I was one of those lucky people who knew from a very young age that
all I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a teacher! However I was
unsure of what sort of teacher I would eventually become. Kinder was
high on my list until I walked out of my very first Drama lesson in my
first week of high school. This subject and its experience had connected
with me so deeply, it unlocked a drive within me. This was going to be
my passion in life. And from then on, my career was mapped out.
I fully appreciate that this love I have for all things dramatic
couldn't be further from the truth for other people. However, it is
my challenge, through the help of Practically Primary, to sway even the
most drama-shy of teachers into finding the courage to add drama to
their bag of favourite teaching tools. Why? Using drama strategies as
teaching tools provide teachers with the ability to bring a unique
purpose to your students' writing, develop their ability to connect
with sub-text and provide them with endless ideas and feelings to write
about in response to texts.
Toy and Prendiville (2000) suggest that drama involves more than
just the passing on of knowledge; instead it encourages students to make
meaning of an idea through active participation. Drama can be integrated
in the classroom to enforce a richer understanding of any literacy
lesson. Students can participate in role-plays, explore characters from
a storybook or encourage a different ending to the particular scenario.
Drama teaching techniques allow students to see the world through
someone else's eyes. It is the process that becomes important for
the teacher when working with drama in primary schools ... not the end
product or performance opportunities.
Drama allows students to feel the experience. I find that after
participating in a dramatic activity students are able to write with
more energy, use words that they have heard in the drama and can feel a
connection with the characters from a text that inspired the drama. The
more ideas that they can workshop through a dramatic context, the better
their writing becomes as a result. Drama allows children's writing
to become more descriptive. Drama is 'the way in' ... we know
that learning happens when students are emotionally engaged and drama
provides them with a 'way in' to experience the insights of
texts first hand.
I regularly use drama techniques with my students when we are
responding to and creating texts. Some of these techniques are:
Role on the Wall
Teacher in role
Writing in role
For the purpose of this article I will refer to a Unit Plan
Exemplar written by O'Toole and Dunn (2002) from their Teaching
Resource 'Pretending to Learn' (1st ed.).
The Giant Who Threw Tantrums (See Appendix 1)
This drama experience is built on a small part of a text. Here the
children are given a brief extract from a much longer text, and they
build on this extract to create a text that is only in a small way
related to the original.
In this example, the children adopt a specific role in the small
community of Thistle Mountain. They will work from an in-role position
of a townsperson, meeting a tantrum throwing giant. The giant is under
threat from a 'giantologist' who has been brought in to save
the community from this dangerous tantrum-thrower! It is suitable for
early to middle primary.
Background planning and requirements
Key question: What causes tantrums and how can they be avoided?
Focus question: What can be done to stop a giant from throwing
tantrums and upsetting the people of the town?
The 5 W's
What's happening? A giant is throwing tantrums and upsetting
Who's it happening to? The people of the town of Thistle
Mountain, a giant who lives at the top of the mountain and the
Where is it happening? The town of Thistle Mountain
When is it happening? In fairy-tale time
What's at stake? The people of the town are living in fear.
The hook: Children love reading and speaking about Giants. This
drama gives the children the chance to have power over a giant by
stopping him/ her from throwing tantrums. The term
'giantologist' is also a big hit with children of this age
The teacher in role: Within this drama the teacher takes three
separate roles--the Mayor, the Giant and the Giantologist. Have clear
signals for which role you are in.
Resources: The excerpt of The Giant Who Threw Tantrums, a prop for
the Mayor, the class dress-up box containing props for each of the
children as townspeople, prop for the giant, prop for the gaintologist,
a letter from the giant.
Connected Curriculum Areas: storytelling, letter writing,
vocabulary, literature, visual literacy, mapping, visual arts, cultural
STEP 1--(Initiation phase) Introducing the context and roles
Read and discuss The Giant Who Threw Tantrums with the children
(Appendix 1). Highlight the word 'tantrum' and invite them to
share stories of tantrums they have witnessed. Ask the children to sit
or lie on the floor with eyes closed while you narrate an atmospheric
description of Thistle Mountain. For example:
STEP 2--Realising the fictional context
The children collaboratively create Thistle Mountain through
collective drawing. This can be done by recalling any of the
geographical features mentioned in the story extract and then
brainstorming any additional features that the children might wish to
include such as lakes, creeks and caves.
