The Use of Drama in the Language Class
Martín Carlos Martín Rodríguez
The aim of this work is to give a general view of the different possibilities that the use of drama offers in the language class. Firstly, the meaning and the functions of this practice will be described. Secondly, we shall emphasize the importance and the multiple benefits of this practice. Finally, we shall highlight different points to take into account in its use, offering some considerations for the introduction of drama into the classroom, describing various techniques that we can carry out in the class and discussing the role that the teacher has to play in the process.
Key words: drama, language class, creativity
Nowadays there are many authors who point out the lack of creativity and innovation in the language class, where traditional teaching still plays the main role and where the common techniques are the memorization of contents and the learning of grammar. Because of this, it is necessary to support modern alternatives, adapted to the requirements of the present-day society and to the interests of the students, focusing on the meaning of the language rather than the form.
Drama is one of the most effective practices that we can use in the classroom, offering many possibilities for learning, stimulating the use of creativity and the development of students in different aspects, involving ideas, emotions, feelings and adaptability, allowing students to use the second language in a really communicative way. However, although it is a practice that we can find at schools occasionally, it is evident that nowadays it is not developed in a meaningful way and does not occupy an important enough place in the educational process.
- DRAMA AND ITS FUCTIONS
First of all, it Is necessary to clarify what “drama” is in a school context. These two definitions can sum up this term effectively:
– “Any activity which asks the student to portray himself or another person in an imaginary situation” (Holden, 1981).
– “A communicative activity where the student makes the choices” (Davies, 1990).
So drama is definitely a creative activity where students are the protagonists, and where they have to use the language in a communicative and dynamic way. There are also different characteristics that can be used to classify the activity: duration, form, approach and orientation. The duration can be short (a simple activity done in a few minutes) or long (a project extend over several months); the form can be verbal (in dialogues, scenes, plays) or non verbal (in activities related with miming and body language); the approach can be open (activities focused on meaning) or closed (activities focused on form); and finally, the orientation can be to the process (focus on the experience of the participants) or to the product (when there is an audience) (Giebert, 2014).
It is important to take into account the ideas of Perez (2004) who says that when we use drama in the educational context “the important thing is not the final product but the process in which the student, with the other participants, experiments with problems and finds solutions through action”. Therefore, teachers have to make use of all the aspects inherent to drama that allow children to grow in multiple areas, not paying so much attention to the final result of the different activities.
In relation to the functions of drama, Liu (2002) states three: cognitive, social and affective. The first one refers to the fact that students have to work together in different groups, discussing dramatic situations and exploring images, roles and ideas while developing the language skills in meaningful contexts. The social function is fulfilled when students get involved in cooperation and supportive interaction that prepare them for real-life communication. Finally, the affective function of drama is fulfilled because when students act in public, they have the opportunity to know more about themselves and to break down their fears and feelings of shame and vulnerability; due to that process they are active participants and they form a group.
- THE IMPORTANCE AND BENEFITS OF USING DRAMA IN THE LANGUAGE CLASS
Traditionally, in the language class we can see that the students have real problems with expressing themselves in the target language or that they do not have confidence to do it. It is a problem caused by the teaching model used, focused only on the formal aspect of the language. These ideas are emphasized by Boudreault (2010) when he said that the output of a student in a traditional language class “is limited to writing run-of-the-mill answers for literature chapters and producing grammatically accurate, but isolated sentences”. By using drama in the language class we can avoid it because, as it has been said before, it requires using the language in a communicative way.
The benefits of using drama in the class are multiple and they explain its importance in the education process. Firstly, it has a big influence on the emotional education, a very important aspect in our schools. There is evidence that proper emotional education improves the environment in the classroom, the academic performance and the relationship between the participants, both students and teachers (Obiols, 2005). Secondly, communication, team work and mutual commitment have relevance, too, due to the fact that the activities are predominantly the result of the coordination between the participants. Finally, it is necessary to emphasize the development of reading comprehension, because while doing drama activities students are really involved in the content, in a very fun and pleasant way, and are strongly motivated to understand every detail of the text they need to use (e.g. the role-card or the lines of the script).
In relation with the specific benefits in the language class, drama can help us to develop, in just one integrated activity, different kinds of competences: communicative, sociolinguistic, pragmatic or intercultural. In addition, while participating in this kind of activities students become the protagonists of the educational process, with enhanced control of what happens in class. Another important benefit is the fact that they can improve their memorizing skills which are necessary in the learning of the second language (Román, 2011). This aspect is emphasised by Giebert (2014), who says that drama activities “can lead to improved retention of language structures and vocabulary”. There are many other linguistic aspects that can be improved with it, for example, fluency, pronunciation, communicative functions, etc. (Pérez 2004). Giebert also points out the power of drama providing meaning to language by letting students experience the language in concrete situations. It is an obvious advantage, because, as Giebert indicates, “learners can practice using language and behavior adequate to potentially complex situations in the safety of the classroom”. With it, the monotony of a language class can be broken and adapted to prepare the students to the real-life world.
