3 Using drama and role play to stimulate English language learning

Drama activities also encourage students to speak and practise English. Dramatisation of the language textbook lesson is a very good method for teaching English. You may be hesitant, because you may not have any training in drama or theatre. But you do not need to be an expert in order to use drama in the classroom, as the next case study will show you.

Case Study 2: Ms Shalini makes drama from the textbook

Ms Shalini is a Class IV teacher.

I chose a short and simple lesson about a boy who boasts to his friends, one after another, about how far he can shoot his arrow. I chose it because it had characters and ready-made dialogue, and the students knew it well.

First I told the story in English, focusing on words that the students already knew such as ‘friend’, ‘laughing’, ‘mine’, ‘lucky’ and ‘quietly’. I encouraged students to join in with me as I told the story.

Then I told the students that they would do a play based on the story. The students were very excited because they had not done a play before.

I explained that there would be a part for each student. I had created some new characters: more friends for the boy, a king and a queen. I asked students for their ideas, and they suggested new characters such as a doctor, a teacher, a princess, a movie star and a monster.

I had pairs of students improvise dialogues for their parts, using as much English as they could. The students tried out different words and phrases. I was surprised to hear them using English that had not been taught to them in the classroom. For instance, one pair of students developed this dialogue from the characters in the story:

  • ‘That is very bad! Such a small way!’
  • ‘No! Look! Watch me, I will do better!’

Some students were less confident in developing dialogues in English. I discussed with them, in Hindi and in English, different ways to express their ideas in English.

When the students had practised their dialogues and were happy with them, I had everyone practise their lines, speaking with more expression and gestures. I did not insist on perfect pronunciation. As the students practised, I was able to observe their English usage and confidence. I had time to make notes on their progress.

Because the class was large, I decided to have two groups so that one group could be the audience for the other and vice versa. This was good for their listening skills.

Video: Using pair work

Activity 5: Convert a chapter to dialogue – a planning activity

From your textbook, select a chapter that has characters and that you could change into dialogue. Maybe you can find a chapter that already contains dialogue and characters.

Plan your lesson and use these questions to help you:

  • How many characters are there in the chapter?
  • Do you need to create more characters so that all students can have a part?
  • How could you involve students in creating more characters?
  • Do you need to rewrite any of the chapter to change it into a dialogue form?
  • How could you involve students in developing the dialogues?
  • What words or phrases do you think are difficult to comprehend and pronounce? How will you and your students practise these?
  • How will you organise the class to enable all students to take part?

Talk with colleagues about how you could implement your plan.

‘Drama’ does not mean a perfect theatrical performance. In the language lesson, drama allows students and teachers to develop conversations, make dialogues and practise them by becoming familiar with the roles and using vocabulary that is appropriate.

Students can develop English through role play, encouraged and modelled by you. In role play, you encourage students to use English in imaginary but still familiar situations. The next case study demonstrates this.

Case Study 3: Ms Sapna introduces role play

Ms Sapna is a Class IV teacher. Students start to learn English in Class I, but when they get to Sapna’s class they generally cannot speak any English.

I wanted to develop a fun activity for students to practise English with each other. In each of the four corners of my classroom I put a small desk. On each desk I put a sign, in English:

  • Doctor’s Office
  • Garage
  • Ticket Office
  • School

I asked the students: What happens in these places? Who works here? What do they say? Do they say anything in English? Do they write anything in English? They had lots of ideas from their life experiences, since many people in our community use English for work.

I demonstrated how I wanted students to use these areas. I became ‘Doctor Sapna’. I sat at the desk and told students to wait for their appointment. I called one student to the desk. I asked him: ‘Are you sick? What is your problem? I will give you some medicine. You must take it three times a day.’ The student had to try to answer me as much as possible in English.

I put students into four groups, one for each role play area. I put one student in charge of each area, with the responsibility to make sure that everyone got a turn to speak and take the lead role.

To start, I asked for volunteers to lead the role play in each area. I encouraged the others to imitate them.

I helped each group, and monitored the activity. The ‘school’ area was very amusing to observe, since the students were pretending to be me! I recorded students on my mobile phone and played their words back to them, so they could hear themselves using English.

Activity 6: Role play – a planning activity

Set up a role play area in your classroom. You could use the examples in Case Study 3, or it could be a fruit shop, health clinic or bus station. Decide on the English words or sentences you want students to learn to use in these situations.

Talk to your students about these places. What do people say to each other in them? Model the language you want the students to use. It is a good idea to write these key words and phrases on the board or on a poster. For younger students you could draw a picture next to the word to help them learn the words.

Then ask your students to act in the situation. As you observe students in these areas, notice if there are students who are better English speakers. Are they helping the students who are less confident?

You can also evaluate students who show they understand but do not yet speak by nodding their head, following an instruction, or by giving one-word answers of ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If you have a mobile phone, record the students and play back the video to them.

2 Art, talk and writing