New English “Drama Club” at Ban Phang Heng Secondary School
Pupils can spend an hour after their regular classes to improve their spoken English in the English Conversation Club and the English Games Club. To offer yet another “English Club” during Activity Time for the pupils to learn and practise English, Marie and I started the Drama Club at Ban Phang Heng Secondary School. Every Tuesday and Thursday up to ten pupils join our new club and participate.
In the regular English lessons at school, the pupils can also practise speaking English, due to the improved teaching techniques our Lao English tandem-teachers now use. However, there are many pupils who still like to practise speaking English even more. During Activity Time, therefore, we give them the opportunity to speak in a smaller group.
With drama, pupils can acquire meaningful language structures in a playful and fun way. It offers the possibility for every pupil to speak on her or his own, but in a guided context and framework, i.e. with the necessary scaffolding.
Another great benefit of using drama for learning a foreign language is that pronunciation and prosodic features can easily be practised. Prosodic features are the suprasegmental aspects of a language, which appear when we put together single sounds in connected speech, e.g. intonation, stress, or rhythm. For Lao learners, English pronunciation, stress, and intonation particularly are very difficult to learn. Lao is a tonal syllable-based language, and stress and intonation therefore work completely differently. For this reason, acting out sentences and over-exaggerating are very good ways to practise these aspects of the English language.
In the Drama Club, we noticed that playing and practising drama improves the pupils’
1. pronunciation, stress, and intonation,
2. expands their active vocabulary and syntactical and grammatical structures, but it also
3. improves their confidence in speaking English on their own.
When we started the Drama Club, the pupils were very shy and it took them several minutes to gather their courage to answer our questions or just to say an English sentence in front of the others. There was a lot of giggling. From each time to the next, though, we could see how their confidence increased. Also, when pupils joined later who had not been to the Drama Club before, you could see a great difference between the confidence of the pupils who had been there almost every time and those who had newly arrived.
It is most difficult for most pupils to speak spontaneously. Therefore, we mostly select participation stories. These are stories in which the audience is being engaged while the story is being told. The audience speaks along, gestures, and acts. Sometimes the whole group acts and sometimes single persons are chosen to act out a specific character. One example is the story “The Ghost with One Black Eye”, which has
With these stories and mini-plays, the pupils can speak along first and then speak on their own after some practice. After they are confident about what to say, we encourage them to act it out and show them how to say it, e.g. surprised, happily, angrily, fast, annoyed, etc. Once the pupils have overcome their first reticence, they have great pleasure in acting out the dramas. (We experienced a “same same but different” phenomenon ourselves – after stepping out of our comfort zone – in the “Singlish” workshop.)
Even though acting in general and then acting in English in particular is a major challenge for most of the pupils at Ban Phang Heng Secondary School, it is a great way to get them to speak, to practise pronunciation and especially prosodic features, and to shed their inhibitions of using English in lively interaction, and to speak in the foreign language in front of others.
The “trick of the trade” is easy: If you act a role, it’s not you speaking, is it?
Text by R. Dengler
Photos & video by M. Kirsten & D. Dengler