Some students find drama fun, others may find it intimidating, while others think it is an easy pathway to a high grade. Many experts have even said that teaching drama helps reinforce learning in other areas. Whatever you think of drama class, it is nonetheless one of the most popular classes for students to take in secondary school and a subject nearly all students look forward to in elementary school. As such, drama educators have the challenging task of creating fun and dynamic lessons that can accommodate even the most nervous performer - while also meeting the expectations of their provincial curriculum.

a drama teacher instructs
Create fun drama lessons. Source: Unsplash

Whatever grade or age level you have been assigned to teach drama, you will need to review pedagogical techniques and ideas for teaching drama to become good at it. Teaching drama, after all, is much different than being able to act or perform well - teaching is a separate skill that goes beyond having a thorough understanding of the subject matter. To be a great drama teacher, you must be able to develop units, content, and lesson plans that reflect your curriculum and the needs of your students; understand classroom management; be aware of the special needs in your class; and know of activities and games that will engage your students with every class. Whoever said a teaching career would be easy?

With this in mind, we have created some tips that will help you create engaging and exciting lesson plans for your Drama students. 

Drama Pedagogy at All Levels

How you teach drama will largely depend on the age of your students and the purpose of the course. Drama - in the sense of learning how to act for camera and stage or comedic improv - is usually learned by people who have a passion for the subject, a hobby, or a desire to pursue an acting career. But how do you appeal to students who take drama as an academic pursuit?

Drama in the elementary grades  is more focused on teaching student spatial awareness, developing speaking skills, choral reading,  and understanding how to express emotion and get into roles with costumes and appropriate expressions. When you teach drama to students at this level your goal is to help younger kids build confidence and discover new interests and talents. Teachers will want to focus on games, ‘make-believe’ activities, and having plenty of costumes and props at the ready.

As students get into the junior and intermediate grades and develop stronger literacy skills, drama classes can easily be connected to literacy and content in other subjects. Students can still play games to explore creative expression (ie. charades or improvised storytelling), but you can embed drama into subjects like social studies or English to get students to reinforce the learning they have done in class. Dramatizing learning can be a fun way to get out of the doldrum of reading textbooks and answering questions. And the best part is you can assess students for two (or more) subjects at the exact same time!

At the high school level, drama becomes a stand-alone subject alongside other arts programs like music, dance, and visual arts. One great thing about teaching drama to older students is that they have made the choice to be there and learn the subject in earnest. At this level, you can focus your lessons on acting, improv, script and screenplay writing, set design, lighting and film study. Students bring their own interests into the dramatic space and develop their work around their own creative inquiries. 

If you pursue teaching drama at the postsecondary level, you can truly focus on theory and literature at an intense level. You will be teaching kids to analyze classic and modern plays by everyone from Shakespeare to David Mamet, to analyzing the productions of local, contemporary theatre with various critical theories in mind. Of course, you will have taken serious graduate studies yourself to be in a position to take this role - so you will be truly prepared to share your own knowledge to a class of serious students.

Learn everything you need to know about being a drama teacher in this article.

How to Make Your Drama Classes More Interesting

drama costumes kids
Keep drama fun by bringing in costumes and props. Source: Unsplash

Teaching Ideas for the Drama Classroom

Being a good drama teacher goes far beyond simply passing out scripts and asking students to perform them aloud. To keep kids engaged, you must do more than simply use the same old texts and techniques teachers have used in the past. In today’s rapidly changing social and technological landscape, you must abandon the ‘canon’ of texts and explore new and culturally relevant options.

Modern teachers have the opportunity to transform education thanks to the options provided by technology, and the relative ease with which we can access a variety of texts. Thanks to the internet, we can find free teaching resources at the touch of a button or learn what lesson plans work best for any age group. Youtube has made it possible to see acting techniques modeled by professionals working in musical theatre, film, and television. Arts education has come a long way - be sure to take explore all the possibilities.!

We all get into this profession to make a difference - do that by awakening your students to the joy of the dramatic arts.

Developing Energetic and Fun Lessons for Elementary Students

While it may seem easier to plan lessons for K-8 students, working with younger students can be more of a challenge as you must manage the often unpredictable behaviour of children. Younger students require structure - you must take time to organize them before starting a drama task as they are still learning to work independently and follow instructions. You must also give younger students time to calm down after an activity - or you may find it hard to transition them to the next activity!

On the bright side, younger students are full of creativity and energy, and will not roll their eyes at you if you ask them to play games and get into roles. Harness their strengths by playing lots of interactive games that enable them to be silly and experiment with facial expression and movement. Keep costumes, props, musical instruments and make-believe toys around for them to experiment with. Get puppets and stages for them to create stories with, or get them to make their own with felt, googly eyes, and some paint. The possibilities are endless!

