ESL/EFL teachers. But bear in mind that the author did not think about Language Learning specifically when she wrote the book, so some activities have to be modified or adapted to one’s reality.

I hope I could do Viola Spolin justice and that you can benefit from the words I wrote.

If you want to purchase this book and also contribute to this website click on either this affiliate link or the one in the beginning of the text to go to

See you next time and have fun with the games!

Michelle Schirpa