Why use drama games or theatre games in your teaching? They are a simple, cost-effective way of accomplishing a wide variety of educational goals, not just in theatre class. The games combine elements of creative drama, improvisation, pantomime, creative movement, and storytelling. They develop foundational skills needed in theatre arts that also have tremendous positive effects on literacy development, academic success, and social interaction. The games are easy to integrate with content from other school subjects or content areas. The drama game or theatre game is a versatile teaching tool that reaches multiple learning styles, content areas, age groups, and levels of language and experience.
The sections below contain information, design, and links from the the Rationale page of The Drama Game File. Underlined title pages such as Rationale are links to related pages on the CD-ROM program; they are not working links here on the website. We include this part of the CD-ROM for free on our website both as a preview of the product and as a service to promote the understanding of the pedagogy of drama education.
This page summarizes the research and pedagogy of how drama education benefits students of all ages. Drama education is an umbrella term that includes theatre arts for its own sake as well as drama as a teaching tool in other subjects (see Definitions, Skills, and Benefits to learn more). Eleven justifications for the value of drama games or theatre games in education are described below. Feel free to use any or all of them to advocate for a new or existing arts program.
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Teaches to Arts Content Standards
Federal education statutes clearly name drama/theatre as one of the four arts and part of a basic "core" curriculum for all students in America.
Most states, California included, have also passed laws naming the four arts as part of a basic "core" curriculum for all students in the state.
Most states, California included, have adopted specific content standards for theatre arts, that detail the knowledge and skills that all students should acquire in grades K-12.
Go to Arts Standards to learn how to connect the games and techniques of this program to state and national theatre arts content standards.
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A Universal Form of Human Expression
Drama is a universal form of human expression found in cultures all over the world and throughout history. Examples include Greek tragedies, Japanese Noh dramas, Italian commedia dell'arte, Balinese shadow puppet theatre, Native American mask rituals, and the French farce comedies. Go to Glossary of Terms for definitions of genres and styles.
Observation and imitation are primary mechanisms for learning throughout infancy and childhood.
People enact a number of different roles during their lifetimes, or even during the course of a single day.
Preparing, rehearsing, and performing for important life events (e.g., a job interview, college application, or wedding) is a natural part of the human experience in any culture.
Emotion, gestures, and imitation are universal forms of communication understood in all cultures.
Theatre is a basic part of human existence; it should therefore be part of a basic education.
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Develops the Imagination
Albert Einstein said, "imagination is more important than knowledge." He advanced the existing knowledge of his day by using his imagination. He turned the knowledge upside down and inside out, and dared to think outside of the box. As a result, he created new knowledge. Without imagination, education becomes a kind of intellectual recycling of the same knowledge passed from teacher to student and back to teacher on the test. Education should do more than simply transmit information; it should develop skills such as imagination that evolve our knowledge and move us forward as a species.
History demonstrates the importance of imagination to human progress. The scientists, artists, activists, and politicians who dared to think differently are the people who have made the most lasting impact on the course of human history.
Imagination is at the core of innovation, invention, problem solving, science, and the arts.
Imagination develops students' writing, speaking, and creative self-expression.
Drama teaches students to imagine, explore, create, and share in front of others.
Drama teaches interpretation, personal creativity, and new ways of looking at the same information (e.g., how to act out a familiar role or story such as Hamlet or The Tortoise and the Hare).
Students learn to trust and develop their creative imaginations by playing engaging drama games.
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Teaches to Multiple Intelligences
Howard Gardner (1983) compiled data from a variety of scientific fields to come up with a list of seven (now eight) distinct intelligences inherent to all human beings. They are bodily/kinesthetic, linguistic, spatial, musical, logical/mathematical, interpersonal (social), intrapersonal (self-awareness), and naturalistic.
Gardner (1983) criticized the modern educational system for placing too heavy an emphasis on Linguistic and Logical/Mathematical intelligences. His evidence for such criticism is based mostly on the educational emphasis on standardized testing and IQ tests, which measure primarily linguistic and mathematical concepts. For most of the 20th century, our society has implicitly defined intelligence within a very narrow band of the scope of human abilities. This emphasis on reading, writing, and arithmetic (the "three R's") has been to the exclusion of innate human intelligences more highly valued in other cultures and at different times in history.