If you teach drama as a stand-alone subject, collaborate with your colleagues to tie drama projects to content they are learning in class. If they are doing a novel study in English, get them to script or re-enact a scene. If they are learning mathematical concepts, write short songs and dances they can perform. You can find so many ways to make drama relevant to young kids.

Students in the older elementary grades will love your class if you can connect it with technology. There are so many video and sound editing software options that often come with the device or can be easily downloaded - why not get your students to create short films, or even perform a radio play? Drama class is also a great opportunity for students to collaborate and develop important interpersonal skills. Why not get your class to work in small groups and write a script, practice improv, or perform short skits? 

If you are teaching young kids, get them moving, talking, planning, and acting together. Push the desks out of the way and let them learn actively instead of listening or writing at their seats. Avoid worksheets and comprehension questions if you can - if you want your students to keep their hands busy for awhile, get them to draw and colour posters promoting their play or have them write out their scripts. Of course, unless you teach drama before lunch or the end of the day, you will want to make sure you build in transitions if you have another subject planned. 

Teaching Older Students

older students
Engage older students through a variety of teaching methods. Source: Pexels

If you are teaching high school students, you may find that teaching drama brings the challenge of appeasing kids who are too ‘cool’ and see your drama class as an easy class to take. For students at this age, it’s important to know your audience and focus on activities that they will find engaging but not embarrassing. Play theatre games as you do with younger kids and you will find yourself exhausted trying to get them excited. Help them develop critical thinking skills by letting them analyze the acting of their favourite Hollywood stars.

It’s important not to feel frustrated or disheartened with teens - while you might struggle at first, you’ll find it gets easier if you focus on their interests and problems. If you are teaching them playwrights like Shakespeare or Christopher Marlowe, get your students to update them for modern times. What would Othello post on Instagram Live or TikTok? There are countless ways you can have fun with drama using all the elements of modern culture.

To encourage confidence in performing and build trust with the group, let students engage in icebreaker activities every day or do low risk drama games like charades. If you have a shy group, get them working on performing short skits or scenes from popular (but school appropriate) films.

Learn more about becoming a drama teacher in Canada.

Field Trips for Drama

Excursions off school property are incredibly valuable for drama students as they can see the plays they have been studying in action, or witness the talent of local actors. If you are fortunate enough to be in a big city like Toronto or Vancouver, take your students to a famous musical like Wicked, Hamilton, Come From Away, Legally Blonde, or whatever is playing in the local venue. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing a live musical performance, and your students will walk away singing. Many theatres offer lower rates for weekday afternoon shows, so take advantage of the lower prices. Younger kids will love attending performances for children like the Wizard of Oz. Bring them to see a kids show if there are children's theatres in your city.

Should professional theatre be too expensive, don’t hesitate to watch performances from local colleges and universities. While the production values may not be as high, you can still get to see some excellent, up and coming talent. Another plus is that your students can see a post secondary campus and start making serious academic goals!

While not quite as great as the real thing, watching a movie can be a fun way to get out of school and immersed in drama. Book a daytime screening at a local movie theatre and send your students in with an assignment linked to the film. Students today are so used to watching movies on their phones and devices that they will surely appreciate the big screen.

Things Not To Do As A Drama Teacher

There are a lot of mistakes you can make as a drama teacher that you will want to avoid in order to have a successful classroom. While drama may seem like a good time for free-flowing, unstructured lessons, you’ll never have an orderly class if there isn’t some structure built into the class. Don’t be a disorganized drama teacher - plan to have a certain amount of time dedicated to teaching, independent group work, and debriefing. With a familiar structure in place from the beginning, you will never have to worry about calming down a boisterous class and you will find your own lesson planning to be much easier.

Want to find out where you can work as a drama teacher? Read more.

While it can be easy to revert to screen time in drama, avoid falling into the habit of watching videos and movies. Your students won’t take the class seriously, and they may lose focus on what really matters in drama - creatively expressing themselves.

Finally, try not to let students get you down if they refuse to follow instructions or use drama as an opportunity to socialize. This is an issue in all classes, but in drama the potential for students to influence others negatively is much higher because of the social and collaborative nature of the subject. When you experience challenging behaviour, take the time to address it with the student. Speak with them outside the classroom, and don’t be afraid to escalate the issue if the behaviour worsens. The last thing you will want is to have other students behaving similarly and ruining the class for everyone.

Read about some reasons you should become a drama teacher.

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Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.