Drama techniques to get them talking

Drama techniques which focus on getting across meaning with body, as well as words, are very useful for the language classroom.

Clare Lavery

These techniques:

  • Encourage creativity of thought
  • Appeal to reluctant speakers
  • Appeal to the more 'physical' learner
  • Reinforce understanding of language as a way to communicate meaning
  • Are suitable for all levels

Words with mime and movement

This is an activity to revise recently learnt vocabulary. You need to prepare a set of word cards with words that allow for mime or movement, such as happy or swimming. Then follow these steps:

  • Students sit or stand in a circle with you in the centre.
  • Say a word from a pile of word cards.
  • Indicate the first student to start the game. This student steps into the circle and either mimes the meaning of the word with body/hand movements or says the word with a voice reflecting the meaning of the word. For example:
    • slow = Said very slowly or mimed with a slow swaying movement of the arms.
    • frightened = Said or mimed with a look of fear on the face and/or a tone of terror.
  • After the first player mimes/says the word they must step back into the circle. Then each student in the circle must step in and repeat until the whole group has mimed or said it.
  • Continue round the circle, giving a new word for each student to try out. Keep the movement around the circle fairly rapid.

Lost for words – mime to get your message across

It can be helpful to put students in the shoes of a foreigner who has to get their meaning across with mime, gesture and sound effects! This practises communication survival techniques. The game can be played in two teams.

  • Put a set of cards at the front. Each card contains a sentence or question a foreigner might need to say.
  • Ask the first student to come to the front and pick a card. They must then try and make themselves understood to the rest of the class through mime, gesture or even sound effects, but they are not allowed to speak.
  • Invite the other students to guess what the student at the front wants to say, for example:
    • He wants to say, 'Have you got the time?'
    • No, I think he's asking if the bus is coming.
  • You could use these sentences: I don't feel well. You mustn't smoke in here. Have you got any change for this note? How does this machine work? Where's the nearest hospital? Can I have some sugar for my coffee? Is this the queue for sending a parcel? Does this bus go to the centre? What's the wi-fi password?
  • With higher levels you can lead in to a discussion on how people react to foreigners who cannot speak their language. Do people tend to speak more loudly to foreigners? Do they think volume makes a difference to understanding?

Shadowing the video – mime to get in to character

Show students a short situation on video. This could be a social situation, such as a conversation in a public place like a hotel reception or airport. Choose short clips with two or maximum three characters and a short three or four line dialogue.

  • Play the clip with the sound off. Students watch and study the faces and body movements of the characters. Ask them all to look at one character or give them each a character to focus on.
  • Students must watch again but try to shadow the movements of the character. This involves moving their bodies in the same way, their faces taking the same expressions and moving their lips in the same way. You might like to break this task down and focus on body movements first and then shadowing the lips in a second viewing. Demonstrate this technique yourself.
  • Show the clip again with the sound on but tell students to continue shadowing and mouthing the words.
  • Put students in pairs/small groups and ask them to act out the situation again with their voices too. Tell them to try and stay 'in character' with body movement, etc.
  • With higher levels you can lead in to a discussion on how important facial expressions and body language are. While they were shadowing the video, did they find they were gesturing or moving differently to how they would normally? How much do people normally gesture while talking in their culture?
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