Teaching Social Skills via Shakespeare’s Plays

Social skills focus on the ability to communicate and interact with each other both verbally and non-verbally, through gestures and body language. When people have good social skills they also have good relationships with the ones around them, they communicate better in most environments, and they are more efficient and even happier.  These social skills can be enhanced through drama-based activities as it is well known that drama builds cooperation and s able to build many other social skills, such as knowing others, making decisions together, identifying and expressing feelings, empathy, and dealing with mixed emotions, caring about others or deciding on the best solution.

Working together as a group encourages cooperation and motivates students even more.  Drama offers a new place for students to feel free to work with feelings and emotions. By studying drama teenagers have the opportunity of understanding the way in which life is explored, experienced and communicated on and off stage. On the other hand, they become familiar to a wide range of characters, ways of dealing with the various challenges of life, various points of view from which a situation can be looked into and they also they develop the ability to empathize. As Jonathan Neelands observes , drama is a cultural subject which can be used to teach pupils different social values and skills.

Students face different problems in their lives, which may be either about mastering a school subject or a social task and it is the teacher’s responsibility to address them as the educational domain requires skills for both academic and social behaviour. This is why teachers need to be informed and aware of the social skills students should develop in school and not only and they must identify the problems that may appear throughout the way. They need to create tasks that refer to these issues and help students overcome a social skill deficit.  Using literature is a good tool for teachers who want to explore these aspects in their EFL classrooms and, as Jonathan Neelands notices , Shakespeare’s plays allow students to take various roles in character and use all senses and characteristics in order to understand the character as well as the play. By learning to explore in different ways and by using different methods, students build a strong character and personality. They are given the opportunity to observe the world from the comfortable position of the audience, they learn how to shape their ideas and they learn how to make sense of their real-life problems. In order for them to be able to participate in the activities, they need to know the plots of the two plays All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure, and they need to know the characters and the motivations Shakespeare used to convey his social messages. The two plays can be used in order to have students work in small or large groups which develop social skills such as team work, goal setting and responsibility. They take part in group discussions, group projects and group games, which will help boost their confidence, ease the process of decision- making and will improve the relationships among group members.

I decided to focus my research on whether drama based activities designed on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well can develop certain social skills in teenagers and I focused my research on getting to know people and characters, making decisions together, identifying feelings, empathy, mixed emotions, caring about others, and giving advice. For this purpose I chose a class of 30 advanced students (aged between 17 and 19), who have experienced difficulties in working together, expressing points of view and feelings and communicating effectively with the one another. Their problems started from the fact that they come from different environmental backgrounds and students from the countryside believed that the ones from the city looked down on them while the city students believed that their colleagues from the countryside were less academic prepared than they were. This is why the class got divided into two groups and serious barriers had appeared along the way. The main strategy of my research was to form their groups not based on personal options and likings but randomly. For instance, I asked them to count from 1 to 5 and all the students who got 1 formed one group while those with 2 formed another and so on. I also used the color method: I had tickets of five different colors in a bag and students came and took tickets out of it; those who got yellow formed a team, those who got blue formed another team and so on. In this way, I had different groups for each activity I wanted to use in order to improve the social skills mentioned above. We had the opportunity to work like this for one hour every week during our English Drama class.

The conclusions were very interesting as most of them said that it had been quite difficult to work with one another as they felt that they were being judged and evaluated every time they said something. But this aspect did not matter anymore once they focused their attention on the task, they understood their role in the group and they took on the responsibility of reading and watching the plays in discussion in order to be able to be active throughout the activities. They also said that they had discovered new things about one another and that they were willing to spend more time together to improve their relationships. All the students agreed that the drama based activities that they had worked on helped them communicate better and challenged them to find solutions to different problems, they became more patient and emphatic, they improved their ability of speaking in public, they became more team-oriented, they developed their creativity and they created a more positive and confident self-image.

Activity:  Getting to Know Others/ the Character

The teacher explains the groups that it takes time to know people and characters in plays and a very good way to make sure this is done appropriately is if they focus on each character at a time. The class is divided in groups of four/five members and each group is assigned a set of worksheets. Each member writes their opinions about the character(s) in discussion—what they are like, what they know about their personality or how they acted in specific situation. The teacher makes sure that students know the play and the characters before giving this task to the students.

For example, a student writes that Claudio is selfish when he asks Isabella to sleep with Angelo in order to save his life while another student writes that Claudio did his best in finding a solution to save his life. Also, one student writes that Claudio broke the law when he slept with Juliet while another student writes that Claudio was right to sleep with Juliet as they both agreed to this. After writing their ideas, they work as a group to make a presentation of Claudio as they understood him from the play. Then, the group spokesperson comes in front of the class and presents the group’s description of the character. The other groups do the same with their assigned characters and so, the entire class is familiarized with the characters in the play.

For Isabella, a student writes that she is a good sister and she wants to help her bother find a way out of his dramatic situation. Another student writes that she is a woman of values as she is not willing to give up her virginity in order to save her brother while another student writes that she is a bad sister and she is the only one who could save Claudio from death. Another opinion is that Isabella is intelligent is using Mariana in order to trick Angelo and make him think she sleeps with him. Again, the spokesperson of the group comes in front of the class and presents their answers. And the activity continues until all groups present their answers for the characters in Measure for Measure.

The same activity can be used for the characters in All’s Well That Ends Well and groups can work the same. For example, Helena is seen as a very determined and self-assured woman when she decides to go to the court and try to save the king; another student says that she is rational as she finds solutions to meet Bertram conditions while another students points that Helena is deceiving as she persuades Diana to play the bed-trick which will make Bertram think he sleeps with Diana. They write their ideas on the separate worksheets and then create the group’s description of the character. The same procedure is used to discuss and describe Bertram for instance. He is seen as a loyal member of the army, as a man who is not willing to compromise, as a swaggering man in his relation to Diana, as a liar when confronted with the ring, and as a man of word at the end of the play. The groups’ spokespersons present their ideas in front of the class. When all groups finish their presentations, the other groups may add to their descriptions, giving arguments to sustain their ideas; they may agree or disagree to the other groups’ findings and they must provide an explanation for their choice.

Once the tasks were completed the students were asked to share their feelings and their impressions and most of them said that they had felt very comfortable working with their team members and they had discovered new things about one another such as that one of them is very good at remembering details about characters while others were very good at analyzing them.


prof. Nicoleta-Marilena Militaru

Liceul de Arte Ionel Perlea, Slobozia (Ialomiţa) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/nicoleta.militaru

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