Why do this?

The theory behind the exercises and why they are useful for language teaching

Full theoretical premise can be found on Skemman.


This project is a collection of teaching materials and exercises for the English classroom based on drama techniques, a guide on how to implement such techniques in the classroom, a theoretical explanation of why these exercises are helpful for students and teachers, and a website so that the exercises can be easily accessed. The project aims to help English teachers implement creative techniques in their classrooms with an accessible and achievable collection of materials. Drama techniques have significant pedagogical value, and many teachers want to use them in their classrooms, but they are unsure how and where to start (Bora, 2019). This collection of materials will include a guide on how to start using drama techniques in the classroom and examples of warm-ups and exercises with detailed descriptions.

Drama techniques are, at their core, communicative and cooperative. The best way to learn a language is to use the language, as often as possible and in as many varied situations as possible. Drama techniques offer students the opportunity to use the language frequently and authentically. By using drama techniques and exercises, students train their speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. By engaging with the material creatively, the students gain a deeper understanding and think about the material more critically than they would if they were only memorizing plot points to answer a multiple-choice quiz (Winston, 2012).

Alvarado (2017) presents seven reasons why drama is a powerful tool in the language classroom.

  • “Drama is an ideal way to encourage learners to communicate for real-life purposes.
  • To make language learning an active motivating experience.
  • To help learners gain the confidence and self-esteem needed to use the language spontaneously.
  • To bring the real world into the classroom.
  • To make language learning memorable through direct experience.
  • To stimulate learners' intellect, imagination, and creativity.
  • To develop students' ability to empathize with others and thus become better communicators."

Drama does not need to be exclusive to the rehearsal and performance of plays or big productions. Teachers can easily implement dramatic techniques in their classrooms with an engaging, interactive, and participatory form of pedagogy known as "Process drama" (Winston, 2012). Process drama is an approach where the drama is concerned with “the development of a wider context for exploration a dramatic world created by the teacher and students working together within the experience” (Kao & O’Neill, 1998). Explorations of fictional roles and situations in various dramatic contexts by the class, developing student’s understanding of the world they live in, and their insight are the key characteristics of process drama. The “end product” of process drama is the experience of the drama and the reflections applied to the work (Kao & O’Neill, 1998).

By using drama techniques, teachers provide ideal conditions for authentic learning. Students can experience a range of interaction types as the drama unfolds as fictional characters in an evolving narrative (Rothwell, 2012). "Drama teaches students many of the skills they need to be an everyday participant in our diverse and complex literate society" (O'Mara, 2008). Drama teaches students about relationships of status and power and how they are shaped within society, and by teaching students about multiple perspectives and putting themselves into other's shoes, they learn to be both empathetic and critical of other voices, to read into the subtext and complexities of situations and to imagine other possibilities and worlds (Ragnarsdóttir & Thorkelsdóttir, 2019). Literacy in the 21st century requires a broader range of skills than before, and drama techniques are an effective way to develop multiliteracy skills. By using drama techniques, students can expand the range of discourses they experience and their abilities to use and understand 21st-century texts by drawing on multiliteracy practices such as reading the semiotics of voice and gesture, learning to read body language and using their own body and voices to communicate effectively (O'Mara, 2008).

Bringing Drama into the Classroom

Process Drama

Anderson et al. (2008) define process drama as

"An improvised drama form for active participants with no performance or external audience. It comprises structured role-play techniques, including experimental role-play, combined with other theatrical conventions and rehearsal exercises."

Using drama in English classes is not a recent invention. One of the pioneers of using drama in English class, Caldwell Cook, emphasized embracing process rather than product (Caldwell Cook, 1917, as quoted in Anderson et al., 2008). A crucial part of the thinking behind using drama techniques in the language classroom is the journey before the destination. That is, rather than focusing on the end goal, whether tests, final assignments, or putting on a play, the focus should be on the process of the everyday classroom. O'Toole (2008) provides a simplified checklist for process drama:

  • "The context - has the situation been clearly set up? Have the students had sufficient time to build belief, to enroll themselves, or understand the perspective of their characters in the situation?
  • The time scale and tempo - are they appropriate? It's tempting to try and rush drama, which actually works better the slower you take it, and the students will learn much more and, in the finish, faster.
  • The focus - are we clearly working inside the dramatic situation, or on the edge, or outside? We've seen how important that is, both for learning and for protection of distance.
  • Dramatic tension - is the class still really engaged with and gripped by the unfinished business, the unanswered questions?
  • The place and the space - are real life and the fiction congruent? Are we trying to have a press conference with the characters sitting on the classroom floor?
  • The language and the movement - is the language we are speaking in appropriate genre and register? Is there sufficient opportunity to physicalize the situation and the gesture?
  • The mood and the dramatic symbols - Are they adding to the significance of the situation or the moment, or not?
If any of these are not properly attended to, little significant meaning will emerge. If a drama seems to be wilting, or going off the rails, which element needs a bit more care and effort from the teacher?"

