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May 1, 2018

Drama in language teaching: a challenge for creative development

Nelly Zafeiriadou, MA, Ed D TELT State School Advisor, Prefecture of Drama nelzafeir@sch.gr

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. (Albert Einstein)


My aim in this article is to draw attention to the case of drama in the language context as a creative process and a challenge for creative thought. On one hand, by a brief historical review of drama teaching I attempt to define some misconceptions that drama may entail and on the other by presenting the benefits it offers as a pedagogical technique I aim to alleviate inhibitions several language educators have as to drama integration in the L2 classroom. I argue for drama as a teaching technique that fosters not only students' linguistic and emotional development but also a as a challenge for creative thought and a means that contributes to what Fontana (1997) called "education for being,".

Drama teaching- A historical review.

Theatre as a form of Art that communicates feelings and emotions, thoughts and concerns originates since the appearance of communal life in the history of human civilization.Theatre and drama for educational purposes have been defined in many different ways. Methodology books and papers abound in terms such as drama education, theatre education, educational drama or creative drama and drama teaching. Traditionally 'theatre' has been taken to refer to performance whereas 'drama' has referred to the work designed for stage representation, the body of written plays (Elam, 1980). In the context of drama teaching however the terms have been used differently. 'Theatre' was thought to be largely concerned with communication between actors and an audience; whereas 'drama' was largely concerned with experience by the participants, irrespective of any function of communication to an audience (Way, 1967). In the 1980s and 1990s in England and many othercountries there was a fairly pronounced division between writers and practitioners who advocated different approaches to teaching drama. Teachers who took a theatre approach talked about 'acting', 'rehearsal' and 'performance' whereas teachers with a drama focus referred more to 'experience' or 'living through' improvisations (Hornbrook, 1989). In practice these tended to be more orientations in the work rather than rigid distinctions but the differences are crucial in understanding the way drama teaching developed; legacies of these approaches are found in contemporary practice.(Fleming, 2003)

The method of drama teaching which developed from the 1950s onwards and embraced more free forms of dramatic play and improvisation can be seen as a reaction to the stifling and uncreative approaches at the time which involved children acting out in a rather formal way the words of others rather than developing ideas of their own (Slade, 1954). It was suggested that when participants are engaged in more spontaneous, improvised work (traditionally called 'drama') their level of engagement and feeling will be more intense and 'genuine' than when they are performing on stage (traditionally called 'theatre'). The theoretical perspectives on drama education were at that time drawn from writings on child play and the Humanistic School of psychology ( Erikson 1963, 1968; Rogers, 1969 ) rather than on the theatre. The emphasis was on the personal growth of the individual through creative self expression and the the search for personal meaning. The influence of progressive psychology theorists as George Kelly in the 1950s and his 'personal construct theory'that urges people to uncover their own 'constructs' with minimal intervention by the 'therapist' were also apparent in the advocates of drama in education. The recent history of drama teaching being described here is represented in the following diagram by M. Fleming (2003). At the time when the separation of 'drama' and 'theatre' was happening what was being rejected was the negative aspects of theatre practice (depicted in the upper right side of the diagram) when imposed prematurely on young people. A more contemporary view of theatre practice is represented in the lower right quadrant (Theatre 2). Here the approach is less authoritarian, there is a more fluid concept of what 'acting' and

Some issues to problematise

In this account of past division and present linking of experience between 'theatre' and 'drama 'some issues are raised as to how it informs the implementation of drama in language teaching. 

First, the traditional view of theatre represented in the diagram as 'Theatre 1' reminds us that some approaches to drama can be static and lack the kind of creative dynamism that the participants often expect. 

Second, it provides a reminder that drama requires structuring and that drama techniques need to be learned by the participants, It is no longer appropriate to see drama entirely as a natural activity which needs little intervention from the teacher.

