3 Tips for Integrating Drama in the English Classroom

3 Ways to Use Drama in the ELA Classroom

By Danielle from Nouvelle ELA

Using drama in the ELA classroom is one of those things you may have thought about doing, but never gotten around to. Maybe you don’t feel like you have enough time (a big one for all of us!) or maybe you lack confidence in your own drama-ness. No worries! I’m in the Coffee Shop this week to give you some tips and resources for integrating drama in your secondary English class.

I have loved drama since my 3rd grade class got to be dancers in the school’s performance of “The Nutcracker”. When I was in middle and high school, I always wanted to do “acting” options for projects, sometimes asking my teachers ridiculous things like “can I show you the parts of the cell as an interpretive dance?”

As a teacher, I seek to give my students the same opportunities. Drama is a great way to build public speaking skills, memory, and community in the classroom. I have used drama with grades K-12 in France, Germany, Puerto Rico, and the US, and students beg for more. Literally. After finals one year, I was planning to show a movie, and students asked to reprise some improv games instead. Awesome!

So, where do you start?

1. Start with improvisation.

Improv is spontaneous, unscripted acting, and it is excellent for building student confidence. First off, improv games are short and funny. Secondly, students are working toward a common goal. Third, improv is not graded and it is inherently “low stakes”.

Here is a great game that I’ve used for English, ESL, Creative Writing, and Public Speaking classes and workshops. This is your go-to game if you finish your lesson early, particularly if it’s the last class of the day or a Friday. 

“Story, Story, Die!” 

Choose four students to be Storytellers, and one Pointer. The Pointer picks one person to start the story, and then randomly switches between people. The goal is to continue telling a cohesive story, picking up where the last person left off. A participant “dies” if they make a continuity error (accidentally change the setting, for example) or if they hesitate too long before picking up the thread of the story. The audience can be the judge, and participants can “die” an exaggerated stage death for more fun. Last person standing wins.

Why this game is great:

*Students are so focused on the story that they often forget 29 people are listening to them give a speech. Awesome!
*Students have to listen to the other participants in order to succeed. Awesome!
*It is hilarious and no-prep for you.

Using Drama in the ELA Classroom: Great tips, resources, and freebies on the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog.

2. Convert “presentations” to “drama”!

Remember how my younger self wanted to do an interpretative dance to show understanding of the parts of the cell? It’s time to brainstorm some ways that “drama” could be your final product.

After reading “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl, my students choose to be the prosecutor or defense attorney in Mrs. Maloney’s murder trial. They write closing arguments as either lawyer, spinning textual evidence to support their case. Each year, I have at LEAST half a dozen students who ask to perform their arguments.

Last year, one of my classes surprised me during our reading of Lord of the Flies. They wanted to act out each chapter after reading it, and even selected a student in the class to provide dramatic narration.

You do have time for this! It may take a few minutes longer to let them act out a chapter summary, but they are more likely to connect to the material whether they are “on stage” or “in the audience”, and thus you can meet your goals for understanding and engagement.

3. Perform a class play

The most complete way to bring drama into the classroom is to commit to performing a whole play, whether it’s Reader’s Theatre, a Staged Reading, or something memorized. This allows students to really dive in and explore characters, plot, and setting, and they will always remember this experience.

In the past, I’ve split my class into groups and each group has been responsible for one act in whatever Shakespeare play we were reading. As a class, they decide to either keep a consistent time and place, or change it up for each scene. Depending on the grade level, they use the original text, an abridged text, or create their own lines but stay faithful to the original story. We’ve had everything from post-apocalyptic Romeo and Juliet to a British comedy version of Much Ado About Nothing. You can have students video these or perform them in the classroom.

It’s also great to share drama with a live audience who comes fresh to the story and production. Last year, my 9th grade Honors classes worked together to do an abridged version (1 hour) of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They worked for several weeks on this project, and completed mini-lessons on parts of the stage, blocking, voice, and levels. They performed their dress rehearsal for an audience of parents, and their final for the middle school.