Education should provide opportunities for validation of each of the intelligences, not only the select few emphasized by the "three R's.
Teachers should incorporate methods that reach all of the intelligences, so that every student is valued, and all students receive a more well-rounded and complete education.
Drama games, activities, and productions develop all of Gardner's intelligences, but are particularly strong in Spatial, Bodily/Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Linguistic, and Intrapersonal Intelligences. Using drama as a teaching tool activates many of the innate human intelligences often neglected by traditional methods of teaching.
A more balanced and equal view of all intelligences opens the door for an educational philosophy that cannot ignore the tremendous benefits of using drama as a core teaching method in all subjects.
Go to Multiple Intelligences to read about connections between drama and each of the intelligences.
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A Multi-sensory Mode of Learning
Drama is hands-on, experiential learning that engages mind, body, voice, and emotions to interpret and convey to others information and ideas.
Each sense that is engaged provides an opportunity to remember the information and the experience. Memory can be triggered from what the students saw, smelled, heard, touched, or tasted during the game--even if it was pretend or simulated. Each sensory input provides another opportunity to learn and retain the information.
Research has demonstrated that the emotional involvement in drama activities promotes a deepening of understanding and improved retention of the information.
The emotional and energetic nature of drama provides a personal connection to the material--one that embeds it more firmly in the mind. For example, the historic Boston Tea Party becomes meaningful on a personal level if acted out in a production.
Comprehension and retention greatly increase by using drama. For example, a student acts out the vocabulary word "slippery" in front of the class. She now has a much improved chance of remembering the word and what it means than if she had to memorize it for a written test. Rote memorization generally diminishes within a few weeks. Most people have first hand experience with this process. How many times have we studied intensely to learn and memorize a large amount of information for a test, only to forget most of it within a short time thereafter.
Bodies are alive and moving, energy is created and released, and muscles are exercised during drama games. All of these factors increase the students' motivation and attention for learning.
Drama provides a rich experience that engages body, emotions, and senses in dynamic learning.
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Reaches Students Who Struggle in Traditional Schooling
By acting out the material, students who have difficulty with reading and writing can avoid struggling with pen and paper, and may expose a previously unnoticed intelligence or ability. The following groups typically struggle academically, but often shine and demonstrate their knowledge and creativity in drama. They can gain much needed self-esteem and improve literacy skills by playing drama games.
Limited English Proficient (LEP), English as a Second Language (ESL), or English Language Learner (ELL) students.
Learning Disabled (LD) students who have dyslexia or other learning disabilities that cause them to struggle with reading, writing, and/or numbers.
Special Education students who may have physical or mental disabilities that make reading or writing difficult.
Drama is a kinesthetic (movement) teaching method that benefits those students who learn best by doing (moving their bodies). In traditional approaches, students sit down for long periods. Research provides ample evidence to support the importance of movement for learning. Not only does movement reach the kinesthetic learners in the group, it refreshes and energizes all participants. Switching learning modalities as a teacher is a key to maintaining the attention and motivation of the students. Go to Multiple Intelligences to learn about different learning modalities.
Drama is an effective Total Physical Response (TPR) method with second language learners or learning disabled students.
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Provides Long-Term Benefits that Spill Over into School and Life
The skills learned through regular exposure to drama extend well beyond the drama lesson.
Drama develops skills such as concentration, imagination, cooperation/collaboration, and listening. These skills are essential in other school subjects and generally improve academic performance.
The benefits of drama education (such as self-confidence, empathy, and communication skills) are invaluable in the work place and in everyday interactions with people.
There is ample and persuasive research evidence that students exposed to theatre arts training perform better in school, have more consistent attendance, demonstrate more empathetic behavior towards others, and have greater self-esteem.
The positive long-term benefits of regular drama instruction from elementary school and up spill over into all areas of school, career, and life.
To learn more, read the summary descriptions of the Drama Skills and Benefits.
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Promotes Literacy and Language Arts
There is substantial research evidence that drama is a powerful method for developing literacy in preschool, elementary, and English as a Second Language (ESL) students.
Language Arts consists of four components: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. In this author's experience, the latter two are often neglected in today's language-arts instruction. Drama provides highly effective experiences in developing speaking and listening skills. Therefore, by adding drama, a teacher can easily cover all four language-arts components. To learn more, go to Speech Skills and Listening.
