Posts Tagged ‘Drama’

Was there an unlikely skill or area at school that ended up serving you so well later on in life?

There was some media exploration of the declining numbers of girls studying mathematics as senior students this week (in Australia). I’ve provided a link to one of the articles, in the Sydney Morning Herald here. This post isn’t looking to explore this topic per se, but the topic did get me thinking more broadly about the subjects you study at school, and their relevance to your future. We have all wondered about that subject just making up the numbers so that we are eligible for the final qualification. Tales in the days of old of a bonfire of notes post exam for that much maligned subject that you somehow ended up taking, have been around for years. But what about things that aren’t even subjects, that end up helping you beyond expectation?

Students often ask me if I always wanted to become a teacher and are surprised when I say “no”. I was always good at English but it was rarely my strongest subject in terms of results. My mother was a teacher, as was, for some time, my paternal grandfather. When asked what I was going to study at uni and I responded “Arts”, it usually elicited an “Oh… so you want to me a teacher!”, which I seemed to rail against. But, I got to the end of my Arts degree, then an Honours year and hit a wall. What now?


Lectern (Photo credit: Timmargh)

Mum suggested I look at a Dip Ed. At the time I was hoping to become the next big Australian playwright and having the chance to do a bit of part time teaching seemed like a good way to support the ‘craft’. The same year I was doing the NIDA Playwrights’ Course. With three months of the Dip Ed to go, I’d decided it might be good to get the C.V. in order, apply for a few jobs for experience and without quite knowing how, wound up with a one-year position for someone on maternity leave. That one-year ended up lasting me for nine, before I switched schools.

So back to the question at the top – and my answer to the students – the unlikely skill set that best helped me with where I am now? It would come down to two things. The first was Debating. I took it up in Year 9 and can recall the first topic “That there is too much violence on the news”. I was first speaker and can still recall the sheer terror of talking ‘unscripted’, with my mouth drying up to make this uncomfortable smacking sound as I tried to pronounce words and make them into something approaching a coherent sentence for an eternity of minutes. But over the next three years, unwittingly, it taught me how to breathe, how to think, how to pace myself and, perhaps most important of all, how to speak in front of large numbers of people without gabbling-like-I-used-to-do-when-slightly-nervous-and-excited-in-equal-measure!

The second stemmed out of English, out of my love of writing. It was joining the Drama Society at University and along with watching and being involved with plays, discovering that I wasn’t bad at writing them. Out of that came my ability to enter a Diploma of Education in English and Drama, without my having formally studied Drama. Out of that came the chance to study for a year at NIDA. Out of that came the chance for me to get an interview for my first job as a teacher… one that I got. And, perhaps most happily, out of that came the chance, with my first play touring to a University Theatre Festival interstate, to meet the girl who would end up becoming my wife 9 years later.

So this post probably has more in common with Ken Robinson on Creativity than a call for more students (of either gender) to study mathematics. But it’s nice to think that I can tell my children that, thanks to the Arts, I was able to meet your mother and ultimately, to be able to have you.

I’d love to hear about those unlikely or serendipitous moments from your education that perhaps had a greater sway on your life than you could possibly envisage.

Following on from the positive feedback from my ROBOT Drama post, I’ve decided to put up another game that works well over an English (or Drama) class. Once again, it is one that I recall from the out-of-print When Are We Going to Have More Drama by Peter Moore. It provides for some good follow-up work covering communication and prejudice, which I’ll come back to at the end of the post.

Premise: Students are, in groups of three, to make a party hat.

Procedure: The fiddly, time consuming bit comes in the set up for this lesson, which is the only real downside. You will need to get 8 bags (for a class of 24 – for numbers less than this, just remove a bag per three students), 8 “lots” (2-3 big broadsheets work well) of newspaper, 7 lots of scissors, 7 lots of stick tape and various smaller items that are self-explanatory from the instructions that are found in each bag. I also look to put a piece of coloured paper in the bag (like an A4 sheet size of one colour) that can be used to help highlight the hat’s “beauty”.

When your students enter the class and are in groups of three, one member can select a bag that, to all intents, appear the ‘same’. There are no ‘returns’ on the bag – it is a lucky dip that you commit to.

Here are the 8 sets of instructions that you split,  putting one in each bag. You will see that the instructions are simple and outline the task very effectively:


*You are to make a party hat. *You have 25 minutes to make it. *You have no handicap.


*You are to make a party hat. *You have 25 minutes to make it. *Two of your members are blindfolded. *Only these two are able to use the materials.

Paper hat

From the basic… (Photo credit: shufgy)


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*Each member will have masking tape placed over the mouth to stop talking.


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*You are not allowed to use your writing hand. This must be placed behind your back at all times.


*You are to make a party hat. *You have 25 minutes to make it. *You must use your tie to bind your wrists together (separately) and must work in this fashion.


