For young children and adults alike it can be intimidating to speak a foreign language in front of other people. Even five-year-olds can be scared of making mistakes and looking silly or it may just be that they are shy and don’t want to talk in class.

Author: 
Jo Bertrand

Introduction
One way of reaching these children is through drama. By giving roles to your pupils they can ‘hide’ behind the character and lose some of their inhibitions. Before actually performing though there are several processes you can go through with the children to create a theatrical environment.

Here are a few suggestions on using a range of drama related activities and creating supporting tools like masks and theatres that will help you play with the language with your pupils and have lots of fun at the same time.

Aims

  • To put the learners at ease
  • To focus their attention on the lesson
  • To personalise the language that they use when acting out a scene
  • To introduce craft-making instructions

Age: 5 years old and up

Warm up activities
The importance of warm up activities should never be overlooked. It’s difficult for anyone regardless of their age to arrive and suddenly launch into drama, especially if it’s in a foreign language. Try some of these activities to relax the children and to help them to focus. You will notice that they are mostly non-verbal activities to provide a non-threatening environment for the younger children. For slightly older children you can add English words where appropriate.

  • For very young learners you can simply smile and ask them to copy you. Then show them a sad face and again ask them to copy you. Pretend to laugh, cry, sing, hide your face and each time ask them to copy you. This is a quick and effective way to focus the children on the lesson, get them calm and introduce them to pretending to be different people.
  • For slightly older children take any sort of object like a ball, book, paper clip or pen and pretend it’s something else. So pretend to brush your hair with the book and then pass it on and ask the next person to pretend it’s something else and so on. If the class know the word in English they can guess what the object is meant to be.
  • Put the class into three groups and stand them in lines or in pairs if it’s more practical for your classroom. If they’re in groups then you can play a team Chinese Whispers except that instead of whispering they draw a letter or number onto the back of the person standing in front of them who in turn tries to draw the same number or letter on the back of the person in front of them and so on. If they’re in pairs then they draw a letter or number onto their partner’s back who has to guess what it was and tell their partner. Then they swap. The idea of this sort of activity is that the children are using their bodies as well as their minds.

Making puppets and theatres
Once your class has their own box theatre you can use it with them all the time to act out new language at the end of the lesson or to introduce new language at the start.

  • Take a shoe box and remove the lid. The lid can be used underneath to stabilize the theatre if need be. Cut out the bottom side of the box leaving a few centimetres around the edges. Then cut out both ends of the box (the shorter ends) again leaving a few centimetres around the edge. These ends will act as the wings from which the characters will make their entrances.
  • The children can decorate the box theatre themselves with card, paper, pens, glitter, etc. Due to the size of the box it’s easier if each child decorates a separate piece of card to then be stuck onto the box.
  • Out of the back of the box going away from the audience you should stick two long sticks or straws coming out horizontally.
  • For the scene changes in groups they can design back drops that can be attached to a long stick which in turn can be placed onto the protruding sticks coming out of the back of the box theatre.
  • For the stick puppets use anything thin and long which is child friendly so no sharp points. Straws are good but you might need to stick a couple together. They can draw, cut out and stick onto the sticks their own puppets. Otherwise you can find what you’re looking for on clipart: http://classroomclipart.com/
  • Other puppets you can make include using toilet rolls, socks, paper.

Making masks and costumes
You don’t need to make elaborate costumes for children to feel like a different character. A symbolic paper crown can make someone a king, or a magic wand made out of card can transform someone into a witch. Concentrate on keeping it simple as the objective is to eventually perform a scene, practise some English, learn English instructions, arouse interest in drama and English alike, but not to spend three weeks making a spectacular Elizabethan costume.

  • Paper plates are great for making masks. For the really young learners you may need to help them with cutting out circles for eyes. For the rest of the face they can decorate with pens or sticking on card. Pre-prepare lengths of string or elastic with knots at one end. Tie a knot on the other end once the child has finished the mask. Then staple both ends of the string to the paper plate. An alternative is sticking a piece of thick card (15x3 cm) onto the plate for the child to hold so the mask looks like a large lollipop.

Writing scripts
Two key points to think about: keep the stories short and simple and allow the children the possibility to use their imagination. These activities can be adapted for younger learners by keeping the story reproduction an oral activity with the use of picture flashcards to prompt ideas and words they have at their disposal.

  • If you have limited resources then you can use a traditional story that you know well. Tell it to the class in your own words first. You should practise saying it out-loud before the lesson and can write down a basic script so that each time you tell it stays the same.
  • Split your class into small groups and allocate a scene to each group. They can then re-tell the scene from what they remember. Any changes they make will only make the story richer!
  • An alternative is that each group re-tells the whole story making two changes. They then practise saying their script and then tell it to the class who has to find the two changes that have been made.
  • Give them a pre-prepared script. In their groups they have to change the end of the story.

Homework and follow-up suggestions
The homework you give will depend on the type of story, play, scene or poem you are acting out with the children. General ideas include drawing a picture of your favourite character or scene for younger learners. For older children they could write letters from one character to another about what happens in the story or write a continuation of the story.

Further reading
For further reading, Drama with children 2 has several suggestions that will help you integrate drama into your classroom. Many of the activities are non-verbal but can be adapted at a later stage.
https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/drama-children-2

Internet links
This site has instructions on how to make puppets and masks:
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/crafts/puppets/
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/crafts/Mask.shtml

Find out more about developing oral skills with props in our teacher development module Understanding puppets and masks for primary.

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