Key Resource: Using role play/dialogue/drama in the classroom

Introduction

Pupils, and adults too, learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning experience. Role play, dialogue and drama are very active ways to explore what your pupils already know. By interaction with others and sharing their ideas, your pupils can build a broader and/or deeper understanding of the topic.

The three strategies in this key resource allow pupils to develop their thinking skills, work in contexts that allow them to talk about more sensitive issues and use their creativity and imagination to extend their knowledge and to resolve problems. You will have to plan your lessons carefully and think how you introduce them to the techniques. You will need to think about whether you work with the whole class at once or with small groups. This may depend on the size of your class and their ages.

All of the three methods below have strengths that allow you to use them across a range of curriculum areas.

So, how can you use these strategies in your classroom, what things do you need to think about if you want to use them and what benefits will they bring?

Dialogue

An important part of your role in helping your pupils learn has to be helping them to think about what they know and what they do not know or cannot do. Unless you encourage them to talk about their ideas and listen to other people’s viewpoints they will not be able to extend their own understanding as much as they could. Straightforward reading and answering questions exercises do not challenge their thinking and ideas as much as activities where they have to apply the ideas to relevant situations. For example, pupils will understand the idea of gravity and how things fall to the ground much better if they have to plan and investigate ways to slow down how things fall. By discussing what they are going to do, they have to think about what they already know, why and how things fall, and what they could do to slow them down.

Talking in groups of about four/five will give all pupils the opportunity to speak and listen to other’s ideas, but sometimes just asking pupils to talk in pairs for a few minutes for one key idea to share with the class can be just as valuable. Shy pupils, who do not normally participate in larger class discussions, may feel more confident about speaking in these smaller groups and so you would be able to find out more about what they know and how they think.

As a teacher, you need to be aware of your pupils’ interests and knowledge and how they learn so that you can match your teaching better to their needs.

Give pupils frequent opportunities to talk in groups about different topics and make sure they have enough time to do it.

Role play

Role play is when pupils are assigned a role and, during a small scenario, act as they think the person they are being would act in such a situation. For example, in one of your citizenship or life skills classes, you may be exploring how to resolve conflict in the playground. Rather than use an incident from your class, you can make up a scenario in which a similar incident occurred. It may be in a home or community setting, but while the story is detached from the playground, the issues are the same.

You could assign pupils to roles and give them time to think about the little scene they are going to develop or you could just ask them to do it without any planning time. You will need to try both ways to see the benefits for yourself of both approaches. You could have just one group performing in front of the rest of the class or you could let all the class work in small groups at once (so no group is being watched). You could put your pupils into groups and ask them to assign roles themselves before giving them time to explore how they might resolve the conflict.

If you have a large class or a small classroom you may have to allow some groups to work outside. These pupils need to be aware of their responsibility to be sensible and not disturb other classes at work, although as they work you will be moving around and supporting them. You will have to think about what kind of feedback you want from the groups about their experiences and feelings. Some groups will be more willing than others to show their role plays. Some may prefer to tell you what they have learned from doing the role plays.

Drama

Using drama in the classroom is a good strategy to motivate most pupils. It can be used in many different ways and provides opportunities for the whole class to be involved in the creative process of producing a drama. Not everyone has to be an actor in the drama; some pupils can be used in other ways that may relate more to their talents and personality. Drama or telling a story through acting or dancing can be a stimulating way to encourage pupils to think about issues such as relationships, power struggles in history, local environmental issues and debates. It is not unlike role play but has an end product. This is a production of some kind that can be shown to the rest of the class, the school at assembly or to the parents and the local community.

This will give the pupils something to work towards and motivates them. It is useful to use both scripted plays and improvised plays to explore their ideas around an issue. Drama is also a good way to assess what your pupils understand about a topic. For example, one class did a play about their understanding of how the brain works using pretend telephones to show how messages go from the brain to the ears, eyes, nose, hands and mouth and back.

If you decide to use drama in your classroom, you could use a scripted play that has been written down, or you could draft an outline and let the pupils write the script for themselves. They could also improvise their drama and then work out what to say as they practise acting out the scene(s).

When setting up a drama lesson – or series of lessons, as dramas take time to develop – these are the things you need to remember:

  • Be clear why you are using drama to help your pupils learn.
  • Give clear instructions and explanations about the purpose of the drama.
  • Have an outline of a drama in mind if your pupils need such support when improvising so you can make suggestions.
  • Build in time for them to practise.
  • Be ready to give support and suggest ideas when they have difficulty.
  • Use language lessons for them to write their plays and the dialogue.
  • The play can relate to a topic in science or social studies or citizenship/life skills lessons.
  • Give them opportunities to perform to an audience whenever possible as this will boost their self-esteem and confidence, even for those who work only on the production rather than performance side.
  • Involve your pupils as much as you can in all the stages of the process and decision making.

Key Resource: Researching in the classroom

Key Resource: Using storytelling in the classroom