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Four Effective Ways to Teach Drama Online

‘Online’ is not where teachers want to be delivering lessons, especially drama teachers. It is creativity, collaboration & interaction which lies at the heart of our subject. Throughout 2020, we were in new territory, looking for ways to foster and retain these fundamental qualities through our pedagogy. There is still lots to learn. Last week, the education and exams-system once again went into free-fall and we are trying to find the best way through this, whilst continuing to provide the best learning experiences for our students. In this post, I am going to suggest four effective strategies for teaching drama online and share some useful resources, which I hope will help in the current climate.

Remote: having very little connection with or relationship to.

Firstly, I just want to say that I dislike the term ‘remote learning’, so you will not see the term anywhere in this post. There is nothing ‘remote’ about the way that teachers engage with their students when delivering lessons online. During 2020, teachers prioritized the mental health of their students when teaching online in a range of ways and worked tirelessly to find new ways to connect, and engage with, their students in new ways. This includes, checking in at the start of each lesson, asking frequently about student well-being, showing more of themselves as a person, teaching within their home, engaging with them through new platforms, differentiating learning, creating online learning projects, the list goes on. On social media, drama teachers are sharing some amazingly creative, innovative ways to teach online. So, let us use ‘Online’ or possibly ‘Home’ Learning.

What does Online Learning look like now?

Online Learning still looks completely different now for all teachers, especially in drama. Looking at the threads on the Facebook Drama Groups, each teacher is operating in vastly different circumstances in terms of setting and delivering lessons. This can range from being asked to set one task and upload it to a VLE for completion, delivering a lesson where the students have their microphones turned off, to delivering a more practical-devising lessons, using break out rooms. For the purposes of this post, I am going to cover a range of scenarios, so here we go:

1. Use a Simple Three-Stage Lesson Structure

During the first two weeks in January, mainly for Key Stage 3, many teachers are setting work for students to complete on a VLE or uploading tasks to Google Classroom. Ensure that these tasks are simple and clear for students and parents to follow but are not labor-intensive for you in terms of marking. Here is one suggested lesson structure which works well when students are working independently and can fit onto one side of A4. This is easier for you, students, and parents to reference rather than reams of paper and resources:

a) Start with a stimulus. This could be a video clip, a podcast, or more simply an image, a script extract or section of text on a theme, practitioner, text, or genre.

b) Set some reflective questions for students to answer in response to the stimulus, which provokes student thought. One idea which I heard on The Aside podcast recently (more details below) which would work well as Key Stage 3, is to set three questions called the ‘Three Whys’:

· Why might this topic matter to you?

· Why might this topic matter to your community?

· Why might this topic matter to the world?

c) Finally, set a short, creative task in response to the stimulus. This could be a mini-script extract, creative writing exercise, creating a mood board, a sketch of a stage space or costume, a character study or write a mini-monologue.

Here are a few suggestions for great FREE resources which may help:

  • There are some superb stimulus images on the Drama, especially if students are researching or exploring character.

  • Drama Dan or Crash Course Theatre videos are both FREE on You Tube and are an excellent starting point for a lesson.

  • There is a fantastic podcast, made for drama teachers in Victoria, Australia called The Aside. They have a series of episodes called ‘Script-Tease’ in which they provide a synopsis and overview of set texts in five minutes.

2. Teach Theatre Design

Many teachers have found that theatre design lends itself brilliantly to teaching online. Setting tasks focused on theatre design at all levels gives students the opportunity to research, design and create a whole range of creative projects. Use modelling as much as possible, so that your students are clear about what they need to create, whether it is a costume or set design, a playlist of sound effects or songs, a shoe box model of a stage or a puppet. We have just added beautifully designed Ideas, Mind Map and Mood Board Templates to our Resource Library, which are free to download, and come in editable pdf formats for online learning. Students can use it to research and create mood boards on set texts & costume, sound, set and lighting. Take a look at our Mood Board here:

I particularly like this Costume at the National Theatre page, in which costume designer Aiofe Monks talks about each stage on costume design in audio format. The Stagecrafts website is brilliant for resources on a range of productions which have innovative design features, including set texts An Inspector Calls & A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

3. Use Screencast-O-Matic for Student Feedback

This is a great way to significantly reduce your online teaching workload, especially if you have lots of exam groups. Teachers are using Screencast-O-Matic in a range of ways but one way in which you can use it in a meaningful way is for giving student feedback. This can be for individual students or whole class feedback. Simply record yourself talking through a piece of marked work, in the same way in which you would if the student or students were sitting in front of you. This will save you lots of time once you have got to grips with it! Burts Drama shows you how to use it here.

4. Use Tried and Tested Improv Exercises

Yes, this can be done and many of you are finding ways to do this! Here are seven improv activities and techniques which work well online:

Drama for Online Learning Infographic

a) Free Association- Get students to point to an object and name it. E.g. pen, desk, chair etc. Then they point to an object and give it a random name. e.g. point to a pen and say ‘watermelon’ etc. This is a low-stakes icebreaker. Allow thirty seconds per task.

b) Ten Characters in Thirty Seconds- This is a great exercise for developing characterization. One student performs, one person counts the number of characters created and one person times 30 seconds on the clock. Students must create ten distinct characters and find contrasts vocally and physically. This can be done as a whole class, with one group as the focus or in groups of three in breakout rooms.

c) Word at a Time- Each student says a word at a time. Keep it flowing. This can be used in so many different ways- I use it to brainstorm themes when we start a new topic or play text, but it can be used to recap the synopsis of a play or create a group narrative. The list is endless!

d) Hot-seating- A classic exercise but one which works brilliantly online. One student answers questions in role. Questions can be prepared or spontaneous.

e) Site-specific Work- When students are creating work at home, encourage them to engage with their surroundings as much as possible. What would a character do in their bedroom or living room for example? How would they interact with props and the space around them?

f) Play with the Camera- When students are improvising or recoding their own work, encourage them as much as possible to explore the relationship with the camera. This can include extreme close-ups and disappearing/ re-appearing on the screen in various ways.

g) Spotlight- When students are improvising or performing work online, ‘spotlight’ them in the same way you would in a drama studio by ensuring that they are the focus of the screen. This gives a greater sense of ‘performance’.

We have created and uploaded a handy infographic for you, with seven approaches for teaching drama online! This can be found in the We Teach Drama Resource Library, which is free and includes two schemes of work for online learning at Key Stage 3, plus the Mood Board resources mentioned earlier in the article. If you are already registered, click here or you can register for free here:

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