Explain to the children that during the drama they will be involved
in helping to solve the problem of the tantrum-throwing giant and will
be in role as people from this area. Now ask them to draw their house on
the map of Thistle Mountain. They decide where they would choose to live
if they were residents of this are (e.g. up on the mountain, by the
stream, in the town itself). The children write their characters'
address on large envelopes (e.g. 'Sarah by the stream',
'Tom on the hill'). The envelopes will come into their own in
STEP 3--(Experiential phase) Introducing the problem
Explain to the children that for this first part of this drama you
will be in the role as the Mayor of Thistle Mountain and they will be
the people from the town. Share with them the prop that you have chosen
to signal your role (a badge, hat, jacket or gold chain of office).
Next ask them to choose a hat, coat, beads, etc. from the dress-up
box for their symbol. Get them to put it on and get used to it, and then
try going up to somebody else and talking to them as people of Thistle
Mountain, greeting each other as neighbours and talking about their
Enter in role as the Mayor and ask the townspeople if they have
ever seen the giant. Explain to them that this is not the first time
that you have heard rumours about a giant living up in one of the caves,
and suggest that, although you do not like to admit it, you have seen
and heard some strange things up on that mountain. Suggest that the
townspeople talk to one of their neighbours about the times when they
have seen or heard strange things.
Bring the group together again and closely and seriously question
the townspeople about what they know or have heard. Ask the townspeople
to help you (as the Mayor) to make a list of people/ experts who may be
able to resolve the problem (if the children don't beat you to it
suggest that a giantologist may be useful).
Cut the drama (make it explicit by asking them to remove their
prop/costume and sit down, as you do)
STEP 4--Building belief in the role of the giantologist
Explain that you will now change roles and become the giantologist.
So that they can help you to take this role, discuss this person and
what their job would be. Once again, show them what prop you have
selected to use to signify your new character to assist in the
transition of the roles. Ask the children to put their props back on as
you do and be ready to begin again.
Enter in the role as giantologist. Explain that the work is
dangerous and that if cannot be achieved by one person alone. Extra
recruits from the town will therefore be needed. Will they help to
become assistant giantologists? Not everyone will be needed to do the
dangerous work though. The others can stay in the town but will be
needed for other things. Give the children an opportunity to ask lots of
questions about the job. Don't be too knowledgeable. Be evasive
about the tough questions like 'Won't we get eaten?'. You
might drop slight hints about perhaps wanting to catch the giant.
When the townsfolk have agreed to help, tell them that they will be
put to work straight away coming up with a plan to trap the giant.
Explain that as a giantologist, you are certainly against killing giants
as they are very rare and quite valuable too. The townspeople's
plans need to be carefully designed so that the giant is not harmed.
Cut the drama
STEP 5--Exploring the giant
Out of role, ask the children to work in groups to come up with a
way to trap giants. They need to plan their strategy. To share their
plan they need to create a 'photo' (a freeze frame) that shows
how they would capture the giant.
Back in role as townspeople who are helping the giantologist, the
children are interviewed by the teacher-in-role as the giantologist.
Children must share their 'photos' and plans and persuade the
giantologist that their plan will work and that they are brave enough
and prepared enough for the task ahead. The giantologist will accept all
STEP 6--More about the giant
Suggest to the children that the next step is to find out more
about the giant. We need to understand this giant a little better if our
trapping plans are going to work. Revisit the story excerpt and discuss
the tantrums thrown by the giant and make special mention of the
language that he/she uses. The language is lots of fun and the children
could try to make up some of these nonsense words themselves and record
them on tape or say them for the teacher as scribe.
Using the convention of 'gossip mill' discuss reasons why
the giant might throw tantrums. The children each think of one reason
and prepare to share it with the group. They can all begin every time
with 'I've heard that the giant throws tantrums because
...' The children move around the space milling together and on a
signal from the teacher (clap of hands) the children stop moving and
share their gossip with another student. Repeat this process approx. 6-7
times. The wonderful thing about the gossip mill process is that you can
change your gossip as you go. If you hear something that you like better
than your gossip you can spread that idea instead. This is very useful
for the less confident students who may not think that their idea was as
good as others.