If you're looking for classroom-tested, 30-minute abridgements,

In addition to weaving it in throughout the school year, I do a dedicated Drama Unit each year (usually with a Shakespeare play). You can grab my Intro Lesson here (an exclusive for the Secondary English Coffee Shop!), and check out how I get students on the same page before we begin.

Using Drama in the ELA Classroom: Great tips, resources, and freebies on the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog.

Check out these other drama resources from Coffee Shop authors:
Shakespeare Mini-Book by The Classroom Sparrow
Improv & Role Play Scenarios by Presto Plans

What are ways that you integrate drama in your ELA classroom? We’d love to hear from you in comments or give us an IG shout-out @secondaryenglishcoffeeshop. Have a coffee-tastic day!

Making Public Speaking Less Scary for Teens

If it's true that many people fear public speaking more than death, then Secondary English teachers have to be the warriors on the front lines against that fear. It's our job to not just assign a speech when the standards demand it, but to teach students HOW to prepare and give one with grace.

So, how exactly do we help a wide range of students choose bravery over fear?

As a speech nerd aficionado teaching a general English class, I love getting to the root of student problems and making them more comfortable presenting. It’s one way to make a visible, long-lasting impact on students, and the time we spend on it is always worthwhile.

FREE: Student Survey & Action Plan
The first step is to find out what YOUR class may already know and do, and to crack open their honesty.

Without a valid survey or pre-assessment, you may not get to uncover who will be fine and who is on the verge of a breakdown. (Trust me - two minutes of survey time is worth the time saved later dealing with drama!)

Pass out this FREE student survey to see where your class is starting from; then use the action plan on the back to make individualized, student-led action plans in pursuit of growth!

Okay, now what?
Here are of my best tips to help a mixed-ability class give speeches in an introductory OR intermediate way. Pick and choose what strategies they need!

1. Play with audience size
The most common student fear is the stereotypical speech in front of THE ENTIRE CLASS. But let's challenge that assumption - do we really need that to happen?

If you can swing it, try to either:

  • Split the class in half, with two simultaneous speeches happening (that you can oversee and grade from the back)
  • Divide students into small groups! Why not make tables, and let one student stand and present to just his or her group? (You might not need to hear every word of every speaker to still assess the objectives on your rubric!)

Another advantage to groupings is that you can differentiate academically or socially, such as separating a bully from being in his prey’s audience.

2. Practice in class
Truth: Students either don't practice at home OR don't do it enough, and it's not just out of laziness: many students genuinely think they don't NEED to. They actually believe that they can "wing it" and be fine... although we teachers know that practice really does pay off!

For at least the FIRST speech of the year, I like to make students practice in this in-class sequence (that takes one class period or less):
  • Out loud, seated, reading from a script or cards, all simultaneously. (It's a good kind of noisy!)
  • Standing up at his or her desk, looking at a script
  • Standing and talking to the wall, trying to keep eyes lifted (or at least the script at eye level)
  • Presenting to a chosen peer (or more)

This sequence usually shows students the importance of practice, as well as humble them about what was hard and what additional practice they should do before the real one.

3. Develop a growth mindset
There's no reason why students need to make EVERY speech perfect in EVERY way, right?

If you know you will assess a certain number of presentations or speeches per year, then why not just focus on making each speech better than the last one?

This growth mindset can work wonders with speaking in particular, mainly because it can take the pressure off... even if it's the self-imposed kind, and not caused by the teacher.

One way to develop a growth mindset with speaking is to borrow my FREE growth charts, picking and choosing the layout that works well for you. Make students track how their vocals, posture, and content went, while reflecting on what to do differently in the future.

4. Pre-assess shy students
I don't know about you, but I've had students with TRUE anxiety who can't stand up in front of peers without bursting into tears, freezing on the spot, and/or trying to flee the room.

