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12 Fascinating Ways to Use Drama in the Curriculum

Loriana Romano, Lisa Papa, and Elita Saulle

Integrating Drama Throughout the CurriculumThe History of Drama in Education

The use of drama has been used over the course of history from the time of Aristotle, who believed that theatre provided people a way to release emotions, right to the beginning of the progressive movement in education, where emphasis was placed upon “doing” rather than memorizing. Integrating drama helps children in various ways. In this fantastic resource: ‘The Arts as Meaning Makers’, written by Claudia E. Cornett and Katharine L. Smithrim, there are 12 essential points that we strongly agree to be important to consider:

1. Drama is part of real life and prepares students to deal with life’s problems.
Drama simply allows students the opportunity to rehearse roles, further giving form or shape to the individual and personal ideas and feelings they are naturally experiencing. Overall, this allows students to make sense out of their ‘real’ life problems.

2. Drama engages students in creative problem-solving and decision making
Deep experiences through drama guides and supports student’s problem solving skills, while at the same time, works to encourage an increasing awareness in how to solve issues at hand. Instead of school just being a place where students are being taught and told what to think and feel, drama turns this into a deeper experience in thinking, further motivating students to question, respond, and explain what they are feeling and thinking.

3. Drama develops verbal and nonverbal communication
Through different characters, students share the opportunity to expand their problem solving skills both verbally and non-verbally, making room for a sense of creativity. As well, students practice and build upon various communication skills through the use of body language, facial expressions and different voices.

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4. Drama can enhance students’ psychological well-being
Under different characters, students can express their true feelings or sense of personality without fear of being judged or criticized. They can work on personal issue or solve personal problems while in character, which can simply help their overall well being. Essentially, what this does is allow students to get things off their mind, further releasing emotion and tension and allowing students to be who they are.

5. Drama develops empathy and new perspectives
Taking on various roles in character allows students to use all senses and characteristics in order to understand the character, as well as, the scenario or story at hand. Learning how to express oneself in different ways and through different means, helps build a strong character and personality.

6. Drama builds cooperation and develops other social skills
Working together as a group promotes, encourages and motivates cooperation. It is essential that each of our students feels accepted and works well with others, in order to create and build a safe environment for all to learn. What drama does is continues to build on this importance. Drama simply brings students together, allowing them to find different characters that best suits them, different roles to express who they are, and different ways to build upon and develop social awareness.

7. Drama increases concentration and comprehension through engagement
Students always learn best when they are engaged and interested, as well as, when they are actively involved. As students are strongly focused and concentrating, their overall understanding simply increases. When we include students in our examples in class, it is more likely that they will grasp the idea more, or make a concrete connection. Drama allows us to do this with our students.

8. Drama helps students consider moral issues and develop values
Drama simply helps students further understand the importance of values they are already aware of, as well as, it guides them in developing and forming additional values. As teachers, it is essential that we allow students the space and opportunity to make this discovery and connection in values and moral issues while they are engaged through drama, rather than impose them.

9. Drama is an alternative way to assess by observing (ex. Externalization)
When teaching new lessons, we always depend on prior knowledge. We start with what students know, which further guides us with the next step to take in our teaching. It is difficult for some of our students to make sense of specific things which is simply where drama fits in. Drama can be used to preview or review a lesson; further allowing teachers to assess what students already know or have learned.

10. Drama is entertaining
Fun is learning, and learning is fun. If we remember this and try to incorporate fun in our teaching, our students will definitely enjoy the learning process. Students enjoy dealing with and discussing real life issues and problems, they like figuring things out, doing interesting things, doing things differently - drama gears towards this and more.  

11. Drama contributes to aesthetic development
Through drama, students learn about a number of things such as conflict and characters, which further allows them to deepen their sensory awareness. In addition to, children also learn how to express themselves through various teaching and learning strategies such as dialogue and improvisation. 

12. Drama offers a learning avenue that enhances other areas of the curriculum
Drama can be used as a teaching and learning tool to help students make meaning of a number of skills they need to be a well rounded individual. It further allows them to experience and explore the world around them through different characters and roles, further building on their relationship with others and things.

In connection to the ways in which integrating drama can help students learn, we have created a list of great activities further emphasizing some of the creative ways drama enhances the classroom environment while also building upon a child’s development. These great activities, among many others, can also be found in ‘The Arts as Meaning Makers’, written by Claudia E. Cornett and Katharine L. Smithrim.

Energizers and Warm-ups
Energizers and warm-ups aim towards helping students to unwind and relax, get them focused, and to simply set the atmosphere.

Paraphrasing: K – adult
• Have the children stand up or sit in a circle
• Turn to the student on your left and ask a question - example: What is your favorite color? Or holiday or fruit or game and so forth
• The student gives an answer [example: red]
• Student who asks the question repeats the answer back to the student – example: What is your favorite color Lisa? Lisa: My favorite color is red – Student repeats Lisa’s favorite color is red
• All around the circle until everyone has had a chance to ask and paraphrase
• Reflective questions could be asked such as – What similarities did you notice?
 

Spider Web: K – adult
For this energizer you need a ball of wool.
• Holding a ball of wool have the students begin by stating their name or something pertaining to themselves or something related to the lesson - example: My name is Nancy, I love to walk.
• The student [Nancy] is than required to pass the yarn to another student
• This process goes around until all the students have had a turn
• If time permits the yarn can be passed in reverse and the student is required to say the name out loud along with a part of the statement given by the last student - example: Nancy you love to walk

Mime Exercises
Mime exercises help further develop oral expression and self-esteem. By using attentiveness, students further develop their observational skills through focus and detail.

Number Freeze:

• Students are grouped in assigned numbers - than given a setting by the teacher (ex.farm)
• Teacher calls a number and the students mime an action from the designated setting – example: they may act like a cow
• Next number group is called and they are to mime their designated setting while the other observe

Dialogue Tableaux
Students can group in pairs or small groups to act out a scene. The audience must respond to the scene by telling what they see.

Verbal Strategies
Verbal strategies can be used to review lessons, or for predicting, analyzing material and so forth.

Pair Sound Effects:
• Students are paired and given a letter A or B to choose from
• A makes a sound
• B coordinates the action of A’s sound
• A variation of this strategy could be A makes a sound according to B’s action

Connecting Drama to Curriculum

The purpose of engaging these drama activities to the curriculum is to create a variety of complex opportunities that can help further develop skills within reading, speaking, written and composition.

Language:

Reader’s Theatre:

Students will read a story or part of a story. They will choose specific characters within the story to play out.

Storytelling
The greatest way to motivate the mind is through storytelling because through this flows the power of imagination.

Puzzle Creation:
Each student is given a puzzle piece. They are responsible for writing or drawing a short story about a particular area of interest. This could be related to math, science, social studies and so forth. The students use their puzzle piece connecting it to the match.

Math:

Fraction Mime:
After introducing the concept of fractions, use an open space to have the whole group practice dividing themselves up to solve problems that are given: divide in half, fourths, thirds. When numbers are uneven, ask how this can be shown.

Bibliography:

1. Gibbs, Jeanne. (2001) Tribes A New Way of Learning and Being Together.  Windsor: CenterSource Systems

2. Cornett, Claudia E. and Katharine L. Smithrim. The arts as meaning makers. Toronto,  Ontario: Pearson Education Canada Inc., 2001.