Synposes of Our Short Plays for the Classroom

Are you thinking about trying a play in your English language classroom? Not sure which one to choose? Here are the synopses of our short plays for the classroom. You can also download this list of short plays here.

Just Desserts (Drama)

The setting is a restaurant kitchen in a seaside hotel. Layla, a young immigrant, is in trouble with her boss. The head chef scolds her for not following his instructions for cutting strawberries. He also seems bothered by the fact that her saffron cake with pistachio cream is becoming increasingly popular. When the chef steals her recipe to enter a local bakeoff, Layla finds the courage to stand up to him and turn the tables.

Introducing Rob (Comedy)

The setting is a family gathering on a snowy day in New England. It centers around two sisters who live completely different lives. Cassie has stayed close to their parents and their world. She has a traditional family with a husband and children. Lola has left the small town. She works for a robotics company in Boston. When Lola brings a man home to meet their parents, Cassie shows up to investigate. It turns out Rob is not who he seems to be. When Cassie realizes Lola is dating a robot, their two perspectives on life and love clash.

Colorado Ghost Story (Mystery/Comedy)

A foreign exchange student, Ingrid, is living on a goat farm in Colorado. When the play opens, her friend Tina is visiting. When the two girls are told they need to stay inside at night, they decide to investigate. Is it the ghost of a previous owner? A white smudge in the darkness suggests so, but the ghost turns out to be a snowy owl. The real trouble begins when a mountain lion shows up. They survive the encounter, but Ingrid has to make an important choice: face the dangers of life in the wild or return to the safety of the big city.

Rising Water (Drama)

A Gulf Coast city is about to experience an intense tropical storm. The play starts with Ajax an adventurous teenager who boards a downtown bus with his bookish classmate Magnus. As the flood waters rise and the streets close down, Magnus chooses to stay safe in the library. Ajax, on the other hand, disobeys his parents and goes out into the storm to rescue people. Who is right? Is Ajax recklessly endangering himself and others, or is he a hero of the storm?

Strange Medicine (Drama)

A mysterious woman, Sarafina, moves into a guesthouse owned by a nurse and her teenage son. Sarafina stays up all night and gets mysterious packages. She claims to be a medical researcher, but Ramsay, the teenager, isn’t so sure. When a stranger starts taking pictures of Ramsay, confronting his mom at her work, and finally attacks Sarafina. Things come to a head. What is Sarafina researching? Is it controversial? And why does she have to do it in secret?

Only the Best Intentions (Romance)

2018 Runner-up for English-Language Award from the English-Speaking Union

The setting is a family home in middle America. Gigi announces she is breaking up with her fiancée Oscar. The reason? Oscar plays computer games too much. As a high-profile gamer, he has a chance to join a professional league. This puzzles Gigi and her family, though they are proud of Gigi’s sister’s success on the soccer field. The contrast in their feelings about esports and traditional athletics opens a conversation about how families treat young computer gamers and their passion for their sport.

Her Own Worst Enemy (Comedy)

A family is preparing to send their daughter off to college, but no one can agree on what she should study. Aida has had some success in high school theater. In fact, she’s been invited to audition at a famous performing arts school. It would be a dream come true for some teenagers, but not for Aida. She wants to be a scientist. Her choice of a stem career would be a dream come true for many parents, but not for Aida’s mother and father. They push for her to be an actress. By flipping traditional expectations, the play lightly explores different perspectives on how a young person chooses a career.

Find all our drama resources on our Plays for Students Page, including free resources on doing plays in class, doing reader’s theater, improv and theater games, and even short activities for practicing grammar, pronunciation, and non-verbal communication.

Embodied Mind: The Dancer and Dance and Grammar

“How can we know the dancer from the dance?” Yeats famously wrote. And in the dance of human communication, the body plays a role. Language is more than word choice or grammar, and even more than prosody. Gesture, body language, facial expression are all tools of meaning-making. This is why study of the embodied mind, how the mind and body are not separate, has been informative for linguistics and education. Alice and Colin, authors of the forthcoming 60 Kinesthetic Grammar Activities, have written about ways to use the body in teaching grammar:

Embodied Mind in the Grammar Classroom: Research and Activities

….Is a kinesthetic approach to grammar pedagogically sound, and could we do more of it?

