Connecting Drama with Language Arts is the easiest connection across all disciplines because drama is the missing link in literacy. Drama was the first way in which humans shared their history, myths, and stories. Before the printing press, the written word, or perhaps before spoken language, man enacted his thoughts through movement and sound. Sound became speech and speech became documented words in what we know as play scripts, we even document precise movements in “stage directions.”
If we acknowledge that drama/theater is a key component in the evolution of literacy, then we will not be surprised at the myriad of connections we will find.
So, what do we know about a literate person? We know that a literate person reads and speaks with fluency, possesses a strong vocabulary, listens and reads with comprehension, thinks and reasons, views with insight, and writes with clarity.
Drama demands that actors move, speak, read text, understand what they are saying in the context of a greater story or theme, listen in character and in rehearsal, think deeply about their own interpretations – providing evidence regarding their choices, write so others might perform their words accurately, and aesthetically create physical images that support an idea or message.
In workshops, when I share these literacy indicators and ask teachers to identify which they believe are connected to drama, the answer comes back….”Why all of them!” And they would be correct. Yet, this is often a new idea because schools have eliminated drama from any basic language arts instruction in an overall literacy program. Howard Gardner speaks of kinetic intelligence and brain research speaks of the need for learners to move frequently, this translates into students who learn and understand through their bodies. Yet we continue to make language arts solitary, or a sit and share, or sit and review type of activity.
Imagine the following “what ifs:”
- What if students could get up and move as personified objects or animals to really understand personification at an early age?
- What if students could act out the unwritten moment before a story begins?
- What if students had to act out a parallel scene from their own life that matched the conflict, theme, or idea presented in a piece of literature?
- What if students could act out a vocabulary word to really understand the meaning or context?
- What if students could step into the shoes, for a moment of someone different, in order to gain empathy and understanding of how others feel and live?
I was recently working with the book “Tsunami” by Kimiko Kajikawa (Author), Ed Young (Illustrator) in a quite lively second grade classroom. The students took on three roles, that of the humans – and the overlord who saves them all by burning all he owns, that of the rice fields being burned, and that of the great tsunami wave. They all played the story from the three perspectives and culminated by dividing up and playing the story as one fluid drama.
The understanding of people who lived a different life, and the message of sacrifice were clearly and indelibly etched into those seven year old memories. The children were so moved, they asked to play the story again and discuss what would happen to the people without their rice fields and about the man who sacrificed everything. Of course, they could identify the setting, the problem, the message…because they had lived it…but now they could understand the story in a deeper context.
Drama is the piece that is often missing in language arts. Drama provides the experience of living the text while allowing participants to decipher text/words and question what they read.
Drama and language arts are deeply rooted in each other. I have yet to find a standard, objective, knowledge or skill in language arts that is not connected to the teaching of drama. To abandon the connection and not include drama in language arts instruction is to miss out on one of most powerful literacy tools a teacher can use to achieve understanding and mastery.
This is the first in a series of articles discussing drama’s connection with other subjects.
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