The use of drama in foreign language teaching

             El uso del teatro en el aula de idiomas

                                                                                                                        Sonia Martínez Triguero




Abstract:  As we know, it is very important nowadays to learn a foreign language, but as we also know, it is also a complex and long process. We have to take into account that our students are more and more de-motivated especially in Secondary Education. As English teachers we have to look for new ideas and activities in our English classes to motivate our students and make them feel like learning a foreign language. One area  in which they could catch their attention is the use of drama, since drama is an excellent means through which to work pronunciation, speaking and listening skills as well as developing collaboration and group interaction. In this article, we will focus on the use of drama in the English classroom and we will explore the different drama techniques as a resource for foreign language learning.

Keywords: Foreign language learning, ELT methodology, drama, role-playing, simulations, dialogues, group work.

Resumen: Como sabemos, hoy en día es muy importante aprender un idioma extranjero, hecho que forma parte de un proceso complejo además de largo. Al mismo tiempo hemos de tener presente que nuestros alumnos cada vez están más desmotivados. Como profesores de inglés tenemos que implementar nuevas ideas y actividades en el aula de modo que los alumnos sientan la necesidad de aprender un idioma extranjero. Una actividad que puede captar su atención es el uso del teatro puesto que las distintas técnicas dramáticas funcionan como un excelente recurso para trabajar la pronunciación, destrezas de habla y escucha así como estrategias de colaboración y de trabajo en grupo. En este artículo nos centraremos en el uso del teatro en el aula de idiomas y en las distintas técnicas dramáticas que podemos utilizar como recurso para el aprendizaje de idiomas.

Palabras clave: Aprendizaje de idiomas, metodología del aprendizaje de inglés, teatro, técnicas dramáticas, role-playing, simulaciones, diálogos, trabajo en grupo.

     The use of drama in foreign language teaching can be an excellent resource for the teachers. Not only drama techniques may be a complement to the textbook but they can also be used either as warming-ups or as main activities in the session. Some of these activities include role-playing, simulations of daily life situations, dramatized readings and dialogues or miming. They are especially appropriate for practicing oral skills and English pronunciation as well as developing collaboration and group interaction. Apart from that, they also create a positive atmosphere within the classroom, what increases the students´ self-confidence since as they do not feel judged by others students, they lose their fear of speaking a language that they do not master. The positive result of this is that students have the opportunity to practice language in realistic situations they have created themselves giving the students the chance to demonstrate unsuspected abilities involving integrated skills work.

  The areas teachers can use different drama techniques cover the course book, teaching the four skills (reading, writing, speaking/ pronunciation and listening), teaching spoken communication skills and the drama project, which leads to the full-scale staging of a play in the target language. Teachers who are willing to try some drama games and activities should be aware that by using the course material, they can find many drama techniques to make the course book more communicative and “alive” for the students. In fact, a warm-up that leads into the lesson does not have to be a complicated “drama” lesson but just a way to get the class working together, awake and focused on the topic. Yes, not only the use of drama through warmers, ice-breakers and games build trust and confidence, but also relax students, breaking down barriers, building a secure and trusting relationship with one another. It is important that the students in all drama activities feel at ease with each other and willing to work together. Thus, drama helps both teachers and learners. On the one hand, drama can help the teacher to achieve “reality” in several ways. It can overcome the students' resistance to learning the new language: by making the learning of the new language an enjoyable experience, by setting realistic targets for the students to aim for, by creative slowing down of real experience and by linking the language-learning experience with the student's own experience of life. On the other hand, drama can create in the students a need to learn the language: by the use of a creative tension, that is, situations requiring urgent solutions, and by putting more responsibility on the learner, as opposed to the teacher.


          How can teachers implement drama into their lessons?

  Teachers who wish to start introducing drama in the foreign languages teaching can easily choose before starting as such, a few games, games or role-plays and start slowly in their own style of teaching. That way, everyone would accept it and use it comfortably before moving into any kind of intense drama activity. Drama demands enthusiasm, not only for the lesson, but also for the students. And this, in turn, depend on the formation of a relationship of mutual trust in which neither teacher nor student feels at risk, but they willingly change the role and status to achieve the aims of the lesson.