After doing a bit of research, we discovered that the answer is yes and yes. A quick review of neurolinguistics research confirms what many educators and philosophers have guessed, that the body plays a role, not only in communication but also memory, recall, and even cognitive processing.

One way this happens is through emotions, which are reflected in physical postures and expressions. Another is gesturing, which “offloads” some of work by allowing the body to help with the thinking. (An easy example is counting on our fingers.) Studies cited by multiple authors show that students who use gestures remember more than students who don’t.

Still another is through mirror neurons. Otherwise known as empathy neurons, they allow our brain to experience other people’s intentions and feelings even if we have a different point of view. We gather this information through the eyes and ears so that we might perceive feelings such as enthusiasm or disapproval. More importantly, mirror neurons are also powerful in retention and recall. One study found that simply watching someone perform an action aids in storage and retrieval.

These findings explain why drama and improvisation are such powerful tools in learning, and why including non-verbal signaling is important in conversation practice. There are goals, tactics and expectations that people have when interacting with others that go far beyond the literal meaning of words. In fact, our non-verbal communication is often more trustworthy! People are uncomfortable when they don’t perceive the intention behind the words so language learners who speak in a monotone are at a disadvantage in social situations. This is reflected in a quote by a student who participated in a process drama activity led by Miriam Stewart:

I am not me in English…In Portuguese I am funny, I am smart, in English I am disconnected. Body is one thing, brain is another. I translate the words but they are just words, no feelings. No me. Today is the first time I feel like me in English.

Check out the original post on English Endeavors to read more and get some ideas for activities to teach grammar dynamically!


Looking for more?

Browse all our free resources for doing drama in the classroom at Plays and Drama Resources for Students. 

Set Your Roleplay to Music

Looking for a way to make your roleplays more engaging and also help students explore communication tools more effectively? Try music.

We all know the power of music to set a mood. Television shows and movies exploit this all the time. You probably know the famous theme from the film Jaws: Duh-duh…duh-duh…duh-duh,duh-duh,duh-duh-duh! It builds suspense even when nothing particularly frightening is happening on screen. The music alone tells you something bad is about to happen and evokes a mood that makes the appearance of a deadly shark even more terrifying!

Soundtrack to Life

Close Up of Woman Drinking from Red Polka Dot Tea Mug and Looking at Camera
Photo by @ ibreakstock/Depositphotos

Or think of a man and woman drinking tea or coffee at a café. The man fumbles around awkwardly, makes some dumb jokes about his clumsiness, and ends up making a huge mess. She stares at him inscrutably. But the swelling piano and violin music sets a romantic mood. You are sure her look is affectionate! Her next words will be consoling or maybe an unexpected compliment.

Now imagine the soundtrack was Yakety Sax, made famous by Benny Hill. Suddenly this is a slapstick comedy scene. The man drops his wallet, picks it up only to trip over his own feet! Her stare shows how pathetic he is. She will probably sigh next. Or whack him over the head and storm out.

Maybe the music is ominous: slow long cello notes. Perhaps the woman is a serial killer and she’s decided this loser is too sad to live. She will invite him to come home with her. He will be surprised, but accept before she changes her mind!

So music has a lot of power. It can set a mood. It can evoke a context (in a movie, this would be the genre but in real-life the genre might better be seen as the context ). It can also indicate the characters’ intentions. And all these elements have an effect on the language we use. Our body language, tone, choice of topic, and even the words and grammar we choose to express ourselves with, are determined in part by our intentions, mood, and the context. A family attending a birthday party today will speak and act very differently during a family emergency.

You can exploit this in the classroom through a very simple activity:

Activity: Set your roleplay to music

Find a short, simple roleplay. Your textbook probably has a few. Look for the sample dialogues about buying a ticket, checking into a hotel, or buying something at a store. Alternatively, it could be a common place situation, like two people arguing over who does a chore or friends making plans.


Prosody Practice: Talk Show Activity

cover of Just Desserts by Alice Savage
Just Desserts

Alice Savage, author of the forthcoming The Drama Book, has been doing plays with her students for a while now. But she wanted to know if the prosody practice her students have been doing with plays would transfer to other activities.

Her students have been using some of her plays in class. They’ve been focusing in particular on prosody practice (intonation, word stress, rhythm, gesture, and expressions) to express attitude and emotion when they speak. These skills using prosody are essential for effective spoken communication. But they’re only useful if students can use them in other settings.

