Drama in the Classroom: How Peter Dyer uses stagecraft in language teaching

TimeMarch 13, 2019 by ELT forum

As a new teacher just completing my first year at the Bridge Language School, Bratislava, I arrived at the ELT forum last June curious to see what the wide range of workshops and speakers had to offer.

Lectures on the finer details of various grammar structures perhaps? In-depth instruction from experienced teachers on classroom management? Drilling techniques?

While some of these aspects of English language teaching may certainly have been covered over the weekend, my whole perspective changed after attending one of the highlights of the conference, Peter Dyer’s improvisation workshop.

Originally from Australia, Peter has worked in theatre and drama for over 40 years, more recently specialising in drama coaching and adapting these techniques to the English language classroom.

Clearly well-known in these circles, his workshop was highly anticipated and quickly filled up with some fifty teachers or so in attendance. He didn’t disappoint, providing us with a very engaging and entertaining experience and taking us through a range of pair- and group-activities that could be immediately used in any classroom situation.

A couple of my favourites, which I was able to use in my classes the following week, included “Yes, and…” and “yes, but…” conversations: in this activity, students conduct a conversation in pairs, in which they reply each time with “Yes, and…” or “Yes, but…”:

“It’s a nice day isn’t it?” “Yes, and we are going to the river” “Yes, and the the water will be cool” “Yes, and we can ice-cream afterwards…”; and then the same idea again, this time with each answering in turn “Yes, but…”

This is great warmer conversation with which to start any class and need no preparation. Another fun activity that Peter had us enacting was called The Gift, in which one partner brings the other a mysterious Gift. What the Gift actually is is left to the imagination, as students mime giving and receiving the gift, along with exclamations such as “I’ve brought you something especially for you!” and “Oh you shouldn’t have!” This one is sure to bring out the budding actor in even the more reticent students and provides a great vehicle for producing language.

Along with several other dynamic activities, and plenty of useful advice, Peter himself brings tremendous stage presence, a highly theatrical approach to teaching, and a great sense of humour. There was abundant laughter throughout and everyone obviously enjoyed themselves.The workshop served as an inspiring introduction to how skills honed over a lifetime in the theatre can be utilised in language teaching with great effectiveness. This felt like just a small sample of what might be possible and I will be keen to return for more at this year’s ELT forum.

author: Graham Strouts, teacher the Bridge

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