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Using Drama as a Resource for Giving Language More Meaning
by Sam Smith
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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


Reflecting 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.

Where does drama come in?

A 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.

Why is drama a useful resource?

Drama 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)

This 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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