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Peculiarities of Using Drama, Improvisation, and Creative Approach Qualitative Research Essay

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The contemporary society faces the concept of globalisation. As every issue, globalisation has its advantages and drawbacks that cover all sectors of human activity.

Cultural issues should be taken into account as well as peculiar features of every language including teachers who would teach certain languages and approaches applicable to different categories of students in terms of age groups, skills for learning a second language, and implementation of those skills into practice.

One of the burning issues for the linguistic sector of cultural heritage are the methods used in class for teaching people whose native language is not English. In this respect, drama used in class to facilitate the process of acquiring English language can be effective when all criteria are followed. For instance, active participation should be combined with a thoroughly prepared plan to follow during the class activities.

The discussion of the effectiveness of drama implementation for second language acquisition will include such issues as theoretical background and adaptation of certain methods for use with second language learners, concepts and strategies used by the great English educator Dorothy Heathcote, training teachers to use drama with second language learners, effectiveness and limitations for implementation of this approach in class.

The discussion will exclude explanation of lessons and will not provide examples of plans of lessons for use of drama for more effective second language acquisition. The literature selection is based on the effectiveness and readability of sources and their practical use for the discussion.

The review is organised in accordance with an essay structure where an introduction present the scope of the review, the body includes the basic themes for discussion with topic sentences opening each new paragraph, and a conclusion containing a summary of the review with some recommendations for further research and analysis.

Historical Background

Approach by Dorothy Heathcote

Though many researchers present their vision of the second language acquisition process, it is necessary to emphasise the importance of contribution made by a distinguished English educator Dorothy Heathcote. In this respect, this educator can be considered a pioneer in adjusting drama to the class implementation and analysis of the method’s effectiveness and applicability to different settings and categories of learners.

Training teachers to use drama

Training teachers to use drama in class is very important because a failure can result in inadequate interpretation of information by a student and inadequate assessment of learning efforts by a teacher. In this respect, one of the most brilliant statements by Dorothy Heathcote can be regarded the following: “Teaching is creative work…” (Heathcote, 1991, p. 26).

In other words, the author means that training educators can be considered a part of teaching and an important aspect of implementation of drama for learning.

The teaching-learning activity is analysed as a flow of energy surges by Armstrong-Mills (1997) who shares her personal experience of acquiring knowledge on using drama in class and implementing it with children: “Whatever was happening seemed to be related to an increase of energy and concern with the events we were making” (p.93).

The main idea in this case is that educators learn to do something and then can try those methods and approaches immediately with children in class by implementing theory into practice. In other words, teaching can be considered equally important for educators and learners.

Nature of educational drama

Drama and its implementation in class is the changing issue that progresses as far as the educational methods and techniques progress every year. As reported by Heathcote (1991), the changes in the use of drama have shifted the emphases from individual learning to improvisation:

There has been a shift in direction from an interest in the personal development of the individual pupil, through the acquiring of theatrical and improvisational skills to the recognition of drama as a precise teaching instrument, which works best when it is part of the learning process (p. 42).

In this respect, drama can be used in a great variety of ways and treated differently by different educators who support different views on education. So, Cook (1973) suggests a brief but extremely clear explanation of drama as educational method and justifies its use: “The natural means of study in youth is play [while]… a natural education is by practice…” (p. 145).

In this respect, drama provides educators with an opportunity to teach children in the most effective way that can be used with second language learners as well as with monolingual children (Kao & O’Neill, 1998, pp. 3-4). In other words, the implementation of drama in class is effective as well as implementation of drama with second language learners.

Theories on the issue

Theoretical aspect is important in every case, especially in consideration of pedagogical methods and assessment of their effectiveness while implementing into practice. For instance, Swann et al. (1996) analyses the concept of linguistic insecurity experienced by second language learners (p. 189).

As suggested by Wagner (2002), gestures, symbols, and other non-verbal means of communication are used by learners at the first stage of the acquisition process followed by words and writing.

Moreover, the author emphasises the importance of drama combined with certain pressure: “Improvisational drama is effective because of the repeated pressure it puts on participants to respond” (Wagner, 2002, p. 4). So, drama has been used as an educational method for a long period of time though it was changing along with the educational system as a whole.

Historic use of drama for educational purposes has been explored by many researchers. The most important issue, in this respect, was the effectiveness of the method that can be used with learners of different age groups.

Understanding and implementation of drama in the classroom are essential steps in the process of acquiring knowledge necessary for effective teaching. Though some researchers may provide evidence for ineffective use of drama as educational method, most educators find this approach rather effective and creative.

