Creative Dramatics is a fantastic way to integrate developing drama skills with core curriculum in K-12 classrooms. A clever teacher can introduce material, expand or reinforce material that has already been taught or even assess learning through creative drama. Creative drama focuses on the skills that intersect the discipline of acting and the natural pretend play through which young children naturally learn. As such, teachers do not need formal acting training to engage their students. Most already participate in some kind of dramatic play with their students. Something as simple as hand gestures helps students remember material (how many people don’t remember “I’m a Little Teapot” well into their Alzheimer years?). Of course, some guidance in the art of creative dramatics is helpful. Janine Moyer Buegen maintains an excellent resource site at http://www.creativedrama.com/. Especially useful is her well annotated list of resources. I personally love anything associated with Dorothy Heathcote and Brian Way, two early theorists. Both have published extensively. The grand dame of creative drama, Winifred Ward, tends to focus on the dramatization of literature. These kinds of exercises are effective (my first starring role was a creative drama activity we performed in 3rd grade, Little Half Chick) but curricular possibilities are endless.
First, be sure to clarify your curricular objectives and your behavioral objectives. You can begin just like you would for any lesson. You also want to think about what additional skills or objectives are being met. Look at your state’s or the national standards for visual and performing arts. Any creative drama project can demonstrate a proficiency in one or more of them.
All creative drama activities should begin with a warm up. A warm up serves several functions. First, it can introduce material or can serve to segue from something students know to the new material. Second, it provides an intermediate step between traditional classroom activities and a more creative kind of lesson. Saying “we are now going to pretend to be butterflies” is often not well received by even the most innocent of kindergarteners. But if they begin by putting their heads on their desks and visualizing being in a dark, small space (or laying on the floor in a tight ball with their eyes closed), by the time you are ready for them to be butterflies, they will be dying to flit around the room waving their arms. The warm up is also a time to create the correct mood, either energize or relax your students or just to get them in a creative space. Physical and mental warm ups are standard theatre practice and they are an important part of any performance curriculum.
The actual lesson needs to at least nominally scripted or outlined by the facilitator. Instructions often need to be carefully considered. Will you give instructions in written form, give them orally prior to the activity, piece by piece as the activity progresses, silently on the chalkboard or provide no oral instruction at all. Too many instructions prior to the activity can lead to lapses of memory. Too much talking during the activity breaks the mood and interrupts the continuity of a lesson. Not enough instruction often confuses the student, negating the learning. So the manner in which the activity is presented is crucial for its success. You need to allow time for each step of your lesson. Some students need time, some go with instinct. The best lessons allow for both. Often modeling is necessary. “Pretending” in front of others is often inhibiting. If the facilitator seems like a looming figure watching and judging, students might be reluctant. So the facilitator needs to join the fun.
Finally, you need to make sure that you have a closing activity. It might be a discussion or a final performance or simply a cool down. You want to make sure you tie your activity to your learning objectives. An informal assessment of learning is often appropriate. You want to refrain from focusing on the activity as “fun.” Students know if they had fun, but they don’t always know if they learned something. Pointing out what they learned is far more valuable because it helps them to associate learning and doing. Some kinds of lessons need a bridge from the world of pretend to the real world and the difference between the two needs to be explored.
The key to success is planning and comfort. If you borrow a lesson from one of the resources mentioned earlier, be sure to make it your own and refine it to teach to your objectives. Be sure you are comfortable with the process and clear with your aims. In future entries I will look at some theoretical perspectives which will provide greater flexibility to incorporate creative dramatic in your classroom. For questions or comments, I can be reached at [email protected]
Director of Theatre Education
Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.