Teaching through acting

Act Up – Theater in the Classroom

Classroom theaterStudents have always been told not to act up in class. Kids have always been told not to be dramatic. It is time to flip those notions on their head.

Classroom theaterThat is because using theater in the classroom – acting out scenes related to the instruction – has been shown to dramatically increase interest in learning. For one it instills a sense of fun. It is interactive and thereby keeps kids active. It is hard to forget what is being taught when you have been rolling on the floor or acting out a scene on top of a desk.

Acting has long been used as a means to release emotion, but also ingrain instructional lessons. Doing, rather than memorizing, is successful for many reasons and leads to more enjoyable classroom experience.

Drama has been used over the course of history from the time of Aristotle to the beginning of the progressive movement in education, where emphasis was placed upon “doing” rather than memorizing. Integrating drama helps children in various ways.

Teachers today can learn that is possible to be more successful after introducing theater arts to enhance teaching and increase students’ interest in learning.

According to ‘The Arts as Meaning Makers’, written by Claudia E. Cornett and Katharine L. Smithrim, there are 12 essential points to emphasizing drama in the classroom.

Classroom acting: A 12-step program

Cornett and Smithrim break down classroom acting into the following benefits:

  1. Drama is part of real life and prepares students to deal with life’s problems.
  2. Drama engages students in creative problem solving and decision-making.
  3. Drama develops verbal and nonverbal communication.
  4. Drama can enhance students’ psychological well-being.
  5. Drama develops empathy and new perspectives.
  6. Drama builds cooperation and develops other social skills.
  7. Drama increases concentration and comprehension through engagement.
  8. Drama helps students consider moral issues and develop values.
  9. Drama is entertaining
  10. Drama is an alternative way to assess by observing.
  11. Drama contributes to aesthetic development
  12. Drama offers a learning avenue that enhances other areas of the curriculum

The art of acting: The teacher’s role

Teachers who want to utilize these methods must first further their knowledge of the performing arts by experiencing various kinds for themselves. Before one can teach it is important that an instructor familiarizes him or herself with theater arts experiences that can then be incorporated into the classroom. This will include taking in dramatic, comedic and musical play performances.

Once a teacher establishes a bit of background in theater arts, that knowledge can then be used as a performing arts motivator. In doing so, teachers will enhance comprehension and increase student interest in class subject matter.

A good way to go about this task is to conduct both pre and post performance research. Become an understudy. This could take the form of attending a rehearsal or interviewing a director or other production member. Learn about and experience live theater productions as much as possible.

After that, teachers can provide information to aspiring young thespians and encourage attendance at appropriate theater experiences through field trips.

Various acting activities

Activities will be a vital part of any lesson plan and vary by grade level. But the goal is the same. Activities should reflect theater experiences and enhance student comprehension and interest in class subject matter.

Some suggestions for incorporating acting into the curriculum can include having students write and performing skits based on subjects they are learning, such as a historical event or an important chapter of a novel.

Role-playing is at the heart of classroom theater as students take on the identity of a character or place themselves in an imaginary situation. The joy of role-play is that students can ‘become’ anyone they like for a short time.

There is also an artistic outlet as students get to create costumes and props to further illustrate the important content they are learning. Essentially role-play has three major benefits:

  • It’s fun and motivating
  • Quieter students get the chance to express themselves in a more forthright way
  • The world of the classroom is broadened to include the outside world – thus offering a much wider range of language opportunities

Another fun activity, particularly given the technology we have today, is students filming other students as they act out an historic event or even a science or math concept.