Teaching Opinion

Use Drama to Explore Literature and Develop Deep Understanding of Craft

By Starr Sackstein — July 12, 2018 3 min read
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Too often literature is left to the flatness of the page. Letting the words languish as they lay there, eyes giving only a cursory glance.

There is life to be breathed into those poetic devices and creative teachers have an exciting opportunity to create art out of mere letters.

Consider taking a work like Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and turning it into a play. Asking students to take ownership of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece and direct it into their own interpretation.

Students can connect with making the characters real people in the classroom, rewriting lines of narrative into dialogue to be acted for their classmates as if they are the directors of the next feature film to be made of the novel.

How would theirs stand up against those that have already been made?

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice offers a juicy opportunity to transport students back to gossipy Regency England. Rather than just show a movie, why not role play, assigning characters to students and have them perform as the character throughout the study of the novel?

Give students the opportunity to really explore the motivations of a character as an actor would and then participate in a class discussion as that character defending his/her motivation for different aspects of the novel. Use improvisational activities to allow characters to modernize for the 21st century and bring Austen herself to the conversation.

Different drama or improvisational techniques can bring what was once old to life. Using these techniques in the English classrooms provides limitless synthesis activity possibilities that will create real learning experiences and not just assignments. Being able to immerse students in different sets and ideas fluidly embracing the humanity in what they read.

Social media is another way to bring dramatic characters into the 21st century. Why not create a Twitter account and tweet through the lens of a character about events from the text and also on world events. Allow students to interact with the text as the characters, with the characters and delve deeply into their understanding of the author’s craft and character development.

Instead of discussing the themes of a novel, ask students to develop tableaux installations that communicate emotion through voiceless moments. Give them a topic and let them physically show scenes from a text without the ability to use their words. They have only their facial expressions and their body movements to create meaningful snapshots from a novel.

Taking all of this to the next level, we can ask our students to write their own one-act plays after the exploration of Shakespeare or Stoppard in the style of a great playwright and then as a class project, have students produce a production or film a movie of one of those plays. Consider the depth of understanding of craft using these techniques that get students out their seats and participating in their own learning.

We cannot afford to cut funding to the arts. It is the arts that generate a sense of humanity that connects all of our contents together. As classroom teachers of any content, we must consider the powerful skills associated with the arts and incorporate them into all of our lessons. Whether drama or art, media formats or music, the addition to these assorted techniques can enrich any learning environment.

As educators, we must work to provide rich opportunities for students that make them excited about learning in ways they never imagined. Let’s not be afraid to take risks and reimagine what was classic into something dynamic and modern.

How do you bring the humanities into your classrooms to enrich learning regardless of the content? Please share

Photo by Starr Sackstein

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.