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Teaching Drama: What to Know About Lessons, Improv & Monologues

Jule Romans is the author of "Shakespeare Love Quotes" and other books. She has over 30 years of experience in education.

Everything you need to know about teaching drama class, from improvisations to monologues.

Everything you need to know about teaching drama class, from improvisations to monologues.

This article explores how to teach drama using several different, easy concepts. Gain confidence in your lessons when you use any one or a combination of these tools. A clear guide for how to use drama lesson plans, drama games, improvisation games, and monologues.

This is a clear guide for how to create good drama lesson plans. Learn how to teach drama using drama games, improvisation games, and monologues.This article explores how to teach drama using several different, easy concepts.

When you begin with the definition of drama, it's easy to find activities with one focus that challenge and inspire drama students. Start with exploring the meaning of drama. Use the central question "What is drama?" and apply the definition of drama to very simple activities.

Teach Drama With Games, Improvisations, and Monologues

Using drama games and improvisation games can make drama classes a great deal of fun. Drama games are a good beginning point for breaking the ice and developing camaraderie within a class.

Improvisation games are a bit more challenging. Improvisation games allow drama students to develop individual confidence and skill.

Before long, students will gain the confidence to perform independently. Monologues are a perfect next step at that point.

Monologue work is a great way to ensure that each student gets individual attention and practice. Choose contemporary monologues, famous monologues, or Shakespeare monologues based on each student's ability.

What Is Drama? How Do I Teach Drama?

For the purposes of classroom teaching, drama can be any of the following things. It does not have to be all of them.

Drama is:

  • Deliberate use of imagination, voice, and movement to communicate an experience.
  • Formal presentation of a character, conflict, or series of events to a defined audience.
  • Informal exploration of characters, conflicts, or events without an audience.
  • A rehearsed series of actions that illustrate characters, conflicts, or events.
  • A spontaneous array of reactions that create characters, conflicts, or event.

Planning for Drama Class

When you keep a clear focus on the goal while designing drama lesson plan objectives and activities, everything flows smoothly from that.

Informal classroom activities are really good ways to begin. In this case, you'll be selecting activities that encourage students to explore and expand their imaginations, while freeing up their creative abilities.

Making drama lesson plans is not nearly as intimidating as it might sound. Dozens of drama games and improvisation games are designed to do just those things. Many of them are written out in step by step format. All you have to do is find them and fit them to the needs of your students.

  • Complete drama units centered around defining and exploring different types of drama. From the Yale-New Haven Teacher's Institute.
  • Aaron Shepard's reader's theater site shows how to make drama out of anything written.

Step by Step: Drama Lesson Plans Made Easy

  1. Choose the right goals: Goals are general statements based on the curriculum and student or community needs.
  2. Create proper objectives: Objectives are observable, measurable, and specific.
  3. Describe activities in detail: Activities are written out step-by-step in a numbered list.
  4. List necessary materials: Materials should be gathered and organized in advance.
  5. Match the assessment to objectives: Assessments can be opportunities for feedback and growth for students and teachers alike.

Good Drama Lesson Plans

Good drama lesson plans are structured with goals, objectives, activities, and assessment of progress.

Be sure to organize and plan materials well in advance. This will save time and make things go more smoothly.

1. Set Goals for the Drama Class, Lesson, or Unit

Choose goals for the lesson or set of lessons. Goals are general statements. It's usually best to consult your curriculum guides to find appropriate goals.

The US Department of Education has developed a common core curriculum for all K-12 students in the United States. Those documents can be very useful as guides. Fro example, the Arts Educational Partnership offers a wealth of resources to help apply common core standards to lessons in the arts.

Just remember that goals are not the same thing as objectives. Objectives are more specific than goals.

2. Write Clear Objectives for Drama Lessons

Objectives for a lesson are specific, measurable, and behavioral. A lesson's objectives state, in clear and measurable terms, exactly what you want your students to know and be able to do.

There are a number of action words that can help you keep focused on objectives. As you begin learning how to teach drama, writing objectives will come more naturally.

