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Using Drama as a Resource for Giving Language More Meaning
by Sam Smith
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Another 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. (McCarthey 1991)
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)

Clearly, 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.

As 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?

Before 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.

When 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 own participation.
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)

As 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'.'
(Stevick 1976)

This 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)

Having championed the cause of grammar, It is now time to move on to what it is and what to do with it.

What is drama?

The 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.'
(Holden 1981)

From this definition 4 important points arise for my implementation of drama.
· 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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