Third, drama approaches can blend elements traditionally associated with 'drama' and 'theatre', including elements of performance, as long as the teacher is sensitive to learners' potential embarrassment. 

Fourth, the use of drama does not have to involve the development of a complex narrative as it was often assumed when drama is seen as 'dramatic playing''rehearsal' involve and there is greater acceptance of non -naturalistic approaches. Similarly there has been a change in the way drama has been conceptualised. The changed conception at Drama 2 in the diagram means that all drama in the classroom can draw on insights provided by the nature of drama as art and writings from theatre practitioners (Bolton, 1992; Heathcote, 1980; Shewe and Shaw, 1993)

(Woolland 1996). The performance per se of participating children is irrelevant. An ordinary classroom is sufficient to set up drama activities. A "stage" is not necessary to "present" the "dramatic talents "of students. 
A final and important issue is that drama as a teaching technique brings out a number of deeper pedagogic challenges for the L2 teacher. It involves moving away from familiar structures and routines which feel safe into approaches which are more openended and unpredictable. With younger learners the enthusiasm and exuberance produced by engaging in drama can turn into problems of discipline. With older learners there may be problems of inhibition and embarrassment. Despite the enormous potential for drama to motivate and engage the participants, in practice the outcome can sometimes be flat and fail to inspire. In the context of teaching a second language, the possibilities are inevitably limited by the fluency and language facility of the learners. Needless to say that a language pedagogy insisting on results instead of process may have a negative effect on students' motivation and involvement. Educational drama activities should raise positive feelings because they are essentially "play" situations. The above comments are not meant to be negative but to offer a realistic view of the challenges involved in using drama in the language classroom.
So what justifies drama in the language context?
Regardless of the above realistic considerations and pedagogical challenges drama teaching raises it also becomes apparent that there are positive arguments in favour of using it. 
Drama fosters and sustains learners' motivation as it is fun and entertaining and because it engages feelings it can provide a rich experience of language for the participants. Drama as a process is inevitably learner-centred because it can only operate through active cooperation. As a social activity embodies much of the educational theory that has emphasised the social and communal such as Vygotsky's Social Interactionism in the1960's as opposed to the purely individual, aspects of learning. Being a collaborative and participatory teaching approach it contributes positively to the development of the learners' selfesteem and self-efficacy ( one's beliefs about their capabilities in certain areas) especially to those they have rather low levels ( Williams and Burden, 1997).
Transferring acquired skills from educational settings to real life situations has always been a challenging task in education. The value of drama is often attributed to the fact that it allows the creation of contexts for different language uses, thus fostering students' language awareness. In both language teaching and drama, context is often thought to be everything. Children talking and listening to each other in a dramatic play situation use language in a communicative way (taking turns, interacting verbally, using body movements, gestures and facial expression, listening actively). Hutt et al. (1989), found that in a role play children's verbal responses were longer and included more adverbs than in other situations. Because speech has its origin in social action and life (Lantolf 2000, Merleau-Ponty 1962, Vygotsky 1987) dramatic play and improvisation are advantageous to language acquisition as the created situations place the emphasis on social interaction and thus, facilitate knowledge transfer from the classroom to the outside world. 
However, what to my view gives drama a unique value as a pedagogic technique is the fact it brings about students' creative thought and asserts language education as a creative process. Moreover, for the reason it points out that creative expression depends not on talent alone, but also on motivation, interest, effort, and opportunity. That creative process, contrary to popular opinion, is socially supported, culturally influenced, and collaboratively achieved through instruction.
