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I feel your pain

Identifying with characters and understanding their motives is important for key stage 5 students. Alison Warren suggests ways of improving their interpretative skills

With key stage 5 texts, a lot is riding on your ability to get elements across to pupils who lack the necessary experience. For example, I love Chekhov, but I recognise that his themes the "what might have beens" and the regrets don't chime with 17-year-olds.

So I ask pupils to share their aspirations and then use Stanislavsky's "magic if" to explore their feelings should none of these dreams materialise. Their responses are recorded on the walls of the drama studio and we refer to them as we work through the text, identifying which characters share these feelings, and when.

Some texts require background information for pupils to "get it". Practical background material is less time consuming in the long run. In introducing Restoration or 18th-century drama, I teach the pupils basic posture techniques and etiquette of the time and then we learn a period dance. We look at what was worn, and the pupils assess what this tells them about the culture.

In the end, studying a text for key stage 5 exams must focus on performance. I try to divide my approaches into four different areas, with the emphasis on the final two:

Familiarity with the plot and setting.

Understanding of the characters, their relationships and motives.

Insight what's the point of this scene and how do we get the audience to understand?

Interpretation what's your view of this scene and how will you get the audience to understand?

Insight and interpretation can only be fully explored through the rehearsal process. It's important that the teacher is not the director if pupils are to develop their own ideas.

Select the scenes for examination with care, allow experimentation and swap roles frequently. Remember failure in rehearsals can be educational. By allowing pupils to enjoy their discoveries and play with the text, they will find it challenging and exciting

Alison Warren is an Advanced Skills Teacher and head of drama at Clarendon College in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. She has been teaching for more than 20 years, and was a consultant for the new A-level drama and theatre arts syllabus

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