So Alice decided to have them do a talk show activity (download the activity here). You may have heard of this kind of activity, or done it yourself. So you may prefer your own version.

But what I thought was very clever about Alice’s version was that it linked to her play work. In her version, the students are on a talk show to promote the play they are working on! And of course, a talk show or TV interview is a perfect context for using a broad range of verbal skills and prosody.

So did it work?

Alice says, “It was amazing! They joked, laughed and used emotional intonation beautifully. And as I noticed in the previous course, it felt as though their personalities had emerged.

Communication skills can transfer from drama work to other contexts, which is very exciting. And as Alice hints, prosody opens up a whole new social world. Students can show warmth or annoyance or amusement as they speak. That may not be important for tourists or business travelers, but for people who want to live, work, and thrive in a foreign country, it’s very important!

Looking for more?

Browse all our free resources for doing drama in the classroom at Plays and Drama Resources for Students. 

This activity was originally posted on Alice’s blog at

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.

Scene 3: A downtown restaurant. The owner, Petra, is doing some paperwork. Ajax, a teenager, walks in.
Petra: We’re closed.
Ajax: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not a customer. I’m here for a job interview. My name is Ajax. Ajax Cooper.
Petra: Hi, Ajax. Weren’t you supposed to be here 30 minutes ago?
Ajax: Yes, but the rain . . . Um. . . The bus was late.
Petra: (Understanding) Yeah, I get it, not your fault. Look, um, I’m sorry, but it looks pretty bad out there. I got a weather alert a couple of minutes ago, so I think we may have to put this off for another day.
Ajax: Okay. I’ll just go then. (He hesitates.)
Petra: I’m really sorry you came all this way, but if it helps, I’m impressed you made it!
Ajax: Oh, um, thanks, I guess. (He nods) I totally understand. I probably should have called, but I forgot my phone on the bus. (He turns around to leave.)
Petra: Ajax, wait!
(Ajax turns)
Petra: Do you have a ride? How are you going to get home?
Ajax: The bus.
Petra: Are you sure?
Ajax: Yeah, I’ll be fine.
Petra: Where do you live?
Ajax: The north side.
Petra: Oh! The water is rising over there.
Ajax: I’ll be fine.
Petra: (Looks at her phone.) The freeway is flooded. The buses aren’t going to be running.
Ajax: They’re not? Are you sure?
Petra: No. Is there somewhere else you can go?
Ajax: Oh yeah. I’ll figure it out.
Petra: (Doubtful) I kind of feel responsible here. What are you going to do?
Ajax: My friend is at the library. I’ll go there.
Petra: (Relieved) Oh, are you sure? Because if you can’t get there, I guess you could. . .
Ajax: No, it’s fine. It’s really not that far.
Petra: Okay then, if you’re sure.
Ajax: Yeah. My friend’s always trying to get me to go to the library, so now I’m going!
Petra: Do you want to call him?
Ajax: I don’t know his number.
Petra: Yeah, phones, right? How about your family? You said you don’t have your phone with you.
Ajax: Um, no I don’t. I don’t remember their numbers either.
Petra: Really?
Ajax: It’s okay. If I can get to my friend, he can connect us.
Petra: Right. So, you have a plan. That’s good then. (She turns back to her paperwork.)
Ajax: Yes, um, should I call you later? To reschedule?
Petra: (Looks up.) Yes, next week. This flood is going to be a disaster. We’ll probably have to close for a few days.
Ajax: Okay, I’ll be in touch. Bye.
Petra: Bye! Stay safe!

Students read the scene, discuss the intentions of the characters, and then reflect on times when they felt uncomfortable. They can answer a series of questions in pairs:  Where were they? Who were they with? What did they want? What did they say? What was the result? 

Afterwards, they share with the class, and the teacher elicits what they wanted to say to the board, for example, “Leave me alone,” and “Stop asking me questions.” Next, the teacher introduces fixed expressions that signal messages politely next to the blunt statements, e.g., “Well, I’d better let you go.” signals you want to leave. “It’s complicated,” can signal that you don’t want to answer a question. Or, a simple “I don’t remember.” Or “I’d rather not get into that right now,” might work depending on answers to what and who.