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.


To the unlikley… (Photo credit: George Eastman House)

*You must use your tie to bind your left wrist to the right wrist of one of your team members (and theirs to yours).


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*You have no scissors.


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*You have no tape.

Run Through and Follow Up: Reading through the above will probably prove self-explanatory as to how the game would run. While the task is running you are likely to find: that the group without sticky tape finds the process the most challenging, that students may use their initiative and may use any and all (including the scissors!) products – and the bag – in making their hat, that you will need to monitor some groups more than others to see that they “stick” to their challenge.

At the end, students model their hats at a hat parade. From this point, some follow up activities that extend the drama  in a number of directions can include:

  • students create a one minute ‘pitch‘ to accompany the launch of the hat – this can be used to promote (and perhaps explain!) the hat and its features
  • having an outsider ‘judge‘ the hats. One aspect to this is to not tell about the handicaps, or perhaps to amend this by mentioning that there are handicaps but not which ones are which
  • once the judging has been done (and the clean up!), a debrief on the task is useful. This includes the students’ reaction (especially when the judge knew nothing of the handicaps) to not winning. Stimulus points for discussion are useful, such as how wider society views individuals and groups (e.g. judging us on our handicaps and not our potential) as well as how both communication and handicapping can affect group and individual dynamics.

Overall, this can be a messy, noisy and enjoyable lesson and can act as an effective ‘one off’, or a good segue to units dealing with underprivileged groups, ‘able’ society and its responsibilities, and communication and values more generally. Let me know if you’d like further Drama ideas and suggestions like this and the ROBOT game.

Looking to do some drama in your English class – perhaps something more developed than a warm up game? Then I present the Robot Game – which I originally saw in Peter Moore’s When Are We Going To Have More Drama, now out of print.
This is probably the most requested (long) drama activity that I have done with students. The ‘performance’, which takes most of a lesson, can often be hilarious, as students who have not prepared sufficient ‘actions’ realise that there may be some tasks that their ‘robot’ will struggle with.
In doubling in this post, I have also decided to upload my first Explain Everything video, created to introduce the task to the students – so I am looking to explore the practicalities of this app (part one) in the English/Drama classroom.
So, before any embedded videos, here is the ‘print’ form of the task, aimed at teachers:

Premise: You are captured in a prison on an alien world. Your only resource to help you escape is a ‘robot’ that does not speak English. You must learn its language in order to guide it through a ‘maze’ in order to retrieve a set of keys.
Procedure: DAY ONE: Divide students into groups. At first, the students work together to create a fake ‘language’ of about 5-15 commands (you don’t need to tell them this) in order to pilot the robot. Foreign languages are out, or other simplifications of English (eg Left = L). In the past, things like Simpsons characters, car brands and jibberish have been popular. Students then rehearse/test the language with the robot (the robot will NOT have the commands on the final run).
DAY TWO: While you set up the course with the course planners, drivers have a final practice run. Robots sit outside until called. Drivers are brought in and the course is demonstrated to them. Then each robot is brought in and the drivers have to pilot the robot around the course.
THE RUN THROUGH: A robot (that is, a student) is brought in and sits down on a chair. The two drivers (the other two students) ‘sit’ on their hands, with the instructions in front of them and can only offer the rehearsed “commands” (i.e. no eye contact ‘offers’, no pointing etc). Any use of English (e.g. accidental calls of “NO!” or “Stop!”, incur a 5 second penalty. The total amount of time is (usually) 5 minutes. A robot may get ‘stuck’ at a point and you may offer the drivers the option of a one-off, 30 second penalty to ‘advance’ past this procedure. The total time having expired, may see robots finish while still on the course, so keep tabs of where they finish (plus penalties).
Other Observations: The only ‘caveat’ is that robots will need to be outside, for up to (in the case of the last robot), the bulk of the period. This has never been a problem for me, but could be an issue, depending on your class. The lesson is usually hilarious, based on the absence of necessary commands, with students walking “into” tables because they haven’t thought about climb over or crawl under in their set up. You can make it as hard or as easy for your class as you need. I’ve usually run this with year 7 but it would work up to year 9 potentially. You will need to keep the changeover of robots tight, otherwise you’ll easily run over time.
Possible Marks/Extension: You can use this as a group mark, based on their ability to work in a group (esp in period 1) effectively. A reflection task can be to have the boys discuss ideas of communication and how they were challenged by expectation and what happened.

