Can there ever be too much drama in the classroom?



How does being told that you need to include more ‘Drama’ in your program make you feel? Ill-equipped? Inadequate? Fearful? Why do some of us feel this way? Have we tried and failed and vow to never go there again? Are we scarred for life? If this is you, then you need some Margery Hertzberg therapy.


Today at the Fairfield District EAL/D Network Meeting, Margery demonstrated and explained to us a set of strategies and hints to help us teach Drama without the trauma.  Victoria Stephenson, a teacher from Fairfield Public School was co-presenter and shared her versions and experiences of putting these into practice in the classroom. Victoria has worked on Action Research projects with Margery to help test some hypotheses about the benefits of using dramatic strategies for teaching vocabulary to English Language Learners to enhance their comprehension of quality texts.

So why is using drama to teach our students and particularly EAL/D students to move along the mode continuum from spoken to written so effective? Margery explained that this is because drama can be used to engage students in authentic contexts where they think aloud, empathise and communicate the feelings of the character that they are taking on. When students are ‘being’ other characters they often feel that its safer to have a go and make mistakes. Exploring the thoughts, emotions and speech of a character from a rich text through drama, helps our English Language Learners to develop the spoken vocabulary to represent abstract ideas, which then can be written down.

The dramatic strategies  suggested by Margery can be found in her publications, like Readers’ Theatre texts to improve fluency and comprehension, Teaching English Language Learners in Mainstream Classes and the articles that she co-writes with Victoria Stephenson  in ATESOL Newsletters such as ATESOL Newsletter Vol. 38 No.3 September 2012  I was already familiar with some of the ideas but the little clues for classroom management and the way to increase student involvement were my biggest take-aways from this session.

My Take-Aways:

Sculpting – After reading about a character have the students record responses then use their words to tell their ‘lump of clay’ partners how to mould themselves. The more our ELs use their explicit vocabulary the better for their language development. Have the students move their pairs to fours to demonstrate their work. This way its not so long and boring watching everyone share. Record what the students are doing on video to assess learning.

When finished have students write their responses on pieces of paper which are pooled then randomly chosen by other students to read out one at a time to create a soundscape with the whole group. These could the be put into a wordle or word cline.

Readers’ Theatre – Write your own scripts using part of a rich text, because the ones on the internet may not be suited to your students. There are many different ways to write them, but one way is to make each part of the reader’s theatre match your students’ different reading abilities. Break the class into groups with the same script. Let the students with the same part practise together in a safe place. Repeated reading enhances fluency and accuracy.

Still Image (Frozen Moment) – Similar to sculpting except in a small group. Student takes on role of character in scene as worked out in their group. When a student is tapped on the shoulder they say what they would be thinking as that character and when tapped on the hand they say what that character might say. If a student feels they are losing control they can be encouraged to take themselves to a designated quiet place and return when ready. 

Hot Seat – Not to be used for literal revision  as the aim is to explore further likely possibilities which are not written in the text. Victoria showed a video of how she did this with her class. After working with a rich text with her students she set up three hot seats. Victoria went first, modelling the responses to the pre-written ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions of the students, to give confidence to the two students on the other seats. The students who were on the floor had mini whiteboards and used these to write further questions to ask as they thought of them. When finished, Victoria encourages her students to exit the room in character and then re-enter the classroom leaving the character outside.

Our EAL/D network group will have a google doc on which we will crowdsource the activities we started to prepare for the rich texts that we brought with us today. I’m really excited to see the ideas that everyone else came up with. Margery runs workshops for schools. I’ll definitely be pushing for our school to invite her to one of our TPLs!




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