Drama techniques provide ideal conditions for authentic language learning as students experience a range of interaction types as drama unfolds and develops as fictional characters in a developing narrative. The relationship shifts when the teacher takes part in the drama and lets the students take charge of their learning, and the collaborative nature of drama gives students a more active and equal role in their learning process. Reflections are a crucial part of process drama which develop students' understanding of why they are doing what they are doing and the relationship between language and culture. Process drama also provides context for students in all aspects of their language learning process, increasing opportunities for assessment of authentic language use (Rothwell, 2012).

There are three key elements to process drama, according to O'Toole (2008).

  • First, the participants need a context they can believe in and a "hook" to engage their interest. To create this context, the participants must agree to suspend disbelief and build enough belief in the role-play to make the encounters authentic. The context consists of a fictional but realistic scenario where the participants engage in language encounters that allow them to practice appropriate and focused language use.
  • Second, dramatic tension must be present to give all characters a definite reason to participate in the encounter and some dramatic constraint that makes the situation difficult. To keep the participants engaged and interested, the fictional situation must be problematic for the characters and provide tension in the form of things to find out and achieve instantly (the tension of the task), conflicts to be solved or managed (tension of conflict), tough choices to make (tension of dilemma), and missing information to be gathered and mysteries to unravel (tension of mystery and secrecy).
  • Third, drama must contain a structure that permits the development of both empathy and distance, that is, to be able to step into the shoes of another person and experience their point of view and be able to reflect on the experience, deconstruct it and make the learning explicit. This requires access to a variety of drama techniques, from naturalistic role-play for the empathetic experience, and more theatrical techniques for the distanced deconstruction and analysis.

Process drama has many beneficial qualities for language learning as the techniques engage both body and mind and express both verbal and non-verbal communication. Students get to produce language and express emotions, body language, gestures, posture, and show facial expressions. This adds additional stimuli to the language learning process and helps students connect oral production and visual/kinesthetic stimuli, facilitating creative thinking in the target language (Cheng & Winston, 2012).

Process drama does not need a separate textbook or deviation from the school system's meticulously planned curriculums already in place. Textbooks can be used as genuine pre-text or springboards for drama. O'Neill (1995) defined pre-text as an initial stimulus that triggers dramatic action, which can provoke curiosity and provide motivation to explore a dramatic context. Stories, poems, photographs, films, newspaper articles, or other items can be pre-texts for drama. They must be dramatic enough to "bind the group together in anticipation; in a good pre-text, dramatic tension will already be implied, roles suggested, and action anticipated" (O'Neill, 1995).

Instead of asking students to memorize and parrot the context of a course book, using drama in the classroom can lead to a deeper understanding and more authentic language use (Kempston, 2012). Short stories and poems are often included in textbooks and are more authentic texts compared to two characters having an inauthentic fictional conversation about their summer vacations. Teachers willing to use these texts in more innovative ways, such as pre-texts for process drama, can make it easier for their students to experience spoken discourse of a genuine and authentic nature (Cheng & Winston, 2012).

The Role of the Teacher

Teaching covers more than just possessing knowledge about a certain subject. Teachers must create a suitable environment in every single class for learning to take place and keep in mind all the individual needs and learning styles as well as the emotional states of their students, some of whom do not even want to be there. Teachers must be able to interact with students skillfully and in memorable and sometimes entertaining ways to transfer their knowledge to their students. Teaching requires teachers to be spontaneous, flexible, and able to improvise as lessons sometimes go in an unexpected direction, if students ask unexpected questions, or if activities take longer than planned. Therefore, teachers and actors share many skillsets as they both must transmit their ideas, knowledge, and feelings to their "audiences" in a captivating and memorable way. This is why it is useful for teachers to try and employ some theater-based skills they can apply to their teaching (Almond, 2005).

Dramatic teaching methods can benefit second language learning. Many teachers want to try and implement these methods into their curriculum but are unsure where to start or how to justify using them to other teachers or parents. Teachers and students can often be reluctant to partake in drama activities as their creative and improvisational nature is sometimes perceived as "childish," "unprofessional," or "silly." Students often refuse to participate in drama activities as they perceive them to be meaningless or useless games and are afraid of being seen taking part in something so childish (Kao & O'Neill, 1998). Some teachers think that special and extensive training is needed in order to use drama activities in their classrooms and therefore dare not even attempt to use these techniques. Others do not feel they are ready to perform in front of their students as they feel they cannot be vulnerable (Royka, 2002, as quoted in Zúñiga & Gallardo, 2013). Drama techniques can be intimidating for many as they fear judgment from others. However, the only way to get over these fears is to try out drama activities and gain more knowledge about these techniques (Zúñiga & Gallardo, 2013).

Being a teacher is an improvisational vocation at its core. Teachers need to be flexible and react to situations with alacrity and professionalism, as unplanned situations must be handled immediately. As much work as teachers put into planning lesson plans and learning environments, they often must change their plans according to the student's needs and inputs.

"The challenge facing every teacher and every school is to find the balance of creativity and structure that will optimize student learning. Great teaching involves many structuring elements, and at the same time requires improvisational brilliance." (Sawyer, 2011, as quoted in Lehtonen et al., 2016).

