Movement & Drama in ELT
- by Juliet du Mont
If we think for a moment about the human body in the context of the classroom, it must be admitted that people were not designed for long hours of sitting motionless punctuated by three solid meals a day. Perhaps memories of our hunter/gatherer ancestors still roam the byways of our genes, producing symptoms of physical discomfort when we are required to sit for long periods: tapping foot, jiggling knees, compulsive nibbling, lethargy, and finally, inability to learn - these are signals put out by a body desperate to move. When the pressure from within finally becomes unbearable, the person capitulates, gets up, moves around, and immediately experiences a feeling of relief: the body has taken over.
Becoming unselfconscious is the single most important step towards removing barriers to fluency in a second language. As we have seen, what is needed in the language classroom is a way of freeing the back brain and suppressing the intrusive antics of the front brain because self-consciousness makes us less able to make free use of what we know of a second language. Drama involves movement and emotion and both have the power to drive a wedge through inhibition, liberating linguistic abilities. The freeing effect of movement is very powerful.At very least, physical movement means more blood flowing to the brain, a release of tension, more energy, a greater sense of self, and a boost in confidence.
Since drama is a physical activity, the presence of movement in the ELT classroom should automatically be guaranteed, but clearly this is not the case. We have come a long way in ELT from the static classroom described above, but there is still a resistance to movement, especially among teachers who are unaware of its benefits within a learning environment. Their reluctance is born mostly out of fear of lack of control, self-consciousness about moving freely in the classroom and a lack of knowledge and experience with regard to how to include movement and drama into their teaching context. So how do we begin to rectify this situation?
In terms of groundwork, what is clearly implied is a real need for re-education in this area, not only of teachers and learners but also management, administrators, directors of studies and in some cases, parents. What should be covered are benefits to be reaped, pitfalls to be avoided and application techniques to employ. Also to be addressed is the question that not everyone is a kinaesthetic learner, meaning that some people work more easily than others with movement and drama. Beyond this, it is seminal to have the freedom to create a learning environment where drama and movement are feasible.
The next step relates to my suggestion that movement helps create a learning-receptive state. When learners arrive for class it is good both to focus them immediately on the matter at hand and unite them as a group. This can be done by establishing the routine of a short physical warm-up at the beginning of each class. It should include stretching to disperse tension followed possibly by some fairly boisterous movement to energize, exercises concentrating on posture and breathing to focus attention, and finally vocalization to free the voice. It need not take more than a total of seven minutes, the time often taken for a class merely to settle down. Moreover, it combines well with teaching language items such as imperatives and body vocabulary. Most important of all it frees the learners to perform at their best.
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