What is Drama in ELT?
Most ELT teachers nowadays advocate some elements of a ‘Communicative Approach’ and therefore recognise and appreciate the value of Drama in ELT. Drama can be defined as activity involving people in a social context and there is no doubt that effective communication in social situations involves other forms of communication that go beyond language competence and includes the use of gesture, body posture, intonation and other prosodic features. However the inclusion of drama based activities is not so evident in current ELT course books, resource books, supplementary materials and teacher training courses. Teachers clearly need practical step by step guidance on how to incorporate drama more comprehensively and cohesively into their teaching.

Why Use Drama?
Drama is an active approach to learning where participants identify with roles and situations to be able to engage with, explore and understand the world they live in. This goes beyond language, as social interaction involves communication on multiple levels that cross cultural and language boundaries. By being part of a drama ensemble and participating in a fictitious context, the class is experiencing a shared moment of intensity that involves emotions, facial expressions, gesture, movement and a heightened awareness of others, that would not necessarily be experienced outside the drama environment. Students are thus freed from the constraints of precision of language, that may be required in the conventional language classroom, and are equipped with many other tools with which to communicate meaning.

Humans are physical, mental and psychological beings. When encouraging our students to learn another language we need to recognise and satisfy their ‘whole person’ needs and abilities. In other words we need to address physical, mental and psychological as well as purely linguistic needs. Typically language learning is confined to the mental world of problem-solving, rule application and artificial contexts. Drama is a way of unlocking the ‘whole-person’ and developing physical, creative, imaginative and emotional responses to learning contexts.

Essentially drama liberates the student from the confines of the conventional classroom environment and structure and gives the student the opportunity to draw on their own experiences and imagination, in creating the material on which part of the language class is based. These activities draw on the natural ability of every person to imitate, mimic and express him or herself physically. They are dramatic because they arouse interest by drawing on the unpredictable emotional power generated when emotional memory is triggered by a stimulus and when a person is brought together with others.

As an ensemble the class can learn and discover together, all the while feeling part of something larger than themselves and experiencing the support of the group. By being part of this safe environment students are able to take risks, build on the strengths of others and grow in confidence, making decisions and taking actions on behalf of the group. The Drama context also allows participants to be distanced or liberated from themselves to speak and behave in role, allowing their character to voice truths and opinions that the individual may not express in daily life.

Drama takes as its starting point ‘life’ not language and by so reversing the learning process, that is, by beginning with meaning and then moving to language later we are able to draw on the full range of a learners’ multiple intelligences and exploit learning as a ‘whole-person’ approach. The Drama environment builds on the personalities, energy and ideas of the participants, so is alive and always changing and evolving. Because of this no two Drama lessons are the same, and the level of the work is determined by the nature of the group. One Drama idea or plan is therefore very versatile and can be used and adapted for multiple levels and ages.

The advantages of using drama.

One of the main aims of using drama in a language course is to provide an active, stimulating, fun and creative environment in which to develop the student’s language learning potential. Students are encouraged to explore English through their imagination and creativity and to express this through language, and other forms of communication, that may include: movement, action, dance, and role-play.

These activities aim to develop:
· Confidence, motivation, trust and participation
· Oral and written communication skills
· Awareness of interpersonal and sociocultural communication skills
· Accuracy and fluency of expression
· Rhythm and pronunciation
· Linguistic intelligence
· Social interactive skills

The methodology.
Language in ELT course books is typically presented without the need for learners to be actively engaged. In other words traditional classroom activities have only a surface reality and fail to appeal to, and draw on the learners’ emotional reactions and direct experience. There is a need for learners to empathize with and to be emotionally involved in the creation of language. Drama incorporates the following principles:
· Interactive Learning: The concept of interactive learning necessarily entails a lot of pair and group work in the classroom, as well as genuine language input from the “real world” for meaningful communication.
· Learner-centered Learning: This kind of instruction involves the giving over of “power” in the language learning process to the learners themselves. It also strives to allow for personal creativity and input from the students, as well as taking into account their learning needs and objectives.
· Cooperative Learning: This concept stresses the “ensemble” like nature of the classroom and emphasizes cooperation. Students share information and help, and achieve their learning goals as a group.
· Whole language approach:. The philosophy of whole language is based on the concept that students need to experience language as an integrated whole. It focuses on the need for an integrated approach to language instruction within a context that is meaningful to students.

What are the problems?

There are many problems that can emerge for the teacher inexperienced in using drama activities in the classroom. Teachers who work in a traditional environment and follow a very structured syllabus are often afraid to experiment with more student centred activities. These fears are usually based around the apprehension that the class will become noisy, unfocused and the teacher will lose control. The reality is in fact the opposite: a learner-centred class where students are working collaboratively in groups, if carefully organized and well set up, is easily managed and apart from monitoring then groups the teacher is free. This contrasts with the teacher centred class where the teacher has to monitor an motivate 20 –30 individuals continuously without a minute’s respite. There are however problems that arise in drama based classrooms.  These include:

  • Learners use L1 persistently
  • Learners don’t participate
  • Learners make lots of errors
  • Dominant / shy students
  • Learners get confused and do not know what to do
  • Noise
  • Chaos

These problems may occur in many learner-centred communicative activities and can be remedied by the following solutions:

 Explain the rationale. Tell your students why you are doing these activities. If the aim is to develop oral fluency then explain to your learners that it is important for them to try to speak in English and not their L1. Only by practicing speaking in English will their oral fluency improve. This explanation of the rationale can be reinforced in many activities by having a penalty for L1 use. One way is to nominate a student as a language policeman who reports infringements of the rule.

