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Developing Writing in Drama

Written work in drama can be a contentious issue and ignites heated debates in the arts education world. In a recent edition of Drama and Theatre Magazine, the ‘Secret Teacher’ presented a convincing argument for dedicating a proportionate amount of time to written and practical work in Drama at Key Stage 3. The fact that they felt they had to conceal their identity, in order to express such an opinion, is alarming but totally understandable.

Drama is a practical subject and we do not want to see the time dedicated to practical drama eroded.

This Blog will explore some strategies and approaches for developing writing at Key Stage 3, which are meaningful and not time-intensive, in terms of lesson time and marking time. I will draw on thoughts and ideas presented by experienced Head of Drama Rob Otton in the webinar 'Developing Writing in Drama', in February 2022.

Writing in Key Stage 3 Drama

There are two different forms of writing in drama; writing about drama and theatre and creative writing, which might include monologues, letters, news reports, poetry, diary entries, speeches, captions and thought tracking. Writing about drama and theatre, is primarily the analysis and evaluation of texts, theories, live or digital performances, and the devising process. Students must also write from the perspective of the actor, the director and designers.

Firstly, I am not saying that there should be more written work in drama at Key Stage 3.

I have worked in schools where there is no written work at Key Stage 3 in Drama and I've also worked in schools where we have made a concerted effort to develop writing at this level. Both of these approaches were right for the respective settings, contexts and the needs of the students. How you embed writing at this level will depend on lots of factors, which may include:

  • Your school policies

  • Your departmental policy

  • The literacy needs of your students

  • The EAL and Special Educational Needs of your students

  • The content and structure of your Key Stage 3 curriculum

  • The specifications you teach at Key Stages 4 and 5

And perhaps most importantly:

  • Your philosophy, beliefs and chosen approach as a drama teacher.

The responses in the chatbox at the start of the 'Developing Wrinting in Drama' webinar were all too familar. When teachers were asked 'What are the challenges of developing writing in drama at Key Stage 3?', responses included the following:

"I find students often describe things that are not supporting their point"
"I'm looking forward to getting some inspiration for how to integrate writing into lessons without the pupils moaning "when are we going to do some drama?"

Many teachers commented on the challenges of having only one lesson per week or even per fortnight with Key Stage 3, plus managing the marking which is generated from setting written tasks for hundreds of students at this level. Rob started the webinar by talking about the context of his own school and the Key Stage 3 Drama curriculum. Rob shared the fact that he introduced a written exam in Year 9 a couple of years ago, with surprising results. He said:

"Three or four years ago we introduced a written exam in Year 9. Initially, I wasn't keen on the idea but it has been one of the best things we've done. I was worried (introducing an exam) was going to have a huge impact on options, in a negative way and put students off taking drama at GCSE. In fact, it had the opposite effect and our numbers went up."

He went on to explain that a lot of different students who perhaps would not have taken drama in the first place are now opting for it, since the written exam was introduced:

"They realise they are good at drama, because they have a sound knowledge of the subject, even if they are lacking some confidence with the practical work. It also gives us a really good idea, at options evening, whether students will cope with both the written and practical aspects of the course."

There were many strategies presented in the webinar for developing writing but here are five. Rob says:

"The activities we do in Year 7 are based around:

  • How can I allow them to access this key vocabulary?

  • How can I get them to understand it?

  • How can I get them to use it?"

1) Plan It

Within each scheme, ensure that you are clear about the key terminology you will introduce within each unit. Why not use our editable Drama Vocab Tracker, which is perfect for this? You'll find it in the 'Developing Writing' Folder of the Resource Library. Details about signing up for the library are at the bottom of the post.

2) Oracy as a Foundation for Writing

You can still make Key Stage 3 lessons very practical, with key drama vocabulary introduced from Year 7 to 9, through active learning and oracy. "They learn to talk about drama first," Rob says. He explains that he would not explicitly introduce writing tasks until the end of Year 7, explaining that:

"Students need to get to know the subject before they learn to write about it."

3) Use Displays

Whether you are teaching in a drama studio, classroom or school canteen, displaying key vocabulary on the wall and getting students to interact with these displays is a great way to foster active learning. A lovely finisher is getting them to run to the words and terms they have seen in the lesson. This can be then be developed into more targeted questioning about defining the terms or giving examples of how the strategy was used in the practical work, which was shared or performed.

4) Write on....

Utilise a range of techniques in terms of how the students write and what they write on. Rob has black boards, on the wall around the room, which encourage students to discuss and write down ideas throughout a lesson. Mini-whiteboards, post-it notes and exit-tickets offer alternatives to paper in terms of providing more 'low stakes' opportunities for developing writing at Key Stage 3.

5) Re-cap Verbally

Use skills checklists or vocab bookmarks for students to pin-point drama terms which are being used in the lesson. These editable Vocab Bookmarks can be laminated and used again and again in your lessons. Students love using these!


Many thanks to Rob Otton for sharing so many amazing ideas and resources wtih us! You can connect with Rob on Twitter @Rob_Ottondrama. You can sign up for our weekly newsletter and the Resource Library here so that you can take part in future webinars:

If you have already signed up for our Resource Library, download the templates here:

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