Drama as a Resource for Giving Language More Meaning
by Sam Smith
This lesson comes about 7 months into a general English extensive
course. The group meets twice a week for one and a half hours,
so we have been together for about 90 hours. The course book
we are using is Cutting Edge Upper Intermediate and we are
now in unit 10. This lesson is aimed at revising, or providing
an opportunity to use some of the language we have been looking
at in unit 9, a review of modal verbs and especially their
uses in the past for many purposes. In this lesson, I hope
to provide practice of modals for criticism and deduction.
The lesson comes about 2 weeks after looking at these modals
and therefore should help students remember something they
have learnt before and therefore aid acquisition.
It will be followed by a written homework of 'what we did
in the lesson' for a student who is not present, and this
should help students remember the main theme of the lesson
and also the value of linking linguistic and paralinguistic
Over the last 7 months with this group we have worked on specific
skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing and looked
at many linguistic points. However, most of what we have done
has involved the students in only a passive way with the real
world. We have had a lot of input from real and stimulating
sources, such as authentic listenings (self - made or taken
from video) and readings taken from the internet or other
sources, but the students' productive energies have been spent
mainly in the form of comparing related opinions or recounting
related stories. While this is perfectly valid practice in
itself and does also carry over into real world use, it is
only a part of how these students will have to communicate
in the real world, this group having stated at the beginning
of the course that interacting with native speakers or foreign
speakers in an English speaking environment is what they are
The classroom does provide an opportunity for communication
and we have made full use of this, but the purpose of this
lesson is to try and open up the walls of the classroom and
try and provoke some more real world use of language related
to something other than the here and now.
An example of this is how we recently looked at 'complaining',
using very valid spoken input and the students learned from
this, but sadly, the production was lacking in reality, with
one student playing the part of a sales assistant, another
a customer, and while language was used well, I feel its relationship
to the real world was somehow missing.
By using pictures, mime and acting, I hope to redress this
balance as far as is possible in a classroom situation.
Through drama I also hope to help make clearer the relation
ship between linguistic and paralinguistic elements, using
mime to make meaning clear. I also hope that by putting words
to another group's mime there will still be a large enough
context gap to make the language used itself carry enough
meaning for the students to be aware of its value. If the
mime alone were enough, the language would become superfluous
and could make students not see the need for using it to carry
the intricacies of meaning.
Another important element is that the language work will be
done before any verbal communication takes place, so it students
should see a need for it at the right time.
Finally, as the dialogue will have to be altered to fit in
with the messages coming from a partner in real time, a chance
to adapt language already thought about should provide some
spontaneous communication practice thus leading towards proceduralisation.
Looking at the stages of the lesson, the first 2 activities
are aimed at providing spoken and listening practice while
activating students' schemata on the topic and feelings involved
in the lesson.
The next quick 'role-play' is designed to set the scene before
moving on to consider the likely content and related gestures
and movement of the scene while planning the mime.
The mime itself allows students to try and guess the content
of another group's ideas as well as serving to decide on the
'best' mime to use.
In the next stage, as the students are planning part of the
dialogue, I hope we will be reactivating recently focused
on language and also providing a chance for the students to
ask questions and investigate vocabulary while the teacher
provides needed input and direction for those who need it.
As the 'performance' will be done without one partner knowing
the other's dialogue, this is where the spontaneity and adaptation
comes in, hopefully making students use the structures they
have been remembering in a 'new' phrase.
Finally we will see the original group's version to compare
the verbal content with a different or similar interpretation
of their intended meaning, before going on to discuss the
language used, its success, the success of interpreting meaning
from actions and gestures and the relevance of these in communication.
To revise and provide spoken and written practice of modal
verbs in the past for criticism.
To raise awareness of the importance of the connection between
linguistic and paralinguistic aspects of language.
To practice listening skills, listening to the fast speech
of a native speaker.
To practice speaking in the forms of discussion and organisation.
To facilitate proceduralisation of target structures by responding
and adapting in real time to a partner's message.
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