The next stage is to have students improvise scenes that challenge them to handle situations like these. Here are some examples.

At work: Colleagues – A wants to find out if B is pregnant or married without asking directly.

In the neighborhood: Two dog walkers – A wants to learn about the new neighbor, but the new neighbor, B, is in a hurry.

At school: A is trying to get a group task done, but B wants to chat.

At home: Roommates – A wants to study, but B wants A to go to a party.

You can also use the students’ own experiences, but help them reiterate them more gracefully.

It can be helpful to give students a little time to prepare their roles, but since this is an improvisation, five or ten minutes would be the maximum. Finally, have them take turns performing their improv for the class. The teacher can give notes afterwards on language, intonation, gesture, and other elements that can help students navigate potential discomfort in their interactions. Such and activity can actually be fun, as well as a way to give students confidence and skills for the real world.

Looking for more?

Browse all our free resources for doing drama in the classroom at Plays and Drama Resources for Students. And check out all of Alice’s plays for ESL students:

Play on Feelings: Using Intonation to Express Emotions

Intonation is notoriously difficult for English learners, yet it is important, particularly in English, for sending emotional messages. The role of intonation in English is complicated but generally English speakers use intonation to express emotion, as well as attitude! 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 accurately, expressing and understanding the feelings and intentions of others, is key to making friends. Our students can’t have meaningful relationships in English unless they can speak with emotion. They do this naturally in their L1, of course, but it’s another story in another language. Often, our students are struggling with getting the words and grammar correct, perhaps even pronunciation. It’s a lot to ask them to also focus on tone. Furthermore, not every language is as expressive as English, so they have to learn the conventions of emotion and attitude conveyance in English.

So here’s a quick game to help practice using intonation to express emotions! I can it Play with Feelings!

The Activity

1. Pick a few short neutral statements. These expressions could come from a play you are working with or a TV show or film. Or they could be common conversational expressions. But you do need to choose statements that change meaning depending on the emotion or attitude of the speaker.  For example in the play Rising Water, a father returns home in the middle of a city-wide flood. He asks his wife where their son is. She answers:

I don’t know. Downtown, I think.

There are many ways the wife could say this. If she wants to convey her uncertainty, perhaps persuade the father to look for him, she might use a worried tone. However, if she wants to put him at ease and express faith in her son’s abilities, she can say this is a more casual tone. Perhaps she thinks the husband should be responsible for the son. Then she might say this quite angrily or defensively.

Each intonation carries a different emotion and requires a different response from the husband. Other expressions that work well for this include:

  • What are you doing here?
  • Can we talk?
  • I’m not sure that’s completely true.
  • I really think we need to figure this out.

2. Write the line you’ve chosen on the board. Then write three different emotions that are distinct such as worry, anger, and joy. Ensure that all three are appropriate for the line. Be sure students know what the words mean, and how to express them with their voice. You might want to model this (which can elicit some giggles and loosen students up).

3. Tell students they have to say pick an emotion and say the line with that feeling. The other students will guess which emotion they feel.

4. Encourage other students to give feedback.  They may say something like, “That’s not angry. This is angry. ‘What are YOU doing HERE?!?!” This gets them all practicing even more.

You can use this activity as a whole-class or in pairs or small groups. Students may want to start in small groups and then do some demonstrations in front of the class. It’s a great icebreaker or quick activity for the beginning or end of class.

Extension Idea

If you’re working with a script (be it a scene or a whole play), you’d then have them go through the script and mark the emotions they feel their character uses.

You can also go on to discuss each line and what the relationship and context might be. Students can go on to write a whole role-play based on a line and an emotion. Following that, have them imagine a situation from their own lives where they might use that emotion. They can role-play and practice dealing with that situation!

More resources to practice intonation to express emotions


Pragmatics is Everywhere

I got this amazing feedback from an educator about one of our drama books and how teaching pragmatics resonates with her students:

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 always inspiring to hear that they are having an impact on teachers and on students alike. And learning more about pragmatics, thanks to my time working on this project with Alice Savage, has impacted my life as well. I had never given so much thought to the ways our daily communication are affected by the social rules about how to act in different situations and contexts.

