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!