Light up learning by play acting

2nd February 2007 at 00:00
Imagine that it is your birthday and you are blowing out a candle on the cake. Now act out that scene. From the point of view of the candle.

Drama can prove a useful tool for teaching scientific, mathematical or geographical concepts to pupils. Wendy Precious, primary advisor in Staffordshire, has pioneered a scheme where, for example, pairs of pupils act out scientific opposites, such as hot and cold, soluble and insoluble, permeable and impermeable. They are asked to pretend to walk through a paddling pool filled with air, then treacle, then jelly. Other exercises involve them acting out scenarios - from frying an egg to making popcorn - all from the point of view of the material involved, which compels them to think laterally about everyday events.

"If we're not careful, children spend a lot of time being told what to do, rather than working things out for themselves," Ms Precious said. "If they're acting something out, you can get an insight into how they think.

"It takes confidence to act in front of other people. That's a skill for life. And drama makes the subject accessible to children who cannot write or verbalise well. It encourages them to communicate in different ways."

"The best way to learn is by explaining an idea to someone else. So this is a celebration of what they've done, what they've learnt. It's making the processes come alive."

Science is not the only subject that can benefit from a touch of the luvvies. During personal social and health education, Bonnie Laird, Year 1 teacher at Peartree infants in Hertfordshire, asks pupils to assume the role of a vaccine travelling around the body. She has also enacted versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, to teach children of the dangers of taking food from strangers. "Children don't learn passively," she said.

"They cannot sit still for long, so we create an active environment."

And Melissa Hayes, Year 3 teacher at St Margaret's junior school in Wolstanton, Stafford-shire, uses drama across the curriculum.

Eight-year-olds bubble and erupt as volcanic lava; pile on top of each other as sedimentary rock; and stand in skipping-rope circles to form three-dimensional Venn diagrams.

"Visualising something helps improve their understanding of a subject,"

Miss Hayes said. "And they're interacting, taking turns listening and offering advice. That improves teamwork."

In history, one child took on the role of Boudicca, while the rest of the class quizzed her about her reactions to the Roman invasion. "They don't realise they're learning," said Miss Hayes. "They're thinking about why and how something happens. They feel it, see it and hear it."

Nine-year-old Annie Timmis agrees. Following a lesson with Miss Hayes, she and her classmates have recreated rock formations in the playground. "When we're doing independent work, we have nothing to entertain ourselves with,"

she said. "Sometimes it can be boring just doing normal stuff. This is much more fun. It makes me think what it would be like to be a rock.

"I think it would be a normal life, like ours. Only a bit more still."

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