Movement & Drama in ELT
- by Juliet du Mont
Drama activities in the language classroom are a well established tradition, but the mention of movement tends to provoke a question regarding its relevance to learning a language.
I have always loved both words and movement. Twenty years ago in New York I began experimenting with uniting the two by creating a dance solo accompanied by words rather than music. Dance and words are often viewed as unnatural partners but during this process I became aware of inherent parallels in terms of rhythm, flow and phraseology.
Much more recently in Nairobi, Kenya, I was working on an ELT classroom-based research project which touched on different learner types, and became especially interested in the kinaesthetic learner. At the end of the project one of the participants remarked that for her learning had to do with the whole body, all of the senses, linked to her experience of life. She said, ‘One learns with everything’. This comment gave impetus to the construction of an outdoor dance floor under the tree canopy which became the context for experimentation with integrating movement and language learning.
In this paper I will say why I feel incorporating movement into learning a language is important, examine why it is not widely used, and briefly recommend groundwork and approaches for including movement in ELT.
According to British drama educator Dorothy Heathcote, effective drama is achieved by taking students´ minds off themselves. Fluency in language learning is certainly much helped by students losing self-consciousness, and drama, by appealing to the imagination, is an excellent way of achieving this. But how is drama separable from movement? As Barker says, ´…acting is above all a physical activity…´ [1977, p.27], which implies that movement’s presence in the ELT classroom should automatically be guaranteed.
Capturing the imagination of your learners supplies a precious learning tool. In Nairobi, the fact of learning English in the open air was already different, but add to that the invitation to learn whilst moving freely and you have a situation which is original to the point where in the case of adults, a moment of acclimatization is necessary. However, the unusualness of the learning situation caught their imagination, creating an openness to experimentation with various ways of learning through movement.
The oral and visual senses are those traditionally associated with language learning,but approaches involving the other senses also have great power to capture the imagination, e.g.the tactile sense which acts as reinforcement to the visual in memorization, or can be used in isolation to elicit description from the learner who describes an object with the eyes closed. Both smell and taste are also triggers for description and storytelling, especially powerful when eliciting memories. However, there is also that often neglected extra sense, the kinaesthetic. This is sometimes used as a synonym for touch, but whose broader meaning according to The American Heritage Dictionary is the following: ‘the sense that detects bodily position, weight, or movement of the muscles, tendons, and joints’. It is this sense which I suggest is a widely underused tool in English language teaching. Using movement in the ELT classroom as an adjunct to visual and oral input enhances fluency, can facilitate the learning of tricky language areas and helps to create a learning-receptive state.
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