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Using Drama as a Resource for Giving Language More Meaning
by Sam Smith
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As an example of what activities can be used under the broad heading of drama, Maley and Duff grade their activities, going from non-verbal to verbal and increasing in complexity. For some examples from their book 'Drama Techniques in Language Learning', see appendix 1.
They begin with simple confidence building activities, such as falling and being caught to promote trust or simply following instructions, such as relaxing and tensing certain muscles on the request of the teacher. They then move on to observation tasks such as memorising the features of a room and discussing success with a partner to promote discussion (Observation of the room, Maley & Duff 1978, 87). After this comes interpretation tasks such as co-operatively inventing a story from a set of pictures and helping a different group to work it out. (Picture sets, Maley & Duff 1978, 131) Next comes creation and invention such as creating a sketch from a randomly chosen setting, for example 'on a picnic' and theme, for example 'Nobody loves me' and performing it to another group. (People, places, problems, Maley & Duff 1978, 158). They then move on through problem solving tasks to even working with literary texts.
One important point to note, concerning all their activities is that they involve more than just language, be it movement, acting, pictures, other realia, sounds or whatever and therefore should give more meaning to the language involved.

How to employ drama

Susan Holden suggests 4 stages to a drama exercise:

· Presentation of exercise.
· Discussion.
· Experiment (showing to rest of group).
· Discussion.
(Holden 1982, 22)

The presentation can be done through pictures, sounds or words and should set the atmosphere, the mood and relationships between the people and the setting, thus creating the context and meaning of the language to be used. Gillian Porter Ladousse also suggests role-cards for the characters in the scene, to further enable the learners to envisualise their character's feelings, role and status. (Porter Ladousse 1987) However done, the presentation or cueing should go along way to creating the meaning of what the learners will be doing.

The discussion will allow the learners to plan what they will do or say in the activity. Language can be put in by the teacher or not. It is up to the teacher how obvious he wants to be in showing the learners that they are practising a part of functional language or not. The discussion itself will also supply the learners with good language practice, using persuasive language, agreeing, disagreeing etc.

The Experiment stage is where the learners try out their scene, maybe miming first, maybe practising on their own or in pairs or small groups before showing their performance to another group if required.

The second discussion provides an opportunity for analysis of how it went, again providing further spoken practice of suggesting, criticising, praising etc. The analysis should be based on both linguistic and paralinguistic features and should bring the activity back to the learners real selves, allowing them to put their own personal thoughts and feelings into their analysis, comparing with themselves and hopefully making the activity more personal and memorable.

In conclusion, a suggestion for employing drama

Finally and briefly, I would like to look at Holden's drama activities, make a connection between more modern theory and her ideas and go back to an observation I made connected to situation.
She quotes David Abercrombie:
'We speak with our vocal organs, but we converse with our entire bodies; conversation consists of more than a single interchange of spoken words.'
(David Abercrombie 1972)

This is a very valid statement and Holden has employed its essence throughout her book, generally moving from an idea to a mime to adding words (either by the same group or a different one). One very important result of this approach is that the meaning, showed by mime, is made clear before the words are added, thus perfectly contextualising the language and making the whole discourse relevant, so providing practice of the skills of spoken language.
From modern acquisition theories, though, I would like to make one slight criticism and tentatively suggest a small modification.
If the meaning is clear before the language is added, what value does the language have. The language used should be vital in creating meaning. (Batstone 1994) (Thornbury 2001)
If the words are added after the mime, i.e. worked out and scripted, then real-time language practice is not achieved and might not, therefore, lead towards proceduralisation. (Batstone 1994)
I suggest working in 3 groups to come up with 3 mimes, which are performed. The groups then work on adding words to each other's mimes, inventing the words for only one party in a 2 way dialogue. Then whilst one group performs their mime, the other 2 groups perform the words for one of the parties in real-time, having to adapt their original work to fit with the 2nd parties lines. In this way, language is vital to meaning and the language choices occur in real time.


Alan Maley and Alan Duff, Drama Techniques in Language Learning, Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Susan Holden, Drama in Language Teaching, Longman, 1981.
Gillian Porter Ladousse, Role Play, Oxford University Press, 1987.
Peter Watcyn-Jones, Act English, Penguin, 1978.
John Dougill, Drama Activities for Language Learning, Macmillan, 1987.
Rob Batstone, Grammar, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Scott Thornbury, Uncovering Grammar, Heinemann, 2001.
Peter Skehan, Second Language Acquisition Strategies, Interlanguage Development and Task-Based Learning, in Grammar and the Language Teacher, edited by Martin Bygate, Alan Tonkyn and Eddie Williams, Prentice Hall, 1994.
Martin Bygate: Speaking, Oxford University Press, 1987
Michael McCarthy: Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press, 1991
Rob Nolasco and Lois Arthur: Conversation, Oxford University Press, 1987
Zoltan Dornyei and Sarah Thurrell: Conversation and Dialogues in Action, Prentice Hall, 1992


Sam, 31, originally from Bradford in the UK, has been teaching for 5 years, in Ukraine (2 years), Poland (1 year) and Spain (2 years) and also at summer schools in Folkestone and London. He currently lives & teaches in Madrid.

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