ERIC Identifier: ED368214
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Gasparro, Marie - Falletta, Bernadette
ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Creating Drama with Poetry: Teaching English as a Second
Language through Dramatization and Improvisation. ERIC Digest.
Creating Drama with poetry is an exciting language learning experience. The
technique employs a multi-sensory approach to language acquisition by involving
second language learners physically, emotionally, and cognitively in the
language learning process. The use of poetry as drama in the English as a second
language (ESL) classroom enables the students to explore the linguistic and
conceptual aspects of the written text without concentrating on the mechanics of
language. Students are able to develop a sense of awareness of self in the
mainstream culture through the dramatic interpretations of the poems.
Second language acquisition becomes internalized as a direct result of
placing the learners in situations that seem real. The students use the target
language for the specific purpose of communication. They experiment with
non-verbal communicative aspects of language (body language, gestures, and
facial expressions), as well as verbal aspects (intonation, rhythm, stress,
slang, and idiomatic expressions), while interpreting the poems. The students
begin to feel the language and gain the confidence to interact outside the
classroom using the target language.
Some poems are mini-dramas, often written in dialogue form, and are suitable
for dramatization because they are short and usually have one simple, but strong
emotional theme. "Poems which express strong emotions, attitudes, feelings,
opinions, or ideas are usually more 'productive' than those which are gentle,
descriptive, or neutral" (Tomlinson, p. 36, 1986). Students become engaged in
free flowing extemporaneous conversations as they interact with one another
prior to the dramatizations and during the improvisations. The students compare
and contrast cultural behaviors and attitudes, analyze and explore the
linguistic and conceptual differences between the written and spoken word, and
interact cooperatively to orchestrate the dramatizations and improvisations.
THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER
In this technique, students have
more responsibility for their own learning. However, this does not diminish the
importance of the teacher in the instructional process. It is the responsibility
of the teacher to guide the language learning process by:
modeling pronunciation, intonation, stress, rhythm, and oral expression;
facilitating comprehension of vocabulary, idioms, cultural aspects, and plot;
stimulating interest and conversation, and interacting with the students;
establishing an acting workshop atmosphere;
creating a student-participatory language learning experience.
IMPLEMENTING THIS TECHNIQUE IN THE CLASSROOM
approach, the teacher provides students with the background to the poem and
introduces difficult or unusual vocabulary. The teacher then reads the poem
aloud to the students. After the poem is read aloud, the class discusses it
together. Students then listen again as the teacher re-reads the poem. In the
next step, the students read the poem chorally and then take turns reading it
The students then prepare to dramatize the poem by selecting character roles
and discussing scenery, props, lighting, and costumes. Students rehearse the
dramatization of the poem and then do an improvisation based on the poem. After
experimenting with character interactions and dialogues, the class discusses the
EXAMPLES OF POEMS THAT HAVE BEEN USED SUCCESSFULLY IN THE ESL CLASSROOM
One dramatization of a poem that has been used successfully and
is recommended for high intermediate or advanced adult ESL learners is John
Wakeman's "Love in Brooklyn." Students portray characters in a love relationship
and compare and contrast cultural views [..."I love you, Horowitz," he said, and
blew his nose. She splashed her drink..."]. They can experiment with
colloquialisms, epithets, and slang and learn to use language appropriate for
different interpersonal situations [..."The hell you say," he said.] [..."You
wanna bet?" he asked.]. Dramatization also allows students the opportunity to
interpret and practice using body language as a means of non-verbal
communication [..."She took his hand in hers and pressed it hard. And his plump
fingers trembled in her lap."].
"Why Did the Children Put Beans in Their Ears?" by Carl Sandburg is one poem
that is recommended for beginning and low intermediate adolescent and adult ESL
learners. Students portray a husband and wife who ask two rhetorical questions
about why children do things that they are expressly told not to do ["Why did
the children put beans in their ears..."] [..."Why did the children pour
molasses on the cat..."]. Through the dramatization, students can utilize
intonation, rhythm, stress, body language, facial expressions, and gestures to
convey the frustrated interchange between the disgruntled and bewildered
characters [..."when the one thing we told the children they must not do
"Woodpecker in Disguise," by Grace Taber Hallock is recommended for advanced
beginner and low intermediate level young children. Students take turns being
the narrator ["Woodpecker taps at the apple tree."] ["...says he."] ["Little bug
says..."] ["Woodpecker says..."]. Students portraying the woodpecker practice
using body gestures ["Woodpecker taps at the door."] and asking questions
["...Who is it, sir?"].
"Read This with Gestures," by John Ciardi, is recommended for advanced
beginner and low intermediate level young children. During the dramatization,
one student speaks to one or more people ["It isn't proper, I guess you
know,..."] In the improvisation, students may cooperatively dialogue the four
actions; the students read, dramatize, and improvise the poem with gestures as
indicated by the poem's title ["...dip your hands--like this--in the snow..."]
["...make a snowball..."] ["...look for a hat..."] ["...try to knock it
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE TEACHER
The ESL teacher needs to create
a poetry file by carefully selecting and categorizing a substantial variety of
poems. In selecting poems, special consideration must be given to
appropriateness of the following:
* students' language level skills
* students' ages
* students' interests
Categorizing poems makes them easy to reference and integrate into other
instructional disciplines (i.e., science, health, math, and citizenship) and
themes (i.e., holidays and seasons).
To further facilitate the communicative approach to second language
acquisition, the ESL teacher can record the dramatizations and improvisations. A
great deal of conversation will be stimulated when the students relive their
experiences through tape recordings, video recordings, and still photography.
The teacher should plan follow-up activities about the dramatizations and
improvisations that allow for individual expression of the cooperative
experience. The students can illustrate and write about the activity or poem.
Future lessons can also include the dramatization and improvisation of short
stories, fables, and plays. The same techniques and follow-up activities should
The use of poetry in the ESL classroom enables
students to explore the linguistic and conceptual aspects of the written text
without concentrating on the mechanics of language. The dramatization of poetry
is a powerful tool in stimulating learning while acquiring a second language
because the learners become intellectually, emotionally, and physically involved
in the target language within the framework of the new culture.
Poetry rich in dialogue provides students with a dramatic script. Drama
places the learners in situations that seem real. Learners use the target
language for specific purposes, language is more easily internalized and,
therefore, language is remembered.
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