This is the full lesson plan of the game Paper Balls which was part of the great content exposed by Mary Patricia Schnueriger during the workshop Learner-tainment in Geneva. If you want more information about the workshop, click here.
Paper balls is a very lively game that can be used and adapted to cater to a plethora of teaching goals. On this post I will depict some of the uses I came up with after analyzing the original idea from the workshop.
I developed lesson plans with 4 different goals in mind: ice breaker, vocabulary review, grammar practice and fluency practice.
However, if you have found other interesting uses for this game feel free to comment below!
Drama Game: Paper Balls – Vocabulary Review/Practice
Language level: all
Aim: Revisit and personalize previously taught vocabulary to facilitate retention
Material: Paper to make notes
Timing: 7-10 min
Each student gets a piece of paper large enough to be molded into a ball (1/5 of an A4 should suffice)
Students write words or expressions they learned the previous class or previously during that very class on a piece of paper
You can direct students here to write what you want them to practice. Let’s say you have an A1 class and you’d like them to practice vocabulary regarding worklife, you can write on the board
On the other hand, if you have a B2 group, you could write on the board ‘verbs followed by infinitive, gerund or both.
After writing their chosen piece of vocabulary, students make a paper ball with it.
Tell students they are to throw the balls around, so it’s gonna get kinda messy.
Depending on your group profile, you can either ask your students to stand up in a circle and throw the balls at someone across from them (more proactive, outgoing group profiles), or remain seated and throw the balls at anyone they’d like (more introverted, self-conscious group profiles), or even have a ball fight for 10 seconds and when time is over, students read the paper they ended up with (kids, teenagers and very open-minded adults).
Whoever has the paper ball reads it and executes a task. This task can be previously designed by the teacher to enhance language production of the topic to be reviewed/practiced.
For example, the A1 group practicing work-related words can be asked to come up with a TRUE sentence using the word they have (the truth in the sentence enables students to make the idea more memorable). As for the B2 group, they could perhaps come up with a question on the spot using the verb they have as a way to generate discussion and provide students with fast response practice (an ability B level students sometimes lack).
When the teacher sets previous specific goals for this game, it is a great tool to revise and practice vocabulary. However, if the students have no guidelines when they are either writing the words and phrases or elaborating sentences for them later, the chance you get words that are totally unrelated to your teaching point or useless sentences spoken just for the sake of completing the asked task is pretty big. So use it cautiously and runthrough your instructions carefully before applying the game.
Drama Game: Paper Balls – Ice breaker
Language level: all
Aim: Promote group integration and notice students’ previous knowledge
Material: Paper to make notes
Timing: 5-7 min
This is a good alternative for an activity on the very first day of class, so that the group can get to know each other in a lively way and you can also observe their production while the game is going on so that you can figure out what you will be dealing with during the course.
In order for both of these goals to be achieved, this is a no-correction version of the game. I wouldn’t correct a student on the very first moment of the very first class. It could feel rather intimidating, to my mind, and the idea here is to lower everyone’s anxiety and promote bonding amongst everyone in class.
Tell students you will play a game to get to know each other. In this game, everyone will receive a paper ball that they CANNOT open.
Hand out one paper ball with previously written questions to each student.
Write the questions beforehand to save time, incite curiosity and promote a more realistic response from students since they don’t know what the questions will be about.
Also, grade the questions in relation to what you want to observe in terms of production from your students. It could be just personal questions, but it could also be discussion starters to higher levels.
Ask students to stand in a circle and make sure everyone can see each other.
Tell students they will throw the balls at each other once. They can throw at whomever they want (usually they throw to someone directly opposite to them, but if anyone ends up now being thrown at, there’s always going to be a ball left from them. Ask them to go and get it.)
They will then have 30 seconds to talk to someone about the question they got.
After the 30 seconds are over, they throw the balls again and choose a different person to discuss the new question with.
Even is they get a question two or three times, the person they are talking to is never the same, so there is always room for authentic discussion.
Walk around and listen to what they are saying. This is the moment you assess their previous knowledge privately.
Repeat 3 or 4 times and then bring the group back to their original places.
It could be nice to have e brief feedback moment after the game, asking how the students felt, what is hard or easy during this kind of exercise. For higher levels, elicit from stidents the connection between this game and real life. Ask them situations in which they are ‘bombarded’ with questions and have to answer quickly and elicit strategies to perform better under pressure.
By the end of this activity the group should be a lot more integrated and aware of the importance of not only studying the book , but also drawing parallels to real life use of the language they are learning.
Drama Game: Paper Balls – Fluency practice
Language level: from A2 on
Aim: Promote freer practice
Material: Paper to make notes
Timing: 7-10 min
This is a variation of the Ice breaker in order to be used at the end of classes to promote freer practice of the language learned that day.
Since this the goal here is practicing, make sure you allocate some time after the game to promote public correction on things you heard during the game. Don’t forget to make notes as the students play the game.
Tell students you will play a game to practice what you have learned today. In this game, one by one, students will stand up and all the other students will throw them paper balls – either one by one or all at once, depending on your group profile.
