There are many situations where it isn’t possible to use technology in the classroom.
It can be because the classroom doesn’t have the necessary resources, or worse the technology has failed and you need a plan B. It may also be because you are covering a lesson and it can more effective to rely on low to zero-prep activities.
I think most teachers have been in all these situations at one point or another, so I have been thinking for the last few months that I should start a tekhnologic lite section. The section dedicated to the activities and plan B’s that I use when things go wrong or when there just isn’t the time or the resources.
Directors is a zero-prep activity that turns a role-play or dialogue into a more theatrical experience.
This is an activity that I often use in classes because students have to think about body language and gestures, the intonation of their voice and encourages them to listen to instructions and ask for help.
I have found this kind of activity can be easily adapted to different levels, it incorporates different dialogues and conversations, or it can be a simple extension to a listening activity using the transcripts of the audio.
The script that you use is up to you. They can be created by the students, taken from a course book, written by the teacher or previously prepared scripts that use graded language can be used.
The dialogues I use are often taken directly from the course book I use. Rather than ask students to work in pairs, with one student as role A and the other as role B, I asked a third student to be the director.
I would tell the director to use useful phrases and basic patterns of understanding (BPUs) to direct the students. You will sometimes find useful phrases to use in the classroom in the first few pages of a course book. I felt that this would encourage them to use them with me in the classroom as well as with each other.
I would also tell the director to use this stem.
“Talk like you are feeling bored“
The verb and the emotion could be changed. Suddenly, my students were incorporating gestures and changing the intonation of their voice while they were practicing dialogues.
I really enjoyed this activity, but the students were often over reliant on reading the dialogues. So, one day I created the role of the prompter and I taught all my students a new useful phrase.
“What’s my line?”
I allowed my actors a read through of the dialogue and one practice with the scripts in their hands. I then asked them to close their books and repeat the dialogue. If they forgot what they were supposed to say, they could ask the prompter ‘what’s my line?’ and the prompter would offer a couple of words or the next sentence and the actor would repeat them and continue the role-play. The role of the prompter was an important one because not only did they help the actors when they asked for help, they could also listen out for accuracy.
This turned out to be the perfect combination. I had my actors, I had my director encouraging gestures and intonation and I had my prompter help the actors and checking for accuracy. A two person role-play can be brought to life in groups of four.
It was the start of taking a short role-play exercise and making more of a theatrical exercise out of it. Instead of having students practice in pairs and changing roles. I gave my students a little bit more freedom with the scripts and these mini productions emerged.
Divide the class into groups. The group sizes will vary according to the number of roles in a dialogue. The group numbers should be the number of roles + two (the director and the prompter).
Ask the students to assign themselves roles. Who are the actors? Who is the director? Who is the prompter?
I have found that by saying “I’m Steven Spielberg” before modelling the role of the director works well.
It’s much easier to show the role of the prompter than it is to explain it. I often refer to them as the helpers.
Give all the students some time to read through the dialogue.
Once the students have read through the dialogue teach some useful words or phrases to the director and actors.
“… like you are feeling …”
When I model this activity I often play the role of a temperamental director.
“Cut! No, no, no, no, no! Walk like you are feeling angry!”
I enjoy deliberately overacting this role, using my hands to find the perfect shot and waving my arms about in ‘frustration.’ I do this so the students realize the director’s role is for fun. It is not supposed to be serious, and definitely not meant to be critical.
I think it’s important that the students know this before getting into the activity.
“What’s my line?”
This is probably the most useful phrase I have taught my students when it comes to role-plays and dialogues. You might argue that it takes the authenticity out of the situation, but there is only so far a role-play can be authentic.
What this phrase has brought to my class, is a way for students to help each other out when they forget what they are supposed to say. Performance anxiety goes down and students can become more motivated to remember their lines.
It’s time to get the actors, director and prompter all working together on their ‘production.’
During this stage, the prompter is the only person who should see a copy of the dialogue. Encourage the prompter to follow the conversation and check for accuracy.
The actors start when the director shouts ‘action!’ and they follow directions on their performance. If they forget a line they can ask the prompter.
When the dialogue or role-play has finished ask the students to change roles. A new director and prompter are nominated and step three is repeated.
This activity has proved to be quite memorable and the students practice the dialogues several times by themselves without the need for chorusing.
How do you present role-plays in the classroom?
Leave a comment on the site if you have any other methods for bringing dialogues and role-plays to life.
Thanks for reading and take care!
I started using this activity after reading Drama and Improvisation by Ken Wilson and his work with the English Teaching Theatre. It inspired me to create more drama in my classes.