STEP 7--Cross curricular tasks
A number of cross curricular activities can take place here, for
--Use the giant for visual arts activities
--Create a shared big book about the story so far. In this way the
children are recalling the sequence of events and reshaping them to make
their own text.
--Create a soundscape of the giant moving down Thistle Mountain
toward the township. This can be done using the children's voices
as sound effects, or junk percussion instruments can be used or added.
--Create a map of the town and use mapping positions to identify or
plot the location of various events and places
STEP 8--The crux of the drama
Announce that you are going to go back into role as the townspeople
of Thistle Mountain with yourself as the Mayor again, who has called a
meeting. Don props (before this step you need to prepare letters by
placing a copy of the letter (Appendix 2) into each of the
children's envelopes. You can photocopy the letter or handwrite one
of your own generated by the stories that were created in the
'gossip mill' activity.
As the Mayor, announce that you have received a bundle of letters.
Let them share with assistance. The letters show that the giant is very
hurt by news that the townspeople are planning some kind of trap. The
giant wishes to speak with the townspeople and Mayor when the
giantologist is not present.
Discuss the letter in role then start preparing to meet with the
giant. Tell the townspeople that as Mayor, you are too frightened to
meet the giant yourself but that you are glad that they are brave
Cut the drama.
STEP 9--Building the giant
Discuss with the children how you are going to bring the giant to
life for the drama.
Prepare one of the following three giants:
1. Build a giant statue, getting ideas and materials from the
children, hanging cloth, cushions and oversized clothes on eg. a screen
and tripod, or a hat rack, with a big painted cardboard or cloth face.
2. Rig up a big sheet with a light behind it. Then experiment with
the children on how you can make a shadow bigger and positioning a
person (you) or a child between the light and the screen ... the support
of a teacher assistant could be helpful in supervision here.
3. Create and practise with a giant puppet, using two broomsticks
and painted cloth hung between them, with a giant face painted on that
(Being a stilt-walker, I have a great time dressing up and acting
as the giant with a mask with long, funny nose and hat, long stilt pants
and a funny voice)
STEP 10--The dramatic climax meeting the giant
Once again, set up the town ready for meeting the giant. Since you
are not playing the Mayor, stress to the children as the last reminder
that their main job is to try to stop the giant's tantrums, and the
fear and damage these are causing.
The townspeople meet the giant (teacher in role) who appeals to
them to keep the giantologist away. The giant is scared and wants the
people's protection. The giant explains his tantrums. They are
because of all the problems he has, for example, noisy neighbours (the
loggers); other giants laughing at his language problem; his inability
to play sport because of his big feet and legs; the fact that he has no
friends. The giant reminds the people that he is not the only one with a
tantrum problem; lots of people throw tantrums. The townspeople can ask
the giant any questions they want and offer suggestions to help with the
problems. The giant should not be too easily persuaded to be good, but
should clearly show that the tantrums are not meant as a threat to
anyone in the town and that he only wants to be left alone to live in
peace. The giant departs claiming that they have helped him a lot and
that if they kept the giantologist away he will really try to be good.
STEP 11--Reflective phase--reflecting on the action.
Out of role discuss the causes of the giant's tantrums and
compare these with why children, and sometimes adults, throw tantrums.
Each child draws a picture of the giant and then, with the teacher as
scribe, writes adjectives and phrases around their pictures to describe
how they now feel about the giant.