Drama develops imagination and storytelling, which contribute to more detail in creative writing.
Acting training develops the expressive use of the voice to convey emotion, inflection, attitude, and other vocal elements. The regular use of drama significantly improves read-aloud skills by reducing monotone delivery and promoting loud and clear speech habits. See the game Color the Phrase.
Re-enacting classroom literature, even in simple improvised dramatizations, greatly improves reading comprehension, story analysis, vocabulary development, and story recall. There are numerous research studies that consistently demonstrate these same benefits.
Using the multi-sensory mode of learning develops vocabulary comprehension, usage, pronunciation, and retention. See the games Vocabulary Charades and Rhyme Time Walk as specific examples.
For games that develop vocabulary, story comprehension, reading readiness, and other aspects of literacy, go to the index of games for Language Arts.
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A Method of Learning Through Play
Research shows that young children learn primarily through play. They develop social skills, physical coordination, and cognitive understanding of their environment through play. Many educators argue for an increased allotment of time for children to play during the school day, especially in preschool, primary, and elementary grades.
Benefits of using play as an instructional tool:
Activates vitality and stimulates players physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually.
Provides hands-on learning by doing, feeling, and experiencing.
Reduces stress and provides a healthy outlet for expression of emotions.
Brings fun, laughter, and bonding into the learning environment.
Increases motivation for learning and participating.
Stimulates imagination and spontaneity in the moment.
Drama games use noncompetitive play as the basic mode of learning. The games encourage cooperation and collaboration in a creative context. Students work together rather than compete against each other as in many sports. To learn more, go to Teaching Philosophy.
The games provide a shared play experience for adults and students together. When students and teachers play a game such as Walking In..., they experience, discover, experiment, respond, create, and share with each other.
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An Outlet for Gifted and Talented Students
Research demonstrates that students who test as "gifted" or "talented" are highly creative, enjoy humor, and prefer projects that allow for individual expression. Drama provides games and projects that incorporate these aspects of gifted students.
There is ample evidence that the arts, especially drama, provide such students with opportunities to demonstrate their abilities. A gifted student may finish a worksheet well ahead of others in the class, then quickly become bored. Drama projects provide a motivated and talented student with the opportunity to keep working. Gifted students can put in extra effort, work independently to research a topic, and come up with creative solutions for a presentation in front of an audience.
Drama games allow for a large range of participation, from minimal to highly expressive and creative. Gifted students are given a chance to synthesize learning from various subjects. They can take the same idea several layers deeper than an average student and still demonstrate it in the same time frame as others. Therefore, teachers can provide for the entire range of learning abilities at the same time in whole group drama games such as Leading Part.
The highly verbal and quick-thinking nature of Improvisation games provide excellent creative outlets for these students.
Gifted and talented students can thrive in the open-ended creativity, project-based, and interdisciplinary nature of drama.
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Portability: most drama games or theatre games can be played in any location with enough room for movement. See The Place to learn more.
Adaptability: games can be easily tweaked, revised, shaped, and molded to the particular needs and population of any classroom, theatre, or other setting. The creative possibilities are endless! Most games are easily integrated into a variety of subjects and topics. Go to Content Areas/Integration Ideas and Ideas for Using the Games to see specific examples of adapting the games to various academic objectives. They are also easily adapted to students of any age from preschool through adults. Go to The Players to learn more about age adaptations.
Universality: most games are easily played by students of different backgrounds, cultures, or learning styles. In creative expression, each player has the opportunity to bring his or her own personal background, prior knowledge, and experiences to the activity.
Ease of use: for most games, the only requirements are a room, a teacher, and players. Preparation and equipment are minimal.
Repeatability: students enjoy playing their favorite games again and again. Skills, confidence, and creativity improve as players replay the same games. Also, the same players can produce very different material or results each time they play. Creative expression rarely repeats itself in the same way twice.
Minimal cost: To play drama games does not require lights, sets, costumes, props, special effects, script royalties, or a theatre. The only expenses are a few teaching props for classroom management, and the occasional prop or musical addition that adds texture and variety to some games. See The Props to learn more. Playing drama games costs almost nothing, yet provides enormous educational and personal benefits for the teachers and students.
