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.
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!