Can an EFL teacher with absolutely no theatrical background learn to effectively employ plays and sketches in their classroom? My answer is that any reasonably capable teacher can acquire all the necessary know-how to stage simple but interesting plays with the help of Get on Stage! a relatively new photocopiable resource book published by Helbling Languages and also available through Cambridge University Press.
Over the past decade or so, I have become more and more intrigued by the concept of using plays in my EFL classes. At least some of the benefits of using drama in the EFL classroom have been documented (Barbee, 2014; Maley & Duff, 2005), giving me the desire to try it for myself. For example, Barbee (2014) notes that a significant amount of research points towards the use of drama as having strong positive effects on learner autonomy, motivation, confidence, and language awareness, with at least some studies also claiming an overall improvement in students’ language ability. However, none of the resource books that are available on the market, and none of the several presentations on drama that I have attended at EFL conferences, have ever come close to preparing me enough that I might have the confidence to actually attempt drama in the classroom.
By complete and fortunate happenstance, I recently came upon Get on Stage! in a London bookstore. Upon examination, the collection of plays in this resource book, ranging from elementary to upper-intermediate level, were entertaining, needed little in terms of props, and, perhaps most importantly for the EFL classroom, were suitably controlled for difficulty of grammar and vocabulary.
My initial evaluation of the book was positive enough that I thought it worth purchasing. Upon returning to Japan, I examined the contents more carefully and realized that almost every play in the collection had been recorded on the accompanying CD, giving the teacher the opportunity to let students listen to and model the plays.
Get on Stage! also contains worksheets for each script, filled with comprehension exercises that focus on vocabulary and grammar. The authors clearly recognize the importance for students to properly understand the plays before enactment. However, I would say that the real strength of this resource book lies neither in its collection of plays nor in the worksheet exercises, but rather in its clear-cut and extremely practical explanation of how to stage a play in the EFL classroom. Not only is this information provided in written form in the introduction, but it is also reproduced in the accompanying DVD, with a friendly, experienced, and qualified actor and director giving advice through actual enactment of a sketch. In this case, seeing is knowing, as the viewer of the DVD gradually gains a deeper understanding of how to facilitate plays and sketches.
With such a complete resource book—one structured with exactly the right amount of scaffolding for an inexperienced teacher—it seemed only natural that I should attempt to use Get on Stage! in the classroom. There was some trepidation for this neophyte EFL drama teacher, but I quickly learned to trust the advice in the book, and somewhat more gradually I gained the instincts that come from real experience.
My students likewise have responded warmly to the introduction of drama into the class. This class of 22 1st-year university students successfully rehearsed and performed two of the shorter humorous sketches in the book, each with a running time of about five minutes. Each elementary-level skit took about four weeks from start to finish, allowing plenty of time for aural comprehension, reading comprehension, grammar and vocabulary practice, several rehearsals of the play, and a final performance in front of the class. These two sketches (The Perfect Son and Colin the Poet) proved to be appropriate choices for this particular lower-level class of non-English majors, but a more adventurous teacher, with the right class, might be swayed to attempt one of the longer, intermediate-level plays that requires more props and greater planning.
In this teacher’s opinion, the benefits of introducing drama were obvious. The students’ attendance has improved, their enthusiasm and motivation appears to have increased, and even their soft skills (for example, leadership, cooperation, confidence) have improved. However, there is no quantifiable evidence that their actual English ability, as measured through traditional standardized tests, has improved. This suggests that the resource book might be best utilized as occasional supplementary material rather than as a dedicated text, at least in traditional EFL classes.
In conclusion, Get on Stage! would be a valuable addition to any EFL teacher’s library, but it is particularly useful for the EFL teacher who has a desire to begin incorporating drama into their classes. With this review, I most certainly do not want to damn the book with faint praise. It is a gem of a book, and I suggest that if you are interested in drama you should buy it, use it, and enjoy it.
Barbee, M. (2014). Furthering the case for drama in the second language classroom. Polyglossia, 26, 13-26.
Maley, A., & Duff, A. (2005). Drama techniques in language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.