The theater breathes life into English and infuses students with a sense of drama. Unlike left-brained activities that have long dominated English Second Language (ESL) classrooms, creative right-brain involvement -- such as writing your own productions or going to the theater -- encourage students to be creative. According to Patricia Guzman, a Chilean actress who speaks impeccable English, "The theater is an emotional venue and it is a wonderful place to learn English. You want to understand what the actors are saying because you empathize with them, you get to know them as people. This encourages you to expand your English vocabulary." In-class theater allows students to practice their English language skills in a non-threatening environment.
Act out your own in-class play. Move the desks to the back of the room and set up the stage at the front. Assign everyone a character. Do the play once and then switch characters until everyone has a chance to play all the parts.
Look for different genres -- drama, comedy, musicals -- to broaden the English vocabulary of the students. Break students into small groups and have them write class plays. Have the writers be the directors and producers of their play. Use the terms of theater people, like "stagehand," to build vocabulary.
Write a play for your class. You know the students and their language strengths and weaknesses. Incorporate the English vocabulary they need to know into your production.
Print non-copyrighted plays -- Shakespeare is handy in this regard -- and have students rehearse their parts. The strength of this exercise is the repetition of the language. Just as actors memorize their scripts, so, too, will your students.
Take a class trip to a local theater. Study the script with the students beforehand and review any words they don't understand. Perform the play in class after you see it on the stage.
Invite an actor to speak to your class. Have the students watch the actor's mouth and pay attention to how he pronounces his words. At the theater, tone and pronunciation is paramount, so actors are idea role models.
Have your students mimic the actor's facial movements in the mirror. Compare their mouth movements and facial expressions with what they saw from your guest speaker.
Ask if your class can attend rehearsals at the local amateur theater. If the company agrees, review the script and make sure the students understand the English vocabulary words and the plot of the play. This will make it easier for them to follow.
- Patricia Guzman; Chilean actress; Santiago, Chile.
- Iteslj: Drama Techniques for Teaching English
Jody Hanson began writing professionally in 1992 to help finance her second around-the-world trip. In addition to her academic books, she has written for "International Living," the "Sydney Courier" and the "Australian Woman's Forum." Hanson holds a Ph.D. in adult education from Greenwich University.