Drama methods (also known as strategies or approaches) form the bedrock of the subject. They are the tools of the trade. Every drama teacher has a preferred way of using different drama methods, so there isn’t really a definitive rule about what method should be used in what situation, but some work better than others in certain contexts.
These are just a small sample of some of the great methods you can use to teach drama. You may use all or only a small number of these. For examples of how to use drama methods with your own students, see our drama pack, Drama Methods And How To Use Them.
A character walks between two parallel-facing lines (the ‘alley’) whilst students in the lines present contrasting viewpoints. These are intended to influence, persuade, or dissuade the character. The character must listen to both viewpoints and look to their conscience for how to proceed.
Here’s a short video showing how different viewpoints can be presented using Conscience Alley.
Forum theatre is a technique you can use while acting out a scene. The group watching is encouraged to stop the action when they think it necessary, to suggest a different action. At other times, the actors themselves can stop the action, and ask for help. Sometimes someone else can step in and take over a role - or even introduce a new one. It’s used to drive the drama forward, to reflect on dramatic moments, or to help performers to focus.
FREEZES / STILL IMAGES
Individuals or groups devise an image using their own bodies to crystallise a moment, idea, theme or picture. Contrasting images can be made to represent actual/ideal, dream/nightmare versions. This method highlights important moments and focuses thoughts and ideas in a simplistic but very powerful way.
A technique for students to answer questions from the group whilst in role. Characters can be placed ‘on the Hotseat’ away from the drama, or respond from within it. It’s a great way of developing character, and gaining greater understanding of a character’s actions and motivations. With younger children, teachers can place themselves on the Hotseat and respond in role to answer questions from the class.
MANTLE OF THE EXPERT
Students take on roles as experts in a particular field to explore issues and solutions. They become adults and/or specialists responsible for decision-making during a fictional (dramatic) scenario. Mantle of the Expert is an education approach that uses imaginary contexts to generate purposeful and engaging activities for learning.
Students use only physical movement, gesture and/or actions to express an idea, role, or a dramatised scene. Mime emphasises movement, actions and physical responses rather than dialogue and encourages participants to select movements to match the action and use appropriate gestures and body language. It removes the pressure of dialogue and raises spatial awareness and understanding of physical expression. Mime can be accompanied by percussion, sound, nonsense vocabulary or music.
Narration gives a spoken commentary on the action taking place during a drama. It's a useful technique when you want to inform the audience of what is happening. Narration can be effective in a number of ways: an actor (or teacher) can speak the commentary over the action happening in the drama; a character can speak out what s/he thinks the audience needs to know about the characters or the situation of which s/he is a part - this is called self-narrating; an actor can just tell the audience what they need to know in between scenes; a character can read or write a diary or letter that informs the audience what is important for them to know about what is happening or going to happen.
Improvisation is, essentially, the art of ‘making it up’ and Prepared Improvisation is being given the time to plan and discuss ideas before presenting or performing a piece of drama. Students work – usually – in pairs or small groups to plan, prepare and present improvisations as a means of expressing understanding of a situation, idea or experience.
ROLE ON THE WALL
The outline of a body is drawn onto a large sheet of paper, this can be done by carefully drawing around one of the students. This represents a character from the drama. Words or phrases describing the character are then written directly onto the drawing. An effective way of focusing this process is to write feelings and thoughts within the body outline, and facts and figures around the outside of it. Additional notes can be added at points during the drama. The drawing can then be pinned to the wall to provide a central focus. Several characters from one drama can be explored in this way.
Students assume the attitudes, actions, and discourse of another person, using their imaginations to speak, think and even feel like that character. This technique helps students to understand a differing point of view or social interaction, it also makes the drama more realistic and believable.
Students reduce the speed at which a drama is enacted, to highlight a scene or bring a big moment into focus. Slow Motion can also be used to create dramatic tension by slowing the action when building up to an important event. It is a technique that requires complete concentration and immersion from every student to be effective.
SOUNDSCAPES (also known as SOUND COLLAGE)
Students create sounds, either vocally, with instruments, or using their bodies or items to hand, to create the atmosphere of the place or environment where the drama is taking place. The sounds can be voices, spoken words or singing. The aim is to enhance or underscore any drama rather than to overpower it. Soundscapes can also be used as a stand-alone technique, with one member of the group acting as conductor whilst the others perform a particular theme (the seaside), scene (the fairground), or mood (excitement) as a vocal orchestra. Soundscapes can be improvised from within the drama, prepared and performed alongside it, or even pre-recorded.
Improvisation is, essentially, the art of ‘making it up’ and Spontaneous Improvisation is making it up on the spot, without any time to plan and discuss ideas, before presenting or performing a piece of drama. Students can work individually, in pairs, or in small groups – although group Spontaneous Improvisation is difficult! Spontaneous Improvisation helps to clarify and focus ideas and encourages students to respond instinctively to a stimulus, idea or situation.
TEACHER IN ROLE
The teacher stimulates and directs the drama from within by adopting a suitable role. This can instigate the drama, change its direction, move it forward, or provide a conclusion and a means of reflection. The activity can be as simple as the Teacher ‘becoming’ Cinderella, or one of the Three Bears in order to be questioned. Or using a prop or costume – such as a letter, a scarf, a hat – to generate drama about a specific character or issue. Working in role can challenge ideas, drive the drama forward, and influence children’s thinking without having to pause the drama by ‘stepping outside’ of it. Teacher must fully commit to the role and must interact purposefully with the students.
Students working in role speak their inner thoughts. Working from a still image, or with the drama momentarily frozen, the teacher taps a chosen character on the shoulder to indicate that they should speak their thoughts or feelings aloud. This can be two or three words, or a full response to a question. Thought-tracking helps inform an audience about a character and their inner versus outer voice – what they are thinking or feeling might not be reflected in what they’ve been saying. It also enables students to reflect on the drama and their character’s role in it. Direct questions, which guide and focus a response, are particularly helpful when working with younger students.
WHOLE GROUP IMPROVISATION
All of the group works together, in role, at the same time within a dramatic context, for example, as travellers on an aeroplane, or inhabitants of a lost city. This technique helps students to develop a unified approach to both role playing and exploring different subjects or issues. It’s a difficult drama method but, if performed correctly, can be very effective in developing team-working, performance, and choral skills.
These are just a small sample of some of the great methods you can use to teach drama. You may use all or only a small number of these. For examples of how to use drama methods with your own students, see our fabulous drama pack, Drama Methods And How To Use Them.