Objectives for teaching drama might include:

  • Students will describe three different kinds of monologues, including at least three characteristics of each one.
  • Students will memorize and rehearse a monologue using appropriate physical gestures and vocal variations to create characterization within the script
  • Students will perform a one-minute monologue in front of an audience, demonstrating complete memorization, and character development.

3. Choose Appropriate Activities for Drama Class

The activities part of the drama lesson plan includes a step-by-step numbered list of exactly what the teacher and students will do to achieve the stated objectives. It's very important to write this out.

As you are writing the activities, you will think through all the details of how the plan should go. Any problems or potential challenges will become readily apparent. The more carefully you plan, the more successful your lesson will be.

4. Select and Organize all Materials BEFORE Drama Class Begins

Think about what types of materials and resources will be necessary to complete the activities. Write them all down. Take an extra ten minutes prior to the lesson to gather all needed materials and organize them so that they are easy to use during the drama lesson.

You'll be much more efficient when this step is completed carefully. It can become very easy to lose track of time during a drama lesson. This can lead to students becoming unfocused or bored. Proper organization will solve this problem and keep all students engaged in the learning process.

5. Develop an Assessment that Matches the Goals, Objectives, and Activities of the Drama Class

Assessment is really only a fancy word for checking that the objectives were achieved.

In the drama lesson plans that this article describes, the assessment comes in the form of a performance. Students will perform their contemporary monologues (or famous monologues or Shakespeare monologues for advanced students). As they perform, it will be easy to see if the drama lesson plan objectives have come to fulfillment.

In the earlier stages, feedback and peer-discussion can provide all the assessment that is needed. Keep the emphasis on fun and collaboration. Students will gain abilities quickly with the right encouragement.

Successful Drama Lessons

Drama lessons need to emphasize confidence and a willingness to risk. Assessments for beginning drama student should ALWAYS be phrased in positive terms without too much criticism.

Drama Games in the Classroom

Drama games are starting points for developing teamwork and ensemble skills while building confidence for drama students. Drama games are a good first step. They focus on encouraging imagination and cooperation.

Most of the time, these games function as ice breakers for a brand new class. They can also be used to start any lesson.

Drama games work best with less experienced groups because they are not intimidating and require no special skills. They differ from improvisation games because there may be no specific performance goal in mind.

Drama games, in short, are just for fun.

Drama Games and Icebreakers

Drama games that function as icebreakers for a new class will allow students to overcome some of the initial social barriers that can cause them to hold back. Try some simple games like charades, duck-duck-goose, or name games to get things started. For more information on how to plan icebreaker drama games, look here.

Drama games can also be used to introduce a specific lesson. They can be warm-ups for the more challenging improvisation games that are to come. Pantomime games and concentration games will often start things of with the right focus. For more on drama games that increase concentration, look here.

Improvisation and drama games increase energy onstage.

Improvisation and drama games increase energy onstage.

Teach Drama With Improvisation

According to Princeton's "WordNet," the definition of improvisation is:

"a creation (spoken or written) without... prior preparation."

Thus, improvisation is any sort of structured activity that takes place in a drama class and allows students the opportunity to create on the spot.

Drama students do not prepare for improvisation, they participate actively and immediately. This immediate presence is the key to the definition of improvisation. Keeping this definition in mind, many improvisation games can also help to hone specific performance skills in young actors.

Improvisation Games in Drama Class

In drama classes, improvisation games can include a number of different activities designed to challenge and expand a performer's abilities in voice, movement or characterization. Sometimes the process of creating on the spot will bring out a young actor's imagination and help that student gain confidence.

Some improvisation games assist with movement, like "the Martha game," "Freeze," and "Sit, Stand, Kneel." There are dozens of other options for improvisation games. Some of the best ones are collected here.

Match Improvisations to Drama Lesson Goals

The important thing to remember when planning a lesson is that the improvisation games should always match the objectives.

If the objective is to develop students' abilities to use their entire vocal range, then the improvisation must have some element of vocal variation as a key part of the action.

On the other hand, if the objective is for students to conduct appropriate research into the time period of a specific play, improvisation games alone will not be the best choice.

Always choose improvisation games that advance the day's objective and bring students closer to achieving those objectives.