 Prepare students thoroughly. Prior to any communicative activity learners need to have sufficient controlled practice of the language they need to perform the tasks. This will include relevant lexis, language structures and pronunciation practise. Many weaker students are reluctant to participate in freer activities because they feel under prepared and lacking in confidence.

 Give clear instructions. Communicative activities are often complex to set up. You need to have clear instructions and stage the instructions carefully. This typically involves the following stages:

  1. Introduce the topic / aim of the activity
  2. Show any relevant materials
  3. Give clear instructions
  4. Check instructions by asking checking questions
  5. Briefly demonstrate the activity with a student / or get students to do an example / model.
  6. Put students into relevant pairs / groups
  7. Monitor students and help them as necessary.

 Allow plenty of preparation time. Students need time to prepare both their ideas and rehearse the language before they can perform a complex communicative task. Indeed the more time they have to prepare the better they will perform the task. A lack of preparation time will produce a poor quality performance and this leads to feelings of frustration and disappointment. The opposite of what we are aiming to achieve. Students also need time to think. In a communicative / drama language class some of the most productive work is processed during periods of complete silence. Language teachers are often afraid of silence, as they believe silence means incomprehension. Teachers should avoid filling silence with their own voice but instead exploit the silence as necessary learner thinking time.

 Prepare the formation of groups careful. The composition of groups is important. Learners should have a variety of focus and interact with as many different learners as possible. You need to consider balancing strong / weak learners, as well as considering personalities, gender etc. If you do not plan groups carefully it is likely that the strong learners will dominate and the weaker learners soon lose motivation and interest.

 Feedback. After every communicative / drama task there should be a feedback stage where the learners reflect on their performance. The focus should be on how effectively they performed the activity in terms of their communicative competence. It should not be a stage where the teacher focuses on errors or language accuracy as the aim of drama based activities is to develop fluency. It is of course an opportunity to highlight effective language use and introduce language that could have improved the effectiveness of the communication. The feedback stage should also be an opportunity to praise the learners on their performance and highlight the progress and development they are making in their communicative competence. The lesson should end on a high note with students leaving the class with a smile of accomplishment on their faces and the ringing of loud applause in their ears.

Works cited

Carroll, J (2006) ‘Real Players?: drama, technology and education’, London: Trentham

Crinson, J & Leake, L (Eds) (1993) ‘Move back the desks’, Sheffield: NATE

Halliday, M.A.K (1978) ‘Language as Social Semiotic’, London: Arnold

Kempe, A & Holroyd, J (2004) ‘Speaking, Listening and Drama’, London: David Fulton

Wagner, B.J (1998) ‘Drama and Language Arts: What research shows’, Portsmouth: Heinemann


About Tom Godfrey

I am an ELT teacher and teacher trainer. I am Director of ITI, Istanbul a training institute in Istanbul. I am also founder of Speech Bubbles theatre which performs musicals to raise money for children and education.
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  1. Aisha Ertugrul says:

    Hi Tom,
    Congratulations on the start of your blog.

    It will be refreshing to find someone to follow who is part of the forces on the ground, working hand in hand with large groups of teachers from all over the world, not up in the clouds and disconnected.

    I am looking forward to reading reading your blog so I can get an insider’s perspective from the work you do.

  2. nellyoo says:

    I’m studying Drama in ELT as well. I hope we both share experiences and reserches.
    I’m glad that I can see u here.

    • nana says:

      Hello Nellyoo!! May I ask you where you study Drama in ELT? I’m a grad student who tries to develop drama techniques in English classes. I’m also an English teacher in Korea. I will look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time!

      • Tom Godfrey says:

        I am essentially an ELT teacher and teacher trainer but I find it useful to exploit drama techniques in the classroom. I did study drama at Kent Univeristy over 30 years ago but everything since has been largely experimenting with ideas.

