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Creative Drama in the Traditional Classroom  



- Original Welcome
- Introduction
- Why Drama?
- Drama and Development
- The Basics
- Example Lesson
- Second Example
- Bibliography


"At its best, drama can make breaks with the dominant expectations of school and society, and become...a movement toward a consciousness of what might be. In so doing, drama can aid in bringing about needed social changes that...could result in a freer human development." - David Booth

Why Drama

Please read this first: These research pages represent work that was done in 2002 as a defense of theater in an educational environment. The research became the original primary draw for this website. All of the pages are presented in their original form, and are best read in order starting with this page.

     Why drama indeed! There are two primary questions we need to be concerned with. Click on either question to begin the discussion.

  1. Why drama? Why pump effort and money into a subject that is traditionally viewed as entertainment, when academic areas like science or English need the money as well? Why give up precious classroom time to a process that sometimes takes longer than traditional teaching methods.

  2. What can drama offer to a student that no other discipline can? Why replace what has worked throughout educational history with a 'fluff' subject?



"Education is not a commodity. Education is a social relationship." - Margolis

Why drama?

     Let us begin with the first question. Theatre artists have long dealt with asking themselves what the value is in defending and keeping theatre programs alive in the face of rising costs - and in many cases a seeming loss of interest from the general public. Don't believe me? Which would you rather do tonight, go see that new action movie, or go out to a play? Most people have no problem dropping $10 in cash on an evening movie, but mention $5 theatre tickets and they're immediately turned off. But live theatre in any sense of the word costs money, and play productions are expensive. Most community theatre survives on private donations and money from establishments like the National Endowment for the Arts. Ticket sales do virtually nothing to cover the expense of a production.

     So why drama in the classroom? Mention theatre, music, or dance to a school official and likely the first thought across their mind is somehow related to budget cuts. Drama is, bottom line, seen as a fluff subject by many people. What on earth could students possibly learn from drama that is more beneficial than traditional mainstream course work?

     The use of theatre in the classroom both to teach subjects and to develop personal skills in students is well documented, but seldom observed. The broad term 'drama' covers a wide area of techniques incorporating physical movement, vocal action, and mental concentration which traditional classrooms have lacked in quantity and combination in the past. Many teachers are already familiar with the uses of skits - basically improvisations by students - to teach and reinforce material. Many teachers also find that students have a high interest in performing those skits in the classroom. While students will often show interest in these types of activities, teachers without a background in drama will often have a difficult time knowing how to approach the idea of teaching them more in the classroom. In the same manner, a student who needs extra help or a new angle at learning a subject is often self-motivated to find a way to learn the material; however teachers lack the resources to offer the student.

     In the book Drama of Color Saldaña discusses a study done by researchers Gourgey, Bosseau, and Delgado (1985) with lower socioeconomic Black and Hispanic students in elementary school. After a six month improvisational drama project, gains were observed in vocabulary and reading comprehension. Survey results also suggested that students also showed improvement in attitude areas including trust, self-accpetance, acceptance of others, and empowerment Another project discussed in Saldaña's book was conducted by researchers Shacker, Juliebo, and Parker (1993) in which third graders were immersed in a French language acquisition program with social studies through drama. The use of memorized playscripts assisted with recall of French language months later.

     Interestingly, many of the theories presented by child researchers have supported child development through drama without ascribing that specific title to it. For example, at the most basic level interventionists and counselors have used role-playing and role-reversal for years as a means of mediation for children trying to understand aspects of a conflict, yet this has never been applied on a larger scale in the mainstream classroom. This simple solution is left as a last resort because teachers are unaware of its value in solving educational problems.

     This website is more than a resource for teachers looking for methods of including drama in their classroom. It is an attempt to bridge the gap between traditional teaching and a sincere need within the classroom for students to be able to develop and learn to their greatest potential, with respect to theories and examples set forth by experts in child development.

For more information, jump ahead to Development


"Through the dramatic roles and worlds that are available vicariously in theatre and directly in process drama, we can learn both who we are and what we may be. It is this that makes the essential nature of both theatre and process drama profoundly educational" - Cecily O'Neill

What does it offer?

     What can drama offer to a student that no other discipline can? That's not an easy question to address. The larger educational community is only now beginning to come to understand what arts teachers have been claiming for some time, and that is that art education is of an immeasurable value to students. Unfortunately the burden of proof still lies on the art community.

     Beyond the curriculum of your classroom, teachers should make a careful examination of the growth and development of their students. Gavin Bolton points out that at the base of drama education is an extension of what we term 'play' (Brown and Pleydell, 1999). Ever notice the enjoyment a child gets from playing with a parent or friend? Bolton writes that these periods of heightened excitement provide the perfect opportunity for the astute parent to drop in extra information. Formalized classroom drama - that is to say drama which focuses on a specific objective - is directed by the teacher in role. This adopted roll within the fiction of the drama allows the teacher to ask questions, shape the lesson, and check and model student understanding. This adds an extra dimension to the teaching - not an alternative dimension. Classroom drama strives to build upon teaching methodologies that already exist, weaving them together in new ways that inspire and hold the interest of students at any grade level. And all while keeping the focus on the curriculum.

     Among childhood educators there is a growing consensus that young children learn best through two experiences: dramatic play and interaction with their environment (Brown and Pleydell, 1999). As educator Johnny Saldaña put it the educational community is acting like they have invented sliced bread, while the arts community has been trying to convince them of these facts for some time now. Brown and Pleydell go on to write that children's imaginations are unlimited - engaging this imagination allows the educator to turn the entire classroom into another place and time. Observe any group of children playing in a day care center. To those children, they really are doctors, or firemen, or train engineers, or cowboys and Indians.

     So what, you ask, is the application of what we just covered? The astute teacher who wishes to educate, for example, an elementary class on parts of the body walks into class one day dressed as a nurse and informs their students that they must quickly come into the operating room to save the life of the patient. The class, already experienced in drama from previous lessons, is quick to play along. The entire environment changes, and at once with their toys they are medical professionals performing life - saving surgery. And while they perform their 'play' routines that they know so well, the teacher - still in role - drops in information. She names the bones in the body, describes what a muscle is and how they should operate. Now instead of a lecture or handout, the students have actually seen the parts of the body and learned their uses.

Click here to see how drama fits in with child development theories.

Creative Teaching through Drama
Questions? Comments? Contact me.
Last Updated July 3, 2007