Process drama is to Theater as Choose Your Own Adventure Books are to Reading. It’s a teaching strategy that leaves behind most conventions of educational theater, allowing students to experience a constructed situation firsthand.
This strategy not only gives your students roles to play. It also asks them to authentically explore a topic in a classroom setting through listening, speaking, and cooperating with others and the teacher. There is no script, no set or stage, no audience, and no pre-planned course of action. The teacher plays an active part in the drama as well. They participate in the improvisation, often providing structure to the acting exercise by providing students information about the environment. They can also model “in-character” behavior. The goal is for the teacher to manage students while maintaining the authenticity of their character. However, teachers can step outside their character role to manage the students if things are getting rowdy.
The teacher also acts as a guide, announcing any changes that might occur during the course of the acting. In most cases, teachers will also likely provide limitations on what the students are able to do. For example, say your students are acting a scene from a book where someone is searching for her brother. Your students may suggest “let’s call him on the phone!” The teacher can help determine the course of action by saying something like “He didn’t answer.”
In this way, process drama is similar to a Murder Mystery Dinner Party. The people attending are experiencing the action as if it is happening in real time. Meanwhile, the actors involved are guiding the exploration of the students. The benefit of process drama is that it allows students to become experts through personal exploration of a topic rather than reading about it in a text book.
Example Process Drama Seeds
Social Studies: Have students step into historical events or situations such as the Civil Rights Marches, the founding of the colonies, the Gold Rush, etc.
Language Arts: After reading a scene from a piece of literature, have students step into roles as the characters in the book. Have your students go off-script to act out an alternative scene to the one in the story. Their goal should be to remain true to the characterization of the individuals in the book.
Math: Guide students through a real life mathematical problem by having them step into character as having to build a specific structure on a construction site, pedestrians checking out in line at the grocery store (using coupons, sales, and bulk items), chefs baking a recipe that requires metric conversions, travelers planning a trip using a map to estimate travel time and distance, or financial experts or bankers calculating how much interest money in a given account will acquire over a period of a year.
Science: Instruct students to step into the roles of scientific professionals needing to address issues such as oil spills, water pollution, air quality, endangered species, environmental health, or into the roles of designers working to create musical instruments, electric game boxes, confetti launchers, solar water heaters, quick shelters.
If you decide to try out process drama in your classroom, let us know how it goes!
Jaime Patterson is the Executive Director of Creative Affairs for EducationCloset. She is passionate about supporting educators in their pathway to teaching and learning through arts integration and STEAM.