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Plays in the TEFL Classroom

A play at the professional level.

If you have the right class, using a play in the classroom is a great way to build enthusiasm for English as well as practice English amongst the students. Along with this there’s a great feeling of satisfaction for the students in creating and putting on their own production, which your school may also present to parents and other classes as well.

Fame beckons!

Scope and Ability

A full play is a major concern. You may well decide to go down this route but if this is the first time you and your class are getting into play production, it can be quite daunting and can also lead to many problems. The issues with taking a play and presenting it are:

  1. Plays can mean students having to learn a LOT of dialog.
  2. There are generally only a few actors in a play which means much of the class does not participate.
  3. Long plays, badly acted, are boring for the audience.
  4. The subject of a play may not be of interest to the whole class.

Instead, a useful alternative, especially for novices, is preparing and performing short skits. This has the advantage of:

  1. Allowing all the class to participate; different groups can prepare and perform different skits.
  2. If one skit is not working or is perhaps a little dull, after a few minutes the audience know that another skit will be along soon!
  3. Students have to learn less lines off by heart.
  4. Students can create skits with themes which interest them.

From Role Play to Play

Before launching into a full blown production, it is best to get the class used to using role playing as part of their learning experience. Rather than just present each role play and have the students perform it, however, over time you can get the students more involved in improvising and developing their own role play.

For example, let’s suppose you have a role play where Student A has lost their friend in a shopping mall and Student B is store security. Student A needs to describe their friend to Student B who must collect all the relevant details.

You could give lists of vocabulary to the students, pictures of the missing person and so on then give the students just a few moments to look them over then get them to the front of the class and perform the role play.

Or, you could give the students the briefest of outlines and have them sit down together for 10 minutes to prepare the role play more thoroughly before performing it.

By doing this you are giving the students practice in developing their own role plays. And later on, of course, during the role play you might like to inject a little improvisation. For example, in the above role play you could whisper into Student B’s ear (the security guard) that they’ve just been notified that Student A was caught on CCTV stealing something from a store in the mall earlier. What happens next?

All this is about getting the students used to developing their own ideas so that you don’t suddenly foist on them a play-writing exercise when they haven’t had the practice.

Finding Stories

The first step is finding stories. Ideally these should be for small groups to discuss and prepare for presentation. The key component here is “conflict” in its widest sense. There should be a problem which needs resolving:

  1. A poor man traveling with his wife and baby in the country gets drunk in a bar and sells them both to a stranger.
  2. A man gets a phone bill where he sees a strange number called many times; he calls the number and discovers his wife has been having an affair.
  3. A woman opens the door to a stranger who tells her he’s her son whom she gave up for adoption 30 years earlier.

NB These storylines have all been taken from famous novels; feel free to do the same!

Scan the newspapers and whenever you see a story which sparks your interest, save it for later!

Preparing the Skits

With your class – who are by now used to doing role plays – you need to divide them into small groups and give each one a storyline to work on. The groups of course should reflect the people in each storyline in terms of number, gender and so on. And above all, the storylines should be of interest to your class!

And of course allow your groups to either deviate from the storyline you’ve given them or develop their own from scratch.

Get each group to discuss the storyline and think about who will play which role. Go around the class and check with them, offering ideas and advice here and also make sure they’ve understood the basic storyline well. Offer the groups language and support here.

Next, encourage the groups to go further into the storyline. Tell them that they’ll be creating a mini-drama out of it and they should think about props, costumes, settings and so on. If your classroom is big enough have them go through some private rehearsals to make sure they know what they will do. Perhaps they need to write down some or all of the dialog to work on it. Perhaps they need to meet outside the school to work on it further and prepare the performance.

Rehearsals

The next step is having the students perform a first rehearsal in front of the rest of the class. Make sure everyone understands that this a run-through and they do not, of course, need to stick rigidly to their scripts (it’s also about improvisation here; they can even have the script in their hand or a good prompter to help out).

When this happens encourage the audience to watch carefully and offer positive feedback and suggestions. Discourage negative feedback. In other words, get the audience into the habit of saying:

It might be better if the skit was a bit shorter.

rather than

It was boring and too long.

In other words, be positive!

During this run through, try to resist the temptation to interrupt the skit. If the students find themselves in a muddle then encourage them to get out the situation there and then on “stage” as it were.

At this point you need also to make sure each skit has a full ending. For example, with the examples shown above:

  1. The poor man wakes up the next day and realizes what he’s done; he’s distraught and vows never to drink again and goes in search of his family.
  2. Does the man leave his wife? Or does she leave him? Or do they make up? It needs an ending here.
  3. Do they become reconciled? Is it a happy ending?

Encourage the whole class to help out here with advice!

Performance

The final performance will depend on the school. When the rehearsal stage is over, you can devote a lesson to performing the full skits in full costume and with all the trimmings. Perhaps invite your DoS‏‎ or school owner in to see.

And then… well perhaps performances for other classes or for parents. Who knows where it might lead!

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