Drama in the Classroom (The Good Kind)

Using drama as a tool for teaching and learning gives students and teachers an engaging way to explore content and concepts.

When drama unfolds between members of a learning community, it’s one of those things that teachers try to avoid at all costs. When said drama isn’t the negatively charged kind, but instead the rich and rewarding kind seeped in deeper understandings, it becomes a highly-engaging resource. This powerful resource can be pulled from the toolkits of teachers in most any curriculum or classroom setting. Utilizing any or all of these ideas for incorporating drama can positively impact the levels of understanding and long-term retention of key concepts and big ideas.

Tableaus– Students can be tasked with creating one of these frozen moments that display a particular scene or event found in history or literature. As students find themselves in character, they must think about more than just the positioning of their bodies. They have to determine the emotional complexities involved in arriving at this snapshot moment and display them accordingly. This gets students thinking about the situation and preceding events as a whole. Teachers can also tap into the scene by tapping the shoulder of character and having him/her offer insight into the character’s perspective on the event that is unfolding.

Concept Dramatizations– One way teachers discern if students have gleaned the big ideas of any concept is by having them put these findings into their own words. These words can also be scripted into short scenes or plays that add a dramatic component. Whether the scripted drama is surrounding a scene from literature, a key event in history, a breakthrough in science, or any other host of scenarios, taking key details and letting them unfold on a makeshift stage brings these understandings to life. Preparing dramas for younger audiences is a great way to get students thinking about how to pull out the pivotal events and ideas. It also gets students thinking about the concepts using relatable language and non-verbal elements. If live audiences aren’t an option, the short productions could be videoed and shared with younger groups or other classes.

Role Play– Drama doesn’t always have to be of the scripted variety. Students can also use their background knowledge and skills to role play impromptu scenarios. These scenarios could focus on decision-making and positive choices surrounding current issues. These could also involve having a student or group role play how they would handle a scenario in character. Students could role play characters or historical figures in new settings or scenes, or they could even portray the meeting of two figures whose paths never crossed (e.g., Washington & Obama, Robinson Crusoe & Katniss Everdeen, Beethoven & The Beatles). The possibilities when it comes to role play are really endless and can be utilized for a variety of in-the-moment lessons.

Interviews– As students study characters, historical figures, mathematical concepts, scientific elements, and more, they’re understandings of them can be showcased through interviews. Students can take on the persona of Romeo, Lincoln, infinity, helium, or any other animate or inanimate concept and bring they’re understanding of it to life. The mannerisms and stance chosen can reflect their conceptions of the interview subject. Students or teachers can be the interviewers and work from a prepared list of questions. Interviews could be done in a single hot seat fashion or as a panel. This is an engaging way to glean students’ understandings of an area of study as they are asked to literally embody it.

Viewing– Watching a drama unfold on the stage or the screen can offer some engaging takeaways as well. Whether the action unfolds through professionals or peers, students are able to get a glimpse at another’s interpretation of a character or concept that has only come to life in their own minds. By utilizing clips that offer different renditions of the same story or events, students can also see the impact of differing perspectives. Rich discussion can come from utilizing many of the same questions that teachers would ask when students are the actors in short scenes or tableaus. Intentional viewing can be very powerful; viewing to fill time, not so much.

Mock Trials– Students can learn a lot about civics and the legal system when they delve into them as participants in a mock trial. These can be elaborate productions that possibly play out in a borrowed courtroom, or a smaller scale can play out right in the classroom. The trial can be scripted or non-scripted, and the trial topics can range from fairy tale characters to spatting neighbors to retrials of historical cases. This is a great activity for a wide range of ages, and students will enjoy taking on the various roles and the preparatory measures needed to bring a trial to life.

Hearing about drama in the classroom doesn’t have to conjure up images of an emotional roller coaster of teenaged angst. When drama is used to bring concepts, characters, and big ideas to life, students are actively engaged in a high-interest form of learning. By integrating any or all of the drama activities shared, teachers are able to shed new light on empathy, perspective, and deeper understandings to create lasting learning impacts.