Each student gets a piece of paper large enough to be molded into a ball (1/5 of an A4 should suffice)
Students write questions about what they learned previously during that very class on it
Tip: Walk around and try to correct the questions before students throw the balls.
Ask students to throw the questions at the student who is stading.
This targeted student has 1 minute to answer as many questions as possible. Then he/she sits down and it’s someone else’s turn.
If you have large groups, instead of conducting the activity with the whole class, allocate students into smaller groups and have them play the game.
Drama Game: Paper Balls – Grammar Practice – Sentence structure
Language level: all
Aim: Facilitate sentence structure analysis through concrete practice
Material: Paper to make notes
Timing: 5-7 min
This is a good activity to raise awareness to sentence structure and word order. Students should be able to ‘see’ the structure and actively think about it, instead of just passively receiving input from either the teacher or the textbook.
Also, the collaborative analysis of language has proven to foster the information to be more memorable, enhancing learning.
Since students will have to discuss a few things during the game, it would be nice for A1 students to be provided with model sentences to express their opinion. Otherwise, the activity will be either too challenging for them, or the main focus will shift from focusing on structure to struggling with expressing opinion. You could write on the board:
Tell students you will play a game to practice the grammar they just learned. In this game, everyone will receive a paper ball that they CANNOT open.
Hand out one paper ball with previously written words to each student. The idea is that the paper balls contain words that can be arranged in sentences – or you can also use it for adjective order.
Write the words beforehand to save time, incite curiosity and promote a more realistic response from students since they don’t know which sentences they will have to form. Don’t make it too hard, though. Keep them short and simple. Remember, the objective is not for the game to be a challenge, but for student to experience the concrete formation of sentences in English.
Also, grade the questions in relation to what you want to observe in terms of production from your students. It could be question formation for A2 students or inversions to C2 ones.
Ask students to have a paper ball fight for 5 seconds (to mix the words up)
Divide students in small groups and assign them 2 or 3 minutes to try to build a sentence from the paper balls that must be all around by now.
Walk around and listen to what they are saying. This is the moment you help them, make sure they don’t use (much) L1 resorting to the models on the board and foster further analysis of the language.
It could be nice to have e brief feedback moment after the game, asking how the students felt, what is hard or easy during this kind of exercise.
By the end of this activity the group should be more aware of that class’ teaching point and ready for controlled and freer practice.
Well, I hope you enjoyed the ideas.
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!
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”
- 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.
- 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. http://digitalcommons.ric.edu/facultypublications/6
Spolin, Viola. (1986). Theater games for the classroom. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
It was my Drama teacher at the language school I studied at: also quite young, energetic and somehow adventurous. He was the one that, after two years of helping me with my English, suggested I helped him manage the theatre groups he was responsible for.
At first I thought he was kidding, but then I realized maybe I did have an interest bigger than just learning a language twice a week and rehearsing a theatrical play once a week – maybe I genuinely felt curious and excited about the idea of helping others. And I guess he saw that in me and gave me a chance.
Rehearsals began in March and we were looking after around 30 students ageing from 9 to 15 every week for three hours. My Fridays were never as fun as those. I looked forward to Fridays like those kids did to Christmas!
I learned so much from those two years I spent assisting my former teacher: work ethics, dealing with students, dealing with parents, planning classes, time management, classroom management and – what would become my professional life’s obsession – drama games.
I first came into contact with drama games as they were traditionally meant to be used: as a means for the actors to prepare themselves for rehearsal and presentation. And for a long time I lacked to see the connection between those activities that helped us rehearsal and the language class I had twice a week.
It took one book and a very special person to open my mind to that possibility. The book was Theater Games for Classroom – A Teacher’s Handbook and the very special person is a dear friend that unfortunately is no longer with us. He also had started as a student and then decided to become a teacher – a path I myself would choose later on – and he had figured out the connection between drama games and the classroom. Not only figured out, he perfected it bearing in mind the syllabus, demands and requirements of the school he taught at.
He got so good at it and he was such an inspiration to so many around him, that in a few years he became a teacher trainer. And guess who had figured out she wanted to be a teacher and was his pupil by then? Yes, yours truly. And that was when I got a crash course in drama games in the classroom for the first time.
He gave me the book; he ministered the training course; he gave me a path and a passion. And every time I think about him not being here anymore it saddens me that the world can no longer benefit from his great ideas. Though his legacy endures.
Lots of us lucky enough to have been taken under his wing at the time still work with drama games in the classroom and believe in its effectiveness as a tool to facilitate language learning.
If it hadn’t been for these two very important teachers/colleagues/friends that life was kind enough to have put in my path, who knows if I would be where I am today.
Teachers matter. What we say and do have meaning and can affect our students deeply. So if we affect them, let us affect them affectionately. And as I learned from these two very affectionate teachers: drama games can help us do that.
So once again, see you guys next time and have fun with the games.
(ESL Drama Queen)
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:
- Why one should use these games in the classroom
- Categorized drama games
- 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 amazon.com.
See you next time and have fun with the games!