When this happens, I arrange a time (like study hall) to let the student give his or her speech to me individually, with little or no audience; then, he or she has to give it again in front of the regular class of peers... but at least my grading has already happened, so the pressure is off. What they don't know is that I will grade both speeches and keep whichever grades are better. ;)

5. Give awards (for the little things)
Maybe the speech wasn't great, but their visual aid sure was! Use these awards to help recognize the parts that students did do well so that they are more motivated to improve in other areas next time.

6. Keep the audience busy
Pro tip: For every speech I assign, the audience is taking notes in some form - either on the content of the speech or the speaker’s positive and negative traits. As a result, the audience is more engaged, AND the speaker feels less of the sensation that all eyes are on him/her.

7. Bring in other experts
My students joke that I have some legit “wisdom drops” (a.k.a. lessons) on the “how” of public speaking… BUT, if I only use MY voice, then they're going to tune me out eventually.

If you don't have the time or resources to bring in a guest speaker, then use the guided notes in my Intro to Speaking with TED Talks lessons to allow videos of real speakers to preach about the ins and outs of good talks!

8. Let students get in character
Students are WAY less afraid of public speaking if they either get to 1) do dramatic read-alouds of famous speeches, OR 2) they get to imitate a real life scenario, like an awards acceptance speech. These two projects are my best of the year, simply because even my more timid stuents perform a million times better if it's not their words and/or not their persona being judged.

Check out my Public Speaking Bundle for a bigger list of all my speaking activities! 

A Final Thought
Not all students will ENJOY speaking, and that's okay. But you have an irreplaceable power in students’ lives: making a visible change that lasts well into their careers, and removing a phobia’s power over their lives.

Seasonal Fun for Secondary Teachers

I once had a roommate who was a primary school teacher. She would have such fun decorating her bulletin boards and planning class parties every season. Our apartment would fill up with dollar store finds like pumpkins, snowflakes, valentine hearts and shamrocks. I would often feel a little jealous that, as a high school teacher, I didn't have time to devote to all the seasonal and holiday fun.

In high school, we sometimes let these holidays go by with only a cursory nod. "Our kids are too old for that," we might say, or "We need to get through the curriculum and don't have time to waste on such things." However, I don't think either of those statements are completely true. Teenagers, despite their preoccupation with being "cool", do appreciate a little fun in class. The issue of time, though, is a real one.  I know I never have enough of it, and often arrive in the last few weeks of the semester wondering how I'm going to cram it all in. But celebrating the seasons and the holidays doesn't mean we have to sacrifice time devoted to the curriculum. Read on to see how!

Backward design is always a good idea, but it makes a lot of sense if you want to find time for seasonal and holiday connections. Look at your calendar and think about how you can build in activities and lessons that will allow you to embrace the season and have some fun with your students.  In English classes we use texts as tools to teach students to read critically and to communicate effectively; fortunately there are many short texts out there that we can use to do this. Spend some time thinking about how you can use these texts to build the skills your class will be working on at that time of year. I've provided a list of short stories, poems and expository texts that you can check out, as well as a sheet you can use for planning. You'll find them all HERE.

I'd also love to share my ideas for the many ways you can make seasonal connections to your curriculum:

This fall I've been doing reader's workshop, and am teaching my students to analyze and evaluate author use of narrative elements like setting and atmosphere. To do this, I use mentor texts as exemplars for my students, and Halloween is the perfect opportunity to find short texts that illustrate how setting and atmosphere can affect a story.  By Christmas time, one of my classes will be reading Macbeth; the other, The Poisonwood Bible. At this time we will be knee-deep in character and thematic analysis, and I will have my students create Christmas wish lists and New Year's resolutions for the characters. In doing so, they will have to illustrate what they know about not only the characters, but also the major themes in each work. They are still analyzing but are doing it in a way that works with the season. I'll even play some non-religious Christmas tunes as they work. If we were doing those texts in February, the students could write valentines cards or love letters from the various characters. These activities are not "fluff", because I would expect a letter from Lady Macbeth to her husband to be written in a way that shows a true understanding of her character, and not just a superficial one.

