Drama as a Resource for Giving Language More Meaning
by Sam Smith
Where does drama come in?
Why is drama a useful resource?
What is drama?
How to employ drama
In conclusion, a suggestion for employing drama
on my teaching experience, I have realised that an area of
teaching I have not paid enough attention to has been that
of providing my students with adequate opportunity to put
what they have been studying into use.
Combining this with my recent experience with some groups
studying at the rather unusual times, during the afternoon,
and in intensive classes over the last couple of years, where
the students are from quite different walks of life, from
teenagers to late middle aged business men, and therefore
find it difficult to find things of common interest to motivate
them to participate, I decided to turn to drama as a way of
trying to get them more interested in producing some language.
In this paper, I hope to show where drama can be applied,
why it can be a useful resource, looking at the benefits in
terms of situation and motivation, and say what it is, before
going on to look at how to employ it.
does drama come in?
communicative approach to language learning advocates presenting
the language in some way, whether it is a presentation through
a context such as a story or a picture, or through noticing
or consciousness raising in a text for example. This is followed
by some form of controlled practice, through written exercises
and / or through spoken exercises and drills and then more
free practice or providing a chance for learners to produce
the language in a less controlled exercise where the language
could naturally occur.
This approach has seen variations such as Test Teach Test
or the Deep End Strategy, where a task is done first to test
and see what language needs presenting, the Tennis Clinic
Strategy, where the task is first announced and then learners
are given guidance and input before eventual production. But
in all modern approaches, the free practice or actually doing
the task stage is present.
Modern theories on language learning (Thornbury 2001) (Batstone
1994) also place great importance on giving the learners the
opportunity to produce the language in a less controlled context.
Batstone advocates (re)noticing, (re)structuring and proceduralisation
as the 3 stages involved in learning a language. (Batstone
1994) Proceduralisation is making language available to be
used, i.e. ready to be activated from its store in the mental
lexicon on demand (Batstone 1994) and to be able to do this,
a student needs practice in real time in a context where the
language is likely to be used. This freer practice is where
using drama can be a vital resource.
is drama a useful resource?
can enrich the classroom in 2 ways: Firstly through the situations
it allows in the classroom and following from this, the opportunities
it provides to look at a fuller concept of communication,
involving the nature of speech and other paralinguistic clues
to meaning; and secondly through the way it can motivate students.
As the classroom is fairly fixed in its setting, it doesn't
provide much opportunity for learners to fully use their language.
To give learners the opportunity to use language we need to
increase spatial, temporal, hypothetical and social distance.
(Thornbury 2001) Compare the request 'Book, please!' with
'I wonder if you could bring me the book that's on the top
shelf in the cabinet at home, please.' Clearly the second
utterance involves a lot more language practice than the first
in terms of its increased social and spatial distance. Using
drama can provide the opportunity for students to give more
meaning to their utterances in different contexts than the
usual classroom environment allows. Maley and Duff (Maley
& Duff 1978) highlight this in four areas under the broad
heading of situation:
Setting: the physical environment, e.g. a restaurant.
They point out that this may or may not affect the language,
people talk about other things than the food and atmosphere
in a restaurant, but it can affect the nature of the language.
Other things will also affect the language.
'At the dentist's it is certain that the patient's teeth will
be mentioned, but what is important is not just the hole in
the tooth but the nature of the person whose tooth it is.
A nervous patient will need reassuring; a mistrustful patient
may need convincing; an impatient patient may have to be pacified.
The dentist's role, in such cases, extends far beyond the
limits of the waiting - room and the reclining chair.'
(Maley & Duff 1978, 10)
Role and status: Connected with the setting, we can see
that our built - in views of our ever changing roles, in relation
with the roles and status of those around us affect the way
we communicate. A father would speak differently to his son
and his boss and using the dentist again as an example, he
would speak differently to the nurse and the patient: 'I want
you to X-ray the lower left side', a request to the nurse,
and 'Would you mind putting your head back a little further',
a request to the patient.
' If we deliberately ignore the roles, we end up teaching
language in a vacuum. The very fact that we open our mouths
to speak implies that someone will be listening. The listener
is a person. Why ignore him or her?'
(Maley & Duff 1978, 11)
Mood, attitude and feeling: Our feelings and attitudes
and those of our interlocutors colour what we say and how
we say it. Criticising the text book approach of interpreting
second hand feelings and not providing enough input of set
phrases such as 'What a pity!' and 'How nice!', Maley and
Duff advocate using drama to engage students' feelings and
as a result 'making them aware of the need to be able to express
them appropriately'. (Maley & Duff 1978, 11)
Grammar and especially intonation are inter-linked with our
mood and feelings 'It doesn't matter' can be interpreted as
'never mind', don't bother', 'too bad' or 'don't worry about
it' depending on the situation and the speaker's intonation.
(Maley & Duff 1978)
Shared knowledge: The last but important point made by
Maley and Duff concerning situation is that of shared knowledge,
unspoken assumptions and unconscious prejudices. Again criticising
text books for their attention to meaningless phrases such
as 'Mr. Grey's house is big.', taken out of context, or in
a situation where it is clear to all participants in the discourse
that this is true and therefore carries no meaning or communicative
purpose, Maley and Duff advocate using drama to promote real
language and a reason to communicate even at the lowest levels.
(Maley & Duff 1978)
last point, that of shared knowledge, especially, ties in
with recent theories about language acquisition (Skehan 1994),
(Batstone 1994), (Thornbury 2001) that when shared knowledge
is high or there is no context gap, learners can rely on their
communication, or top down, strategies to process meaning
and rely on ungrammatical language or only lexis and gestures
to produce utterances, thus improving their communicative
competence but at the expense of linguistic competence and
possibly leading to fossilisation. As Batstone points out,
there is no reason for students to stretch their existing
inter-language to practice the past tense if it is clear at
the beginning of the exercise that the whole situation takes
place in the past, there needs to be a gap to be filled by
the language used. (Batstone 1994)
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