Given the current emphasis on the "basics" of education, it is important to show how informal classroom drama can provide one of the most basic educational experiences. Students at all levels should have frequent opportunities to create classroom dramas.
I. Drama: What?
Informal classroom drama is an activity in which students invent and enact dramatic situations for themselves, rather than for an outside audience. This activity, perhaps most widely known as creative drama, has also been called drama in the classroom, educational drama, and improvisational drama. No matter which term is used, the drama we are concerned with is spontaneously generated by the participants who perform the dual tasks of composing and enacting their parts as the drama progresses. This form of unrehearsed drama is a process of guided discovery led by the teacher for the benefit of the participants.
II. Drama: Why?
Informal classroom drama helps participants:
- develop improved skills in reading, listening, speaking, and writing.
Involvement in drama promotes written and oral skills as well as aiding vocabulary growth. Participants must listen attentively so the drama can continue, and must communicate their thoughts and ideas to others in the group. They will read with a purpose background materials needed to do a drama.
- develop skill in thinking analytically, in acting decisively and responsibly.
Drama challenges the participants to develop thinking skills in an organized, dynamic group activity within the security of the classroom. This practice involves students in shared problem-solving that often focuses on significant historic and contemporary events.
- increase and sustain the ability to concentrate and follow directions.
Informal drama develops spontaneously with no script through the interaction of the group. Participants must pay attention to the suggestions given by the teacher or by group members.
- strengthen self-concept by cooperative interaction with others.
In drama, participants learn to be contributing group members by sharing ideas in a "give and take" situation. Students quickly realize that the success of the drama depends entirely on their thoughtful involvement.
- learn to make commitments and fulfill them.
Successful drama depends on all participants making a commitment to their task, comprehending what the other students are doing. Participants are responsible for working within the specified limits of the activity.
- learn to deal effectively with interracial, intercultural, and multi-ethnic situations.
Drama, by means of varied simulations, emphasizes a widening acceptance of the personalities, beliefs, and ideas of other peoples and cultures.
- increase motivation to learn.
Active participation in creating classroom drama broadens students' experiences, clarifies information, generates new ideas, and improves attitudes toward learning.
- develop individual and group creativity.
Drama begins with simple sensory exercises, and extends to far more complex enactment of scenes. Participants in drama create and respond to imaginative works developed by the group.
III. Drama: By Whom? For Whom?
Classroom drama can be led by anyone interested in developing skill in this technique. Formal course instruction helps supplement the variety of books and media productions which detail several different approaches to drama. An effective drama leader acquires specific skills necessary to promote learning through drama. One of the most critical skills is the ability to ask questions which will draw from students the ideas on which they will base the drama.
IV. Drama: Where?
Because education is not limited to schools, informal drama can be used anywhere. In the classroom all students can participate. Teachers can structure drama activities for students of widely varying physical and mental abilities.
Drama can also be beneficial in such non-school settings as social service organizations, hospitals, nursing homes, religious organizations, rehabilitation centers, and community theatres.
V. Drama: How?
Drama need not be a separate subject added to an already overcrowded school curriculum. Teachers interested in using drama can incorporate it into many other subjects.
Drama also serves an integrating function when used in either school or non-school settings. As participants create dramas, they integrate life experiences with dramatic content as they see themselves and their ideas in new relationships to others.
Materials to help you learn more about drama:
Ehrlich, Harriet W. (ed) Creative Dramatics Handbook. Philadelphia, PA: Office of Early Childhood Programs, 1974.
Heinig, Ruth Beall and Lyda Stillwell. Creative Drama for the Classroom Teacher. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1981.
Littig, Eileen. "Creative Dramatics: Drama as an Important Classroom Tool." Bloomington, IN: Agency for Instructional Television. (18 color videotapes)
McCaslin, Nellie. Children and Drama. New York, NY: Longman, 1981.
O'Neill, Cecily, et al. Drama Guidelines. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1976.
Wagner, Betty Jane. Dorothy Heathcote: Drama as a Learning Medium. Washington, D.C.: National Education Association, 1976.
Way, Brian. Development Through Drama. London: Longman, 1967.
VII. For Further Information
Teachers and others interested in developing their skills in leading drama will want more information than this brief statement can provide. Write directly to:
National Council of Teachers of English
1111 W. Kenyon Road
Urbana, IL 61801-1096
Children's Theatre Association of America
1010 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
Permission is not required to reprint this flyer or parts of it. NCTE and CTAA members are encouraged to disseminate any or all of this information.
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.