Improvised Role Plays of Real-World Conversations

Improvisation allows students to prepare for real world situations, but often in regular role plays, the conversation runs more smoothly than in real life. In the real world, people find themselves challenged by awkward situations. In theater class, we address the pragmatics of minor conflicts through improvisation. First, we might read a scene in which a character is trying to send implicit messages in a socially acceptable way, such as a restaurant owner wants to politely get rid of a job applicant who is trapped by a flood in Rising Water. Students read the scene, discuss the intentions of the […]

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The Drama-Based Approach to Teach Communication

I’ve produced a short look into the Adrift book, and the way it uses the drama-based approach to teach communication skills. If you’re not a video person, you can also read my summary. But I do recommend checking out the video, to see inside the actual book. One of my favorite activities to make students aware of how much communicating we do with intonation, body language, and facial expressions is to have them read a short script of a scene. Then we watch the scene. Looking at the words on the page, devoid of delivery, is a very different experience. […]

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Play on Feelings: Using Intonation to Express Emotion

Intonation is notoriously difficult for English learners, yet it is important for sending emotional messages. When we are worried about a situation, we may express that as much with our tone as our words. The listener needs to pick up on that worry in order to fully communicate. When our students speak, they also need to convey their feelings to help others understand their needs. On the other hand, sometimes we speak ironically. If our students can’t understand a sarcastic tone of voice, they will take away the opposite message from that the speaker intended. And looking beyond communicating […]

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Pragmatics is Everywhere

I got this amazing feedback from an educator about one of our drama books a while back. I introduced the idea of using [Her Own Worst Enemy] in the classroom to my principal, and she loved the idea! I also did a tiny lesson on pragmatics with some of my ninth graders, and they seemed to enjoy it. A few weeks after the lesson, a special needs student was able to connect pragmatism to another lesson we were doing. There are powerful things for students to learn in this play! This is why we keep putting out books. It’s […]

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How to Put on a Play in Class

The benefits of drama in the English classroom are surprising. Students learn and practice a variety of acting skills, using their bodies and voices to make meaning. When they put on a play, what to say is given to them so they can focus on how to say it. Speaking with emotion and attitude are skills we don’t always find in our coursebooks. And when students act a role, it’s a sort of safe space where they can make mistakes. Plays are also usually written in natural language so they are a wealth of idioms and conversational expressions. They are […]

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Conversational Moves

So many speaking materials focus on micro-language: application of a grammatical form, pronunciation of a syllable, maybe memorization of a useful phrase. But students do not get much scaffolding for a macro-approach that integrates larger elements of language such as longer turns, or whole sections of a conversation with a particular purpose or theme. Richard Swales talked about analyzing written work in terms of rhetorical moves, or places where we start new sections with a new objective. We can apply the same analysis to conversations, showing students different ways we perform conversational moves such as, starting a conversation, engaging in […]

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Theater as the Ideal Group Project

Thunder claps, lightning strikes, and rain begins to fall as Jane and Margaret approach the bus stop. They are two students: one a model child with good grades, the other a bit of a misfit who doesn’t clean her room or get her homework done on time. But as an ordinary autumn rain turns into a natural disaster, the issue what kind of people we’ll really need in the future is called into question in a new way. This is the setting for Rising Water, a play written by Alice Savage for the ESOL classroom that uses the story […]

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Intonation Sensation: Using Emphasis in Speaking

English speakers use intonation to express meaning. We can emphasize a word to show that it is important. This may not be true of the other languages your students speak. In some languages, intonation is only applied at the sentence level. In some languages tone is linked to the meaning of the word itself. Students need a chance to practice using emphasis in speaking to make their meaning clear. This quick and easy activity comes from Rising Water. Students can listen to the audio recording or get the podcast of the play to hear where those actors chose to put […]

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Scripted Dramas to Teach Pragmatics

I’m excited to be exhibiting and presenting at the WATESOL Fall 2018 Conference in DC in a few days. I’ll be featuring some of our books about drama including Fortune and the Integrated Skills Through Drama series. I’ll be putting the whole presentation up along with handouts at some point but I’m proud of this activity idea from the Fortune series. When I talk about using a dramatic videos to teach pragmatics, I hear the same question from teachers a lot. Aren’t scripted dramas too artificial to teach authentic communication skills? After all, studying pragmatics is supposed to help students learn […]

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Reader's Theater

How to Do Reader’s Theater

What is Reader’s Theater? In its simplest form, Reader’s Theater is an activity where students read a play aloud with the scripts in hand. They often do so without having memorized the script. They may not have props, act out the action of the play, or even move. There doesn’t need to be an audience besides the readers themselves. Reader’s Theater can be used with scripts or stories or even poems. Sometimes the teacher or students rewrite stories in play form for the purpose of doing Reader’s Theater. This can be a great way to get students writing creatively. […]

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