The creative assets of childhood include a tolerance for ambiguity, a propensity for nonlinear thinking, and receptivity to ideas that might be quickly discarded by an adult as too fanciful to merit further consideration. Because children do not have a firm line of demarcation between fantasy and reality, ideas from one realm can slip through into the other. Thus, children may respond in ways that are nonstereotypic, a trait that many adults, particularly those in the arts, find enviable (Kincade, 2002). Despite growing evidence that childhood is the wellspring for later creative pursuits, adults frequently fail to develop those rich resources of imagination, creativity, curiosity, and playfulness (Cobb, 1977; Martindale, 2001). If, as both classic and contemporary studies of talent development suggest, it takes nearly 17 years of training and preparation to contribute to a field, educators are in a unique position to influence creative development in human beings (Duffy, 1998). Consequently, it is unacceptable for creative thought and expression, a resource so valuable to society and vital to the individual, to be misunderstood, squandered, or squelched by flat, trivialized and sometimes oppressing teaching.
Drama recourses for creative development 
Drama as a structural aspect of experiential learning (Rogers, 1969) in the L2 context can include dramatic play and improvisations, story enactment, imagination journeys, theatre games, music, and dance. "Let's pretend" is the norm in a drama class, not just a child's game. Because the emphasis in creative drama is process rather than product, teachers have the freedom to take as much time as needed with their classes.
Role plays
During a fundamental technique of drama, role play participants empathise with a role either of a person or an object and experience new knowledge in three spatial dimensions (length, width and height) and three psychological dimensions (identification, internalisation, and empathy). In addition three basic mental dimensions (representation, assimilation, imagination), three social dimensions (participating by taking on a role, interaction and acceptance by others) and three personal dimensions (self development, self-esteem and self-actualisation) of role playing combine effectively to enable children to understand and to acquire the necessary skills to cope with reality. All of these dimensions are useful in language acquisition because they can provide a multi dimensional base for stimulating and developing language.
Fairy/Folk Tales and Myths
There are an incredible number of books containing collections of these stories. Some feature tales from a particular country, religion, or ethnic group, while others are grouped by subject (women, animals, nature). When choosing ones to use in class, look for simple plots, dynamic characters, and a straightforward message. Ideally, the tales should be told, rather than read aloud, (besides giving a better sense of the dramatic to the listeners, there are also no pictures that you have to show) so learn them well. Children enjoy acting out stories with humorous people or situations, and usually are willing to play inanimate objects that relate to the plot. Don't be afraid to stretch the boundaries of the story - add in extra family members, duplicate protagonists/antagonists, herds of animals instead of one so that every child in the class has a role to play. With well-known stories (Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk), the class can use their familiarity with the plot to create new ideas, by modernizing the story, or placing characters from several different stories into one.
Poems provide a unique opportunity for a drama class, as they can be "acted out" instantaneously or after planning. Because poetry is often written in first person, it is easy for the participants to put themselves into the actions or emotions expressed in the poem. When selecting poetry to use in class, look for a variety of styles, but keep in mind that the language should be direct enough for the participants to comprehend. Do not be afraid to use poems that are "silly", most children delight in the absurd.
Children's books
A good children's book can provide enough activities for an entire creative drama class period. You can create a warm-up, a game, and an art project based on the theme of the book in addition to drama experiences. The most important factor in choosing books for this purpose is the teacher's or leader's interest - if a particular book gives you many exciting ideas, then that is the one you should use.