Or the broad range of communicative tools we use beyond grammar and vocabulary! We use tone, intonation, allusions and references, poses, facial expressions, body language, and rhetorical strategies when we speak, We often do this unconsciously, so we are far more aware of pragmatics when we have to interpret it in other people. And interpreting someone’s intentions through their verbal and nonverbal cues is as important as communicating. But every day, to paraphrase David Crystal, we make choices of what we will say and how we will say it. We make these choices in order to get certain effects based on our understanding of the context, our relationship with the speaker, and our needs and wants. All of this is pragmatics, a kind of hidden language of communication.

Pragmatics is about Choices

Imagine a few different scenarios.

  • A teenager wants to borrow $20 for a video game from their mother the day after crashing the family car into a telephone pole.
  • A teenager wants to borrow $10 for a book from their father who is often indulgent.
  • A worker wants an advance of $500, about 50% of next week’s pay check, just after the company announced it was going to be keeping a close eye on finances.
  • A worker wants a raise of $50 a week (about 5%) after getting an excellent annual review.
  • A 20-year old whose birthday is coming up wants to ask their uncle, whom they rarely see, who sometimes gives a gift and sometimes doesn’t, for $100 toward a racing bike.

Each is a situation of a person asking someone in a superior position for something. But the relationship, current situation, and context are very different in each. The stakes are also different. And that means the way these people will ask will be very different. In some cases, they can be very direct. In other cases, they need to be more indirect, and persuasive. Perhaps they will need to be manipulative or cajoling. We make these choices automatically. But a student from another country and culture, one with different rules, may have trouble understanding how to navigate these different situations in their new context. Particularly as they are also working on using the right words and grammar!

That’s why methods used to teach children, who are also new to the world and less steeped in social and cultural rules, are often a good place to look for how to teach pragmatics to ESL or EFL students.

Why Do Strangers Smile at Me?

For example, when my son was 6 years old, he asked me why strangers sometimes smile at him when he does or says something cute in public. It seemed like such an odd question. Of course we smile at small children. We do it all the time. So I told him people tend to like children and smile when they see a child doing something cute. It’s meant to be positive.

“But do I have to smile back?” he asks. Now, this is an important question. It’s not enough to just interpret other people’s meanings. You also have to know what is expected of you in a social situation.

“No, you don’t have to do anything,” I tell him, “They’re just being nice. You can smile back or wave, if you want. But you don’t have to.”

“Are they laughing at me?” Another important question. How do we know when people are being insulting? At what age do we expect to be treated seriously? How do we balance a child’s need to be recognized as a being with legitimate needs and feelings with the reality that children can be (and should be) childish sometimes.

“Probably not,” I tell him, “Not in a mean way. Maybe they secretly wish they could do the things you can do because you’re a kid.” I’m reminding him that relationships and context matter. Adults can’t act like kids. Husbands and wives can’t treat each other like strangers. A boss can’t talk to employees the same way she talks to her children, or nephews, or neighbors.

This question reminds me of my students who sometimes ask why Americans smile all the time. In many places, smiling is a sign of enjoyment. It’s only done in social situations when people are happy and having fun! In the US, it’s often a kind of greeting. We smile to show that we are friendly and open or to take the edge off of our words. Students who misinterpret this think Americans are silly. They may even think that someone smiling at them is a sign of romantic interest. And when they fail to smile as they greet someone, they can come off as cold. So pragmatics really does matter. And it really does have to be taught

Our line of drama textbooks that teach pragmatics through plays

Teaching with Stories is Teaching Pragmatics

I’ve also noticed my son’s school used to teach manners and classroom behavior (i.e. pragmatics) through social stories. Social stories are simple descriptions of good behavior and the reasons for them. They read a bit like the Gallant side of Goofus and Gallant from Highlights.

“Walton washes his hands when he comes inside after playing. His hands have dirt on them from all the things he touched outside. He doesn’t want to spread that dirt inside. And sometimes dirt can make us sick . . . “

The children read these stories, talk about the choices the characters make, and the reasons for those choices. Then the teacher reminds them of these stories at appropriate times of the day. After recess the teacher can say, “Time to wash hands. Do you remember what the boy in the story did? He counted to twenty while he rubbed.” There are even TV shows like Daniel the Tiger that make these social stories a lot more entertaining and turn these little lessons into unforgettable songs (Seriously, they are earworms from hell, but quite effective!).