Defining Drama

Drama can be defined as a creative activity though it can also be defined as a method of teaching and learning used by creative educators. After having learnt about drama implemented in class, every person would suggest another definition of drama and evaluate its effectiveness for the educational purpose.

So, Heathcote (1973) as one of the pioneers of implementation of drama in class has suggested that drama can be considered a potential method of teachers used in class. “Drama is means of learning, a means of widening experiences even if we never act in a play stand upon a stage” (Heathcote, 1973, p. 158).

In this respect, drama can be reported as one of the most effective means of learning and of second language acquisition because second language learners succeed more in their learning when drama is implemented in class.

Drama can be defined as result or as process; every meaning would adequately characterise the nature of drama used for teaching and learning activities. Thus, Wessels (1987) defines drama as doing because it enables both teachers and learners to gain experiences and act in a certain manner (p. 7).

Though Shakespeare suggested the idea of theatre and actors applied to ordinary people, it can be effectively implemented for educational purposes. In other words, learning and gaining experience can be considered the integral parts of drama as an educational method.

This idea received approval in the study by Heldenbrand (2003) who characterises drama in education as an effective method during which a student acquires knowledge and gains experience of applying the gained knowledge into practice. So, definition of drama depends on its evaluation by the educator.

Energy and excitement can be considered essential components of drama in terms of its definition with regard to the implementation of drama in class for educational purposes. Thus, Armstrong-Mills (1997) defines drama as a scope of energy surges that are created in the process of acting out some episodes and transmitted to all participants of the action.

The same idea can be found in the work by Burke & O’Sullivan (2002) who suggest that drama can be characterised as a means of transmitting excitement from a teacher to students with the help of combining action accompanied by a corresponding dialogue.

Moreover, it is necessary to support the idea that drama implemented in class is a very exciting and emotional task for both a teacher and students because a teacher should prepare a scenario for students to act out and students should apply improvisational skills to manage to implement the scenario into practice.

Concept of Training and Implementing

As every approach, drama implemented in class has its strengths and weaknesses. In this respect, the most powerful benefits and potential disadvantages can be analysed in terms of their theoretical background and practical implementation of the method in class.

Strengths of implementing drama in TESOL

Benefits of implementing drama in classes for second language learners are obvious in terms of knowledge and experienced gained during drama classes. As reported by Furman (1990), drama “includes all types of human interaction” (p. 2). So, one of the most powerful benefits of drama used in class is its natural implementation. It is natural for people to play some roles and pretend if the situation requires them to do that.

In this respect, it is possible to implement informal creative drama where participation is of primary importance in class so that second language learners could acquire language skills more effectively (Furman, 1990, p. 3). Experience and emotions are important elements and absolute advantages of using drama in class.

Theoretical benefits

Theoretical characteristics of the approach can differ from the results acquired in practice. In this respect, it is necessary to assess theoretical potential of the method contrasted and compared to its practical implementation. As reported by Almond (2005), implementation of drama in class should have a great number of various benefits for students as for teachers (pp.10-17).

In other words, teachers have an opportunity to implement into practice what they have been trained for while students can acquire knowledge in a more effective manner. So, both parties concerned can gain experience and be involved into the process. The process of implementation of drama in class can improve and benefits from the use of facial expressions and gestures while acting out some episodes or improvising.

The curriculum is an important part of drama implemented in class because it should be adjusted respectively to the needs of students and expectations and plans of educators. The curriculum is considered as a method of engagement of active students in the study by Shier (2002).

When students lack some knowledge and are not able to direct their energy appropriately, they can be engaged via curriculum combined with drama method implemented in class. Another study supporting the idea of curriculum and its combination with drama approach in second language learning is Heathcote (1991), where the author analyses the function of drama in the curriculum and its benefits for use in class.

In addition, the study by Maley & Duff (2005) attempts to answer the question of importance and usefulness of drama implemented in class and find a great number of skills that can be improved while using drama.

For instance, drama “integrates skills in a natural way,…integrates verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication,… [transfers] responsibility from teacher to learners”, and some more skills and potential benefits are enumerated by Maley & Duff (2005, pp. 1-2).

Educational potential of drama as a means of teaching and learning is another important advantage in terms of theoretical background for use of drama in class.

As reported by Dodson (2002), drama provides learners with an opportunity “to express themselves in English for a meaningful purpose, going beyond vocabulary and grammar drills” (p. 161). In this respect, it is necessary to encourage students to improvise regardless of language use because learners have to gain language fluency combined with understanding of spoken language.