  We cannot forget that drama attempts to put back some of this forgotten emotional content into language – and to put the body back too-. This does not mean that we must suddenly start leaping about the classroom in an exaggerated fashion, but it does imply that we need to take more account of meaning. Thus the teacher should not be seen as performing the drama to the class but all members are the ones who create the experience together. How? For instance, by integrating the activities, such as writing exercises with drama and having students for example writing letters, diary entries or news stories from the point of view of the character or describing events that caused or followed the situation used in the lesson.

     In order to start this experience successfully, teachers should look for situations in their course book where they can have their students role-play instead of just reading. It would be a good idea to divide the class into small groups and have them come up with their own role-played versions of the situation, which they can act out in class. The same can be done with news articles or storybooks. We can also give the students a loose guide such as a TV interview, a celebrity talk show or a phone call and give them a few minutes to organize themselves and prepare a “performance”, which will require that they think on their feet and in the moment. Teachers should select short scenes from a movie and play it for their students with the sound turned off. The students could be divided into groups and could play-acting the scene, inputting words of their own. After the exercise, teachers play the movie with the sound on for them to compare and give the students some hints about the students’ performance.

      This way, very few resources are needed to make the communicative experience more “real” for the students. In fact, as we think of drama activities in the terminology of the popular ELT methodology such as “communication games”, or “tasks” we could all better comprehend the goal of using them in the foreign language classroom. Large group drama activities are ideal for ELT situations. More students have the chance to engage in some form of language use and interact in different settings that can be created in one space. These kinds of group drama activities can develop better language use and provide the teacher more observation time and less direct teaching time.                            

     As far as the number of students, teachers should take into account that using a drama activity with a large class might seem like chaos if all students are not engaged in the lesson. That is why the relationship between the teacher and students should be well established from the very beginning and the use of communicative games at early stages can promote group cohesion. The same occurs in the relationship between teacher and students in an English lesson setting. If the teacher is introducing drama to the students it is really important to establish a comfortable and free thought-sharing environment. It will be at this moment when the whole class should be able to be involved in a drama activity and explore the second language at the same time. Acting, performing and creating characters in the classroom or even school plays will be developed during the lessons either in small group of students or in a large group of students. No matter the number of students are involved in drama activities, drama will always enrich the language class in all different ways and above all the creation of a learning situation in which the student is also the teacher will take place. Drama, will always be a great excuse to bring into the lessons more authenticity to the students since they will be provided with “real life” practice in the target language.


        Of course, in every drama activity we cannot forget that the students must develop the ability to mime and focus on precise physical movement. Teachers should work on the following “theatre techniques” and activities which are worth considering during rehearsals when putting on a play or just an exercise based on drama. These are some of the different techniques:

     One of the main objectives of using these techniques is to stimulate the students’ participation in communicative activities, which means, overcoming resistance to use the foreign language, and additionally, creating communicative needs. Different aspects of the learning process must be assessed, to see if the main objectives, mentioned before, have been achieved, such as if the students have used the foreign language, if they have enjoyed the activity, if the level of difficulty and the language involved were adequate. As far as evaluation is concerned teachers should bear in mind that by introducing drama and drama techniques into the lessons, we are acquiring two main aims, one is the fact of overcoming resistance to the foreign languages in general and the other is the one of creating a need for speaking. By looking at these two areas and asking questions about the students’ reaction and the lesson overall, students can be evaluated by all members involved.

    Introducing drama into the Foreign Language classroom implies more than just playing a play for the sake of it. Drama makes the students to focus on paralinguistic features, such as gestures, facial expressions, pauses, fillers or interruptions. Additionally, the drama project favors the students´ approach to the literary and cultural world of the foreign language Performing a play constitutes a project that increases the students´ communicative functions in which they learn how to deal with some communicative functions, vocabulary, structures and socio-cultural conventions, and the pronunciation and prosodic feature are properly appreciate and acquired. Language is, thus, learned in a meaningful context. And that is Foreign Language Methodology methodology is all about.



Along these pages we can find plays written especially for the English as a Foreign Language classroom which are very interesting for starting implementing drama in our lessons.