How I Teach - Coax them to tread the boards

Acting is anathema to bashful students, but there are ways to help them overcome their dread

Children who find drama classes difficult are often those who suffer from shyness. Drama requires students to use their creativity in an active and personal way and show it off in front of an audience. This makes shy children feel awkward, and this awkwardness only increases as they enter their teenage years and become more self-conscious.

You may ask why it is necessary for students to be forced to get involved in a subject they view as a form of torture. Can't we just let them retreat to the back of the room and not really engage? Well, if the teacher allows that, their shyness can spread; if one student is able to "get away with it" then others will wonder why they have to make the effort.

More importantly, drama is an academic subject. You wouldn't let a child slack off in English, you would support and coax them to take part, so why should it be different in drama? By allowing students to skip activities, you deny them the opportunity to build essential skills for all learning: confidence, communication skills and teamwork.

So it is important to not let shy students disengage. No one is saying that assisting their engagement is easy, but there are strategies that teachers can use.

First, you need to spot the issue quickly and make it clear from the beginning that students can't opt out. You need to coerce them into joining in, with encouragement and support.

Second, you should aim to put shy children into groups with high-ability, passionate drama students. This gives them the opportunity to stretch themselves, as well as to become involved in something of quality, which can boost their confidence in the subject.

The third strategy is to monitor all students' contributions to the lesson - a particularly effective method is the student jigsaw. Give each student a jigsaw piece with their name on it at the beginning of the lesson. When they have made a contribution that you consider to be significant enough, they can add their piece to the class puzzle.

This is not just about monitoring who contributes and when. It also enables the teacher to gradually increase the expected contribution of each student (starting with a comment, and perhaps leading up to an individual performance) before they are able to add their piece.

The final strategy is the inclusion of technical options within lessons; after all, drama is not solely about performance. This can be as simple as including a design scheme of work in your year plan - within which students learn basic technical skills such as sound-based performance, set design and how costume infers character - or a more complicated lesson set-up where students design and run supporting technical elements for other students' performance work.

I have seen the most dramatic results from giving students an opportunity to excel within technical theatre. They see for themselves that drama is not as bad as they think.

Isobel Fuller is a drama teacher at Notre Dame Senior School in Surrey, England.

10 ways to teach drama to shy children

1. Play it right

This resource offers 100 games aimed at honing drama skills. Each game has easy-to-use instructions and descriptions.


2. Know your lines

An introduction to the terminology and assessment criteria for drama in the 11-14 age group. Your students will be theatre critics in no time.


3. Character role

Introduce your class to the bank of characters used in commedia dell'arte, a form of Italian comedy theatre. Images and character traits are presented in colourful PowerPoint slides.


4. Stage plan

This resource guides students through the terms, strategies, genres and assessments they need to be acquainted with if they are going to pass their GCSE drama course.


5. Attacking ambition

Encourage your students to investigate the depths of their psychological range with these lessons focused on Macbeth, and test their knowledge of the historical and social contexts of Shakespeare's plays with a quiz.


6. Feeling funny

Every class has its joker, but in drama every student should have the potential for comedy in their arsenal. This scheme of work covers all styles of comedy for your budding Ben Stillers and Woody Allens.


7. Hollywood ratings

Can Brad Pitt make assessment criteria for drama more interesting to students? This resource includes posters of Hollywood celebrities imparting information about acting.


8. Stick to the script

Channel the creative juices of your students into the writing of Oscar- worthy films with this handout on scripts.


9. Acting up

Although they probably wouldn't admit it, we are fairly sure that Hollywood's elite frequently sit around watching one another mime inanimate objects. And with these games, your students can do the same.


10. All in the method

This resource has seven units dedicated to the Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavski, who devised method acting.


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