Benefits of use in practice

Intelligence and other benefits gained in the course of implementing drama in class can be improved for second language learners because they can become knowledgeable in verbal and nonverbal means of communication used by English speakers. As suggested in the study by Schewe (2002), the intelligence includes multiple intelligences such as linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, interpersonal, and others (p.74).

In this respect, implementation of drama in class enables educators to facilitate the process of language acquisition through improvement of other skills necessary for both verbal and nonverbal communication. As reported by Davies (1990), mime, simulation activity, improvisation, and other activities combined under the main idea of drama can be beneficial for second language learners.

At the same time, Heldenbrand (2003) analyses other practical benefits of drama implemented in class. These benefits include the fact that learners can acquire language skills in informal and relaxed environment; new vocabulary and speech patterns are recognised and practiced during acts; positive emotions prevail in the process of acting out episodes which facilitates understanding of information provided.

Effective implementation of drama in class is demonstrated in the study by Heathcote (1976) where the author suggests a creative approach to the teaching of basic concepts. Besides, some more benefits can be found in the abovementioned study by Heldenbrand (2003) who characterises drama as a method that helps to acquire knowledge concerning intonation and pronunciation patterns in the process of acting.

Moreover, drama makes learners more self-confidence and encourages them to speak fluently; additional motivation provided during drama classes can be considered another great benefit of using it in class. Cultural issues can be treated as both benefits and drawback for drama implemented in class because students with different background information can either manage or fail to understand certain cultural cues properly.

The importance of dividing information into two parts presented in the textbook and provided by an educator is emphasised by Liu (2002) who analyses the benefits of drama used in class for second language and foreign language acquisition.

Moreover, it is necessary to focus on the overall influence of the method on learners and teachers. Though there are some disadvantages in the process of using this method, it gained recognition and can be implemented more effectively all over the world. The drama implementation approach can be used for different activities and different languages.

Limitations in Implementing Drama in TESOL

The basic limitations that can be emphasised in the process of implementing drama in class include cultural cues and globalisation in terms of mixing cultures and inappropriate cues used by second language learners. In this respect, it is important to analyse theoretical and practical aspects of implementation.

Contradictions in educational drama are enlarged on by Moody (2002) who analyses the aspects of drama implemented in class and compares those to real practical approach and its effectiveness.

Theoretical disadvantages

Though some teachers can be aware of peculiarities typical of different cultures, they may fail to explain the peculiar features of the English-speaking culture to second language learners. Fels & McGivern (2002) analyse the intercultural recognition gained through performative inquiry and assess its effectiveness for second language learners.

So, cultural features can prevent learners form effective acquisition of verbal and nonverbal peculiarities while communicating in English. In addition, “by linking visceral bodily experience, as both sensorial and somatic, we as teachers guide our students in the complexity of transcultural learning” (Axtmann, 2002, p. 49).

In this respect, one of the main challenges can concern the understanding of importance of cultural diversity before implementing drama in class.

Limitations of use in practice

Practical implementation of theoretical knowledge can be even more challenging and full of unexpected disadvantages than a research conducted on theoretical background. Being scared and being tired of what one has been doing are typical limitations of practical implementation of drama in class, as reported by Wagner (1976, p.18).

Sometimes, educators can lack self-confidence necessary to implement a theoretical scenario into practice. This can be even more important in the process of acting out some episodes in class because the teacher should guide students in this activity.

As communication is composed of both verbal and nonverbal aspects, it is necessary to analyse the challenges encountered in the process of implementing theory into practice with second language learners. As reported by Culham (2002), nonverbal approach should be used on the equal basis with the verbal one because misunderstandings may arise from lack of knowledge in nonverbal area of communication (p. 95).

Teachers can fail to find appropriate materials to use with the drama approach or reaction of class to some moments of the teaching-learning process (Burke & O’Sullivan, 2002). The arrangement of lessons in terms of time limitations can be a great challenge as well (Sam, 1990).


Summary of the review

The importance of a method chosen for implementation in class is obvious. The rise of sociolinguistic and approaches used for teaching-learning purposes are related to the globalisation with its benefits and challenges.

The use of drama in class can be considered one of the most effective approaches for second language acquisition and relevant problems encountered by learners and educators that teach students with different background, culture and language skills. In this respect, it was necessary to analyse the main contributors to the exploration of drama and its effectiveness with second language learners.

Dorothy Heathcote can be considered the pioneer in the activity of implementing drama in class, especially with second language learners and adjustment of curriculum to the needs and expectations of teachers and learners.

The consideration of cultural peculiarities can be treated as the challenge of primary importance because nonverbal approach is used in some studies whereas its importance affects the level of language acquisition and fluency of a speaker.

