Language Teaching with Drama
I absolutely love language teaching with drama. I love it not only because I graduated with my BA in Theater Arts and Foreign Languages, but it also gets people moving, and talking, and being silly, and having fun, and learning so much. I wanted to share some different activities that you can do and adapt to any level in your world language class from improv.
Characters. Basically, this is a party. Everyone is a character, you may have decided this beforehand, so it’s not 100% improv because you’re not necessarily doing things on the spot. To do this stuff in foreign language, they need a little bit more preparation than they’re going to need in their own language.
They can have a character. You can adapt this to any set of vocabulary that you’re doing. Are you doing professions? Are you doing students? Are you doing famous people from the target language culture? It doesn’t matter. They’re going to be these people. You can even write down on slips of paper who they are, are you a doctor? Are you Coco Chanel? It doesn’t matter, it can be anybody. They pick the names or they make them themselves that person. They have a party where they actually have to go around and introduce themselves to everybody. They can even pretend to be exchange students. If they’ve done a bit of study in your target language culture and they’re going to know where these languages are spoken and where they could possibly be from. They’re all going to come together at a party. It recycles lots of different basic language. They can talk about where they’re from, what their name is, what they like, where they were born, what they eat, what people in their country do. You can make this as easy or as complicated as you want.
Shout Outs. Let’s say you’ve got your whole class standing up, you’re going to shout out words in the target language. You can of course attach these to things you need to recycle or things you’re doing for the first time. For example, emotions. You shout out an emotion. Tired, hungry, angry, whatever- they all have to act that out. You can shout out animals and they all have to be the animal you shout out. You can shout out adjectives, and they all have to be that kind of person. You can shout out occupations, and they all have to do that occupation. You can shout out objects and they all have to make that object. You can shout out verbs and they all have to do that action. You could shout out times and they all have to actually use their whole body to make that time on a clock. So much fun. Possibilities are endless. A great listening comprehension activity and a great way to recycle vocabulary.
Freeze Frame. This is one of my very favorites. You get to put so much into one little activity. Freeze Frame (or Pictures, you can call it many different things). Basically you’re going to have a group of students. You can divide them up or call them up individually – whatever works, you know your students and you know your class. They’re all going to pose for either a photograph or a painting, as they listen to very specific instructions. You stand there. You stand behind this person, make this face, do this, do that- you get it. There’s lots of commands you get to recycle and lots of prepositions. You can actually take a picture and then they can describe what is happening in the picture after. You can also have your students that are sitting watching the people in the picture describe all the things that are happening. This person is standing here, this person is standing in front of that person, this person is happy, this person is sad, etc.. If you have more advanced students, you can have them organize these things. You might want to give them some criteria. You must have at least 6 different commands and you must do them correctly to describe the picture that you want to paint or take.
Bus Stop or Taxi. You have someone being the bus driver or the taxi driver and/or passengers in the bus, and they drive and they stop and pick different people up. As they pick different people up, everyone has a conversation. My name is, this is where I’m from, this is where I’m going, this is where I need to get off. The longer the ride, the more complicated they can be.
A variation of this is that you can have a driver picking up a new passenger. They drive and talk until you say stop. Then they switch, and the passenger becomes the driver. The driver gets off and somebody else gets on. Lots and lots and lots of opportunities for talking.
Language Teaching with Drama: The Oscar-winner’s technique in your language
Many actors thoroughly research their roles as soon as they get them. The goal is to completely understand the character’s history, background, tastes, family, major life events- anything one can imagine- so that the actor can make that person real. Here are some interpretations of this activity in each proficiency range:
Novice-range: Learners can be assigned research of famous people from the target culture, periods of history, or even a famous place. The students then must research and be able to answer a set of questions that have been prepared beforehand. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the target culture while recycling lots of everyday language. The students can discuss where they are from, their names, the most important thing that happened to them, or what they would like to do in the future. The possibilities are infinite. The audience asks them questions, and must take notes in the target language based on their answers.
Intermediate-range: The activity would largely look the same here, but would involve more difficult reading and complex questions. For example, an upper-level high school Spanish class might take on the roles of famous people from the history of the Spanish-speaking world. People like Los Reyes Católicos, Malinche, Cortés and Christopher Columbus could be researched from a pre-selected group of sites or articles. The responses would require many paragraph-level (or approaching paragraph-level) responses. They also provide many opportunities for students to practice forming hypotheses. For example, students might be required to answer how the world might be different if Columbus had never met Los Reyes Católicos.
Advanced-range: This activity would work well in literature classes. The students would select a character from the story read in class (and perhaps the author, or genre, country, or any other criteria.). They answer a whole series of questions related to biographical information, as well as questions about the conflict, genre, historical background and/or political climate. It lends itself to a deeper understanding of the reading and culture, as well as provides opportunities for the students to practice advanced-level tasks and extended paragraph-level discourse. Intermediate and advanced level students can also compare and contrast throughout. They can also be required to cite their research on a site like Easybib.com.
