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Story and Character Activities

Using Drama for Learning

Teachers notes

Drama is one of the most natural and enjoyable ways in which children make sense of the world. At its most basic, it involves children behaving ‘as if ’ they are someone other than themselves within a shared context, that can be both real and imagined.  Whilst Drama is a subject in its own right with clearly defined principles, processes and conventions, it is also a valuable learning medium that all teachers can use to deepen children’s learning across a variety of subject areas. 

These drama techniques are useful starting points for using drama to explore nearly any subject area, image or object.

Where a title is given to a still image to either stimulate the work or to underline meaning for the audience viewing it.  The title can also take the form of an extract of speech.

Circle of Description
Children stand or sit in a circle and are briefly introduced to a particular location that is the current focus of the drama.  They are then invited to share a word or short phrase about the location to either build the physical environment, describe the people who might be within in, or give a sense of the atmosphere or mood.  Children can comment on what might be already physically present e.g. characters or furniture, or work entirely from their imaginations.  When they are ready, each child contributes in turn, starting with the words “I can see…”

Conscience Alley
This is a useful technique for exploring any kind of dilemma faced by a character, providing an opportunity to analyse a decisive moment in greater detail. The class forms two lines facing each other. One person (the teacher or a child) walks between the lines as each member of the group speaks advice or the character’s thoughts or feelings, or the words/perspectives of other characters involved in the dilemma. It can also be organised so that those on one side give opposing advice to those on the other. You can experiment with tone, volume and overlapping of the words spoken in the alley and repeat the exercise to fully explore the significance of the moment being explored.

Role play
Individuals take on a character role and play out a particular situation. Role play does not have a tight structure and is closely akin to play. It gives children time to settle into and build the drama context, to get used to the space and to adapt to and identify with specific roles. Role play can be rehearsed but it is more commonly played out spontaneously, with actions negotiated in role.  Role play can be undertaken individually, in small groups or collectively involving a whole class.

Still image
This is the creation of a still or frozen picture using an individual or group of people who ‘freeze’ in a pose to capture a particular moment, idea or theme, as in a photograph or painting.  This technique has distinct advantages when a teacher is exploring ideas or themes which pupils find complex or vague.  To create a single concrete image requires thought on the part of the children so that their image is precise.  Particular attention should be given to body posture and facial expressions.  How do others interpret the still image?  Who do they think is depicted and what is happening?  Allow time for adjustments for clarity and appropriate dramatic effect.

This is the taking on of a role with a purpose in mind. This often involves entering into a different learning relationship with pupils, where the teacher-in-role does not necessarily hold all the answers. 

Have a clear objective for going into role: why are you doing it; what do you want to achieve? And make sure you clearly signal going into role. This can involve putting on a piece of costume or playing a piece of music to show that you are about to enter into the drama.  Pupils can also take on a character in relation to the teacher-in-role.

Thought tracking
Where the drama is paused at a point that involves a character in a dilemma, moment of tension, or immediately before or after a significant event. Someone steps into the shoes of that character (teacher or child) and freezes into a still image of that moment; alternatively a piece of costume can be used to represent the character. Children are invited to reflect upon what the character is thinking and feeling and speak these thoughts/feelings out loud. Older children can come up and lay a hand on the shoulder of the character as they speak, as if expressing the voices inside their head.

Where do you stand?
A line is taped along the classroom floor using masking tape.  Two opposing statements are read out to the class – these are also written on two pieces of paper, which are then placed at opposite ends of the line.  Pupils are asked to go and stand on the line to mark their response in relation to the two statements, positioning themselves close to the one that they agree with.  A few pupils are asked to give their reasons for their position and these are used to stimulate a short discussion amongst the class.  The teacher can also pose further questions to support the development of the discussion.  After a few minutes, the teacher offers the children the opportunity to move on the line if they have changed their opinion, and then the next statement is read out.