Drama as a Resource for Giving Language More Meaning
by Sam Smith
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
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.
to employ drama
Holden suggests 4 stages to a drama exercise:
Presentation of exercise.
· Experiment (showing to rest of group).
(Holden 1982, 22)
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.
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.
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.
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.
conclusion, a suggestion for employing drama
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)
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
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.
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.
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,
Peter Watcyn-Jones, Act English, Penguin, 1978.
John Dougill, Drama Activities for Language Learning, Macmillan,
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
Zoltan Dornyei and Sarah Thurrell: Conversation and Dialogues
in Action, Prentice Hall, 1992
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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