Writing prompts are a quick and easy way to incorporate seasons and holidays into your class. I like to use photo prompts, like the one above, where I ask students to write about the photo from the point of view of the car and then from the owner who has to dig it out after a storm.  I have other photos of beautiful winter and fall scenes in contrast with stormy ones. With these, I ask students to reflect on their feelings about the season, or to describe the scene that I've shown. Longer writing assignments can work as well. For example, at the end of the month my students will use what they have learned about narration to write a scary Halloween story. There are also many ways you can give persuasive or expository writing a seasonal twist. Assign students options like should football be banned? Creating the perfect Halloween costume, or even Should we celebrate holidays in school? During winter storm season, you can have your students read Billy Collins' Snow Day and ask them to write their own version.

You can also easily bring seasons and holidays into your grammar instruction. My students love it when I create grammar exercises that have a story, one with their names in it. For Halloween, the story has the principal show up at the door as a zombie. During the winter, I have an exercise that focuses on students getting storm stayed at school; each time I use them, students are very engaged in fixing grammar errors. If you'd like to try this yourself, you can use the sample and editable templates templates I've provided HERE.

You may not have time for students to do a full blown research assignment around a holiday, but what about using this time to not only teach them research skills but to also educate them about the origins and traditions of many of the holidays we celebrate? You could model and teach paraphrasing skills by giving students a short article that explains why black cats are a part of the Halloween tradition or why we give out valentines on February fourteenth. In North America, students get inundated with information and ideas about the holidays of the dominant culture, but not everyone celebrates Christmas and Easter.  To help them understand this (and each other), you could have students do a short research assignment about the other holidays celebrated around Christmas time.

There are always issues to be discussed and debated during any season or holiday. Last year, social media was abuzz over the Christmas Starbucks Cup and my class had a spirited discussion over the controversy. Another time, we debated whether there is too much focus on materialism during every holiday that comes along. Starting class with a short discussion about whatever controversy is brewing is not only a great way to engage your kids, but also another way to make seasonal connections. If you have students research holidays around the world, as mentioned above, they can also present these to the class.

I'm a strong proponent of getting students up and moving during class; I especially like taking them outside when I can.  I never see this as "taking a class off', because it never is: we go outside to learn. One of my all time favourite activities is to take my students to a nearby park to do an "imagery scavenger hunt". They go to different locations in order to find inspiration to do some descriptive writing. I do this in the fall with my semester one class and in the spring with semester two. It's a wonderful activity not only because it gives them an opportunity to work on their writing skills, but also because it gives them an opportunity to embrace nature, something our teens don't do a lot of these days. This year, I also used my students' love of their phones to get them to do some writing. They had to take a photo of something that captured the essence of fall for them and then do some descriptive writing to describe the scene. We'll do it again once the snow flies.

Thanks for spending some time at the Secondary English Coffee Shop. We'd love to hear your ideas for making seasonal and holiday connections with your students, so be sure to leave a comment! You can also go to my TpT store to check out the seasonal activities that I use in my classroom.

Looking for more ideas?
The SuperHERO Teacher: A Christmas Carol Unit
Addie Williams: A Halloween Writing Activity
Teach Nouvelle: A Non-Fiction Close Reading: The Hendersons Cancel Christmas
The Classroom Sparrow: Seasonal Career Project Bundle
Stacey Lloyd: Figurative Language Worksheets (Holiday Bundle)


Essay Writing Tips for Students and Lesson Tips for Teachers {with a FREEBIE}

Now that you have had the chance to get to know your students over the past few weeks, it is time to get into the books and teach your students the fundamentals of essay writing. That's why today's blog post is filled with essay writing tips for students and teachers.

Essay writing is a struggle for many students. Just as our students find essays to be a daunting task, teachers find the grading aspect of essays to be equally overwhelming. Good news, though! I have come up with some helpful hints and essay writing tips for students and teachers, which will help to make the essay writing (and grading) process a lot smoother.

On the lookout for essay writing tips for students and teachers? Then you're going to LOVE the tips included in this ELA blog post! Your 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students will be able to write with ease, AND you'll find grading tips to make your life easier as well. But it gets even better - there's a FREE download too! Great ideas for the middle school or high school English teacher or anyone who assigns essays.

