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Back to School Dramatically
by Mitzi Geffen


Lights! Camera! Action! A new school year is beginning. Teachers and students are all at peak energy levels. If you are facing a new group of students, they are anxious to know whether this is a class worth waking up for. If you are continuing with a group from last term, your students probably assume that it will be "more of the same", but are mildly curious to see if, perhaps, this year will be a bit different. If you can manage to have a few energy-packed, pleasantly challenging, high-interest and/or amusing first few lessons, you will set the tone for a great year of learning.

My main objectives for the first few lessons are:
  1. learning the students' names
  2. reviving the students' dormant English
  3. making my expectations clear and learning about my students' expectations
Clearly, these objectives could be accomplished by taking role and making a seating chart, giving the students a worksheet, and listing English class rules on the black(white?)board. I suggest, however, that the following activities will accomplish the same goals, leaving everyone energized, smiling and looking forward to the next lesson.

1. "Meet the Expert" -

Objectives:
  1. the teacher learning the students' names
  2. students learning about each other
  3. getting the students talking and listening
Set-up:

The class is divided into groups of 3 for planning introductions, which will later be presented in front of the class.

Procedure:

Instruct the students to interview each other, in order to learn at least 5 facts about each person in the group. They should write the answers to their questions in their notebooks. This instruction will help to keep the activity in English.

After the facts are collected, the students should decide on one area of "expertise" for each student in the group, based on one of the facts about that student. For example, the student may have taken a trip to London during the summer, so the group may decide that London or air-travel or hotels is that student's area of expertise.

The students then decide how to present each "expert" to the class. In each group, two students introduce the third student to the class until each of them is introduced. The presentation should last about a minute and should include the "expert's" (real) name, area of expertise and general information about the student. It should be wildly positive and exaggerated regarding the student's supposed knowledge about his "field".

Presentations:

Each student is presented by the other 2 members of the group. The audience is encouraged to applaud enthusiastically.

Listening task:

Each student is given a chart to fill in while watching and listening to the presentations. Column headings are:
Name; Field of expertise; One other fact about the student.

Possible follow-up writing tasks:
  1. Write a paragraph about one of the students who was presented (not someone in your group).
  2. Write 4-5 questions you would ask one of the experts. (Students might then trade papers and answer the questions)
Note:
This activity can work even if the students already know each other. Suggest that they reveal information about themselves that no one in the class knows. (e.g. something that they did in kindergarten)

2. Word Associations -

Objectives:
  1. stimulating vocabulary recall
  2. getting the students writing and talking
Set-up:

There is a preliminary activity which involves the entire class, after which the class is divided into groups of 4 or 5 for planning skits. The activity ends with short presentations in front of the class.

Procedure:

Students are instructed to write down all of the words they hear in the first column of a chart. The teacher says a word in English. Any word will do. The first student must say the first word that comes to mind which has some association with the word the teacher says. The next student must provide an association to student #1's word and so on rapidly around the room. For example: The teacher says, "banana". Student #1 says, "yellow". Student #2 says, "sun". Student #3 says, "hot", and so on until each student has said a word.

Next, the students are divided into groups of 4 or 5. Each group must choose 5 words from the list of words they've heard and make up a short skit including the words they chose. Everyone in the group must speak during the skit. The skits should be only 2-3 minutes long.

Listening task:

Put a check next to the words from the list that were included in each skit.
Possible follow-up writing tasks:
  1. Write a synopsis of one of the skits presented
  2. Write a different ending to one of the skits
  3. Choose 5 words from the list, other than those your group chose, and write a paragraph which include those words.
Note:
The word association stage of this activity (without the skits) is a nice warm-up for any lesson. It can be played as an elimination game with a winner, by setting a second time-limit to come up with an association. If the student doesn't come up with a word, or the teacher doesn't see the connection to the previous word, the student is "out". The game continues until there is only one student left.

3. Thirty Second Speeches -

Objectives:
  1. stimulating vocabulary recall
  2. practice talking
Set-up:

Each student is given a slip of paper. The teacher has a box or some sort of container to collect the slips of paper.

Procedure:
  1. Students are instructed to write a noun or gerund on the slip and put it into the teacher's container.
  2. The teacher collects the slips and shakes the box to mix up the slips.
  3. Students write "For" or "Against" in their notebooks.
  4. Each student chooses a slip from the box without peeking at the words.
  5. Students are given 5 minutes to jot down some reasons why they are "for" or "against" whatever is written on their slip, depending on what they had written in their notebook before they picked a slip. No cheating!
  6. After 5 minutes, students are called on to give a 30-second speech in favor or against their noun or gerund. (e.g. Swimming is wonderful (or horrible) because)
  7. The class votes on who gave the most persuasive speech.
Listening task:

Write main points of speech for 4 students.

Possible follow-up writing tasks:
  1. Summarize the speeches of the 4 students.
  2. Write an opposing argument for one of the speeches.
Note:
Encourage the students to write absurd reasons and pretend to be perfectly serious and passionate about their topic.

4. English Class Constitution-

Objectives:
  1. Practice talking and writing
  2. Making the students aware of the connection between order and discipline, and success in learning.
Set-up:

Prepare a sheet of paper with four sections for each group of 4 students. Write a heading for each section, naming one issue to be dealt with in the creating of the "constitution, such as homework, talking in class, tests, etc. Divide the class into groups of 4 students.

Procedure:
  1. Instruct the students to write their suggestions for rules under each heading.
  2. Encourage them to be logical and let them know that reasonable rules will be considered seriously.
  3. All 4 members of the group should agree with what is written on the group's sheet.
  4. Tell the students to think of reasons for their rules and possible consequences for breaking the rules.
  5. Allow about 20 minutes for this activity.
Presentations:
  1. For each heading, allow one speaker from each group to present and defend their suggestions.
  2. Allow one speaker in each group to react to the other suggestions made.
  3. Write the main points on the board.
  4. Each student in the group must speak once to present suggestions and once to react to another group's suggestions.
  5. Take a quick vote after each heading has been presented.
  6. Tell the students that the final constitution will be given to them when they come to the next lesson, after you have had a chance to go over all of the suggestions and consider the voting.
Possible follow-up writing tasks:
  1. Write a personal reaction to the activity in general, or to one of the topics or suggestions presented.
  2. Write a suggestion for a rule about an issue that wasn't included on the sheet.
Note:
Don't include issues that you are not willing to compromise on. Don't include issues that have already been decided by a school constitution.

Suggestions to keep in mind about all of the activities:

I have found that one thing that greatly contributes to the success of all dramatic activities is pace. If the activity moves too slowly, students lose patience and become bored. If they feel rushed, they become frustrated and dissatisfied. The pace is different for different groups, but a general rule is to move on to the next stage when all the groups or individuals have at least partially completed the task and approximately 2/3 of the group has finished it. The instruction to those who have finished before the rest should either be to practice for the presentation or to add more examples.

Another very important thing to remember is to collect all listening and writing tasks and return them with a grade or a comment. Listening tasks are crucial to the success of presentations and if the students think that they are not counted toward their grades, they will stop doing them.

A wealth of drama activities and lesson plans can be found at this site:
http://www.childdrama.com/lessons.html

In conclusion
Drama is not only about putting on plays or learning scripts. The more we get our students used to standing up and talking naturally, acting out roles, thinking on their feet, listening and reacting in English, the more successful we will be in helping them to be proficient in all aspects of using English.

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