With groups that respond well to drama activities, putting on one scene or a short play can be both enjoyable and rewarding. Many students, especially adolescents love planning costumes, sets, props and so on. When full-scale staging is not feasible, a prepared reading or staging of a scene in front of the class and with a few props can also be motivating and rewarding. Not neglecting that good play reading is not an easy task even in L1 the aim should be working through a whole play in such ways that deepen students' understanding of the text and the dramatic situation. Modern texts are usually easier to explore in the L2 adolescent context for the opportunities they offer both of useful language transfer and of insights into contemporary, social, political and cultural aspects. Whatever the choice of a play, the underlying teaching principle should be that there are no "wrong" answers - through pretending, animals can talk, kids can travel to outer space or the jungle, and the sky can be green while the grass is blue. Students should be free to explore and experience the texts in ways that foster their creative thinking and personal growth.

Educating children and adolescents in ways that foster creative development is consistent with Fontana's (1997) notion of "education for being," which means offering our students the right to express their own feelings, to give their view of events, to explain themselves, to reflect upon their own behavior, to have their fears and their hopes taken seriously, to ask questions, to seek explanations in the natural world, to love and be loved, to have their inner world of dreams and fantasies and imaginings taken seriously, and to take their own engagement with life. 

In taking the position that every child has the right to creative development we need as language educators to acknowledge that several challenges have to be addressed. First, we need to redefine creative teaching and confront misconceptions about creative thinking. Second, we need to provide students with role models of motivation and persistence in creative thought, and arrive at more capacious ways of assessing creative processes and products. Third, we need to acknowledge that by their very nature, teaching materials are limited. Coursebooks represent the product of careful planning on the part of textbook writers; they are not the result of any interactive and creative process of classroom events and they can hardly address the specific interactive needs and wants of a given group of learners. Because of these limitations I subscribe to Prabhu's (1987, p. 94 ) position that it is better to treat a text as a pre-text and course-books should rather be treated as sourcebooks. The real creative process of language learning lies within the nature of interaction amongst the learners and the teacher whose principle goal should be as Piaget (1974) put it . 
to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done- men who are creative, inventive and discoverers

For all these reasons and also drawn by my own professional experiences as a language educator and a fledgling researcher I have the view that drama approaches offer the teacher unique opportunities to contribute to the above goal.

ReferencesBolton, G. (1992) Perspectives on Classroom Drama. Hertfordshire: Simon and Schuster.Cobb, E. (1977). The ecology of imagination. New York: Columbia UniversityCollie, J. and Slater, S.( 1987). Literature in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Butterfield, A. (1993) Drama through language through drama, Banbury: KembleDougill, J. (1987) Drama activities for Language Learning. London: Macmillan.Duffy, B. (1998). Supporting creativity and imagination in the early years. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.Elam, K. (1980) The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama. London: Methuen. Reprinted in 1988 by Routledge.Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and Society. New York: Norton.Erikson, E. H. (1968). Youth and Crisis. New York: NortonFleming, M. (2003) Starting Drama Teaching. London: David Fulton PublishersFleming, M. (2003b) 'Intercultural Experience and Drama' in Alred, G, Byram. M. and Fleming, M. (eds.) (2003) Interultural Experience and Education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Gardner, H. 1983. Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books.Heathcote, 1980 Drama as Context NATE papers in education: London; NATEHendy, L. and Toon, L. (2001) Supporting Drama and Imaginative Play in the Early Years. Philadelphia: Open University Press.Hornbrook, D. (1989) Education and Dramatic Art. London: Blackwell Education.Hutts,S., J., Taylor, S., Hutt, C., Christopherson, H. (1989) Play, Exploration and Learning: A Natural History of Preschool. London: Routledge.Kincade, T. (2002). The child’s heart in art. American Artist, 66(716), 12.Kumaradivelu, B.( 2003). Beyond Methods: Macrostrategies for Language Teaching.Yale University Press: New Haven and LondoLantolf, J. (2000) Second language learning as a mediated process. Language Teaching, 33:79-96Martindale, C. (2001). Oscillations and analogies: Thomas Young, MD, FRS,genius. American Psychologist, 56, 342-345.Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962) Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Piaget, J. (1974). To Understand is to Invent. New York:Viking Press.Prabhu, N. S. (1987) Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford. Oxford University Press.Rogers, C. R. (1969). Freedom to Learn. Columbus, Ohio: Charles Merrill.Shewe, M. and Shaw, P. (eds) (1993) Towards Drama As a Method in the Foreign Language Classroom. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.Slade, P. (1954) Child Drama. London: University of London Press.States, B. (1987) Great Reckoning in Little Rooms. Berkeley, University of California Press.Taylor, T. (1997) Theorising Language. Oxford: Pergamon.Vygotsky, L.(1987) The Collected Works of L. Vygotsky. Volume 1. Thinking and Speaking. New York, NY: Plenum Press.Way, B. (1967) Development Through Drama London: Longman.Williams, M. and Burden, R. L. (1997). Psychology for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Woolland, B. (1996) The Teaching of Drama in the Primary School. London: Longman.APPENDIXSome Web-based Resources for Drama in English Language Teaching 