Sometimes at school, the teacher even acted out the social stories with toys. I know this because my son used to ask me to act these things out with his toys! His bears have broken each other’s toys without saying sorry, refused to play with each other, and even told mommy they don’t want to go to the store today. Once they wouldn’t eat dinner at all, not even one little bite. It’s a great way to model what to do in difficult situations and give students the lamguage they need to navigate difficult situations as well as the kinds of variables we look for in difficult situations (Maybe the boy who snapped at you was tired or angry about something else, or you hurt his feelings without realizing it.)

Unless you teach young children, you’ll want to do roleplays, not act things out with toys. Awareness of pragmatics can even spice up your roleplays, even the most mundane ones. And prepare students for real-life situations where things can break down! Textbook roleplays always feel too dry and efficient and realistic to me! And a good roleplay is not only a great teaching tool, it’s genuinely engaging. It’s a play, because you’re creating a real situation. And it’s pragmatics. It’s teaching the reasons we make the social choices we do.

Play with Pragmatics

Now, the social situations our students are navigating are often more complex than what to do when you accidentally break a friend’s toy. But plays have a message in them. And that message is put into everyday language. In fact, plays are perfect for the language classroom because most plays are a series of conversations. The goal of a playwright is to leverage pragmatics effectively so that the dialogue sounds natural, the characters act like normal people would (with perhaps a little bit of heightened drama), and the resolution is satisfying (or unsatisfying for good reason).

So when we do plays with students, we’re teaching them how to act in certain situations. We’re showing them why people do the things they do (and those actions and reasons can be very different in different cultures) and we’re giving them the language to navigate these situations. And as our reviewer said, students really respond to it.

Looking for more?

Browse all our free resources for doing drama in the classroom at Plays and Drama Resources for Students. 

Slides from TESOL 2019 Presentations

The banner from TESOL19 featuring a yellow background, a picture of the Georgia World Congress Center, and the words TESOL 2019. Check out our slides from TESOLIt was an honor to present at the 2019 TESOL Conference and spread the word about using drama and video in language learning. Our author, Taylor Sapp, also presented on using his story prompts to help reluctant writers write and I hear it was very well-received. Patrice Palmer presented on teamwork skills and is getting ready to release a book on teacher self-care later this year! In case you’re looking for our slides from TESOL. I have put them on the TESOL schedule website/app. But I’d also like to share my presentations to make sure everyone gets a chance to take a look.

And please do leave comments, questions, and critiques in the comments!

Slides from TESOL

  • Videos are a powerful tool for language learning because they engage and motivate students, reach beyond the classroom context, and provide rich verbal and nonverbal input. Learn about a new video and course book series, about a private investigator with a mysterious past, that teaches language, particularly pragmatics and communication skills. Slides from Using Video to Teach Language [PDF]
  • Because plays are written to simulate natural conversation in realistic settings, they’re a wonderful resource to teach speaking. Plays let students practice using intonation, voice, rhetorical devices, and conversational strategies to make meaning. Experience activities from our scripts that exploit plays to improve students’ communication skills. Slides from Speaking Skills and Scripts [PDF]
  • Unfortunately, Alice Savage couldn’t be at TESOL this year, due to a medical emergency. She’s fine now, but I did have to step in and try to give her presentation. I can’t share her slides from TESOL, but we do have a nice handout:Theatre offers a staging ground for developing conversational skills. Participants use plays to explore pragmatics elements of interactions including intonation, body language, backchanneling, conversation repair, transitions and expressions that signal intentions, emotions and other implicit meanings. Participants work with scripts and come away with lesson plan options and resources. Teaching Pragmatics with Theatre Handout [PDF]

What do you think? Did you learn anything interesting at TESOL this year?

Looking for more?

Browse all our free resources for doing drama in the classroom at Plays and Drama Resources for Students.

Come Learn with Us at TESOL19

The banner from TESOL19 featuring a yellow background, a picture of the Georgia World Congress Center, and the words TESOL 2019. Check out our slides from TESOL

We’re going to be at TESOL19 Convention this year exhibiting at Booth 939, so please come on down and check out our books, including our newest releases: Adrift, Short Plays for Language Learners, and 60 Positive Activities for Kids. You can also hear about what we’ve got coming for the rest of 2019, download a free ebook, enter our raffle, and watch some movies! But they’re educational movies, so it’s OK!

