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!

Article Review: Using theater games to enhance language arts learning


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.



FENNESSEY, Sharon M., “Using Theater Games to Enhance Language Arts Learning” (2006). Faculty Publications. Paper 68. Page 689.

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

See you next time and have fun with the games!

Michelle Schirpa