Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Pin It


Guest post: Not a Drama Queen but a Drama Teacher

Here is part two of Ania Musielak's takeover of my blog. After last weeks interview, she has now written a post for us all about her great passion in teaching, using drama in the classroom. I have asked her to write here because this is an aspect of teaching that doesn't come naturally to me at all. It seems to me that the majority of teachers I've worked with have an exhibitionist streak within them, and teaching gives them a great chance to be the centre of attention. The good teachers, of course, can control this feeling and harness it to their advantage. The bad ones allow their ego to take precedence over the needs of the students.

But what about the other teachers, like myself, who are more introspective and could subsequently be missing out on some useful classroom techniques? I asked Ania to give us some advice, and she's done a great job in helping us to understand how we can harness the acting skills she believes we all have within us.

Smile & Frown

--> -->
I love drama – there's no doubt about that, and some even say I'm all about it! Not in real life though – in teaching of course :) I think that drama helps both students and teachers, it allows us to open up, forget about language barriers and inhibitions and, by involving the whole body, treats people as entities.

Of course, many might disagree with me, saying that you need to have some acting or theatre training to teach drama. But aren't we all actors? We have to act every day – when our beloved mother-in-law cooks a, well, less than delicious dinner and we have to put on a brave face, eat it and, what's more, give a sincere sounding compliment... Or when we feel blue but have a classroom filled with lively and talkative teenagers... Or even when we want to persuade our boss that we really deserve that pay rise, isn't that acting? Of course it is, and by being emotionally engaged we are able to communicate our needs and desires.

That is the essence of drama – it engages the learner by creating situations mirroring our every day life. It uses our emotions, which means that we forget about stress and barriers and just perform! Of course, some students and teachers might be shyer at first, but once they see that drama is all about the process not the product, they will give in to its power.

By putting on a mask of someone else students not only get an insight into another person's behaviour, but they also become less intimidated to act and speak, as for that brief moment they are someone else. A hard-working Kate become Charming Alexis and Jack the stockbroker can become Archie The Greatest Footballer of All Time!


Once you put on a mask like that there's no coming back - you just have to make a fool of yourself – here it's my husband's turn!

That is why when I teach adults I ask them to come up with names or nicknames that they want to use only on English lessons. And I don't just mean an English equivalent of their real name – but a whole new identity. Even today some of my students greet me by my nickname and talk about our groups using English nicks. That is a very simple idea which can help loosen students up and prepare them for the activities to come.

Another technique for those who are rather reluctant when it comes to using drama might be the introduction of non verbal drama games (they are a wonderful way to put students at ease because with those games the immediate pressure to speak is lifted). There is a popular game that I use quite frequently, it's called Would You Prefer? It basically means giving students two options to choose from e.g.

Would you prefer…

a) to go on a date with the man/woman of your dreams or b) win £5000?

a) eat a big bowl of toothpaste or b) eat a bar of soap

Depending on the choice made, the learners have to run to two opposite sides of the classroom. So let's say you choose money – you run to the left corner, and if you choose a date, you run to the right. If your classroom is too small or there are too many students, you can modify this activity by adding movements students have to make with each choice – e.g. pat their bellies, scratch their heads, jump, duck or even produce sounds. It's a lot of fun and what's best is that the game relaxes students and lowers the level of stress.

There is another drama idea that is easy to adopt – a technique called freeze frame (or still image). A freeze frame is used to show a specific event, reaction or action of the story. Students who are reluctant to improvise a talking scene can show a story by a series of still images. The images can be made alive – the audience (students who are not involved in the freeze frame) can choose a person from the still image and ask him or her some question to establish what the story is about. It is a good idea to provide the group presenting the freeze frame with a photo and give them time to brainstorm some ideas and decide on their roles before presenting it. In the past, I had students so engaged that they were willing to perform stunts (they really got into the roles of cancan girls, and those were guys, mind you!).

--> My students might have not been THAT flexible and fit, but they sure tried hard! 

This activity provides a lot of fun and students can take turns  - first they show a scene to the audience, then they become spectators who have to guess the story.  The ideas for a freeze frame lessons can be taken from famous movies or even fairy tales. If I don't have my own photos I use Google of course.

Funny Group Photo
More Funny | Forward this Graphic

Historical Photo

The beauty of drama is that every teacher can have her or his individual twist on the activities. And drama never ends, every day can bring a new idea, so be aware, be prepared  and be amazed by drama. As my favourite Chinese proverb says: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I will remember, involve me and I will understand.”

A big thank you to Ania for her blog takeover. You can read my interview with her here, and you can find her on Twitter at @Aniamusielak.


  1. Thank you for sharing these wonderful ideas Ania! I've always been a bit reluctant to use drama in the class, but maybe because I was looking at it through the wrong angle(s).

    Loved the post. Thanks for having Ania write on your blog James!

  2. James,

    having seen Ania in action, I can vouch for the fact that she's a very charismatic teacher and great communicator, someone who will never have any problems making activities like this work.

    But James, I REALLY must take issue with your belief that success with activities like this is somehow tied up with the personality of the teacher.

    You wrote: ‘It seems to me that the majority of teachers I've worked with have an exhibitionist streak within them, and teaching gives them a great chance to be the centre of attention.’

    I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to convince people that drama-based activities are simply springboards to release and showcase the talents of the students themselves. The teacher’s own personality or acting ability have absolutely nothing to do with their success.

    I have to admit that I used to think along the same lines. I’m a fairly noisy and loud person, and this seemed to help in getting people to do things like acting out.

