Teaching English through Drama in Malaysian ESL Classrooms

We all know that drama has been included in the list of literary texts for the new KBSM literature component. However, to most ESL (English as a second language) teachers in Malaysia, it is a new learning curve since not everyone is exposed to the genre during their training or studying years. Fear not, like any other literary genre, the first thing that a teacher needs to do, is to understand it and start loving it before you actually go to the classrooms and teach it.

Of course, like any other methods, using drama is not an all-fitting solution to your literature classes’ woes as not all students will engage well in a classroom drama environment. In this article, I would like to share some pedagogical issues that would probably help you out.

Teaching through Drama is NOT Teaching Drama

There is a misconception among teachers on this. Like other literary texts, stop teaching them the technical aspects of each genre. In this case, don’t teach your students “What is drama?” but use it to teach the language aspects. That’s the whole purpose of the literary component. Treat it as a pedagogy with the language as the main content, not the other way round.

Why drama?

Why spend time and huge efforts on drama? Why give up lesson periods meant for grammar drills for drama? Why drama indeed! First of all, the benefits and advantages on using drama in the ESL context have been well studied and documented for decades (Do read this article by Zafeiriadou, 2009). I am not going to explain each research, as you can check out the whole list of research studies on this topic via Google Scholar. What is more important is to bear in mind that unlike most other methods, using drama in language teaching involves all four skills and provides a solid context for language learning. Plus, it provides a touch of motivation and element of fun to the classroom. It also helps to develop your students’ creativity and imagination. Well, talk about killing many birds with one stone!

“Tell me and I will forget.
Show me and I will remember.
Involve me and I will understand.”
Chinese Proverb

Teaching through Drama: The Basics

Unlike a play or a theatre that emphasises more on stage performances, drama refers to shared elements used to explore our emotions, our thinking, and to teach. When we talk about using drama in traditional classroom setting, we are not talking about creating a play for a performance, the focus is not on the final product (i.e. getting students to stage it, and evaluate!). What should be prioritised is the process! Now, if you have never taught using drama before, here are the some basic rules that you need to consider:

  • Before you start teaching your students using a specific drama, you need to read and understand it first. In other words, do necessary preparation.
  • It would be good to “dissect” each drama into parts and plans the language focus on each part. Do it like a TV series, change the one whole drama text into “episodes” according to your available time for each lesson. For each part, you can include related activities or games (i.e. miming or facial expression exercises)
  • As you move from part to part, emphasise on the sub-themes of each part apart from highlighting the language aspects. By the way, if your students can’t memorise the lines, allow them to use scripts cards or the scripts itself
  • Don’t be scared to improvise the drama or scripts. Don’t be too rigid in following the drama word by word. As much as you want your students to be imaginative and creative, allow some rooms for creativity.
  • Involve everyone. You know your students well, so do not let a specific group of students to rule the whole drama sessions. For each part or “episode”, rotate your students to hold different roles. For the weaker students, give them short sentences to begin. Once they are more and more confident, give them more.
  • Classroom drama is still part of your class, and management is just as important as your other lessons. Like a director handling a movie, you should let your students know the procedures for work. If you can’t find a place for your drama sessions, let your students work from their desks or seats.
  • Enjoy! Yes, create an enjoyable environment. Do not go into the classroom and start lecturing about the drama, telling them which question is going to come out in the exam or not. Make it a light moment that allows your students to learning English the fun way.
  • In the next article, I will share more specific activities related to the dramas selected for the new KBSM literature component.

    By the way, even if you don’t know which text is included, you can always consider using the dramas available on the internet as part of your lessons. Using drama to teach grammar is probably a very good idea, as it fits the notion of “teaching grammar in context”. We’ll talk about that as well in future.

    Note: If you have ideas to share, do email to us and we’ll acknowledge your contribution here. This is a platform for all teachers to share and contribute.

    Do read this:

    Fleming, M. (2001). Teaching drama in primary and secondary schools : an integrated approach. London: David Fulton

    Fleming, M. (2003) Starting Drama Teaching. London:David Fulton Publishers

    Useful Web Resources

    Drama in ELT

    Creating Drama with Poetry: Teaching English as a Second Language Through Dramatization and Improvisation

    Script Formatting

    The Drama Teacher’s Resource Room

    This Post Has 10 Comments

    1. Elaine says:

      Great post. I think it’s good to teach through drama as well…but like you said, classroom management is very important.

    2. This is a great idea. I’ve seen Romeo and Juliet used with great success in the classroom. The teacher that did it used the modern versions and exercises to expand on the philosophical points of it.
      One thing I liked was the use of a box presentation. The students had to put objects in a box that represent a particular character from the drama. They then had to make a presentation with that.

    3. monica says:

      Thanks for sharing this interesting and informative article.

    4. noah tarr says:

      i love men and i love drama so i love bein in the threatre of arts

    5. MrPong says:

      so, the question here is to teach drama or to teach through drama? a lil bit lost here…

    6. Henry says:

      I can’t wait for A Man called God. I like Song Il Gook. Han Chae Young too. This is my first time to see them as love team. Good luck to A Man called God.

    7. Poonit Patel says:

      Very nice article.
      Teaching language through Drama is very good way. It gives interactive way of learning and true situation based language learning is better then class room method.
      It also helps to improve listening along with speaking.
      Thanks very much for posting it here.

    8. kartina says:

      I like it – using drama , role-playing and reader’s theatre. It allows students to pratise the language, foster their interest and motivation. hiGhly applicable in teaching english language.

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    10. […] Teaching English through Drama in Malaysian ESL Classrooms … – Great post. I think it’s good to teach through drama as well…but like you said, classroom management is very important. […]

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