STEP 12--Reflection in action--wrapping up the drama
Back in the role of the townspeople, report to the Mayor. The great
advantage of you not being present as the Mayor is that you can now
admiringly ask the townspeople to tell you what happened. The
townspeople then discuss with the Mayor what needs to be done to help
the giant. Make a list of these. Also discuss what should be done about
the giantologist. Provide time for the children to respond to this
session in writing, for example, a letter to the giant in role, a letter
to the giantologist, a list of tantrum avoidance tips. Early writers can
be supported by the teacher as scribe, but remember that the letter can
be written using role-play writing and posted just as validly as a
teacher-written letter. This letter could also be composed as a group
You can imagine what wonderful classroom displays can come from
this sort of work with text. A play space can be designated for this
purpose and can be set up in a corner of the room with the props that
you used for each of the teacher-in-role characters, along with some of
the children's own props. The map of Thistle Mountain along with
any images of the giant created by the children can be placed on the
wall with the title 'WANTED' above it. The 'role on the
wall' posters can hang to display the inner thoughts of the giant
(they could also do a 'role on the wall' for the townsfolk).
Opportunities for responding to and creating new texts are endless.
--Create a word wall under the topic of 'the scientific
language of giantologists', or 'Glossary of a Tantrum Throwing
--Write your own story ending
--Make a town brochure to advertise Thistle Mountain's unique
tourist attraction--meeting a giant face to face
--Write letters to the Mayor, Giantologist, Giant
--Create descriptive pieces/poems on life on Thistle Mountain
--Create persuasive text of the pros and cons of living with a
Hints for making drama work for you ...
Freeze Frames are a simple technique to use in the early stages of
exploring texts. Children are asked to work together to represent a
still 'photo' image of what is happening and share these still
images with their class mates. The teacher says 'freezing to show
your photo in 3,2,1 freeze'. Freeze frames allow children to
develop awareness of the text. They don't require a deep
understanding of the characters to allow students to participate in
creating Freeze Frames. They allow students to become more involved in
the story line and adventures of the characters involved.
Role on the Wall is a useful strategy to enable the deeper
exploration of a character within a text. The physical activity of
tracing around a friend to create a body image on a sheet of paper
allows the students to focus in on how the character is feeling at a
particular time in the story. Students then fill the body image with
phrases or words that symbolise that character. Role on the Wall
provides an opportunity to capture on paper a characters thoughts and
feelings. It's about providing as many of their ideas as possible,
onto the paper, about what the character is going through. It becomes a
record of their ideas that can be shared and taken further as their
understanding becomes deeper. Roles can be placed on the wall for the
rest of the class to view and discuss. Before their eyes (on the wall)
is someone who then appears real to them, in the context of the story.
They develop a sense of what that character is feeling. As teachers, we
can challenge students who are more able and who are less able to come
up with higher vocabulary to extend them and in turn, extend their
writing for when the go on to write later.
Teacher in role. Many teachers can feel uncomfortable about taking
on a role with their students. The biggest misconception among teachers
is that to successfully participate in role, we need to be wonderful
actors. This couldn't be further from the truth. To make this
technique work all a teacher needs to be is confident and secure in the
company of their students. After all, utilising the technique of Teacher
in Role is only doing exactly what we are expecting and encouraging our
students to do. When we are in role alongside of our students, we are
not focussing on performance arts or stage dramatics, instead we are
merely focussing on being in touch with our children. In my entire
teaching career I have particularly enjoyed the excitement and
engagement on the faces of students when I take on a role with them.
They are excited and pleased that I am joining in the fun and sharing
the experience with them.
Improvisation. I recently attended a workshop on Writer's
Notebook with Deb Sukarna who says that 'writing is thinking'.
I describe Improvisation as 'thinking and imagining', and
believe that this drama strategy would complement Deb's program
immensely. Improvisation is all about the children bringing part of the
text or sub-text to life. Once they have developed a clear understanding
of the feelings and dimensions of a character I then encourage them to
experiment with acting out a part of the story:
--How would the character react if this happened? In small groups
I'd like you to come up with a short scene that shows the rest of
the class what you think will happen next
--What do you think happened that led to this character feeling
this way? In small groups, show me what you think happened before this
character entered the room.
One of the important teaching issues around improvisation is being
conscious of the security that our children need to feel to enable them
to willingly participate in improvisation activities. Not only do they
need to feel safe and secure to express and voice their opinions and
ideas, we also need to encourage an understanding of the plight of the
characters within these contexts. Rules are important. We need to build
up to these improvisation activities slowly so that students can learn
the techniques first, allowing them to recognise the importance of
respect in this instance.