Learning improvisation can help students and teachers as they train to react to input and therefore help in professional and collaborative development. (Lehtonen et al., 2016). In a 2005 study (Lobman, 2005, as quoted in Lehtonen, 2016), early childhood teachers noted that a yes-and-focused improvisation workshop that aimed at training teachers' ability to produce, accept, and continue ideas had improved their interactions with students. The teachers reported feeling more confident in risk-taking, using their creativity, and listening and accepting their student's ideas and inputs. Some key concepts frequently discussed in theater improvisation literature that enable successful collaborative improvisation include: "spontaneity, presence, accepting ideas, tolerating mistakes, group mind, and shared cultural conventions" (Lehtonen et al., 2016).

These elements are also an important part of an accepting and student-centered classroom. Being able to tolerate incompleteness and have the capacity to make rapid decisions, manage the classroom, and create a positive learning environment are all needed if teachers want to find and make space and time for student's ideas and creative solutions when using dramatic teaching methods (Toivanen 2013, as quoted in Lehtonen et al., 2016). Teachers must be holistically present to effectively take in and encourage students' perspectives and decision-making processes. To do this, they must be willing and able to give up the normal social role of the teacher-centered classroom and take part in and concentrate on the interactions of the drama exercises.

Students are perceptive and know when their teachers are present and active listeners who react to their students' inputs and initiatives. This promotes a positive atmosphere with mutual trust where the students feel secure and able to take risks (Lehtonen et al., 2016). Teachers must be responsible leaders and guiding co-learners when using drama techniques. They must be flexible in their role and be willing to become a part of the group and learn alongside their students (McLauchlan & Winters, 2014, as quoted in Lehtonen et al., 2016).


Teacher-in-role is when teachers participate in process drama or role-play as characters within the scene. The teacher can advance or control the action, provide tension, pose a problem or challenge, and help the students from the inside without stopping the drama or taking students out of the dramatic zone (Anderson et al., 2008). Although teachers are used to a higher-status role as class controllers and knowledge providers in the classroom, they should consider taking on lower-status roles when participating in drama. Choosing the lower-status role gives the teacher a "far greater scope to control and deepen the range of interaction, thinking, and language use" (O'Toole, 2008).

Although it may seem self-contradictory, reducing one's status gives the teacher more power because, in that role, they can react unexpectantly or make it challenging for students by demanding the students take greater control and responsibility in the scene, which then demands higher order of thinking and language skills. Teacher-in-role not only helps students take more responsibility for their own learning but also gives the teacher a chance to model the appropriate register and genre of language, vocabulary, and syntax during the drama.

Teachers do not have to be accomplished actors to model acting for their students. They only need to be prepared and ready to step into a character's shoes and see things through their eyes (O'Toole, 2008). Drama techniques should be considered an opportunity to break down the traditional disparity between the teacher and their students and able them to build a personal relationship (Toivanen et al., 2009, as quoted in Lehtonen et al., 2016). It is still essential that the teacher maintains control of the class and the drama exercises, as they must keep the activity manageable and goal oriented. By taking on a role in the drama relevant to the situation, teachers can put pressure on students to use sophisticated and appropriate language.

Several roles are helpful for teachers to take control of the pace of the drama from a position as a provocateur, being diametrically opposed to the other characters in the fiction, an unhelpful messenger who throws in a bombshell without taking any responsibility, someone who needs help or information, or someone who has the information needed but is reluctant or unable to deliver it coherently (O'Toole, 2008). As the students mature and get used to doing the drama exercises, they are more able to take responsibility for and control of their actions, allowing teachers to cede the majority of the talking during class to the students and therefore making the students take more control over their own learning (O’Toole, 2008).

Using Drama Regularly

The British Council (1977) recommends introducing dramatic activities gradually in lessons to slowly create a habit, avoiding negative attitudes towards these techniques. Enough space is also preferable, as drama techniques can require space to move around and interact with others. Moving desks and chairs to clear a space or move the students into a different classroom can be time-consuming. Therefore, it is necessary to develop systematic routines with the students to increase efficiency and haste.

Time is also an invaluable resource, and teachers must pay attention to time spent on activities and need to be able to stop an activity when it takes too much time, even though they are being well-developed. Although stopping an activity early might cause some frustration, it is important to leave enough time to reflect on the activities and what may have caused the "premature" ending. By keeping these elements in mind, teachers can get their students to engage in the lesson with a mindful mindset and not only learn another language but also gain a positive attitude toward their classmates, teachers, and the context of the lesson in general (Zúñiga & Gallardo, 2013).

Although there is a learning curve to use drama techniques effectively, they are worth the effort as they not only help students but can also help teachers develop professionally and should therefore become a regular part of the everyday language classroom. Learning is a part of teaching, mistakes will be made initially, and some exercises may flop. If the teacher has a genuine relationship with their students, they will be helpful and forgiving (O'Toole, 2008). Drama is motivating and fun and a way to get the students to do most of the talking in class and is therefore beneficial to both teachers and students.

Full theoretical premise can be found on Skemman.