02:05 AM May 31 2018




It's quite exciting and promising to see members with an advanced level of English as well as a useful post with grammatically correct sentences. Good job, guys, BurakC, H_Okan, 38, Zekielt and Seddy. 

Best regards,


09:12 AM May 08 2018


The thing comes to my mind when I hear the term drama is improvisation activities. At least, that is what I think is the most effective way to utilize drama in a classroom setting. Of course, one can make students perform a text but using drama in suchmanner limits its ability to enhance and employ students' creativity. Performing a text can help students implicitly learn what to say in certain situations, even though it may not be how they would normally react,but the requirement to follow the text given is not much different than Audiolingual methods rote learning. Having rehearsed mayimprove students' chance of saying the correct phrase maybe, but it doesn't leave much room for flexibility. Therefore, my standon drama is that it should be used to helpfacilitate a context for students to improvise on the given situation. Only in this way drama would be helpful by making students practice the language authentically.

06:23 AM May 08 2018


Well before reading this article i didn't think to highly about drama. I thought it was just exajurrating things for fun. Bu after reading this article i realized i was wrong. I realized just how effective it can be in the classroom. Drama is is a tool with many functions it helps people express themselves, it keeps them active and above all it makes learning enjoyable. Believe that having a enjoyable class is one of the qualities that define a great teacher. Thus i believe that drama may enable us to take a step towards becoming a great teacher.

06:15 AM May 08 2018


Drama means performing a play or some situation we might encounter in daily life through dialogues,gestures and body language in front of a live audience

Drama has some advantages and disadvantages in teaching L2 and in my opinion the disadvantages of drama outweigh the advantages of drama.For example;Drama is based on the constant memorization therefore it might accostum students to memorizing anything and deter them from producing something new.Secondly,Drama might cause uncontrolled fun among students and make impossible of management of classroom especially in primary school for teacher at the same time students may consider drama an opportunity to get rid of 'a real work'.Along with it students who are bad at drama might feel 'loser' in compered with students who are good at drama.Also each student does not like drama therefore they lose focus on it.

As for advantages of drama,thanks to drama students learn new words,new structures of sentence and might develope comminicative skills however drama is based on memorization.Secondly,students learn how to cooperate withn eachother and take on responsability.Also thanks to drama students learn how to cope with some situation they may encounter in daily life and lastly thanks to drama students might get courage to speak in front of a live audiance.

All in all,I personally don't consider drama an effective technique of teaching L2 especially in elementry school 

06:12 AM May 08 2018


I really liked this post, because it properly explained what drama is, and how it can be used in teaching a language. It has also convinced of drama' s effectiveness in the classroom. I believe that in the future i will incorporate some drama into my classes.

12:55 PM May 06 2018



Drama for me, in teaching, is a tool to engage learners. Leaving learners passive in classroom is the worst thing and this is where drama comes in handy.
In language teaching, i think it's very effective. Improvisations are allowed and that's a good thing. Especially for young learners since their imagination runs wild. Also, learners who volunteer enjoy it anyways and those who don't enjoy, leaving learners somewhat 'free' will allow them to do so. No need to mention about drama's letting learners interact with each other. That's one of the keypoints in language learning, being surrounded with the target language and having oppurtinities to use the target language.
All in all, drama is a great tool to catch learners' interest. In my opinion, that's the most important thing in language learning.

05:33 AM May 04 2018



1) What is drama for you and as a teacher candidate how do you see drama in language teaching? Please let us know your opinions after reading this article!

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