Writing in role. Once students have had opportunities to
participate fully in the experiences above, I always provide
opportunities for writing while they are still in role. This allows
students to change the tenor of their text according to the person they
are pretending to be and who they are choosing to write for or to.
Writing in role is powerful and important. Even though the situation is
'imagined', to them it feels REAL. The drama prompts the
'meaning making' in their heads and at the end of their
pencil. I find this technique for boys in particular, makes the writing
easier because they have already voiced it and rehearsed it in the
Decision Alley can be used to prompt decision making about a
character, solve a problem posed through text or sub-text, or to assist
in the creation of a new ending to a story. Although this is not used in
the lesson The Giant Who Threw Tantrums, students are encouraged to use
persuasive language to convince a character which choice is the correct
choice to make. Think of how this technique could be used and integrated
into a behaviour management/social skills program too! The inner
conscience of a character is spoken by each class member as the focus
character walks through the alley-way, listening to what suggestions
their inner conscience is voicing. The student then makes a decision
based on shared ideas they have heard. The important teaching aspect is
to ensure that we honour the children's decision at the end of it.
Drama Strategies are incredibly useful tools for the literacy
teacher. When children are speaking or participating in a dramatic
context they are rehearsing exactly what they are going to go on to
write about. Student's feedback has been that:
--it gives me something to write about
--it gives me a purpose to write
--it gives me words, ideas and feelings for me to use in my
So, if asked how I support children to respond to and create text
... my answer would be ... 'for me it's never a drama! I use
The giant who threw tantrums
At the foot of Thistle Mountain there lay a village. In the village
lived a little child who liked to go walking. One Saturday afternoon he
was walking in the woods when he was startled by a terrible noise.
He scrambled quickly behind a bush.
Before long a huge giant came stamping down the path. He looked
'Tanglebangled ringlepox!' the giant bellowed. He banged
his head against a tree until all the leaves shook off like snowflakes.
'Franglewhangled whippersnack!' the giant roared. Yanking
up the tree, he whirled it around his head and knocked down 27 other
Muttering to himself, he stalked up the path towards the top of
The child hurried home.
'I just saw a giant throwing a tantrum!' he told everyone
in the village. They only smiled.
'There's no such thing as a giant,' the Mayor
An excerpt from Harrison, David (1972) 'Giant Who Threw
Tantrums', The Book of Giant Stories, (1st ed.) Boyd Mills Press
Dear Townspeople of Thistle Mounted I don
Im just a lonely old giant and nobody seems to want to be my
What have I don't to hurt you? I know you've all been
talking about me and my tantrums. I can't help them can I?
Don't you throw tantrums--you wagglepooping nurdlecrusts?
I want to meet with you to talk about this. Keep that
franglewhangled whippersnack gaintologist away from me. He just wants to
take me away from my home and put me in a cage.
How would you like that? I don't and I'm frightened!
From The Giant
O'Toole, J. and Dunn, J. (2002) Pretending to Learn: Helping
children to learn through drama (1st ed) Melbourne, Australia: Pearson
Toy, N. & Prendiville, F. (2000) Drama and Traditional Story
for the Early Years. London: Routledge & Falmer
http://www.teachers.tv/videos/2846 KS1/2 English-Drama in the Classroom
Dayna Dennison currently teaches middle primary at Wesley Vale
Primary School in Northern Tasmania. She is also an Associate Lecturer
at the Cradle Coast Campus of The University of Tasmania, lecturing in
Drama in Education. She began her teaching career 16 years ago as a high
school Drama teacher and established 'Rascals Youth Theatre
Company' as a Community Youth Project. A passionate arts
enthusiast, she directs circus productions annually and works as a Stilt
Walker and Living Statue Street Theatre Performer in her spare time.
Thistle Mountain had always been a very quiet place and
there had never been any trouble there. Not many visitors
came for it was not on a main road. The town at the foot of
the mountain was a very pretty one, with a few shops and
houses. The mountain was quite steep and covered with
trees. The local people liked to walk in the forest and look
down on their town. There were several large caves to be
found at the top of the mountain, but they were dark and
mysterious and most people stayed away from them.