using drama skills in the classroom
Good teachers seem to know instinctively how
to use performance skills in the classroom to gain and hold students interest.
seems to be general agreement among teachers that in order to continue raising
academic standards we need to constantly examine and explore our methods of teaching.
If you are lucky enough to have that rare opportunity to observe
other teachers lessons at your school, you might notice that one or two
classroom performances stand out. Why? What is it that makes them
different? Is it luck? Is it talent? Is it training? Is it experience? Is it some
kind of intangible presence?
Some teachers do
have similar qualities to good actors and are totally convincing in what they
do. Effective teachers seem to know instinctively how to use performance skills
to gain and hold students interest. They also seem aware of the impact that
dramatic techniques can have upon students and are always looking for opportunities
to incorporate these into their lessons.
Perhaps it is time
for us all to adopt a variety of drama skills to win the attention and interest
of our students, to convey information effectively to our diverse and demanding
audience. These skills might include the use of body language and
voice, role-playing and improvisation.
All teachers can use appropriate body language to create the desired atmosphere
within their classrooms, for example:
- Exaggerating movements
when explaining something to the whole class. This should capture and hold the
students attention and can be used to emphasise important points.
towards the person who is talking, even if it is only one or two steps. This can
have an incredibly positive effect on individuals, boosting self-esteem by physically
demonstrating an interest in what they say.
by smiling and nodding when a student is talking.
eye contact with the student who is talking and showing enthusiasm with facial
- Walking around the room during a discussion
so that the whole class feels involved.
- Avoiding closed
body language (such as folding arms) and physical signals that can distract from
the learning process, for example: constantly checking the time or looking at
paperwork that has nothing to do with the lesson.
is easy to forget that students absorb more information from what they physically
see than from what they actually hear. It is also important to remember that nonverbal
communication is generally thought to be more honest than verbal communication;
if your body language is positive then students are more likely to trust you.
Use of voice
Like good actors, teachers need to
use their voices appropriately in a variety of situations, such as narrating a
story or giving a character a distinctive accent (see Role-playing below). Effective
teachers incorporate variations in vocal pitch and deliberately raise or lower
their voice in order to make a point or simply to communicate more effectively.
have always had a problem with my voice. It is naturally low and monotonous, not
the kind of voice that will naturally grab the students attention. So I
have spent a great deal of time working on ways to vary the pitch and to make
it sound more enthusiastic and interesting.
I found the following
- Reading poetry aloud. This is particularly
helpful because poetry requires greater vocal inflection for its meaning to become
- Varying the speed and tone of my voice in conversation
and listening to myself on a tape recorder. (This is the hardest part as we all
hate hearing what our own voices actually sound like.)
these recordings to recognise personal speech characteristics that might distract
from the learning process and attempting to overcome these impediments.The voice
exercises in Cicely Berrys book Voice & the Actor are particularly useful
Many teachers injure their voices by trying
to compete with the sounds of students in and out of the classroom. We need to
learn to pay attention to the signals that our voices send us so that we can take
the necessary steps to avoid damaging one of our most important teaching tools.
How many of us have sore throats by the end of every November?
Is this an occupational hazard or can we do something about it?
need to think ahead and to learn to change certain behaviours which might cause
serious damage, such as shouting over thirty students every lesson to try to get
them to be quiet!
Wherever possible save your voice, I always
find dropping a heavy file on the table helps to quieten down the majority of
classes. Drinking lots of fluid is vital when caring for your voice and once again
Cicely Berrys book includes much sensible advice.
You can also find useful relaxation and voice
exercises at Peter Lathans excellent School
The most obvious role
that we take on every day is that of the teacher. Like most of us, I can play
the cross teacher, the disappointed teacher and the concerned
teacher, if I feel that these roles are appropriate in any given situation.
are, however, many other roles that we are able to play and many other situations
when adopting a role in the classroom may be of use, for example:
- Narrating a story or playing a character within a story when reading
to students will obviously interest them more than a straight reading.
- Using role-playing techniques in order to attract and
hold students attention.
- To convey information,
to stimulate discussion and to better communicate with students.
many subjects, role-playing can be used to develop empathy and to enliven discussion.
For instance, taking the role of a historical figure and being hotseated
by the students.
actors improvise so impressively that it is virtually impossible to tell that
they are improvising. Similarly, effective teachers can improvise so well that
they always appear to know exactly what they are doing and everything seems to
be carefully planned and well thought-out.
will often bring exciting ideas into the classroom in stimulating and original
ways; they will use humour to help establish a rapport with their students, as
well as to diffuse situations and to deal with difficult moments.
classroom improvisation, however, does not mean having to be outrageously funny
or wild, it simply means being capable of appearing natural and confident in every
I believe that improvisation is one of the most
important skills for a teacher to learn. If you can learn to improvise convincingly,
you will put students at ease and encourage them to take risks, improving your
classroom performance tenfold.
For the best ideas
on learning how to be spontaneous and how to improvise, get hold of a copy of
ex-teacher Keith Johnstones book Impro. I think that it is one of the most
important and influential books ever written and I recommend it unreservedly.
Berry C (1973) Voice and the Actor
Hodgson J (ed) (1972) The Uses of Drama London: Methuen
Johnstone K (1981) Impro London: Methuen
Pisk L (1975) The Actor and his Body
James Hanley is head of drama at a London
comprehensive school. Before becoming a teacher, he worked in childrens
homes and hostels across London as well as running drama workshops for children
and adults with disabilities.