Clearing out some old files for a recent classroom move, I found an old teaching practice file. At the top was one of my first attempts at drama.
In typical PGCE style, I had written timings by each element of the lesson.
"Settle down - 1 minute (yeah right!); introduction - 5 minutes; clear classroom -10 minutes; settle class down again - 5 minutes; drama - 20 minutes..." For such a long time I thought drama took more time to set up than actually do, only later realising what a valuable tool it was for teaching and learning.
Sometimes I do it big. I take time at the beginning of the year to train the class to clear the room in a safe and efficient way. Even with Year 23 pupils, it is never as painful as the thought of it after the first few times. This means that when I need a space for seeds to grow or Boudicca's army to charge, we can make that space ourselves without having to wait for a hall or large room to be available.
Once every half term I enjoy doing it even bigger. We turn our classroom into a restaurant to work on instructional texts, with pupils bringing in tablecloths and other props from home. Literacy lessons are spent making different dishes, and then groups serve the finished products to our "customers". Or we become a shop for a mixed technologynumeracy unit of work where pupils generate money to spend in real-life ways.
Most of my role-play, though, takes no longer to start and finish than that first lesson took to settle the class down. Pupils are normally sat in their own places. No hats or props, just a simple countdown and a scene-setter... "When I count back from three, I'm going to be Caesar." The burden of role is on me, which means that the lesson is safe, because I know what I am doing, and the pupils feel safe so they are interested in what I am doing. As they get used to this, I can begin to draw them into it either as themselves - "When I'm Caesar, who will have a question for me?"
or in role themselves - "When I'm Caesar, who will be my general and explain the problem to me?" You can come out of role easily to issue any behaviour reminders that may be needed, before slipping seamlessly back into role-play land. Because the emphasis is on the teacher's knowledge and skills, it is possible to use role-play for every subject as often as appropriate. It can draw in different learners and stretch the minds of deep thinkers.
The more pupils see this modelled the more eager they become to take on the roles and develop their own skills at seeing things through the eyes of others. Drama can still produce its fair share of crises, but in creative teaching and learning, it more than plays its part.
Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester