Learning English with Drama Techniques (Study)

Most of the teachers are wondering all the time which could be the most efficient techniques to give practice in using all the four skills at their best in the process of English language teaching. We know that some of our students need more speaking, writing or listening practice, but there are moments when students could very well practice their use of English entirely without bothering or feeling uncomfortable because of the routine of grammar structures or word collocations learning. Lively and interactive activities may provide a sort of balance between the receptive and productive skills and involves all the students` participation along with a friendly atmosphere, gaining the confidence of language usage.

A lot of classroom teaching activities don`t offer students confidence to act naturally as in real life or the opportunity to develop their creativity, according to their background knowledge, so probably, one of the most successful alternative for a classroom teaching activity that enables students to use their `English abilities` interactively and more independently is learning English through drama techniques. Drama can become even more useful if teachers succeed in reaching a connection between the syllabus, the given topics of the course book and the drama session as Paul Davies very well notices. He also considers that “drama activities facilitate the type of language behavior that should lead to fluency, and if it is accepted that the learners want to learn a language in order to make themselves understood in the target language, then drama does indeed further this end” (Davies 1990: 96 ).

Drama is a great `tool` that provides diversity and challenges students to activate their `language stock` and use it according to the given context that is why it is seen as a communicative activity with its oral production section, but a well-devised drama activity gives the possibility to reinforce writing and reading skills also. With such activities students can work in group, exchange ideas, collaborate and take control of the learning process, they can write their own script using the given model by the teacher, or they do a bit of research to find out extra information about the author of the play script; but what is more important is that they establish a good relationship since “drama is considered by many students to be important for the development of social and communication skills and tolerance when working with others” (Barbu  2007).

Drama can be used at all levels and teaching stages, as long as teachers manage to devise them properly according to the students` needs and interests while getting through the syllabus` topics. Drama activities can take several forms such as mime, role-playing, improvisation, simulation, or different situations of using a script play, being very well used as warm-ups or lead-in stages, controlled or less-controlled activities; all of them can be very successful if the students are given  practical reasons and clear tasks according to the specificity of each dramatic activity that provides English language learning.

For example, simulations and role-plays can work out successfully with helpful instructions given by the teacher before the beginning of the activity or along the way when students need some ideas;  simulating real-life happenings, students can write in pairs or groups the script of a conversation in a bank or in an airplane, then and act out the simulation in front of their classmates, practising their speaking skill.

Similarly, they can imagine an instance described by the teacher, pretending to be one of the characters and expressing his or her attitude and thoughts. These activities might have surprising outcomes because students challenge their creativity and try to imagine funny situations or to play a character as real as possible, but as J. Harmer acknowledges students need to be given enough information, otherwise it would be difficult for them to fulfill the task (Harmer 2007: 352).

Some students might feel more comfortable if they previously write down some ideas or key words that they should use for their role-play: conversations or dialogues between a shop-assistant and a customer or between a passer-by and a tourist work out better if students come to a decision and write a short script with a couple of questions and answers. But more important is the fact that working in pairs or groups they can share ideas, work together and come to an agreement for the sake of a successful collaborative learning activity, while they have the chance to practice quite well their writing and reading skills.

Making a comparison of different dramatic activities, some teachers agree that it is more likely to use mime or improvisation as warm-up activities or icebreaker games (cf. Dundar 2013: 1425). These activities provide an interactive atmosphere with students that have to mime someone doing something while the others have to name the person or the action; it involves oral communication and imagination while the teacher can be a participant too. Triggered by a student`s gesture and action, the others must guess the story or an imaginary situation but more important they try to explain what they see and in some cases to practice vocabulary items that were previously taught.

Adriana Vizental considers that improvisation and dramatization activities can bring much more creativity than role-play ones; these may use as a starting point a literary or non-literary text and take into consideration a hypothetical event suggested by the teacher, so that students can improvise “a plausible conversation without any special preparation” (Vizental 2008: 218). Advanced students may imagine intriguing or hilarious situations that can end up into short debates so that each student expresses his or her personal opinion and why not playing the devil`s advocate role. They can use collaborative techniques and initially write in groups their play scripts on a given topic (for example, students can write a Halloween short play and share it among their classmates, waiting for their feedback, then, together, they decide which is the best short play and put it on as their final outcome), but this might take a further discussion.

These examples and not only are clear evidence that drama activities can be used in many ways with various English language teaching contexts and each time they are very helpful in improving language skills for different uses of language. Designed properly, dramatic activities may involve a balanced use of receptive and productive skills, facilitating the learning process in an interactive and creative manner, and that is the best reason why teachers should dare more in using drama for ELT classes.

Barbu, L. (2007). Using drama techniques for teaching English. Retrieved on July 17, 2010 from
forum.famouswhy.com/index.php? Show topic=1150
Davies, P. (1990). The use of drama in English Language Teaching. TESL Canada Journal/Revue Tesl Du Canada, 8(1), 87-99.
Dundar, S. (2013). Nine drama activities for foreign language classrooms: Benefits and challenges. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 70, 1424 – 1431
Harmer, J. (2007), The Practice of English Language Teaching. London: Longman.
Vizental, A. (2008), Metodica predării limbii engleze. Strategies of Teaching and Testing English as a Foreign Language. Iași: Polirom.


prof. Anca Smuleac

Școala Gimnazială Dr. Gheorghe Tite, Săpânța (Maramureş) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/anca.smuleac

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