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.
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:
-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)
-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?
-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!
Dear ESL Drama Gamers, a promise is a promise!
Here is the second part of the summarized inspiratons IATEFL 2015 provided me.
Lots of artsy love,
ESL Drama Queen
Here is the second part of the 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.
Uncovering expertise in coursebook writing
Julie Norton & Heather Buchanan
Bio: University lectures at the University of Leeds and Nottingham and materials writers for Oxford University Press.
Practical constrains – word count, time and spread limit
Creativity constrains – using the right kind of language, linking deadlines with creativity
Following the brief – who are you writing for, coping with changes in briefs during the project
Managing the process”
ESL Drama Queen: When a teacher starts creating his/her own material some of these challenges don’t apply, though some do. For instance, planning the format – how much space on a page is going to be utilized and why – choosing the best language to get maximum effectiveness and managing the time taking to prepare and execute activities. This also applies to developing new games and inserting them in the lesson plan.
Write with someone
Be prepared to take criticism
Think about how other people would use the material
Be self-critical, meticulous, flexible Imagine what it will look like on the page
Manage your time within the day
Be aware of your own principles about teaching and learning and the principles of the project
Write answer key
Start at end point and work your way backwards
Get classroom experience
Be alert for new ideas”
ESL Drama Queen: All of these tips are also applicable when inserting drama games in a lesson plan. The best way to make the best out of a drama game is to sync it to the teaching point of the day and using the game as a means to achieve that goal. In order to do that, the process is very similar to that of writing brand new material: you have to look at the goal you want to achieve in the end of the class and think about each phase you are going to develop in order to get there. Then analyze the games you know and think about which one could help each phase you developed and how they could be included in the lesson. Bear in mind these tips above as well and the lesson will probably work out fine.
Emotional Engagement for adult sudents
Bio: Herbert Puchta holds a PhD in English – with a focus on ELT pedagogy, has been Professor of English at the Teacher Training University in Graz, and is a past President of IATEFL. He is also one of the most influencial authors in YL.
Personalize the content
Tackle emotional inteligence
Allow teacher’s personality to be shown
Make sure the classroom is a safe place
Make activities relevant
Provide the element of surprise
Use music and movement
Make sure students feel included
Provide and ask for meaningful feedback
Allow some thinking time”
“Emotion is part of the process, and not its conterpart; emotions and intelligence go hand in hand (Lazarus and Lazarus)”
“Neuronal connexions grow as the chid gets older: that’s PHYSICAL learning. The brain physically grows when we learn. This growth is more extensive and powerful when emoton is envolved. Emotion here is also physical, it’s adrenaline, dopamine and serotonine, who influence sinapsis. Therefore emotions are like fertilizers for learning. That’s why emotional engagement is key for the learning process. Learning is also a physical process. the brain is an organ of emotion”
“Focused attention (Egbert): it is easier to focus on something that we consider to be relevant”
ESL Drama Queen: All of the above can be successfuly achieved by proposing games in the classroom that connect the teaching point of the day with emotional skills development. In order to allow both language learning and emotional engagement to coexist, I’d reccomend choosing a drama game that targets actors’ emotional development and adapt it in order to include your teaching point during the playing process. This way, the production of that specific piece of language will coexist with the emotional development of the group.
“Emotional engagement is a step further from integration”
ESL Drama Queen: Integration as I see it is external to the participants: I can be part of a group because I feel safe and comfortable with the people in it, but that does not mean I am actively emotionaly engaged to everyone in it or the topics we talk about. Engagement to my mind can only be achieved when I am aware of my own self and I personally make the choice to do, say and feel things in the group.
Authors: Doff, Lazarus and Lazarus, Thaine, Purpura, Zull
Well, this was part 2 of the 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!!!!
„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.“
“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”
A 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.
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!
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
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.
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
Offer colourfully-wrapped candy to your students
Each student can get as much candy as they like
Show them the colour code
Arrange students in groups
Each student should talk about the topics they have (depending on the colour candy they picked)
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!
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:
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:
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:
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. http://digitalcommons.ric.edu/facultypublications/6
Spolin, Viola. (1986). Theater games for the classroom. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
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:
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 amazon.com.
See you next time and have fun with the games!