Essay Writing Tips for Students

When students are assigned an essay, it may look quite challenging at first glance. Where to begin? How do I properly cite the sources? How do I create a Works Cited Page or bibliography? What writing format do I use and how do I use it?

These are the questions students ask themselves, over and over. In an effort to make this process easier, you may consider sharing these tips with your students!

1. Plan THEN Write:

The best way to tackle an essay is to break it down into smaller parts, or paragraphs, then work on each section one at a time. Plan out what each paragraph should look like. Next, create an outline with bullets or use a graphic organizer to help get your thoughts in order. To help you get started, here is the link to my free Essay Writing Organizer (I faithfully use this every time I teach students how to write an essay). 

2. Peer Editing/Revision:

Students can peer edit their essays in class. This is beneficial, because not only do they provide constructive criticism to their classmates, but it also helps with their own writing as well. I deliberately have students (who may have difficulty with the essay writing format) share their papers with students who have a clear understanding of the format. Alternatively, students who have stronger writing skills, are paired up with students who have similar strengths.

3. Grammarly.com:

Students can access this online extension to help with grammar mistakes. Aside from the fact that it not only catches mistakes that a built-in word processor may not, it also explains why it is considered to be a mistake. This is a free service that's also available on a smartphone or tablet. You can type directly into the program (and check your errors instantly) or upload a document, then review your errors and edit one-by-one.

4. Sonofacitationmachine.com:

This website provides both help and assistance to your students who might need a little extra help in learning how to incorporate citations and create a Works Cited or bibliography page. 

5. Purdue Owl:

This website provides extensive information regarding the different writing styles, such as MLA and APA. It breaks the formats down, in a step-by-step manner, so they are not as confusing for students. 

Essay Writing Tips for Teachers

How can you reduce your marking load? Once your students have had an opportunity to practice and polish their essay writing skills, it's now time for you to grade them! Enjoy these essay writing tips for teachers.

1. Grammarly:

(Again!) Using one of your browser's extensions (Chrome, FireFox, etc.) the program will help you to catch plagiarism, as well as grammar mistakes quicker than you normally would. I agree that it is important that students be able to develop the skills necessary to edit their own work, so instead of students using the program to review their own work, you can have them email you a copy of their essay instead, then you can use the program to help you catch those errors you may have initially missed. SImply, save the essay, then open it in the Grammarly program after you have downloaded it to your computer. The document will be formatted a bit differently once in the program (such as the title not being centered in the above example), but the errors will be clearly highlighted on the right-hand side, as well as their suggestions for edits. 

2. Peer Editing:

Encouraging and allowing for peer editing time means less time focusing on writing mistakes and more time to focus on expanding their ideas. This extra time can be put towards more time for constructive feedback and positive regards on their papers. In order to make this task a bit more engaging, I created a FREE Peer Editing Scavenger Hunt activity.

3. Checklists:

Provide your students with a checklist that must be submitted along with their final writing piece. This will help to ensure students are not missing any material or information. This will save you time from having to review a paper twice and it will save the student time from re-writing sections from their essay due to unnecessary mistakes. You can download this free essay writing checklist HERE.

 4. Variety:

Providing students with a variety of topic choices will alleviate some of the tediousness of reading the same essay topics over and over again. Whether it's a personal narrative, literary or persuasive paper, a choice of topics is an easy way to engage a variety of interests.

5. Rubrics:

Use a writing rubric for more efficient and effective grading. RUBISTAR is a great starting point for you to create your own rubric or better yet, you can search for more teacher-made rubrics already on the site. 

I enjoyed writing this post and learning a bit more about how we can make the life of both students and teachers a little easier when writing and grading essays. Hopefully, these tips work for you, as well as your students! 

Are there any essay writing strategies that have worked with your classes?

Looking for more reading strategy ideas? Check out these ideas from the other Secondary English Coffee Shop bloggers!

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