  3. Elif Lil says:

    I love using drama in my classes.
    Is it possible for you to share with us the lyrics of the song “you cheated” you and others performed at Çevre?
    Many thanks

    • Tom Godfrey says:

      You cheated – cheated Cheated – cheated Don’t want o be repeated Teachers not around She is out of eyesight Written on your arm The answers are right

      (Sung to the chorus of Michael Jackson: Beat it)

  4. martyn rule says:

    To ; Tom Godfrey…Great to have a post on making it real…and for offering your very unique and inspiring healing experiences/blogs on the whole person …

    here’s my view on humanising language learning from the prospective of me re-entering the teaching ‘market’ after a time away…
    Classroom teaching still inevitably suffers from top heavy demands ..the usual allergy-inducing-type rote learning of time limits, test-based learning, classroom formalities and lack of real engaging use. Language for language sake a dull boy/girl makes. EFL teaching and learning needs all the holistic healing it can get , to make proficiency a non-frontal lobe activity but one which is experiential, social and above all turns learning into a nurturing relationship with language itself. Playing out or acting , potentially provides all the subliminal and conscious interactions which memory loves to use for a complete resource of language.
    Why-o-why don’t we have more EFL trainings and schools that advocate and demonstrate the new learnings to new teachers instead of demanding a neolithic form of isolated text based study which is even antithetical to contemporary demands of the whole person.

    I mention here the names of Sir Ken Robinson ,Dr, Oliver Sacks, Johns Taylor Gatto and the renowned Alan Maley who in a speech (as I remember) at a British Council-sponsored humanistic gathering in Italy last year (the Lend conference) bravely noted that classroom teaching is mostly about control and really not about learning.

    Drama at the induction stage of even some of the world’s most respected teaching diplomas can provide the backbone of neurological development and retention which grammarian and bureaucratic processing of labels promises, but fails to achieve.
    Simply because most humans are human language users first, and not language ‘functionaries’.

    Here’s a link on the topic about memory , movement , acting and language:-


    PS..if anyone knows of a CELTA course that also makes the learning fun and useful .. then drop me a line before end of June 2011, here, as a reply… 🙂


  5. Pingback: The Best Resources On Using Drama In The Classroom | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

  6. it training says:

    You have made some really good points there. I looked on
    the net for more information about the issue and found most
    individuals will go along with your views on this website.

  7. Chauncey says:

    I will immediately clutch your rss as I can not find your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service.
    Do you’ve any? Kindly allow me understand so that I could subscribe. Thanks.

  8. Prakash Dahal says:

    Very useful for the english language teachers who are serious about their students ‘ language performance

  9. I have been surfing online greater than three hours lately,
    yet I by no means discovered any attention-grabbing
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  10. ASIM YALNIZ says:

    Hello, Tom
    I had the privilige of attending your Drama activities session in DELTA this summer. Unfortunately I seem to have lost the notes I took about the procedure of each activity (i.e. Master Bugie, Freezing scenes, etc.). Is there any reference that you can direct me to? Best, Awesome

  11. Pingback: DRAMA: A Multiple Intelligence Experience | Inspirare

  12. Tesfaye Hambissa says:

    HellO! It is a good guide you presented on how to use dramma in a classroom. But how can I manage to use dramma in a large class size? -for example 50 students in a classroom

    • Tom Godfrey says:

      The great advantage of drama is that it is learner centred. Activities can be set up with learners working in groups of 6 – 8. So in a class of 50 this would be about 8 groups to monitor.
      The key is setting up the activities so learners know what to do.
      I have done drama lessons with large classes 50 – 80 and demonstrated some ideas at conferences with up to 400 participants taking part.
      Large numbers need a large space and awareness that noise levels will be high.
      I am going to upload a few of my favourite lesson plans over the next month so you can see the stages I use to set up activities.

    • Tom Godfrey says:

      The great advantage of most drama activities is they are conducted in groups and are learner-centred. This means they adapt well to large classes (obviously if there is sufficient space). I have done drama activities in conference workshops with over 200 participants. The main obstacle is usually teacher fear that it won’t work – but this risk-taking is an important part of developing as a teacher too.

  13. Reuben says:

    Just wanna thank you Tom for your blog and posting lovely points. It’s really helping. Drama is really helpful in teaching languages. I am also involved in Drama and know how much it is useful in learning languages. Completely agree with your points. Thank you once again

  14. Tom Godfrey says:

    Thanks Reuben for your comments. I am planning to upload some more of my lesson plans that include drama activities and your comment has prompted me not to delay doing this much longer

    • Reuben says:

      Yes! you must not delay. Please mention one more note that how is your English class different from others. If possible…………..
      Thank you

  15. reuben says:

    Dear Tom, I am very impressed and encouraged after reading yours precious teaching points. If you don’t mind, can I use few of them for my pamphlets and class? I really need them but my conscience doesn’t allow me touch them without taking your permission. I’ll be so great full to you if allow me to use few of them. Thanks a million.

    • Tom Godfrey says:

      Hi Reuben
      Yes please use whatever you like. That is why I upload materials so teachers will use them. If you just add a note that it came from my blog that would be wonderful.

  16. reuben says:

    Waiting eagerly for your reply.Thank you

  17. florence says:

    Nice work

  18. Akalari Jonathan Azolile says:

    Please how do I cite this work in my research project?

  19. Pingback: Yaratıcı Drama | Pearltrees

  20. savageward says:

    This is a very useful article for presenting an approach. For teachers who are looking for plays and curriculum for English learners I’d like to suggest Alphabet Publishing’s Integrated Skills through Theater. Each book involves a short one-act play and ancillary activities and suggestions.

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