Contemporary Monologues

In theatre, there is a difference between what is considered a "classical" monologue and a "contemporary" monologue. Classical monologues (e.g. Shakespeare monologues) are generally more difficult for young actors to conquer.

Contemporary monologues may be part of a complete play, or may be written to stand on their own as complete performances. The contemporary monologues that are written to stand alone are usually the easiest for students to tackle.

Teaching Contemporary Monologues in Drama Class

After students have explored the definition of drama and experimented with drama games or improvisation games, they will usually have the confidence to develop their individual performance skills. Choose contemporary monologues for those students who:

  • Still need to develop a bit more confidence
  • Have reading or comprehension challenges
  • Find memorization difficult
  • Will benefit from playing a character that is not a "stretch"
  • Prefer humorous, light approaches
  • Require material that is not overly deep or complicated

Lesson Plans for Drama Class: Contemporary Monologues

Plan drama lessons that will help students explore characterization and allow plenty of time for independent rehearsal. Offer at least four or five opportunities for feedback before the ultimate performance of the monologues.

Use some of the objectives listed earlier in this article to help you as you practice how to teach drama with contemporary monologues.Use caution when selecting contemporary monologues-- not all options are appropriate for the school environment.

Famous Monologues

One step harder than contemporary monologues, famous monologues offer a bit more challenge to the student. These monologues may come from contemporary or classical plays. Some may even come from well-known movies.

Students who choose this level of study may enjoy following in the footsteps of great actors. There's less demand on the individual student- since everyone already knows that it's a famous monologue, no one expects a completely unique piece.

How to Teach Famous Monologues in the Drama Classroom

Famous monologues embody great pieces of literature, great characters, or expressive themes. They may be comedic or serious. All of them, however, come from complete plays or movies, so they offer more opportunity for character development or research.

Choose famous monologues for students who:

  • Have an average level of confidence
  • Can read well, but may benefit from seeing an example to model after
  • Can memorize, but will need much repetition to master material
  • Will benefit from playing a character that is familiar or well-known
  • Can handle comedy or dramatic pieces
  • Have a favorite character, movie, or play that will keep them engaged in the lessons

Drama Lesson Plans for Famous Monologues in Drama Class

Allow students who are using famous monologues to view and review performances. Try not to encourage "copy-cat" rehearsals. Provide time for discussion of performances, so that students can thoughtfully select elements of performance they want to strive to master.

For young actors, imitation is often a good first step. It is VERY IMPORTANT, however, to move beyond imitation into confident self-expression, especially when rehearsing a famous monologue. Movie monologues are included here, but monologues form plays are highly preferred to those from movies.

Choose Shakespeare monologues for students who are ready for a challenge.

Choose Shakespeare monologues for students who are ready for a challenge.

Shakespeare Monologues

Shakespeare monologues are selections from any of Shakespeare's plays where one character is speaking for more than 10 lines.

Shakespeare monologues are not the same as Shakespeare soliloquies. While both soliloquies and monologues involve a single character speaking for a period of time, there are some distinct differences.

A soliloquy is a Shakespeare monologue that is spoken by a character completely alone onstage. A soliloquy must provide some special insight into the character's motives. A soliloquy must also help to advance the plot or theme of the play.

Shakespeare monologues, on the other hand, do not have all those rules. The monologue selected may be a soliloquy, or it may not. The Shakespeare monologue may simple be a long speech made by one character to another or to a group. It is best to select a Shakespeare monologue that has some dramatic action or strong emotion.

Tips for Using Shakespeare Monologues in Drama Class

Shakespeare monologues are not for everyone. Those students who have emerged as leaders during the first sets of lessons will most generally be the best choices for Shakespeare monologues. Using Shakespeare to teach drama skills works best for students who already have some appreciation of literature and poetry.

Choose Shakespeare monologues for those students who:

  • Have strong confidence in their stage skills
  • Have good reading comprehension and language ability
  • Find memorization very easy
  • Will benefit from playing a character that will challenge them
  • Enjoy exploring layers of meaning and playing with words
  • Can handle sophisticated ideas in a mature manner

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Jule Romans