Easy does it: no need for a crisis about drama

9th June 2000 at 01:00
Alison Chaplin offers advice and says do not panic about the revised primary drama curriculum requirements.

Drama is to be given higher prominence within the primary curriculum, becoming an integral part of the revised English Order from September. Teachers may already be nervous about the prospect of making drama provision, but it does not have to be a subject to fear. You may already be using drama in the classroom, but perhaps without recognising it as such.

What, then, is drama? At the centre of all drama is the concept of "shared experience": individuals take part in the same process of discovery and learning, responding as a collective to that process.

Drama has three strands for its application, as:

* means to develop social skills and self-confidence;

* a teaching method to explore other subjects or issues;

* a tool for improving performance or self-presentation skills.

Elements of these strands often interweave, providing a synergistic teaching medium. Games, action songs, rhymes, movement activities and structured play could all be classed as drama. Through these, children learn to take turns, respond appropriately to others, listen to and follow instructions, work in role and use language and actions to convey situations and characters.

How will the changes affect teachers? Progressing beyond the basic skills listed above, an extended range of activities and skills will need to be applied within the context of the English curriculum. For example, telling stories through tableaux (frozen images), using language to convey characters and creating and sustaining roles.

Teachers are often concerned with setting aside time for "drama lessons" and providing a suitable space but there is no need. Drama does not require discrete time allocation: it can easily be integrated in cross-curricular settings. Nor is it necessary to empty classrooms of every stick of furniture - the creation of imaginary worlds will expand to fill the space available. Here are some ideas on how to use drama to meet the new curriculum requirements: Telling stories through tableaux:

* Read through Cinderella and let some children read sections aloud.

* As a class, discuss the storyline, character involvement, character interaction and moral overtone.

* Ask a small group to come to the front of the classroom to create a tableau of one of the scenes. Allow the group a minute to plan and prepare. With younger children, select the scene yourself and help to create the tableau.

* Invite the rest of the class to suggest wat is happening in the tableau.

* Repeat the process with other groups, using different scenes from the story.

Using language to convey character:

* Explore Cinderella's character using "role on the wall". Take a large sheet of paper, ask a child to lie down on it, and draw around his or her outline.

* Invite the children to suggest words or phrases to express what Cinderella might be feeling or thinking. Write these suggestions inside the outline.

* Invite the children to identify known or assumed facts about Cinderella and external influences that might affect her behaviour. Write these suggestions outside the outline.

Older children should be encouraged to write ideas themselves. This process can also be used to compare and contrast characters. The "roles" can be attached to the wall to give a reference point.

Exploring character:

* Place a chair at the front of the room. This is the "hot seat".

* Either nominate a child to sit on the hot seat or choose to be hot-seated yourself.

* Divide the children into small groups, allowing them two minutes to discuss and prepare the questions they would like to ask Cinderella.

* Invite the rest of the class to ask their prepared questions. Ensure that anyone in the hot seat sustains the role and answers the questions in character. Repeat this process with other characters.

There are many opportunities for specific follow-on work: compile a structured story outline and use this to create a storyboard, or a cartoon version of Cinderella; use role on the wall to explore language that expresses feelings; ask children to write Cinderella's diary; create sequential tableaux and invite children to provide the narrative for each scene; develop hot seating into an interview between a newspaper reporter and Cinderella, and write up the article for the newspaper.

Each of these methods also has cross-curricular applications: historical characters; people from other countries and cultures; scientific discoveries.

Drama has proved to be an enormous aid to children's learning and development; they gain confidence simply from experiencing it. And because it is interactive, children absorb, learn and retain information more than with any other teaching method.

Working with drama can be a frightening prospect, sometimes challenging and occasionally frustrating, but it will always be rewarding.

Alison Chaplin is the manager of Arts On The Move www.q-ten.co.ukartsotm and author of the Drama Workshop Series and Performance Plays, (Scholastic)

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