Creating Drama for Creative Writing
By Brenda Gurr
BA, DipEd, AssocDip (Speech and Drama), Dip. Professional Children’s Writing
One of the main aims of teaching drama to children is to stimulate their creativity and imagination. Usually, the product of this is sculpted into some type of performance, whether it be role-play, movement to music or a playscript. But the imaginative skills brought out by drama can also be used in other curriculum areas. Creative writing is one of these. Do you want your students to develop interesting characters and plots and expand their vocabularies?
Try these ideas, and use them to inspire your own!
All of these activities will help students create a range of characters they can use in creative writing. This can range from simple descriptions to extended narratives.
Using familiar characters
After reading a story, discuss the main characters and ask the class to suggest words that describe each of them. Write the words on the blackboard or a large sheet of card. Each student then finds his/her own space in the room. Ask the students to represent each word using only one body part; e.g. ‘sneaky hands’, ‘grumpy feet’, ‘happy hips’. Extend this to facial expressions. The students can then show one of the words using their whole body. Ask them to name the character this creates and introduce themselves to each other.
Ask the students to act out a simple scene with a partner, involving two of the main characters from a story. The scene chosen by the teacher should clearly demonstrate aspects of the characters’ personalities. Encourage the students to use suitable voices and movements. After they have performed this scene, ask them to use the same characters in an everyday scene that is not part of the story. Give each pair a different scene. For example, ‘Meeting each other for the first time’, ‘Playing hopscotch together’, ‘Eating a meal together’. The students can then perform their scenes for the class.
Creating new Characters
Play some classical music that creates a strong atmosphere (for example, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Holst’s The Planets or Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals) and ask the students to move around the room to the music, showing how it makes them feel. Stop the music and ask the students to freeze. They should remember their poses then sit down. Ask some volunteers to show their poses to the class. The class then should then describe what sort of characters these poses suggest. Develop this further by asking the class to suggest appropriate-sounding names for the characters (e.g. ‘Sylvia’ suggests a gentle and sweet character, ‘Crusher’ suggest the opposite!) and the sorts of personalities they might have. Repeat the exercise with a different piece of music, asking the students to create characters on their own. When the students begin writing, playing the music in the background can be helpful.
Experiment with different vocal effects with the class. Use a simple sentence to try this out, such as ‘What are you doing? Ask the class as a whole to try the sentence in a range ofvoices – in a whisper, in a high voice, in a low voice, in an angry voice, in a sad voice, in a happy voice etc. Then ask the students to find a partner and use one of these voices in a simple scene you give them; e.g. trying to push into a queue, buying a bus ticket, looking for a lost library book. The students can perform the scenes and report on what types of characters the voices created.
Working with familiar plots
Discuss stories the class are familiar with; e.g. fairy stories. Choose one, and write or draw its beginning, middle and ending on separate pieces of card to display at the front of the room. Read out the events of the story as the students mime the actions of the main character. Once the students are familiar with the plot structure of the story, ask them to think of a new ending. Discuss some ideas, then have them mime the beginning, middle and new ending they chose.
Try teacher-in-role. Use your acting skills to play a character from a familiar story. Ask the class to interview you about your character’s personal qualities. After the interview, ask the students to mime the plot of another simple story as your read aloud. Ask them what they think might happen if the character they interviewed replaced the main character of the second story. For example, replace Red Riding Hood with one of the selfish stepsisters from Cinderella and you might find she eats the basket of goodies along the way and then has an argument with the wolf!
Creating new plots
After reading a stimulus story, seat the students in a circle. Ask them to contribute one sentence at a time to tell a new story which uses one or some of the characters from the story they just heard. The teacher will need to guide the story to some extent; this can be done by adding some sentences of his/her own or helping with the ending. Afterwards, the main events of the new story can be written with the class’s help.
Show two suitcases filled with travel and personal items and ask the students to imagine who might own each one and where they are going. You can pass the items around the room for the students to touch, listen to or smell (objects that have a strong fragrance stimulate imagination particularly well). The students can then divide into pairs and improvise a story about the two people travelling together and what happens to them.
Playing with words can give your students a greater sense of their power and meaning when they are writing. Try the following activities before the students begin writing. You can choose words to suit the topic they are writing about.
Give the students some action verbs to act out. Choose words that sound like what they are describing such as ‘chop’, ‘swish’, ‘sweep’, ‘bang’, ‘crash’, ‘slice’, ‘crackle’. The students should move as they say each word expressively; for example, for ‘chop’ they might use their hand as a knife in a sudden motion as they emphasise the ‘ch’ and ‘p’ sounds in the word.
Ask the students to work with a partner to improvise a scene involving some type of journey; e.g. ‘A walk through a forest’. They may only use groups of words or sounds to represent what they are miming. For example, the students might begin by hacking through the trees, repeating the words ‘swish, hack’. One of them could fall over and cry out in pain, point to his/her ankle and repeat ‘swell, puff, ouch’. Use two volunteers to demonstrate this idea with you directing them before you send the students away to improvise.
Any form of creative writing can benefit from drama activities such as the ones described. It is effective because the students are physically working with characters, plots and words, supporting the old saying:
- I see and I remember
- I hear and I forget
- I do and I understand
Enjoy creating drama and fantastic writing with your class.