6 Drama activities for home learning

Lizzie Nurse

After years of working in theatres and heritage sites using drama to engage and educate visitors, I trained as a drama teacher in 2007. Since then I’ve worked in both the state and private sector as a Head of Department and Head of Year. I’m currently undertaking the Chartered College CTeach course which has reignited a passion for research-led practice. Particularly interested in how to include ICT in drama lessons to genuinely improve outcomes and creating multimedia & verbatim theatre.

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I guess, like all teachers, I panicked when I heard schools were shutting. But I think there’s a special kind of panic that teachers of practical subjects had – how on earth was I going to replicate my practical, collaborative, entirely group-work based drama studio when they were all sitting behind a computer, miles apart?

My school is also using Teams, so while Facebook groups of “Drama Teachers using Zoom” starting springing up sharing great ideas of warm-up game which had worked well, I knew there would be a maximum of 4 videos I’d be able to see at once (still waiting for that to increase to 9!) so a lot of the sharing of practical work, even if they all did monologues, would be difficult. I am, however, aware I’m working in the very privileged position of being able to assume that the vast majority of my students have a personal device they can work from, fairly reliable broadband and parental support / a quiet work space, which I know is not the case for many. 

My school has gone down the route of live teaching for all lessons. We have increased the time between lessons to 10 minutes to give the students regular short breaks away from the screen, but nevertheless it is draining for both us and them to be at a screen for so long each day. As many of the lessons they experience will be very content driven, I am trying to ensure that my lessons always have an element of interaction and collaboration, to keep the feeling of community there as well as the subject specific skills I want them to continue working on. So much research into distance learning shows that peer interaction is such an important part of the learning experience, that I want to include those opportunities as frequently as I can.

1. Warm up games – getting students out of desk-based lesson mode and into active practical drama mode has always been an integral part of the start of any drama lesson, and possibly even more so now. On platforms like Zoom, lots of drama games work quite well – physical theatre ones, zip/zap/boing, mirroring, dance – join the Facebook group for lots more examples! With Teams it is more challenging, but I’ve had some success with mainly audio-based things like ‘One Word Story’, or memory ‘When I went on Holiday I packed…’ type games, or ones where they call each other’s names to pass on the energy. 

2. Break out rooms – these have been invaluable, allowing students to do small group work where they can rehearse something, or discuss it and present their ideas back to the whole class. The students have really enjoyed this opportunity to be more collaborative and interactive. Both Zoom and Teams have this feature – although it’s easier and more intuitive on Zoom I believe. However, there are lots of training videos on YouTube for Teams, such as How to set up virtual breakout rooms in Microsoft Teams for virtual classrooms. Things to consider though are that it will only allow four live calls at once – so you’re looking at a maximum of three additional break out rooms – not great if you’ve got a class of 30 – and when they shrink to the ‘on hold’ symbol you can only see the first two letters of whatever you’ve named the channel, so make sure you write ‘A Group’ rather than ‘Group A’ or you can go round in circles trying to find which break out room is which! It does allow you to drop into each of these rooms to check the work is being done whenever you like and has allowed my students to do some improvisation and rehearsals, keeping that element alive. If you have a group of 16 or fewer, and your school is happy for students to share their videos (with blurred backgrounds or similar) then they can recreate a discussion-based rehearsal fairly well. Although getting them out of that habit again is going to be a challenge – I normally spend my life saying “don’t just sit there and chat about it, get up and try it out!”

3. Watching theatre – there is so much great stuff out for free at the moment, it’s a wonderful resource. Running a live chat on Teams while watching the NTLive stream each week has given the students a chance to discuss their thoughts in the ‘interval’ or straight afterwards which gives more of a sense of being with other audience members. If you’re lucky enough to have a school log in for Planet eStream, this is one of the best ways I’ve found of helping them work on their close analysis skills. You can do lots of clever things once a programme is saved on there, such as chaptering it (so the students know exactly which bit you want them to watch) and setting quizzes over it (so you can have questions like “what is the atmosphere change here?” or anything else you’d normally say to draw their attention to something.) These both take a fair bit of time to set up but are things that you can use for flipped learning sessions even when we’re back in the classroom, so hopefully won’t feel like a waste of time.

4. Proper character research – for some of the older students who need to perform scripted sections for their coursework, this has been a really useful time to get them into good habits of doing detailed character and play research before diving into the script. This can get overshadowed in normal teaching as the desire to get on and do the fun acting bit takes over, but taking their time and delving properly into their characters will pay dividends in the end.

5. Flipgrid – I love Flipgrid for collating their responses to pretty much anything. The short video format means even some of the more reticent students tend to get involved and its great to see multiple views on the same topic all appear. It’s also another chance for them to see and connect with each other, which I think is really important at the moment to keep them feeling like a community. These have been social based ones of questions like “what’s the most entertaining thing that’s happened this week” to evaluative reflections on a piece of script or performance. You can set the video limit length which helps them understand how much detail to go into. And once they’ve downloaded the app on their phone it’s really easy for them to film and upload a short video.

6. Twitter / Facebook groups / Webinars – these have all been amazing for providing shared ideas, CPD, hints and re-worked schemes. There is so much generosity of time and expertise around that I’m picking up new ideas or research-driven pedagogy every week. Trinity College are running “Lunchtime chat zoom sessions” where drama teachers share their experiences. The Chartered College of Teaching has also collated a page of resources and research which are useful to dip in and out of. https://chartered.college/2020/03/18/covid-19-and-teaching/

 Looking for more resources to support your teaching and learning? Check out the best education technology resources on our sister platform EdTech Impact.

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