Language

A drama improvisation activity to encourage communication in the classroom

Tetiana Shelepko

Tetiana has been teaching English since 2010, and in 2016 joined the Linguist Company as a Cambridge University Press ELT Consultant. In her teacher training events, she always uses drama techniques that developed from teaching drama for those who speak English as L2. In this blog post, Tetiana shares an activity you can use in the classroom to activate improvisation skills and enhance communication.

Quite often, ESL teachers face the problem of engaging students to communicate realistically, activate and use their knowledge “on foot”.

Being both an English and Drama teacher, I started using Drama Techniques in English lessons and applying the ESL Methodology to planning rehearsals and managing actors. I also started observing differences between the outcomes of both:

Teaching English Teaching Acting
Language is the subject of studying. Language is an instrument of studying.
Teachers and students focus mostly on verbal skills. Teachers and students focus on both verbal and non-verbal (including psychological and physical) skills.
The product of teaching is students’ ability to understand the language and use it for communication. The product of teaching is students’ ability to collaborate, act and interact, keep circles of attention, express feelings and emotions using voice and body.

Of course, teaching drama cannot focus on learning new grammar or vocabulary, but it definitely helps students to break the communication barriers, develop freedom in self-expression, creative and critical thinking, collaboration, emotional competence, etc.

In fact, most students measure their language proficiency by their ability to speak the language, regardless of their grades in tests and exams (Dörnyei, Adolphs and Muir, 2017).

Furthermore, I noticed that students use the language much freer and stay more satisfied in the conditions that don’t look like a lesson, where the focus is far from language learning. For this reason, I will share a drama activity that I use with actors to activate their improvisation skills, as well as in the classroom to enhance communication.

Improvisation activity

1. Ask students to make pairs. I usually ask them to look into each other’s eyes for 2 seconds, this establishes positive atmosphere between them.

2. Tell students that one will have to choose the role of a husband and another, a wife.

3. Once they choose the roles, tell them that they are going to plan their weekend together. However, every time they start a sentence, they have to use the words “No, and…”.

Model a short conversation with one of the students to demonstrate:

“Let’s go to the sea?”

“No, and I you know I don’t like the sea.”

“No, and you never told me.” etc.

Ask students to start but once they hear you clap (you can use any other distractor) they have to stop and look at you as fast as possible even if they are in the middle of a word.

4. Give students 1-2 minutes to talk using this pattern and clap (you might applaud since it is going to be noisy).

5. Change instruction. Students continue the same conversation where they use the words ‘Yes, but…’ for the beginning of each sentence instead of ‘No, and…’. Let them speak for 2-3 minutes and clap.

6. Change instruction. Students continue the same conversation where they use ‘Yes, and…’ for the beginning of each sentence instead of ‘Yes, but…’. Let them speak for 3-4 minutes and clap.

7. Ask whether pairs found the agreement in their plans. Find out where they finally decided to go or to do. Ask them which sentence starter (‘No, and…’, ‘Yes, but…’, or ‘Yes, and…’) was the most productive and why.

8. Provide delayed error correction.

Normally, the most productive way is the ‘Yes, and…’ sentence starter, because it helps students to agree on something and collaborate in building on their plan, for example:

“Let’s go to the cinema?”

“Yes, and let’s take John with us!”

“Yes, and we could have popcorn in the cinema…”

What students will learn from the improvisation exercise

  • It demonstrates the value of collaboration
  • It develops immediate critical and creative thinking skills
  • The beginnings of the phrases guide students and don’t let them stop the conversation until you stop it
  • This pattern can be applied to another topic with other roles
  • The focus is on the task rather than on the use of language
  • You can add greater challenges e.g. a pile of cards with the words or structures learned at the lesson and ask students to use one in each sentence. However, it is not recommended to do so if you try this exercise for the first time. It will work best if you add extra challenges when students are already familiar with the format.

 

Discover more creative drama activities for the classroom from Rachel Jeffries.

Reference

Dörnyei, Z., Adolphs, S. and Muir, C. (2017). Investigating English Language Role Models. Unpublished raw data. EPSRC IAA grant (Ref: RR1402).


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