Happy New School Year, from all of us at English On Stage!
To celebrate the upcoming school year, we’d like to share our 16 tips for teachers who’d like to add a bit of theater into their classroom:
The must-have preparation exercise for any actor before a performance, and a great way to begin a lesson. Warm-Ups are great to get the body and mouth moving, practice what’s been learned, and get the mind focused for upcoming tasks.
EXAMPLE: Simple stretches. The teacher can call out stretches for the students to do (“Reach to the left”, “bend your knees”, “turn your head”…), Student volunteers can call out the stretches, or go through each student (Student A calls out a stretch, the class executes, Student B calls out a different stretch, the class executes, etc.). A simple take on “Simon Says.”
2. Name Game
Variations of these games are often used in acting classes and improvisational theater rehearsals. It’s a great way to get to know each other and/or get involved (and practice English vocabulary and grammar).
EXAMPLE: Ball Pass. You will need a ball (or any other object to pass around).
• Holding the ball, have students begin by stating their name or something about themselves or to the lesson – (“My name is Adam, I love to walk.”)
• The student [Adam] must then pass the ball to another student.
• This process goes around until all the students have had a turn.
• Variation: After one round, the ball 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 – (“Adam, you love to walk.”)
3. Readers’ Theater
A fabulous way to read any text! Students will read a story or part of a story. They will choose specific characters within the story to play out (including the narrator if needed). Remember that although the story is read out loud, each reader is an actor and should use voices, intonations, etc.
4. Picture Drama
Use pictures as starting points for students to create scenes or dialogues. You will need a student to portray each person seen in the picture. The more action present in the picture, the better! The students can improvise the scene, use the picture to write a short scene to be performed later (or given to another group to perform), or use the picture to create a scene that must incorporate recently-learned vocabulary/grammar.
Do you have lots of texts or dialogue in your textbooks? Act them out! Watch stories come to life when they’re acted out instead of read out loud. Putting “character” into any text (ANY text) read aloud will make the text much more engaging and entertaining!
6. New Ending
As a project or homework assignment, students must choose a known piece of literature, and must create an alternate ending. This can be written/scripted, but even more fun if acted out or even improvised (for higher levels). If done individually or in pairs/groups, the class can then vote for their favorite new ending performance.
7. Favorite Scene
Students (in pairs/groups) will act out their favorite scene (from a play or movie). The class will need to guess which play or movie has been portrayed! This is a fun way to get students involved in learning vocabulary and pronunciation. As an added challenge, this task can require students to choose only those scenes that contain certain topics or vocabulary words.
8. Chant Moves
Many songs involve physical movement, such as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “YMCA.” Have students work together to create a song/chant that uses physical movement to help them learn a specific concept. This can be a great way to burn off energy in the classroom while still helping students learn the content. This task can be given to groups, where the chant & moves are taught by each group to all the other groups.
9. Tongue Twister Talent Show
Have students perform a tongue twister. Tongue twisters are great for pronunciation, and are often used by actors to warm-up and develop proper enunciation.
Monologues naturally occur in plays and film, and are an essential part of almost all acting auditions. In class, monologues can be used to develop English speaking skills individually. Start small, depending on the students’ level. Monologues do not need to be over 2 pages long, they can start with just a few sentences. Students should of course add “character”. EXAMPLE: Students can perform a first-person text from the textbook, or write their own monologues based on people they know (famous artists, politicians, family members, or other teachers from the school)!
11. On Screen
Whenever you need to teach a certain grammar structure or topic, it’s always great to incorporate relevant scenes from well-known movies or TV shows. These “reference” scenes are a wonderful way to kick off a lesson or task/assignment (see #5,6,7,10).
12. Student Life
One reason theater is so wonderful and necessary in society is the fact that it can serve as a mirror to our own lives. As an assignment or project, students can write a scene based on a true story from their own life (something that happened in school or at home). This scene can be a comedic or dramatic skit, and it can even be a simple recalling of a situation (going to the supermarket to buy bread). There should be characters and lines (and actions always help).
Variation: This assignment can be split into 2 parts, scene writing and performing. Once scenes have been submitted, they are given to different groups for performance.
Students can vote on the scenes, and the winning scene can be developed into a full play.
If you feel you do not have outgoing or theater-responsive students (it can happen), or if you feel you don’t have the time in class, you can assign some of the above suggestions to be filmed. Filmed projects do not need to be uploaded to YouTube (or can be uploaded as private or unlisted), but can be a more convenient medium for performance-type assignments.
Most plays have been produced more than once, and each production is different. Some directors make completely different choices and wildly different versions of the same story are created. The same is true for film and music. Use this “remake” or “interpretation” format to give students a different approach towards their class work.
EXAMPLE: Have students watch the same scene from the ballet of Romeo and Juliet, a film version of the Shakespeare play, and West Side Story (the 1950’s musical based on the play). Ask students to compare and contrast the three versions, then design their own, 21st-century version.
15. Puppet Show
Puppets are perfect for children and the more introverted students, and provide opportunities to incorporate other forms of art. Students can perform texts from their book, or from a known or their own original script, using puppets! Students can use their toy puppets from home or create their own. This tip isn’t just child’s play, puppets (especially those created by the students themselves), can add great comedy to performances by older groups! Variation: Students must use a different student’s puppet.
16. See a Show!
Take your students to see a performance in English, or, even more conveniently, have a show come to your school!
Get in touch with English On Stage for your English performance needs, performing stage productions and running theater workshops year-round in educational and cultural venues across Israel. Also, there are many more useful tips such as those found in this list within the special Enrichment Booklet provided with every production, including relevant vocabulary, topic references, activities, project guides, and more.
There are not enough words to explain just how important and effective it is to expose students to live theater. Besides the many cognitive, cultural, and social benefits, there is a certain type of inexplicable “magic” that can only be found in a live production of a play in front of an audience.
Theater is not only an authentic language experience for students, it’s also wonderful for those who incorporate it into their lives (in this case, lessons). These tips can improve language learning, develop self-esteem, expand public speaking skills in English, and more importantly, make the subject FUN!