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Drama education is a powerful teaching and learning tool with profound positive effects on a student's cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. The benefits of regular theatre arts instruction spill over into all school subjects and everyday life. Creative drama is sound pedagogy that reaches students of multiple intelligences and different learning styles. It is a multi-sensory mode of learning that engages mind, body, senses, and emotions to create personal connections to the material that improve comprehension and retention.
Drama games and theatre games are an ideal strategy for differentiated instruction. Students with language difficulties, learning disabilities, or physical or mental disabilities can shine in drama, whereas they often struggle in traditional schooling. Gifted, talented, and highly motivated students who need to be challenged can demonstrate their abilities and synthesize learning in drama.
From the shy to the confident, from the ELD/LEP to the linguistically gifted, and from the inexperienced to the advanced student, drama games include all levels of differentiated abilities in a positive successful creative experience.
In order to present material to others in class or for a full-scale production, the participants must not only understand the material, but also find a way to communicate it creatively and effectively to the audience. Therefore, knowledge in not enough; imagination, creativity, and communication are required to make effective theatre.
Drama games and theatre games transform the traditional teacher-student relationship from one of authority-recipient to one of shared experience of discovery and creative exploration. (To learn more, go to Modeling Creativity.) It is easy to use drama as a teaching tool in any school subject. It provides a practical, effective, and empowering approach to teaching that transforms the learning environment.
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Reviews and awards
Why drama games?
"The New Viola Spolin for the 21st Century! Ideal for classroom teachers, university students, and recreation leaders. We've adopted The Drama Game File at Northwestern as a text for our theatre students and future teachers with great results. All the makings of an indispensable instant classic."
Chair of Theatre Department
"Makes challenging material more understandable and engaging to students of diverse backgrounds and abilities. I highly recommend the program as core curriculum for teacher preparation and professional growth programs."
–Dr. Linda Purrington Director, Master of Arts in Education and Teacher Credential Program
"A wonderful tool for applying current brain research to the classroom. These outstanding games generate the emotion and attention that create an optimal state of learning."
–Dr. Sherry Kerr
Adjunct Professor, UCLA
National consultant in brain research and arts education
"Great for English Learners, Special Ed., and gifted students. This program improves all students' vocabulary, fluency, reading, and writing."
–Esther Kim, Principal
156th Street Elementary
"An excellent resource! The clear directions and dynamic photos help any teacher use arts instruction in all subjects."
–Connie Covert, Arts Advisor
Public Schools in Los Angeles
"Teacher friendly and easy to implement. Great strategies and techniques for all grades. Unique, effective, and fun!"
"The best curriculum I have seen in more than 25 years teaching high school drama! It is an amazing synthesis of a lifetime of top-quality theatre training, performing, teaching, and research. Ideal for beginning and veteran drama teachers of middle school and high school."
–Ruben Van Kempen
Roosevelt HS, Seattle
Named one of the top ten theatre programs in America
""This outstanding program is one of the best I have seen in 20 years teaching drama at all grade levels. Non-theatre elementary teachers can succeed using the great integration ideas, teacher talk, and classroom management. "
–Beverly (Burnside) Johnson Texas Teacher of the Year
"I am not at all computer literate, but this CD-ROM is so easy to use. I love how each game is written so clearly with everything I need to know from set up to evaluation. Great connections to arts standards, multiple intelligences, and all school subjects."
Hill County MS, Austin
"Great for busy teachers with little planning time. I have used the games to motivate my students to read and write, develop comprehension skills, and teach science concepts."
–Kay Strenio, 1st grade
"The Drama Game File is empowering! I am instantly connected to a wealth of simple, creative, and effective ideas. A tremendous addition to the curriculum!"
"My students gained confidence and improved their English language abilities. The games create a fun atmosphere for learning. They captivate and motivate students of all academic levels to experience success in the classroom!"
–Edie Lynn, 5th grade
"I felt all wobbly and gooey in Melting Tag. It was so much fun!"
–Tiffany, 1st grade
"I like the Name Game because I change my voice, move my body, and use my mind."
–Brigitte, 2nd grade
"I am not shy anymore."
–Albert, 3rd grade
"Playing the games helped me after very sad times in my family. I think drama could help anyone in need of happiness."
–Kathryn, 4th grade
"We express our emotions in a safe and enjoyable way."
–Jessica, 8th grade
"The games taught me skills that will be invaluable no matter what job I have."
–Sebastian, 12th grade