Explain Everything – a reflection

Below you will find my first ‘attempt’ at Explain Everything. All up, it probably took about an hour of solid work to get it done, and I beg your indulgence at my efforts! There were a few issues with crashes (and some odd slide clashes) that probably made the process a little more frustrating than one would hope and expect. My aim was to create this solely using my iPad – so that the idea of lightweight, portable content creation became the focus.
Here are some other observations about the app from my first go:
1. Ensure that you have your ‘script’ created beforehand. I did this, which worked well. Having all of the images, photos and the like set up (my son drew the rocket ship) before, rather than stopping and sourcing/creating them as you go, would also be advisable.
2. Overall, the feel and use of the app is great. It is easy (the help ‘manual’ is good, although perhaps not as extensive as one might like) to use and mostly intuitive. I would liked to have seen the ability to copy images from one slide to the next (unless I’ve missed how to do this), as this is a common trait that makes the iPad a boon in most areas. Instead, I sometimes tried to duplicate the slide and erase elements that I did not want. The only downside from this was that (for some reason), some of the erased elements would magically re-insert themselves later on – frustrating. I’m sure this is a glitch that will soon be fixed.
3. Consider how you are going to ‘animate’ it ahead of time. I found trying to make it look ‘smooth’ while doing any voiceover (again, apologies for the tone that suggests “I’m concentrating here!”) at the same time. However, it is relatively easy to pause and break the animation and thus the voiceover.
4. Practical uses for the English Class. Thus far I can see two main uses. The first is for something like this, where you can make it a story tied to a series of instructions. Students could look at this the night before (reflecting possible ‘Flipped’ class models), work online together to come up with their “list” of commands, and come in ready to go with the rehearsal/performance the next day. The second would be as an explanatory tool. At present at my school, Year 9 are working on a unit studying a range of sonnets. Explain Everything would work quite well as a ‘study guide’, that covers the structural elements that make up a sonnet. The advantages would be that, despite some time investment (several hours), you would have a resource that you could use again and, perhaps more importantly, a guide that students can visit more than once in order to help with their study of the form.
I think I’ll see how I go with that as my ‘second attempt’. In the meantime, the first attempt is below. Let me know if you need any clarification with the task, or wish to make suggestions about other ways Explain Everything might work in the English (Drama?) classroom.

TED ‘Junior’

You will no doubt be aware of the influence and spread of the TED conferences and talks, based originally on ‘Technology, Entertainment and Design’. There are now over 1100 TED talks , usually working out of a filmed presentation, under twenty minutes in length to a live audience.

One thing that TED lacks, is a range of younger speakers. One prominent talk that comes to mind is that of Thomas Suarez, a 12 year old who provides an entertaining talk of less than five minutes on developing iPhone apps. With this in mind, my year 7 English class and I developed the following idea:

The Best Idea I’ve (n)Ever Had

In short, you have three minutes to present your views on any topic that you like. It might be a question you’ve always had and want to explore, an idea or solution to a problem, or even just some unfocused daydreams that you’ve had. You script your idea, then use digital cameras/iphones/ipads to record and upload your presentation.


As mentioned, we used the iPad2 as a ‘one stop shop’. This meant that we were able to film (including connecting an external microphone), edit and post using the one device. The outcome was to save considerable time, while still having a very satisfying presentation.


The most important part, as with implementing any tech based lesson, is to have the content in hand before any “idevices” are brought onto the scene. Brainstorm first, to get a supply of possible ideas. Students will need to script the piece that they intend to present. Having trial runs, both in terms of learning the content, and becoming familiar with appropriate methods of delivery are a good idea. Some tips include:

  • Chunking ideas – put ideas into “paragraph-sized” lengths. This will allow students to present a 20-30 second idea in one hit, without using notes. The aim is to have them present without anything in their hands – as occurs in the TED talks. Reinforce that this is a topic where they are playing the role of  expert so they have the ability, like telling a story, to do so without prompts.
  •  Create three slides – to break up up the speech, students can use some visuals to help explain for emphasise a point. Limit their use as they are meant to be prompts, not the focus
  • Find places to pause – the reason for this is to allow for refamiliarising with the points to cover and to change the camera angle.


With our ‘inaugural’ run at this, we tried to keep the process as simple as possible. To this end, we used an iPad2, with a simple (and cheap) attachable ‘fisheye’ lens that help magnify the subject. I got the students to do it in one go – we were looking to use iMovie to edit the clips thereafter . However, this has highlighted the limitations of importing (say from a second iPad) and/or issues with stopping to introduce slides. Instead, having designated ‘spots’ where the student can stop following a single idea, the iPad can be moved for the next 20-30 second ‘grab’. This also means that inserting any of the slides can be done without disrupting the overall flow.

A student explores the nature of happiness


One student described this as the “best thing” he’d done all year – a time when he felt like he could create his own real-world project and have it valued. We joked about splicing a “TED audience” into the project, to give the impression of a rapt audience. Ironically, with a little more polish and time, there is absolutely no reason why students couldn’t broadcast their ideas out into the wider community. As another student said “Why should we have to wait until we turn 18 so that we can vote and get a tax file number, just so that we share an idea?”

I’ll be looking to do another run towards the end of the year. Would love to hear any similar ideas and approaches, or feedback.