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Drama as a Valuable “Tool” for Lifelong Learning

Drama is significantly underrepresented in elementary school education. Unfortunately, there is a misconception that drama education is only for arts programming, talented individuals, or those with an arts interest. Furthermore, much of the way drama is taught is inappropriate for young students who are not ready to memorize monologues, perform on stage, or be singled out in front of a group. In fact, many young students have felt traumatized in drama class by an inexperienced teacher who failed to understand the difference between drama (process) and theatre (product). These negative experiences can have a lasting impact. I’ve taught a number of teacher candidates who were petrified to take my dance and drama course in teacher’s college due to lingering drama trauma.  

As a process-oriented artform, drama provides endless opportunities for students to be creative and collaborative while learning about the world around them through various artistic means. Additionally, when drama is integrated into the curriculum across all subjects it becomes a powerful teaching “tool” for enhanced understanding of concepts and the development of the whole child. What makes drama education so valuable, when it is taught with students in the centre of the learning process, is that they gain so much more than an arts experience. Drama education also supports the development of essential life skills to support students’ intellectual, psychological, and physical well-being.  


Benefits of Drama Education

Movement Integration: Drama is a physical and whole-body experience where students are invited to explore through creativity and play. Students spend less time sitting and more time moving when they are learning about curricular concepts through drama. Learning through physical activity (e.g., tableau, mirroring) supports brain development such as retention of knowledge and being able to recall what was learned even years later.  

Engagement: Learning is meant to be fun! When students are involved in what they are learning through a process of “doing” they tend to be more on-task and focused. Drama games, activities, and exercises are designed to engage students through creative and critical thinking processes, collaborative teamwork, being in and out of role, and so forth. The more students are encouraged to solve problems, make decisions, and guide their own inquiry through creative processes, the more engaged they will be to learn. 

Collaboration: When drama is taught as a collaborative process students come together in community to learn and thrive. In fact, drama is rarely a solo endeavour unless students are doing specific independent work such as writing in role, analysing a performance, or reflecting on how they are feeling. However, much of how drama is taught requires students to work in partners, small groups, or as a whole class. Working collaboratively develops student’s communication, leadership, and personal growth skills. 

Communication: Drama education is all about learning how to communicate effectively, which includes verbal and non-verbal skills. Students learn how to speak with clarity and confidence such as telling a personal story or being a character in a role. They learn how to actively listen to others when working collaboratively as a group, watching a performance, or participating in a group activity. Students also learn about the importance of their body and how much can be expressed through facial expressions, gestures, and postures. Furthermore, communication is developed through writing. Students might be expected to write in the role of a character, write as themselves to someone else, or even reflect on how an activity or performance impacted them emotionally.

Personal Growth: When drama is integrated into the school curriculum in a way that is fun, engaging, collaborative, and where students feel “safe” to participate, it can impact their personal growth in a number of ways. Examples of personal development include: developing self-confidence and self-esteem, enhanced motivation and commitment to learning, expanded creativity and imagination, feeling a sense of belonging and being part of a community, developing healthy relationships, recognizing what it means for them to feel “safe,” and self-actualization where they are working towards their full potential.   


Drama Strategies

The following are examples of drama strategies (also known as techniques or conventions in drama) that are “tools” teachers can use to integrate drama into the curriculum.

Process Drama: This improvisational strategy helps the teacher and students to “walk in someone else’s shoes” to gain new perspectives on relationships, situations/ events, or conflicts in different time periods and places.

Role Play: Students and/or the teacher take on the role of a character in an imaginary situation to understand how the character thinks and feels. Role play helps develop point of view and build character development.

Tableau: A group of people work together to create a frozen image to represent an idea, theme, scene, or moment in a story. Tableau features include character, gestures, facial expressions, levels, and spacing.

Storytelling: This drama strategy allows the teacher and students to share real or imagined stories to develop an understanding of diverse individuals and contexts. This can be done verbally or nonverbally.

Docudrama: Students can write, produce and perform a fictionalized drama based on real people and events. This allows students to demonstrate their understanding of an event through their own creative storytelling. 


Are you integrating drama into the curriculum? If not, you and your students could be missing out!

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Traci L. Scheepstra, Ph.D., is the CEO/Founder of Embodied Learnings. Read here to learn more about her work in education.

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