Language Teaching with Drama: Subtitles
This is a fun one from acting. It has many variations:
- Have students act out a situation from your chapter/unit/task goal. These come from whatever they are learning. This might be ordering at a restaurant, going to the doctor’s or meeting someone for the first time.
- Have them all prepare a situation. They will act the situations out. They won’t use words.
- The rest of class writes “subtitles” for the situation. The situations are acted out again. This time, the students read out the subtitles.
They will likely need some practice before. You will also have to discourage your perfectionists about worrying too much about details. The purpose is for fun, active practice of the tasks they are learning.
Language Teaching with Drama: Interpersonal Mode+Speaking Activities from Improvisation
Introductions: Students are in a circle and talk about themselves. After students have practiced the tasks involved here (i.e. name, personal info, etc.) they can practice in small groups and then with the class as a whole. As they learn more, this activity will not only grow their communicative skills, but their cultural proficiency as well. They can research a person from the target language culture and introduce themselves as though they were that person.
Name Ball: Use any sort of ball that can be easily passed or thrown around without hurting anyone. Introduce yourself in the target language as you pass the ball. Keep it going until everyone has exchanged that information.
Name with a Verb: This is fun to do after verbs have been introduced. A student says their name, a verb and does the action. They pass something to another student who then repeats their name and their action. They then do the same and pass to another student. The students get lots of repetition of the new verbs.
Verb Circle: Have the class stand in a circle. Say the verb and act out the action to the student next to you. They then repeat your action and repeat your word and pass to another student and so on. Do this with each new verb. They can then turn it into a pantomime/speaking activity.
Interview: Get the students in two lines or two circles. Have them interview the person across from them. Change often. Break out as a whole class with all of the questions.
Language Teaching with Drama: Advanced-level
Narration is one of the most difficult tasks that we learn and teach in foreign languages. It involves so much. It involves doing a lot of vocabulary. It entails knowing lots of different ways to express things that have happened in the past, verbs and verb tenses and conjugations and anything you can imagine. It’s a very advanced level task. It usually takes people years to master this, even in languages that are pretty closely related to English. That said, you need lots of practice to get there. I want to share with you some activities from narration that can be adapted to a world language classroom to practice narration.
Slideshow. Basically, you’ll narrate, or maybe a very advanced student or your advanced level class will actually narrate something, and people are going to act it out. You’re going to narrate something in the target language and other people are acting it out. The reverse of this is to have people acting it out, they imagine something and you or an advanced student narrates. It really is so much fun.
Movie reviews. Have everyone come prepared to talk about a movie that they liked. Again, involves lots of past tense. You have to talk about where it took place, what happened, the different characters that were in it, what they were like. Everyone sits in a circle and talks for maybe 30 seconds or a minute about their movie. They can give some very basic details in a more beginning level class or they can give lots and lots of details, this can be a few minutes long. The rest of the class takes notes on each movie. After everyone has gone, everyone has to ask one another a certain number of questions about each movie. It’s listening, it’s speaking, it’s communicative, and it’s interactive. At the end, people can select a certain number of other movies that they heard about that they now want to see and they can write about that movie and why.
Tasks. You can hand out notes of tasks, and there are so many different ways that you can do this. I love to use the Lingofolio Can Do statements, or you can just write what comes out from whatever it is you’re studying. For example, complain at a restaurant, return a dish, return a faulty item, check into a hotel, get a train ticket, you get the picture. You write these things down on index cards and groups create scenes. You can have them pick them out of a hat, you can shuffle them up and hand them out randomly, you can give them a set number that you’ve decided before, they know exactly what tasks are going to be and they need to be prepared to do whatever three they’ve selected. It really is so much fun. You can use these also as extra credit on exams or in class.
Word Story. You can take a bunch of words and phrases from whatever set of things that you’re doing, whether it’s a set of vocabulary or it’s something broader that is more advanced, for example, talking about things we wished that have happened in the past. you can take out words and phrases that are relevant for that. You can either have them write them down on index cards, or you’ve written them down. Hand them out and they have to use them all to build a story, and then they have to retell the story without the cards. It’s so much fun.
The Beginning, The Middle, and The End. Have them build a story, and you need to give them some phrases. From the beginning, for example once upon a time, and the end, and they all lived happily ever after, whatever that is in your target language. I would give them phrases for the beginning of the story, middle of the story, and end, and then transitions in there. Different parts of the story. So you’ve got the beginning, we have the middle, we have the climax, we have the resolution, those basic story elements, give them some phrases, no more than 4 or 5. And they write their own story, and they tell it. You can also combine this back with Slideshow, where one person is actually the narrator and the people in their group act it out. It’s a lot of fun. This works nicely too incorporating it with something like reciprocal expressive to express those ideas of each other in Spanish. We’ve got one narrator, and two people acting it out.
From basic memorization, to speaking confidently and fluently, drama has a lot of relevance for language teaching.
Looking for more ideas? Get your free 5 Weeks of Low and No Prep Fun Guide