For all of this, we can consider drama an excellent resource to use in the language class, firmly rooted within the communicative and intercultural approach. Students have the opportunity to use the second language in operation, which is really useful for their future and which gives meaning to the language teaching in our schools, because after all the most important thing should be to provide the students with tools which they could use in everyday situations.
- HOW TO USE IT?
The implementation of drama
The implementation of drama in the class depends of multiple factors, and it is necessary to pay attention to two basic considerations. First of all, it is essential to choose activities adapted to the age, level and interests of the students. In the first stages, the activities have to be very simple and with a minimum of memorization, while later in the courses we can use more complex activities. Secondly, it is necessary to maximize the students’ responsibility and involvement. All the students should feel that they are an important part of the activity, and we can achieve that by allowing them to participate in the design of the activity and giving them responsibilities such as looking after the materials (Blanco, 2001).
Taking into account these general considerations and following the ideas of Liu (2002), we can establish a general sequence in the implementation of drama in the language class:
- Create a “pre-text” as a starting point, determined by the themes and topics that suit the learners’ linguistic abilities and the social context. It will define the initial moments of action, establishing location, atmosphere, roles and situations.
- Identify and utilize a variety of roles for students and the teacher.
- Build different levels of tension to sustain dramatic activities.
- Utilize body and language in developing communicative competence through both verbal and nonverbal channels, maximizing learners’ linguistic output in authentic and improvised context.
- Reflect on the experiences, introduce and explain linguistic expressions, usage, and pragmatics necessitated in the given scenarios.
Following the stages of the previous point, we can use a big number of drama techniques, although in this paper we are going to describe briefly the four that are considered the most important: mime, role-play, simulation and improvisation.
Mime is an excellent resource to make students observe and use their imagination, being also a source of great enjoyment. Dougill (1987) defined it as “a non-verbal representation of an idea or story through gesture, bodily movement and expression”. It is true that with mime students do not have to do the action directly using language, but it is a good way to begin with if we want to introduce drama, because they start to do things in front of the others and gain confidence. In addition, the listening and reading skills can be developed as students listen or read the instructions for doing the activity, or with the possible subsequent activities related with it.
Role-play can be defined as a drama activity that “normally involves students playing imaginary people in an imaginary situation” (Davies, 1990). The situations can be very varied: socio-drama, sketches, story dramatization, interviews, business meeting, etc., and students usually get the details of the situation and their characters on the role-cards. We can distinguish activities where the dialogue is open-ended and students can develop it freely, and role-play activities where the dialogue is previously prepared. Role-play is definitely one of the most widely used strategies related with drama and it is considered one of the most effective techniques in foreign language education, because it has beneficial effects on the learner’s communicative competence and motivation (Raz, 1985).
Simulation is very similar to role-play, there are only two differences: simulation is normally longer and students keep their own identities instead of playing a role, though the situation is imaginary. Another important characteristic is that behavior is not controlled in the simulation and the participants bring to the situation their own skills, experience and knowledge (Yee Sam, 1990).
Improvisation is a technique in which students act without any preparation, inventing the situation spontaneously from a stimulus (a picture, a story, a situation). While, for example, role play involves giving students role cards, instructions and time to prepare, in improvisation teacher does not give details or language phrases to use. It is definitely the most adequate strategy to develop creativity.
The role of the teacher
The role of the teacher using drama in the language class is very important. According to Gasparro y Falleta (1994) “it is the responsibility of the teacher to guide the language learning process”. These authors also establish the functions that teachers should follow in this process:
– To model pronunciation, intonation, stress, rhythm, and oral expression.
– To ensure the comprehension of vocabulary, idioms and cultural aspects.
– To stimulate interest, conversation and interaction with the students.
– To establish an acting workshop atmosphere, that of trust and security, and full involvement of all the participants.
– To create a student-participatory language learning experience.
In a general perspective, the teacher should be involved in the process, creating a good environment in the classroom and trying to make all the children feel important in the different activities.
Definitely, the use of drama in the language class provides many benefits, promoting the development of students in multiple aspects that the educational system should not ignore. For this reason it is necessary for the teacher to have an adequate knowledge in the topic, in order to use the various forms of drama appropriately and to exploit all the possibilities offered.
In present-day schools it is essential to carry out practices for the development of creativity and especially to attract the attention of students and motivate them to learn. Drama is just one of the many options that can be used by the teacher for this purpose, and if we use it along with other strategies of the same nature, it will be very useful in achieving a significant and innovative language education that provides the students with the necessary skills and prepares them for using the target language in a communicative way in real contexts.
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