Tales from the classroom – The complainers

complain

 

There is nothing more terrifying than a cold audience.

That horrifying feeling of talking to students and getting….. NOTHING!

Or worse: getting nothing but complaints!

I can still remember – with shivers on my spine – a certain group I once had that no matter what I tried, they remained unsatisfied.

They would constantly complain about everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

The class is too slow. Now it’s too fast. Your accent is too American. There are too many windows in this classroom… The list is endless.

I thought that they would never go for playing games in the classroom since they liked NOTHING about the course: and I was right.

But, as I am a terribly stubborn human being, I decided to insist on it anyway.

I remember the first time I proposed a game to them. They looked at me with a ‘what the hell’ face and, as I insisted, they did it in a very cranky way.

And so it went for the next month: me insisting on the games, they doing it out of obligation and ‘good will’.

I only kept doing it because, honestly, they would complain about anything anyway, so I decided to make the classes a little more lively, even if just for a few moments.

And you know what happened? They complained!

But this time, in English!

And that right there was my reward.

They might not have noticed at the time, but the games were actually helping them improve their fluency – and I could notice!

I just kept saying to myself, ‘They complaining in English now! In ENGLISH!!!!’

So one day I did something sneaky: I recorded the whole class.

Afterwards, I sent them the video via email and asked them to pay attention to how much L1 and how much English they were speaking. And that changed everything.

They still complained about the classroom, my accent, the textbook, the coordination, the duration of the class…………….. But they were happy they were speaking English.

That was one of the most difficult groups I’ve ever had, but of one thing I’m sure: there is nothing a very stubborn teacher who insists on getting their students to learn can’t do!

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.


Workshop

Learner-tainment

21.02.15 – Bell School Geneve – E-TAS

Speaker

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.

 

Game

Paper Balls

Overview

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

Game

Elfti with Art

Overview

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

 

Elfti

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

Game

Candy Topics

Overview

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)

Game

‘TABU’ variations

Overview

  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)
Game

Word sneak

Overview

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!

Lesson Plan: Grammar (Reported Speech/3rd Person Singular) – Gossip

gossip

Finding activities to have your students practice Reported Speech or 3rd Person Singular is not hard. There are lots of great approaches out there.

However, I have often heard from teachers that sometimes the practice of these grammar topics in particular can be a challenge because, depending on how it is conducted, it can be a little artificial and mechanic.

Bearing that in mind, I decided to test several Drama Games in order to promote a more natural and fluent practice moment in the classroom.

One of the games that worked the best with several age and language levels was “Gossip”.

I like it especially because it can be adapted for either outgoing or introverted groups of people, eliminating the dreaded feeling of being on the spot as one has to report something to the whole class.

Caution though! During this activity students will be doing a lot of talking and it will be up to you, teacher, to monitor their performance. It is important to have a correction moment afterwards, but not during the game, since it can impair fluency and foster anxious behavior from students.

Well, that being said, I hope you and your students have lots of fun gossiping in your classroom!


Drama Game: Gossip

 

Type: Grammar practice

Age: all

Language level: all

Aim: Acquire and report information

Interaction Pattern: Pair work

Material: Set of pre-written questions, paper to make notes

Timing: 7-10 min


Procedure:

Have students either sit or stand in a circle, depending on how outgoing or introverted they are.

Graphic1

Assign partners for pairwork. Partners should be sitting next to each other. This is “Pair 1”.

Ask students to look at their partner “1” in the eye and say “Hello, partner ‘1’”.

Partner1

 

Ask students to look at the person sitting on their other side. That’s “Pair 2”.

Ask students to look at their partner “2” in the eye and say “Hello, partner ‘2’”.

(This brief activity of looking people in the eye and verbally expressing who they are enables students to better comprehend the logistics of the game, and it tends to loosen them up too)

Partner2

At your command, students look at their partners, either “1” or “2”. Say: “1”. “2”. “2”. “1”. “1”.

(This is a warm up to keep them alert and responsive.)

Partner1and2

Tell them now it’s for real.

Tell students that they will interview their partner in “Pair 1” and they can take notes of their partners answers.

Tell students that they will gossip about their “partner 1” to their “partner 2”.

You will say the number of the partner and they have to either interview or gossip about their partners.

Model with some students. Check if everybody understood the intructions.

Have students do the activity as you give them the command “Talk to partner ‘1’” or “Talk to partner ‘2’”.

PS: Don’t forget to walk around and take notes of positive and negative production. At the end of the activity, you can conduct correction and praising with the whole group.

PS2: As for the content of the pre-written questions, you can grade and adapt them according to your groups’ needs and level.

Article Review: Using theater games to enhance language arts learning

ESLDramaQueen_Blog06

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

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

Have fun and enjoy the games!


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Bibliography

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

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

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 amazon.com.

See you next time and have fun with the games!

Michelle Schirpa