As a young and inexperienced teacher, I remember being very excited about using props with my Year 7’s, thinking that this would be a great way to get them excited about drama but not realising the chaos it could also create! I realise now it was all about how I set the activity up and introduced the props to the students. It was years later, when doing a workshop with Complicite that I really started to think about how to invest meaning into the items first and introduce them in a practical, creative way- the big reveal out of a sack, a chest or a suitcase, interweaving the props with storytelling....However, as my teaching practice developed, props became an integral part of my lessons in terms of establishing high standards for verbal feedback and evaluation. This Blog explores the use of props as a valuable tool to facilitate and support oracy and includes an essential technique for your behaviour management tool kit.
Several years ago I was working as a middle manager in a challenging, outstanding school in East London. During a build up to an Ofsted inspection I did some learning walks around the school and looked at subject areas outside of my faculty area. I was struck by the significant amount of learning which was happening in silence. Yes, there was a good level of focus in the majority of lessons but there was very little student talk, debate, questioning or teachers checking comprehension and learning verbally. When I spoke to teachers about why they did this, they said it was the best way they had found to manage behaviour, and did not feel confident to facilitate or manage student ‘talk’. From this, I decided to take on a role to develop whole-school oracy, with a specific TLR, and committed a full year to building the profile of oracy throughout the school. It was one of the most enjoyable projects I did whilst teaching and certainly the most rewarding.
In 2020 I wrote a 'case study' detailing the strategies I developed around whole-school oracy for the book Talking About Oracy: Developing Communication Beyond the Classroom by Sarah Davies. Sarah's exploration of oracy is book is both thorough and practical and I wholly recommend it if you are looking for some inspiration to develop oracy in your own teaching practice or school.
Using Props for Verbal Feedback
One of the most effective tools which came out of my year building a whole-school oracy strategy was using props for students to hold and use when they were giving verbal feedback and evaluating. The best way to introduce these is at the start of Year 7, who LOVED using them. I also used them for Year 8 and some selected Year 9 groups. For each prop, there was an attributed sentence starter. Here's the ones which worked really well for me:
1) Director's Megaphone
I used a Director's Megaphone for positive evaluation. These can be purchased or made out of card but I find that the better quality the props, the more that students was to engage with them and use them, so invest a little of you budget in these props if you can. Students speak through the megaphone and say a positive feedback comment such as "One moment which was effective was...", "I liked..." or "I felt the group created...." Projecting these sentence starters on the board act as a visual reminder and also support students with Special Educational Needs or English as an Additional Language.
2) Director's Clapperboard
I used a Director's Clapperboard to suggest ways in which practical work could be improved or developed. Students hold the clapperboard, 'clap' it and then say an evaluative feedback comment such as "I'd like to see..." or "I felt that... The Director's clapperboard can also be used to signal the start of a performance, with the whole class counting down and then saying 'ACTION'.
The Stage Manager's Clipboard
The Stage Manager's Clipboard can be used in two ways. Firstly, the stage manager role is assigned to one person in each group during practical work. On their clipboard is a copy of the success criteria for the task. They check, and make a note of, whether the group is rehearsing well, staying focused and hitting the success criteria for the assigned task. Here's an example of a handy template for The Stage Manager, which is available to download and use from our FREE Resource Library:
The second way the Stage Manager's Clipboard could be used is to manage behaviour in a really positive and proactive way. I sometimes give a student a clipboard who struggles to focus during practical lessons, or perhaps who needs to build their confidence, with a brief lesson plan on it, and all the timings of the lesson. The student has a focus for the lesson and sense of responsibility, with clear expectations from yourself as a teacher. As an extension activity, they can also note down any interesting key questions or feedback comments which have arisen during the lesson. This provides an excellent framework for having a focused conversation about the lesson content and gives them a sense of responsibility. If your school has merits or awards then ensure that there is an opportunity to reward the stage manager who takes on the role effectively.
In summary, there are several advantages to using props in your lessons, aside from using them within performances. One barrier to using props at the moment might be COVID restrictions but as things ease, hopefully this won't be an issue:
· Students want to hold and use the props, therefore they find ways to speak and give feedback.
· They project their voice more when they speak through a megaphone!
· They learn very quickly about different roles in theatre- we discuss the role of the director as someone who is not dictatorial, for example, and the role of the stage manager as the organiser, etc.
· Students speak in full sentences, give feedback and learn sentence starters which can be used verbally throughout their school life.
GREAT NEWS! We have created a slide deck and PDF version of all of the sentence starters used in this article plus a template for the Stage Manager's Clipboard! Download them by clicking here or if you have already registered for the FREE Resource Library click here.
Sarah Davies' book Talking About Oracy: Developing Communication Beyond the Classroom can be purchased on Amazon. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @SJDavies87 and read her Blog Realistic Teaching here.