Drama as a Resource for Giving Language More Meaning
by Sam Smith
important aspect of putting language into a situation is that
it provides the opportunity to look at the language used as
a whole, not as a series of isolated utterances, but see the
function of the utterances in relation to the rest of the
dialogue. Michael McCarthey points out that by looking at
the discourse as a whole we can better understand the function
of each utterance in an exchange, i.e. a greeting, or acknowledgement
etc. We can help learners become better listeners by looking
at active listening devices such as asking questions, showing
interest and using paralinguistic devices such as facial expressions
and eye contact to encourage the speaker to continue and provide
more input. We can analyse techniques for turn taking, topic
holding and topic shift and even study the whole 'routine'
of the dialogue, such as 'on the telephone' or 'in the restaurant'
to enable learners to be able to manage situations better.
A related point is that by practising language in a situation
we provide practice in the specific features of spoken language
in real time, such as: shorter sentences; mistakes and rephrasing;
repetition and clarification; reciprocity conditions of adapting
the message according to the interlocutor's response. These
features giving rise to the practice of facilitation skills,
such as less complex syntax, parataxis (or adding things linearly
through lexis such as 'and'), ellipses, fixed phrases and
fillers to gain time when speaking, and compensation skills
such as reformulation of the message. (Bygate 1987)
by using drama to enlarge the classroom and take in more of
the real world, we are expanding the learners' field of language
use and providing more opportunity to practice using a developing
inter-language in a much broader range of contexts, and providing
a chance to look at the real features of conversation and
doing it in real time and therefore facilitating proceduralisation.
Maley and Duff say, to sum up situation:
'A situation is a totality, and by extracting the verbal
content to study it in isolation we risk losing or deforming
the meaning. Drama can help us to restore this totality by
reversing the learning process, that is, by beginning with
meaning and moving to language from there.'
(Maley & Duff 1978, 12)
I only have one reservation about this statement which I would
like to come back to later: If we go from meaning to language,
i.e. mime to words, and the meaning is clear before the words
are added, what need do learners have to use the language?
moving on to a definition of drama and how to employ it I
would like to say a few words about the second reason for
employing it, that of motivation.
a group is made up of different people from different backgrounds
with different interests, there arises the problem of how
to interest them all at the same time. If the teacher is interacting
with the group and controlling the communication, the students
not involved in the communication are not participating. The
solution proposed by Maley and Duff and by Susan Holden is
having students working in small groups on an idea to be practised
and performed and therefore allowing them to direct their
As Maley and Duff say:
'In a sense, motivation is not needed when working through
drama, because the enjoyment comes from imaginative personal
involvement, not from the sense of having successfully carried
out someone else's instructions.'
(Maley & Duff 1978, 13)
Earl Stevick points out 'Learners need to feel a sense
of belonging and security, and also to invest something of
his own personality and so to enjoy a certain 'self esteem'.'
is provided by drama, giving learners a chance to employ their
own selves and resources, and providing an opportunity for
imagination, spontaneous creation and chance discovery, depending
on the students working together. (Maley & Duff 1978)
championed the cause of grammar, It is now time to move on
to what it is and what to do with it.
terms 'drama', 'role-play', 'simulation' and 'improvisation'
have been interpreted in different ways by different people
in different environments, from therapists to actors, to teachers.
And they mean different things according to the environment
and its implications. I am only interested in the context
of teaching and learning English and a definition that Susan
Holding proposes suits my purposes well.
'Drama' is applied to classroom activities where the focus
is on the doing rather than on the presentation. In other
words, the students work on dramatic themes, and it is this
exploration of the ideas and characters of their target language
which is important, for it entails interacting in English
and making full use of the various features of oral communication.
The students have the opportunity to experiment with the language
they have learnt, and the teacher has a chance to see how
each person operates in a relatively unguided piece of interaction.'
From this definition 4 important points arise for my implementation
· Drama is used to practice language, or give learners
the opportunity to proceduralise language from their developing
inter-language to make it more available for future production.
· The language comes from the learners, therefore their
own internal level of language and interests dictates what
they will choose to practice.
· The language learners produce will be contextualised
by the situation and dependant on the whole text.
· There will be some spontaneity in the activity and
the students will be acting in real time.
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