We’ll also be presenting on our books and how to use them in the classroom. Here’s our list of TESOL19 sessions. If you scroll down, you’ll also find a Google Calendar you can check out and copy to your own GCal.

Alphabet Publishing at TESOL19

Wednesday, March 13

4:00pm – 4:45pm: Teaching Pragmatics Through Theatre

Come learn about how plays can help teach the hidden language of pragmatics and improve students’ speaking skills. Alice Savage will demonstrate several drama activities and highlight why non-verbal communication is so important to teach to students. (Omni Atlanta Hotel, International Ballroom D)

5:00 – 5:45pm:  Speaking Skills and Scripts: Using Plays in Class

If all the world’s a stage and we are merely players, then play scripts are a powerful resource to help our students learn the communication skills they need to join this giant improv community we fluent English speakers share. (GWCC, Room A401)

Thursday, March 14

12:30 – 1:15pm: Stories Without End: Engaging Students with Creative Writing

Learn how short story prompts can get even the most reluctant student reading and writing! Taylor Sapp talks about his book Stories Without End and how to use it in the classroom! (GWCC, Room A407)

5:00 – 5:45pm: Teaching Teamwork Skills for Successful Group Work

Learn about activities that teach teamwork skills from teacher-trainer Patrice Palmer. (GWCC, Room A309)

Friday, March 15

10:30 – 11:15am: Video Dramas for Language Learning

Video dramas are a powerful tool for teaching communication skills. Come learn how to exploit them and also motivate students with exciting dramas written for learners by Chasing Time English! (GWCC, Room A407)

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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 also a wonderful resource for pragmatics, showing how we use different rhetorical strategies in different situations. In fact, acting in a play can be a sort of rehearsal for real-life interactions, as students test out various strategies and gauge the reactions. And of course, they do so within the target culture, which can be different from their own. For example in every country, A direct criticism is received differently in different situations. Students need that kind of cultural knowledge.

And putting on a play in English class is the ultimate group project as students work together to organize rehearsals and give feedback to each other, decide on blocking and staging, or even collect props and costumes. Some students even report using the organizational skills they learned putting on a play to do other class projects.

But it isn’t easy putting on a play, so I wanted to share some advice from Alice Savage, author of the Short Plays for English Learners series and the Integrated Skills Through Drama series. The information here is adapted from the Production Notes that accompany every play in the Short Plays for English Learners series.

How to Put on a Play

  1. Read the play first. Make sure students understand the vocabulary as well as the story, relationships, and why the characters do what they do.
  2. Do table work. As a class, discuss the play. What themes arise in the play? How does it end and why? Which characters change and how do they change? How do the characters feel in the different scenes talking to each other? Discuss the pragmatics of the scene and the play.
  3. Think about logistics. Will you need to divide the class into multiple casts? Or will each group do a different play?
  4. Feel free to adapt. Do your students want to adapt the play at all to reflect some of their cultural values (for example, Saudi students sometimes rewrite plays slightly to ensure that the genders do not mix inappropriately for them). Or maybe students want to write a prequel or sequel!
  5. Assign roles. Consider the talents and personalities of your students.
  6. Make notes. Make sure students note their lines on the scripts and even jot in the margin ideas about how their character is feeling, ways they want to move, or other important information to help them act effectively.
  7. Schedule lots of rehearsal: Students should have lots of time to memorize their lines and also to get comfortable with each other. Students should be practicing both in class and on their own, alone and with other students. Be sure that you are giving feedback and that students are giving feedback to each other as well. Include not only feedback about errors, but also ways they could portray the scene more effectively: Is your character very angry here or just annoyed? When you raise your voice, you sound pretty angry!
  8. Mark thought groups, word and sentence stress, and intonation
  9. Practice speaking fluently so that it sounds like the actors are responding naturally
  10. Decide how you will perform the play: reader’s theater, a full performance, a scripts-in-hand performance, a video, or something else.

Looking for plays for students? 

Check out the pages for our Short Plays for English Learners series and Integrated Skills Through Drama series which are full of free resources as well as scripts.

Even more resources to do drama in the classroom

Browse all our free resources for doing drama in the classroom at Plays and Drama Resources for Students.