The start of the lesson is prime learning time, when students can be the most receptive and concentration levels can be high, so harnessing this is crucial. However, with many drama lessons taking place in classrooms at the moment, what are the best starters to use, which are both engaging and purposeful, without being labour intensive?
An ex-colleague used to refer to the starter activity as the 'buy in' and, as a young teacher, I definitely focused too much on making the start of the lesson 'exciting' as opposed to thinking about the learning taking place. I now know that there are many ways to start a lesson which are engaging and not labour intensive, and don't rely on copious amounts of technology. I have six of these to share with you, with some specific ideas about how they can be used in the drama classroom and have compiled these Six Engaging Starter Activities for the Classroom Drama in a handy prompt sheet, which you can download and print at the bottom of the post.
Planning your Starter Activities
Those first few minutes are crucial in terms of engaging a class and getting them off to the best start. A starter can be engaging if it includes the following:
A sense of fun
A desire to find out or complete an answer
An element of surprise
When planning lessons and schemes of work, ask yourself- "what is the purpose of the starter?" This should be connected to your lesson objectives. For example, is the purpose of the starter to:
Prepare for new learning or a new topic?
To revisit and practice important skills?
Consolidate knowledge from & make connections with previous lessons?
Or be surprising and fun?
Effective and engaging starter activities can be planned as a sequence of discreet units to build knowledge, understanding and motivation over a series of lessons. In drama, a good example of this is if you want to teach key terminology over several lessons or develop the essential knowledge and understanding around a specific text at GCSE or A-Level before exploring it practically. Ultimately, starter activities need to challenge students and therefore need to demand both pace and thinking in order to engage, so aim to make starters both active and thought-provoking.
Planning Starter Activities
"If we begin the lesson with a well-chosen recap, we are activating that prior knowledge, and making it much more likely they will be able to understand any new concepts being introduced" Jo Facer, Simplicity Rules, p.62
Former English Teacher, now Headteacher, Jo Facer dedicates a chapter of her book Simplicity Rules to 'Starting a Lesson' and offers several effective but time-efficient strategies which can be adapted for the drama classroom. She suggests that, when planning a unit or scheme of work you need to have a "really clear and organised idea of what the specific things are in your subject that you want your pupils to remember for the long term" (p.62). She also says suggests to ask questions with short or one-word answers so they can be done rapidly. You only want to be spending the first 5-10 minutes of the lesson maximum on these recap, starter activities.
I suggest you create twenty questions when you are planning a scheme of work, which link to the essential knowledge for the particular unit and then spread them out as starter activities throughout the unit, ensuring that you revisit each question several times. Remember, that "it is reckoned that children need to be expose to a new idea at least four times for it to stick." (Facer, p.6) These are low stakes questions and you should have the expectation that many of the students in your class should get 100% in each of these starter activities. This starts each lesson positively for the whole class and increases confidence for students of all abilities.
Six Engaging Starters for the Drama Classroom
I've put together a prompt sheet for you to download and print off with the six key ideas from this BLOG! It is available for free in my free Resource Library. These are time-saving, versatile and engaging lesson starter ideas for the drama classroom, which can be incorporated into schemes of work or can be planned in under ten minutes immediately before a lesson. All the activities can be simply projected as a task on a PowerPoint slide on the board, for students to complete immediately as they enter the room. You may also want to include a countdown timer showing how long they have for completing the task. When the timer has finished, ask for a 'hands up' to see who has X number of answers, in order to get a feel for how high you have pitched the level of difficulty for your task or questions. You can then decide to give students time in pairs to discuss their responses, prior to whole class feedback. Facer suggests that students mark it themselves, in a different coloured pen and "go over it rapidly" so you can get into the main activity of the lesson (p.65). To get a sense of which questions students have struggled with, ask for hands for questions they got wrong. This is important for future planning of lesson content and recap questions. So here are the six starters:
Starter 1: Three to five questions from the previous lesson's learning, with one word or short answers
This is a really simple starter, which takes very little time to prepare and answers can be checked verbally within the first five minutes of the lesson. For A-Level I find these questions are great for checking student knowledge relating to the context of a particular text or practitioner. Here are some examples:
Example from a Key Stage 3 Stage Spaces SOW
1. Name the stage space with the audience on two sides.
2. What is the name of the End on Stage space popular in the late eighteenth century?
3. What is alternative name for a thrust stage space?
4. Sketch an aerial view of a theatre-in-the-round, with the audience clearly labelled.
Example from an A-Level SOW on Our Country's Good (AQA)
1. Who wrote The Recruiting Officer and in what year?
2. Briefly describe the Workshop process which informed Wertenbaker’s writing of the play.
3. List three ways in which Ralph Clarke changes as a result of directing the play.
Starter 2: Three to five answers from the last lesson- Students write down the questions
This is an alternative approach to the first activity and can lead to wider discussion and debate. This is because there are multiple questions which could be written with a one-word answer or phrase. For example, if the answer was 'the transformational power of theatre', in relation to Our Country's Good, this could lead to a discussion around how this theme is conveyed in the play, or perhaps why Wertenbaker chose to explore this theme in the wider political context of the 1980s. For this reason, I find this activity works particularly well with A-Level and GCSE students, studying a set text.
Starter 3: Open-ended questions to plan or think- e.g. "What if..../ How might you..."
You are looking for more reflective, personal responses here, as well as checking knowledge and understanding. If GCSE and A-Level students are creating devised work or preparing to perform, you could ask questions such as:
What if you were to add a moment of ___________ to your performance piece?
What if you were a set designer, creating a set for a theatre-in-the-round?
How might you apply Brechtian techniques to this particular scene?
How might you use Stanislavski's objectives to explore this scene practically?
These questions might lead onto students writing a diary rehearsal log, in preparation for developing portfolio work or might lead into group discussions for practical devising. It also works well when students are preparing production concepts for set texts at GCSE & A-Level.
Starter 4: One minute to mind map keywords related to a topic, text or area of study
This works well as a starter for online learning, as students can then visually share their ideas once completed.
This is an example of a Key Stage 3 One Minute Mind Map recapping 'Performance Skills' terminology.
Starter 5: Find three quotes from a play text
This is an effective revision tool, especially when students are starting to think about the textual evidence they are going to use for an essay question at GCSE or A-Level. I would make this quite focused and ask them to select quotes from a specific section or scene. This is also a great way to recap the scene you have studied or explored in the previous lesson before moving on.
quotes which relate to the theme of......
quotes which relate to specific area of context.
quotes which reveal a character's personality trait or mood.
Starter 6: Provide students with a new or unfamiliar concept or keyword. Students decide which definition is correct.
This creates curiosity, intrigue and discussion around a new concept or topic. Simply write the word or phrase on the board and ask students to write down or discuss which definition or definitions they think are correct and why. This may also involve identifying the definition which is incorrect. For example:
An artistic movement which started in literature and then moved into drama.
It was pioneered by the practitioner Bertolt Brecht
It was concerned reproducing real life on stage.
So there we have it- six effective and engaging starters for the drama classroom. I hope this has given you some time-saving ideas for starters. The activities suggested in this article need not be limited to only the start of the lesson of course. They can also be used at the end of lessons too, as plenaries or can also be used to check knowledge in blocks of longer lessons. You can download & print our prompt sheet of all six starter activities (which is really handy to keep on your desk) by filling out the box below and gaining access to the We Teach Drama Resource Library:
Facer, Jo 2019, Simplicity Rules: How Simplifying what we do in the classroom can benefit children. Routledge
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