English Through Drama: Creative Activities for Inclusive ELT Classes

Book Writer & Publisher: 
Susan Hillyard, Helbling Languages
Stella Yamazaki, Tokyo Keizai University

[Susan Hillyard. Crawley, UK: Helbling Languages, 2016. pp. 196. ¥3,170. ISBN: 978-3-99045-409-1.]

English Through Drama: Creative Activities for Inclusive ELT Classes is part of Helbling Languages’ Resourceful Teacher Series. It is marketed as a collection of creative activities particularly suited for classes with challenging students. Challenging students can be learners with special physical or mental needs or simply those with little interest or motivation to study English. The drama activities found in this book can help develop the whole person: socially, intellectually, creatively, and emotionally, making learning more fun and more effective. 

In developing her drama program, Hillyard was inspired by the work of Lev Vygotsky and Dorothy Heathcote and their respective concepts of the Zone of Proximal Development and the teacher-in-role. These authors see the teacher’s role as important and active: “designing and shaping aesthetic encounters, opening up spaces for student creativity,” and carefully structuring activities that are both educational and transformative (Davis, 2015, “Implications and conclusions,”  para. 46). 

This resource book begins with an enlightening introduction discussing the power of drama in learning English. Four chapters follow: Chapter 1: Classroom Management; Chapter 2: Dramatic activities, broken down into four parts addressing breathing, body, and mime exercises; voice and pronunciation; concentration, warmers, and energizers; and fluency; Chapter 3: Drama Lesson Plans; and Chapter 4: Original Mini Scripts. Chapter 2 presents over 70 different activities which can easily be incorporated into existing lessons. Chapter 3 consists of six lesson plans which can be used in whole or in part. Chapter 4 contains four complete scripts.

The strength of this book lies in the commentary written by the author in the introduction, in Chapter 1 and at the beginnings of Chapters 2 through 4. Hillyard presumes that the reader is new to the field of teaching drama and writes in the first person in clear, nontechnical, encouraging language with step-by-step instructions. She foresees the problems that can arise during the lessons and tells how to deal with them swiftly. She also reminds instructors of the anxieties students face in performing these new skills. 

Throughout the chapters, Hillyard reminds us of the three tenets of her program: know your students, respect your students, and maintain complete control. Fundamental to her program is the magic circle, the arrangement of students’ chairs in an unbroken circle with the teacher in the center, commanding complete attention and monitoring every student’s performance at a glance.

I used the magic circle and the Breathing and Body exercises in Chapter 2 with a high-intermediate class of 33 first-year university students in a listening-drama class. I found Hillyard’s advice to be completely reliable. In the first few minutes of our initial activity two typically uncooperative students began shouting in Japanese. Following Hillyard’s instructions, I immediately removed them from the circle and had them wait outside the door for five minutes. The remaining students worked hard. They appeared to enjoy the novelty of the physical arrangement and the opportunity to practice the new skill of voice control. Over the next few lessons we successfully completed four exercises from this section.

One possible drawback of Hillyard’s method is that it is extremely difficult to form a magic circle in classrooms with fixed seats, which are quite common in Japan. Classrooms may also not be big enough to seat offenders who have been banished from the circle.

A second concern is that many of the exercises in the manual appear to be primarily designed for early childhood classes. A number of the activities involve animal characters or are related to fairy tales. Though offered mainly as writing models, the Original Mini Scripts are all based on children’s books. An imaginative teacher could certainly adapt the shorter activities for older learners but might have to look elsewhere for scenes. Alternatively, Yoshida (2007) reports the benefits of Japanese university students writing their own scripts. Regardless of the source of the scenes, research by Gorjian, Moosavinia, and Jabripour (2010) found that university students who perform English dramas score better on follow-up comprehension tests than those who study the same dramas in conventional classrooms.

Although the material in English Through Drama: Creative Activities for Inclusive ELT Classes may be best suited for elementary school students, I also heartily recommend it for any ELT teacher struggling to teach drama to students of any age for the first time. Reading Hillyard’s instructions is the next best thing to having a trusted colleague guiding you through your first course. I also intend to use this book next term in my university public speaking courses. Its many voice and body control exercises are engaging, effective, and much needed supplements to ELT speechmaking texts on the market today.


Davis, S. (2015).Transformative learning: Revisiting Heathcote and Vygotsky for the digital age. p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e, 2(1-2). <www.p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e.org/?p=1835>. 

Gorjian, B., Moosavinia, S. R., & Jabripour, A. (2010). Dramatic performance in teaching drama in EFL contexts. TESL-EJ, 13(4), 1–13.

Yoshida, M. (2007). Playbuilding in a Japanese college EFL classroom: Its advantages and disadvantages. Caribbean Quarterly, 53(1-2), 231–240.