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Theatre and Visual Creativity in the Language Classroom
Lucy Alexandra Crichton

Learning any language can and should be a very creative process. In order to taste the freedom of the language and its possibilities, we must loosen the technical reigns sometimes. Finding the natural creativity that lies hidden within each one of us and learning how to use it in a variety of ways is becoming an ever-important tool in our world today.

Why Theatre?

As Shakespeare said “all the world’s a stage”. Theatre in the classroom has always existed. Isn’t the teacher after all a great interpreter?

In our present global moment of speed and information the need to communicate successfully is of utmost importance. In our language classrooms then, the focus on speaking has appeared in the forefront of our activities forcing we, the teachers to invent a diversity of possible situations in order to maximise our student’s talking time. There is a different visual and corporeal feeling in getting up and performing a drama activity to one where the student remains seated and reads a dialogue form his exercise book. If we look at these two activities from a kinaesthetic point of view we can see that the former is much more memorable for the student and therefore more effective.

Using Drama in our classrooms forces us to take life as our starting point and to become part of a creative process that is not just a collection of techniques. Drama activities give students a chance to find a balance between fluency and accuracy while at the same time giving them the opportunity to say what they really want to say rather than something controlled.

This following technique, which was presented at the 8th National Convention, can be adapted to suit any type of group.

Improvisation

Wimbledon Tennis Tournament

This is an improvisation that can be carried out in the classroom. The chairs will need to be pushed aside a little to create a playing area. The improvisation can include the whole group if desired.

I have found it very interesting to use on a new group when assessing the student’s present level of English.

The teacher will only have to choose the first performer because after that the students themselves will choose each other.

For example. The teacher chooses a student to be Guga and then she asks him to call his coach out of the group. She then asks the coach who Guga will be playing and so the coach then calls someone else out of the group who will then become Pete Samprass for example and so on.

Possible characters could include: Two famous tennis players and their coaches, an umpire, Lines men, ball boys crowd and press photographers.

The scene can then be set up by saying that we are at the final match. Guga is about to win the last game in a very difficult match. The coaches can be giving advice to their players from the sidelines, the umpire can call for silence and the lines men and ball boys can take up their positions. The players then mine, in slow motion, the final strokes until Guga hits the winning ball and wins the championship. The press photographers can rush onto the court and the teacher can play some sort of champion music (Senna theme or We are the Champions by Queen).

After the match, interviews with the players could be set up or perhaps a re-enactment of the closing ceremony where the Queen or Prince Charles presents Guga with the trophy. The Royals could say a few words to the crowd or the crowd could ask the Royals some questions.

This exercise can be tailor made to suit the size and level of the group. The improvised vocabulary can be quite simple while the more advanced students can invent all sorts of dialogue. The teacher can coax the students with open-ended questions and guide the shyer students into dialogue that they will feel comfortable with.

The teacher is the one who intermediates between the players like a subtle reporter who appears when needed. I have had a great response using this idea because the students a) have no time to think before hand and therefore are more spontaneous b) are totally in character therefore not themselves and c) are doing something so different and fun they don’t realise just how much they are learning. This activity also copes with peer pressure in that it allows the students to play within their selected classroom “gangs”. If desired, this improvisation can be the beginning of a more polished performance and could easily be part of a cross curricular activity involving sports.

The scene can be based on something more Brazilian depending on what the teacher thinks is more appropriate.

Creativity – Making Classroom Tools

Imagination is, at this point, more important than creation because if you are not an artist, adept at activities such as papier-mâché, you can always find somebody who is, an art teacher for example.
The imagination, the vision of the idea and its results are what counts.
Instead of your own daily gestures in the classroom like pointing to the board, to a group of students or to the ceiling to accentuate stress, what about a larger than life pointing finger made from paper wood and glue.

Material needed:

Several large sheets of white cartolina (I used old architectural plans)
Glue for wood and paper
Poster paints and brushes
A bamboo stick approx 1metre in length.

Instructions: Scrunch up the paper into a hand shape with one roll sticking out for the pointing finger and insert a piece of bamboo into the end like an arm. Use small strips of torn paper dipped in glue (which can be watered down slightly) to cover the hand and finger like papier-mâché. When it is dry paint it a skin colour adding knuckles and nail details as desired. You should now have a larger than life pointing finger to use as a visual aid in your classroom.

Other ideas include:

A big ear to use when you want students to speak up a little bit.
A thinking hat with a light bulb attached to the top to use for brainstorming.
Card board cut outs from shops and video rentals as characters or scenery.

Benefits and Harmony

Pleasure, enjoyment and amusement as the dictionary definition of the word fun states, are not only essential ingredients in a class but inherent to the human beings complete balance. In whichever form the theatre takes, we the teachers cease to be the all knowing of what is right and wrong, good bad etc.; our job is simply to set things in motion. We are the assistants to those breaking out of their shells while at the same time elaborating the capacity to respond to the needs of the group through our own sensitivity.

Theatre in the classroom can bring about a greater understanding of the self both consciously and unconsciously; it can really make changes and boost students confidence in a surprising way. By delving into their world, we can guide their creative imaginations to a new road where the result doesn’t come from what the teacher has necessarily set, but is the learners’ creative process itself. This method totally embraces the concept of learner centeredness and inside this autonomy we may see our unmotivated students suddenly inspired to new heights.

Making Memories

If we think back to the past we all have a school memory good and bad. If we analyse the mechanics of that memory we may find some simple reason why, after all these years it has not left us. Perhaps it’s because the teacher always smiled in our direction or talked about her home life or perhaps it was the way she taught Portuguese using Caetano’s lyrics. What often makes us remember is the fact that something different happened, something we weren’t expecting that surprised and thrilled us. I believe that the use of theatre in the classroom is an unlimited tool for that purpose when it collaborates in making the learning process so interesting and rewarding that it turns into a wonderful never forgotten memory.

Theatre in the language classroom is about releasing energy and imagination in each individual; if they are enjoying what they are doing they are learning, about themselves, about life and naturally, about English too.

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