Beginning the Year with Drama
Imagine a subject that is fun to teach, encourages everyone to work together, often gives academic strugglers a chance to shine and teaches focus, confidence and positive self-image. This subject does exist – it’s drama. Often given a wide berth by terrified teachers, drama can be a wonderful way to get to know the new, eager-faced individuals in your class at the beginning of a hectic year and establish your position as the classroom teacher.
Are you game?
Playing drama games is a good way to start. They are great icebreakers and children absolutely love them. Even better, you can create your own games to suit your own purposes. Drama games can promote confidence and cooperation and teach new skills – all while everyone (yes, maybe even you!) is having a wonderful time.
Drama games can be used in their own right – for example, as a reward for class behaviour – or can begin a drama lesson, addressing skills you may develop later in the lesson. Even better, not all games require a huge amount of space – some can be played while the children sit at their desks.
Here is a sample of drama games that are fantastic for the beginning of the year.
- Follow my Orders – students follow orders of a leader, based on a theme, such as a captain and crew (e.g. ‘scrub the decks’).
- Race to Tell – provide a group of interesting looking objects at the front of the room. The students jump to the back of the room and return. The first student back and sitting up the straightest (or any criterion) can choose an object and tell a story about it in a few sentences.
- What’s Your Name? – students stand in a circle and think of a movement to perform with the syllables of their name. It can be as simple as clapping or can be a full body movement. This is copied by the whole class. A good game for learning names and promoting self-esteem.
- Who’s there? – one student stands at the front of the room with his/her back to the others. Choose another student to say ‘Good Morning’ in a disguised voice. The first student has to guess whose voice it is.
- Shapes – students move around the room. On a signal, they form groups of two or three and make the shape of an object – such as a rowing boat, a computer etc. Do this three times, then call out the names of the objects. Students have to remember exactly where they were and who they worked with and form the shapes again.
If you are inspired to try a longer drama session, you can follow a game with individual work. Individual work is a valuable way to help students to focus, a skill which can be transferred to their classroom work in other curriculum areas.
Individual work doesn’t have to mean a lone, trembling child performing at the front of the room while everyone watches! Instead, set a task and have everyone work in their own space at the same time. If you and the class feel more confident, then you can ask for volunteers to perform at the end of the experimenting phase.
It can be helpful to begin by defining what ‘your own space’ means. Try having each student imagine himself/herself in a large box which they trace around themselves at the beginning of the lesson. He/She can then only work in the confines of this space. It might take your class a bit of practice to concentrate on what they are doing and not everyone else, but emphasise there is no right or wrong in drama.
Story drama works well for the junior age group. Simply tell the children a story which they act out as you speak. The ‘plot’ can be very simple, such as, for example, sneaking into the kitchen in the middle of the night for something to eat. You can provide lines for the children to say together, such as ‘… you step on a toy in the dark and say “Ouch! That hurt!”’. Story drama can also be a springboard for other activities, like story writing.
Another activity that works well with young children is to select a number of dramatic verbs, like ‘chop’, ‘bang’ or ‘slither’, and ask the children say the verb and perform an action for it at the same time. This helps to encourages expression and an enjoyment of words. Children really love this exercise, and you will have no end of eager volunteers to show what they have done. Again, the work you do here can be used in other areas of the curriculum, particularly writing.
Once students are warmed up with a game and some individual work, try some group activities. At the beginning of a year, it can help to start with partner work and progress to groups of three or four as students gain experience in working together.
New classes usually respond well to mime work – many students find performance easier if they don’t have to talk in front of the class. For example, have the children make a machine or monster represented through movement only.
You could also try reading a story to the students, and have them act a section of it. As they become more confident, after a few sessions, you could give them the first few lines of a scene, and then ask them to finish it in a different way. Always discuss possible ideas with the class first. That way, the weaker students will at least have a model to copy from.
The most important thing to remember about group work is to always set a clear goal for the students. Many children think of drama as a time to ‘muck around’ and telling them exactly what you expect can help to remove this impression.
A relaxation session at the end of a drama lesson can focus and calm the class and help to prepare them for the next lesson. It also helps to establish your control and creates a soothing, peaceful atmosphere in the room – if only for a short time!
Have the children lie on their backs and close their eyes. You will probably encounter lots of giggles and wriggles at first, but persevere – it is well worth it. Gentle music often helps.
You then ask the children to use their imaginations. You could lead them on a magical journey or describe a beautiful setting. Direct the children specifically, with a few questions every so often to stimulate their imaginations. For example, ‘Imagine you are walking along a long beach. As you walk along the warm sand, look down. What colour is the sand? How does it feel between your toes?’ etc. When you have finished talking, ask the children to roll onto their sides in their own time and slowly sit up. You can ask your class to discuss what they imagined, but it is not necessary. Sometimes it is nice just to give children the chance to relax and take time for themselves.
There are many books about relaxation. Try borrowing ideas from different disciplines such as yoga or meditation.
There is such a wealth of activities and ways to go with drama that you shouldn’t feel restricted by the ideas in this article. Explore, be brave and have fun!
Top tips for Drama
- Make a simple drama lesson with a game, individual work, a group activity and a relaxing exercise.
- Use drama games whenever you have a spare few minutes – children will love you for it!
- Follow a theme in a set of drama lessons – e.g. a boat trip – packing, sailing, arriving at destination.
- Stuck for ideas? Get inspiration from stories or follow your own classroom theme.
- Don’t forget to discuss ideas in drama so kids know why they are doing things.
- There are few resources which focus on drama for this age group, so try adapting activities from books aimed at older children – ideas can always be simplified.
- Insist that children listen and clap for all performers. This boosts self-esteem and helps create a sense of class unity.
- Use lots of praise in drama – it makes all the difference.