Drama, Literacy, Multimodal Learning, Oracy, Writing

Four Creative Strategies to Support Students’ Communication Skills

Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner and Nurture Group Teacher

@NBentleyTweets

Teachers are often really keen to develop young people’s communication skills; to support them in their writing, to improve the quality of their conversations, and to prepare them for the reading, writing, speaking and listening they will need to do in their broadest sense, as life skills. It is helpful, therefore, to consider how this can be done in an enjoyable and creative way. This blog post seeks to suggest four ways I have sought to employ create strategies to develop communication skills.

Collaborative Drawing

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Image from Collaborative Drawing

An inclusive and often enjoyable way of encouraging students to record their ideas can be a collaborative drawing task. I have had students unfurl large sheets of wallpaper where they can draw ideas which help them to create visual worlds related to the content of what we have been studying. For instance, this could be an interesting setting from a historical period in Humanities, the surface of a planet in Science, or the opening scene from a play in Drama. Students are then challenged to use specific details and impressive vocabulary to describe their designs, using the image of what they had created as a model to ensure they are precise, specific and sophisticated in their writing.

The Value of Reading Aloud

Myra Barrs and Valerie Cork worked with the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (Twitter handle @clpe1) in The Reader in the Writer to do some hugely meaningful work in relation to the connection between studying literature and students’ writing. One wonderfully helpful finding has been the relationship between teachers reading aloud and the writing students have been able to produce. This has really inspired me to indulge in creative storytelling, retellings of writings, and shared choral speech with young people, as means to break down pieces of text and encourage young people to develop their writing and responses.

In-role Tasks

Drama activities can be hugely meaningful as a means to support students to access challenging language beyond that which they might ordinarily be confident to draw upon. In English lessons, this might involve participating in a collaborative discussion as a journalist before writing a report. Students could role-play as geographers, scientists, or philosophers – indeed any groups of people who might be relevant – to stretch their vocabulary, before writing.

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Image of a Resource from an In-role Task

Language Movement Games

Warm-up tasks where students move around a classroom space, before responding to key words can be an enjoyable way to introduce challenging adjectives and adverbs before young people use them in their writing and speech. As a teacher you can call out words which students must embody in their movement, e.g. “petrifying,” “ecstatic,” or “monstrous.” Alternatively, students can be given the task of calling out challenging words for each other.

These ideas have simply been suggestions for how young people might engage with language and communication as a means to approach the curriculum and develop key life skills. I have found them to be meaningful not only as a way to improve writing and speaking, but also an enjoyable set of activities to support students’ engagement in learning, and to foster a safe, secure and joyful learning environment.

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Drama, Multimodal Learning, Oracy, Reflection

Using Dramatic and Active Learning Strategies with Written work in Drama: Exploring Practically before putting pen to paper

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Becky Griffiths – Curriculum Leader for Drama

When I think back to this time last year, negotiating all the changes of the new GCSE 9-1 specification, I recall how challenging it was. It felt as though everyone in education was wading their way through reforms with feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty. Part of the challenge for me as the Curriculum Leader in Drama was to find ways to engage my students with the significant increase in written content at GCSE.

When I reflect on my encounters with Drama at school, I remember experiences where we explored plays, improvised and collaborated with peers.  My experiences enabled me to develop a genuine passion for the subject. Written work was a marginal aspect of GCSE drama; far more concerned with exploring through practical drama. When I try to reflect on behalf of GCSE drama students across the country, in the midst of current educational reforms, I am conscious that their experiences of studying drama are wildly different to my own due to the shift in weightings for written and practical work.

I’m a firm believer in reflection being a tool for change, so decided to investigate this issue as part of my MA dissertation. At the core of this, was student voice. My initial question was: ‘How can I increase engagement in drama despite the reduction of practical content in the new GCSE drama specification?’ and a subsidiary question emerged: ‘Do dramatic and active approaches increase engagement and develop students’ written work in drama?’ After interviewing students, it became very evident that they wanted to inject the ‘drama’ back into our classroom. Therefore, I decided to create a series of sessions based around active and dramatic approaches to explore written work, before committing any writing to the paper. Heathcote and Bolton (1995: 32) were both advocates for “process drama” whereby students explore a play, story or theme by actively experiencing it, stating: “There is an active, urgent, purposeful view of learning, in which knowledge is to be operated on, not merely to be taken in”.  

Some examples of the active and dramatic strategies I used included:

  • In-role Activities: Students exploring the themes of a play through improvisation, hot-seating and Teacher in Role.
  • Competitive Games: Relay races where students have to memorise key information in teams and using post-its to create a version of ‘Heads Up!’ and guessing the name of characters, with certain rules in place.
  • Technology: Using iPads to to film each other practically and writing down precise observations, based on lived experiences.
  • Forum Theatre: Using forum theatre to experiment with scenes practically and working in the mind-set of a director.  

As a result of these memorable active experiences, students were able to articulate responses, which, in turn, improved the quality of their writing.  Stredder (2009: 17) has highlighted the benefits of approaching Shakespeare’s plays actively in support of written work: “Some of the confidence, involvement and ownership that result from active work in the classroom, as well as the ability to use ‘ways into the text’ productively, should carry over in their independent work, including, of course, their written work”. What became very evident was that students needed to physically enact moments from a play in order to visualise them and this helped them to create more precise written responses. It transformed written responses from “I would put on an angry facial expression as Lola is angry with Sephy,” to “I would use an aggressive facial expression by furrowing my brow and curling my lip to the side to show my distaste for Sephy”.

But what about my subject? I hear you ask. I have seen other curriculum areas utilise the power of drama to explore and investigate topics. In Science, for example, teachers have set up crime scenes where students have to investigate. Or perhaps in Geography, where students make David Attenborough style documentaries to explore climate change. The possibilities are endless and students appreciate having the freedom to explore interesting topics in ways that are memorable and that ‘stick’.  

This research has helped me to explore and devise strategies that I can build upon to mediate my teaching within the ever changing climate of education and for my students to view the experience as a challenge, rather than a negative barrier that we could not overcome. These new strategies, I hope, have provided my students with the same enriching experience that I had at school and I hope too that what we have learnt together during the process of my enquiry, as teacher and students, allowed for more meaningful and confident connections to be made between ‘acting out’ and ‘putting pen to paper’.

For more details of the full version of my MA dissertation, tweet me @MissRLGriffiths