Thursday, 26 May 2011

Book review: My Grammar and I


I've done another book review for, which you can now find online. This time, I've faced up to my demons and read a grammar book. Find out how I did by following the link below:

There's no comments function on that page, so any feedback would be gratefully received here. Thanks.

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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

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

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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.

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