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How I Teach - Love will find a way in drama

Teens are often shy in romance scenes, but help is at hand

Teens are often shy in romance scenes, but help is at hand

The heroine draws near to the hero and utters a few loving words, before leaning in even closer. Will they kiss? Not likely. This is a school drama lesson. The hero is blushing so much that you can feel the heat from his face several metres away, while the heroine is cringing to the point where her whole body seems as though it might collapse.

Meanwhile, the audience can't work out whether to laugh, ridicule the actors or make themselves invisible to keep me from asking them to step up for the next performance.

Admittedly, it's not just love scenes that create issues for drama teachers. Teenagers have a deep-rooted desire not to stand out from the crowd. They don't want to enact an argument because they are scared of shouting at each other; they don't want to have any physical contact on stage in case they hurt each other.

But the thing they hate most is feigning romance, unless it is done in a comedic way. So how can you take the edge off the embarrassment?

Choose groups carefully

If you have selected a scene or a play with romantic or otherwise potentially embarrassing content, then be kind with your groupings. It may be easier for students to pretend to be in love with someone they know well rather than a random classmate.

Equally, in single-sex classes and schools, although students tend to be less worried about interacting with each other in scenes, a group of supportive friends will definitely help them and improve the quality of their drama.

Break the ice quickly

Start the lesson with a silly activity to ease the tension and get some of the embarrassment out of the way. A game like Stuck in the Mud - adapted so that students use hugs to release a stuck person, instead of going between their legs - is good for combating inhibitions and nerves.

The Aggression Ladder is also a useful game in this context. To play it, ask students to gather in pairs and get them to count alternate numbers up to 10, increasing the aggression with each number until they are shouting at each other. This generally results in fits of giggles, but it helps the class to feel more comfortable with each other.

If the class is struggling, I demonstrate the technique - with a less easily offended student - to help them feel less nervous about it. After all, if the teacher is willing to look silly, the class won't mind either.

Use observations and examples

As a class, analyse a good example of a romantic scene from a film, television show or drama production. Get the students to write detailed notes about how the actors move, speak and interact. Discuss it as a group and then ask the students to replicate an extract for themselves. This takes out the personal element of performing in such a scene and gives them an example to base their work on.

Leave them to it, but watch from afar

I find that most groups are much happier if they think that no one is watching. With any activities where the class may feel self-conscious (for example, monologues or individual movement work), I play wordless music in the classroom at a reasonable volume. This masks the noise they are making and helps them to focus on their own work.

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

Top 10 love-themed resources

1. Romeo and romance

What better way of teaching the use of imagery to describe love than by exploring Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet? Use this lesson plan to take your students through every nuance of Act 2, Scene 2.

2. Love in rhyme

Get your students to write and perform their own love poetry, using Tonight at Noon by Adrian Henri for inspiration.

3. True love

To prove that love can be complicated, take your students through this visual activity, which aims to unpick the relationships in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

4. Passionate poetry

These worksheets guide students through the love poetry and sonnets of masters of the art - such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lord Byron, John Clare and Dennis Scott - to see how they characterise the emotion.

5. Man's world

Discuss a masculine view of love by exploring what Much Ado About Nothing's Claudio has to say on the subject in Act 1, Scene 1.

6. Defining love

Encourage students to consider different types of love with the help of these two PowerPoints focusing on Twelfth Night.

7. Language of lust

Use this revision activity to recap the ways in which Shakespeare demonstrates characters' feelings of love in the plays Antony and Cleopatra and As You Like It.

8. Dictionary of desire

Students can describe the relationships between characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream with the help of this vocabulary checklist.

9. Traditional trappings

This research task develops students' understanding of the themes, elements and context of pre-1914 love poetry.

10. Loving letters

In this activity, students write love letters between characters from Michael Morpurgo's novel Private Peaceful, exploring their feelings.

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