    However, very early in my teaching life, I had the privilege of seeing the German teacher and academic Hans-Eberhard Piepho at an IATEFL UK conference. Piepho was one of the quietest, mildest men you would ever hope to meet, but with a combination of quiet authority, confidence and some excellent activities, he had a bunch of experienced professionals almost literally jumping through hoops.

    You don’t have to be big and noisy or ‘have an exhibitionist streak’ to get students to do things that ultimately they will enjoy and will benefit them.

  3. @Ceci - Thanks for your comment. I hope, like me, you'll find Ania's advice helpful.

    @Ken - Thanks for stopping by. Maybe I didn't explain it carefully enough, but I agree with you that these techniques can be successfully employed by the shyer teacher. That was the reason I asked Ania to write this, because I knew she could give us advice to make it possible.

    It's true to say that the majority of teachers I've known were, to some degree, show offs. By show off, I mean people who were happy to do a song and dance in front of their class, sometimes literally (and the IATEFL karaoke session did nothing to dispel this for me!).

    But this character trait has absolutely nothing to do with effective teaching, in my opinion. The great teachers I've known were not great because they were actors, it was just as skill some of them could use at times when it was required. The weaker teachers used it as a way to disguise other failings and give teacher centred classes, I believe.

    I had a similar experience to you when I did my CELTA. I felt insecure about my natural shyness, and wondered if this was going to be hindrance in my future teaching, especially as the other teachers on the course were more outgoing than me. Then I did an observation of a teacher who gave an effective and interesting class with the slightest, quietest classroom management I've ever seen. It gave me the confidence to realise that I didn't have to 'trade my personality in' to become a good teacher.

    If anything, Ania's post has made me realise that I am already managing to use some her techniques in my lessons. My personality hasn't changed that much, but I've become more confident in my teaching skills, and that has led me to become more open and animated in the classroom. So I agree, it's not about being an exhibitionist, but about being a knowledgable and confident teacher, able to harness these skills for the benefit of the learner.

    And thanks for forcing me to explain myself better!

  4. Ania.... merci !

    This was a fun read and good reminder of some solid bases from which to express ourselves. I liked this line:

    "But aren't we all actors?"

    Absolutely. Which begs the question... what's the play then? :) Then, "engages the learner by creatingsituations mirroring our everyday life". I always seek that natural play, feel what it would really be like to have to use english in such a situation. To own it. Love to hear that it's your drive too, Ania.

    @ken and james interesting discussion. i initially nodded at James's "exhibitionist streak" comment. I think i'd fit in that category and, honestly, "being on stage" is a large part of what I love about teaching, and I too had to find that balance to "harness this to my advantage" as you've said.

    Then, I read Ken's comment. Ken is the actor supreme, and this I say with a smile and a good deal of admiration. I had a blast getting to know him a bit better at IATEFL, and so it's with surprise that I saw he went against you there, because on some level that loud fun style is his own.

    I see what he was saying, and I think in the end your response is right--- it's not about loud, it's about confidence. It's about feeling secure in what you know and delivering it in the way that you do because of who you are, thinking almost more so on how your students might receive whatever style it may be.

    I really enjoyed this. Thanks all. Cheers, b

  5. James - thank you for giving me the opportunity to write a guest post and for making me look at drama from a different perspective;)

    Ceci,Ken,Brad,thank you very much for commenting:) And I'm glad that the post sparked up a discussion:)

    For me the beauty of drama is the fact that it really DOES WORK with everybody, kids, teens, adults, the shyer and quiter students and teachers as well as the louder ones:) In Brighton IATEFL I attended many sessions on drama realated topics and (being a rather "louder" than "quiter" teacher) was amazed at how different every take on drama can be. I had the priviledge of attending workshops of both - very calm and composed speakers, as well some delivered by educators with some (serious)actor training. And I loved all of them - in every case the participants were the ones taking over so to say - and that's the essence of drama:) Making the students involved, engaged and motivated:)

  6. Hi Ania and James,

    Thanks for this post. I really wish Ania would start a blog of her own so she could share more of these tips and ideas with us more often!

    I had never used drama in class beyond basic role-play and a scripted end of year show before this year but getting to know Ania through Twitter (along with Ken and the other Ania as well) gave me the encouragement I needed to take the plunge and I'm so glad I did. It's all been simple stuff like miming different characters or saying 'how are you?' emphasisng different emotions but if you ask my students what their favourite lessons have been this year, they will tell you 'the drama ones' (either that or dictogloss)!

    As Ken commented, it's not about being loud or extroverted. I'm a fairly quiet person and I can be serious in class a lot of the time but it's all about literally setting the scene and letting the students take over.

    P.S. Ania - you really must come over and do a workshop for the benefit of us teachers in Turkey sometime!

  7. David thank you so much, that means a lot! I guess I really have to consider blogging now:)You see - I'm all about being brave drama teacher in the classroom but when it comes to the blogosphere - I'm a chicken;)

    As to drama in the classroom -as you say - it's not about being loud or not. It's all about letting our students creativity shine through.

    I hope I will finally have a chance to meet you face2face, I'd love to come to Turkey:)


  8. Why are Ania's comments headed 'Anonymous'? Not only does she not have a blog, she doesn't even have a blog-comment-name.

    Ania - time to do something about it.

    Anonymous Wilson

  9. HI Ken:) It's because I prefer to stay anonymous;) LOL

  10. Just came across this as Im considering doing my post grad teaching diploma. I went to drama school and graduated last year. I have fond memories of a certain drama teacher i had at school and her encouragement was part of the reason i kept pursuing the arts. I like idea of helping young people to express themselves in a new way.great read! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading, I'm glad to hear it was useful!



Copyright © TheTeacherJames Design by O Pregador | Blogger Theme by Blogger Template de luxo | Powered by Blogger