Recommendations for further research

It can be interesting to analyse the relations between the second- and third-language acquisition in terms of methods and approaches used to facilitate the learning. Moreover, it is necessary to evaluate how different cultures perceive the information while being approached with the help of drama method.

In addition, some people can fail to understand that there is a great difference between habits, gestures, emotions, and other cultural and language cues demonstrated by people in the process of communication. Analysis of effectiveness of implementation can be conducted via survey using qualitative method.

Reference List

Almond, M. (2005). Teaching English with drama. London: Modern English Publishing.

Armstrong-Mills, C. (1997). Creative uncertainty: Energy surges in the principles and practice of Dorothy Heathcote. In D. Davis (Ed.), Interactive research in drama in education (pp.93-105). London: Trentham Books.

Axtmann, A. (2002). Transcultural performance in classroom learning. In G. Brauer (Ed.), Body and language: Intercultural learning through drama (pp. 37-51). Westport, Conn; London: Ablex Publication.

Burke, A., & O’Sullivan, J. ( 2002). Stage by stage: A handbook for using drama in the second language classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cook, C. (1973). Drama as playmaking. In J. Hodgson (Ed.), The uses of drama (pp.145-156). London: Taylor & Francis.

Culham, C. R. (2002). Coping with obstacles in drama based ESL teaching: A nonverbal approach. In G. Brauer (Ed.), Body and language: Intercultural learning through drama (pp.95-113). Westport, Conn; London: Ablex Publication.

Davies, P. (1990).The use of drama in English language teaching. TESL Canada Journal, 1(8), 87-99.

Dodson, S. L. (2002). The educational potential of drama for ESL. In G. Brauer (Ed.), Body and language: Intercultural learning through drama (pp.161-180). Westport, Conn; London: Ablex Publication.

Fels, L., & McGivern, L. (2002). Intercultural recognitions through performative inquiry. In G. Brauer (Ed.), Body and language: Intercultural learning through drama (pp.19-37). Westport, Conn; London: Ablex Publication.

Furman, L. (1990). Creative drama handbook and role play guide. Denver, Colorado: Pioneer Drama Service, Inc.

Heathcote, D. (1973). Drama as challenge. In J. Hodgson (Ed.), The uses of drama (pp.156-166 ). London: Taylor & Francis.

Heathcote, D. (1976). From drama as a process for change. In R. Drain (Ed.), (1995), Twentieth-century theatre: A sourcebook (pp. 199-201). London: Routledge.

Heathcote, D. (1991). Collected writings on education and drama L. Johnson & C. O’Neill (Eds.). Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Heldenbrand, B. (2003). Drama techniques in English language learning. The Korea TESOL Journal, 6(1), 27-35.

Kao, S.-M., & O’Neill, C. (1998). Words into worlds: Learning a second language through process drama. London: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Liu, J. (2002). Process drama in second- and foreign-language classrooms. In G. Brauer (Ed.), Body and language: Intercultural learning through drama (pp. 51-70). Westport, Conn; London: Ablex Publication.

Maley, A., & Duff, A. (2005). Drama techniques: a resource book of communication activities for language teachers. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moody, D. J. (2002). Undergoing a process and achieving a product: A contradiction in educational drama. In G. Brauer (Ed.), Body and language: Intercultural learning through drama (pp.135-161). Westport, Conn; London: Ablex Publication.

Sam, W. Y. (1990). Drama in teaching English as a second language: A communicative approach. The English Teacher, XIX July. Retrieved from

Schewe, M. L. (2002). Teaching foreign language literature: Tapping the students’ bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence. In G. Brauer (Ed.), Body and language: Intercultural learning through drama (pp.73-95). Westport, Conn; London: Ablex Publication.

Shier, J. H. (2002). The arts and the foreign-/second-language curriculum: An interdisciplinary approach to actively engage students in their own learning. In G. Brauer (Ed.), Body and language: Intercultural learning through drama (pp.183-207). Westport, Conn; London: Ablex Publication.

Swann, J., Deumert, A., Lillis, T., & Mesthrie, R. (1996). A dictionary of sociolinguistics. In N. Fitzgibbons (Ed.), Sociolinguistics. Montreal: University of Concordia.

Wagner, B. J. (1976). Dorothy Heathcote Drama as a learning medium. Washington: National education Association.

Wagner, B. J. (2002).Understanding drama-based education. In G. Brauer (Ed.), Body and language: Intercultural learning through drama (pp.3-18). Westport, Conn; London: Ablex Publication.

Wessels, C. (1987). Drama. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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