It is 4.15pm on Friday and 15 enthusiastic upper juniors at Almondsbury C of E Primary School, a small village school outside Bristol, South Gloucestershire, are huddled in groups, discussing a poem about the plight of our Earth.
This is the third drama club session we have spent experimenting with ways we can use drama and movement to express our thoughts about the environment. Our motivation was the desire to share some of our drama club work at a local schools' festival. The pupils had strong views on issues such as pollution and the destruction of the rain forests, so I decided to use a poem about the beauty and fragility of the Earth as our inspiration. In this session, the pupils were deciding how to perform the poem most effectively as a group. We played around with the poem, taking it apart, breaking it into sections, echoing and overlapping lines and experimenting with choral speaking.
We had started the session with a high-energy warm-up game, "Guarded knees", where pairs score points for touching their opponents' unguarded knees, at the same time as trying to protect their own. This game uses lots of energy but does not involve any running around, useful if space is limited. We then played a game which involved pupils passing a ball across a circle, saying their name and something they like doing. This is fast-moving and has endless variations.
At this point in our club sessions, I often use a concentration game, such as "Live Wire", to focus the group and prepare them for the main activity. This involves the pupils standing in a circle, passing a pulse backwards and forwards by squeezing hands, while an observer must try to track down the pulse.
In another concentration game, "Follow the leader", a pupil leaves the room, while a leader is chosen to perform a simple action for the rest to copy. The pupil then returns and must try to guess who the leader is. Another favourite is "Distractions", where the teacher gives one child in each pair a task to perform, for example, saying the alphabet backwards. The other member of the pair then has to try to distract their partner. (No physical contact allowed.) I started the drama club with about 25 pupils, splitting them into two groups to work on separate performances for the festival. In the first meetings, I tried a range of activities, including role play, improvisation, creating tableaux and mime. My main aim was to get to know the group and to develop social skills such as co-operation, communication and problem solving.
Although I soon found that I needed to be clear about my aims for each session, the outcome was not always predictable. It is essential to be flexible and allow the pupils to explore their own ideas - which is where we came in, devising a performance for the festival.
Starting a drama club is a rewarding experience. Many drama teachers are unhappy about drama losing importance in the primary curriculum. Drama is a great way of exploring relevant issues in an imaginary framework.
Teachers who are motivated enough to give up their time to run a club will find rewards in the children's burgeoning confidence and the stimulus which work in the club gives to their work in class.
* All games taken from or inspired by Christine Poulter's Playing the Game (Macmillan, pound;9.50).
Krys Hurley teaches part-time in school and privately