Preparing kids to perform a funny sketch
I often receive these questions, so here's a blog on the topic: " In the summer I bought your Fun ESL Roleplays and Skits for children. I'm experimenting with incorporating more drama into my primary groups this year and I really like how simple your funny sketches are. I was wondering how you introduce the idea of working towards a play with your learners. Do you explain in their mother tongue? Again, along these lines, I was wondering if you have a bank of videos of your plays, or would that inhibit creativity?"
Answering the easy part first, yes, thanks to generous gifts from teachers using my sketches, there is a bank of videos included free with the book of role-plays. You can see a couple here. I included these for teachers, to give them confidence to use fun sketches to teach English. But why not show them to the kids? That would make for a useful listening activity. Though I do agree with the teacher above, that the video may inhibit creativity and spoil the gradual discovery of the sketch, so perhaps show it towards the end of preparations.
Next, to incorporate drama, students make gestures and sounds, concentrating on being expressive. Speaking is often not a part of these warm-ups. Students might practise acting surprised, or making a freeze-frame group image of a situation. Theatre games include a lot of movement, such as pretending to be a leaf blown about in the wind or fighting with a vacuum cleaner that is sucking up the curtains! Check the intro of my skits book and the Viola Spoilin warm-up theatre games. With these, the focus is on acting rather than learning English.
And now, there is the question on working towards a role play with young learners. The important thing to ask is, are you being paid to teach English, drama, or both? If the main goal is to teach English, do not lose sight of that. When I use plays, I use them mainly to teach English rather than drama, so acting is a side issue, and I don't focus on it particularly. If you have kids for a summer camp and drama is part of your objective, then go for it. Theatre games can help students gain confidence in general, a great asset for life. However, if time is short and you want maximum results with English, then here is how I proceed...
First prepare the kids as usual, doing listening and speaking games to introduce and learn the key vocab and phrases by heart. This should take a full lesson, though it may take more depending on the age and ability of your class. (Click here for my book of games ideal for this preparation phase.)
After that main lesson, do fifteen minutes of each lesson on the sketch, using the rest of the lesson for a different topic. This keeps your lessons varied and saves you flogging the skit to death. Take a part of each lesson to review and have kids perform short role-plays using two to four lines from the skit. Gradually piece more of the play together, and eventually do a couple of run-throughs. Towards the end, sometimes after six lessons, introduce props but only at the end, because they are so distracting. Kids get so absorbed in the props that they can forget their lines and kill the flow of the play. By spreading out the skit preparation over several lessons you achieve a lasting result as far as students' acquisition of English. The constant review and gradual increase in confidence and fluency help students remember the skit vocabulary and grammar for life.
Personally, I always do this work without the script. Kids learn everything by heart through language games and rehearsal. If you give out the script, kids will never have to make the mental effort to memorize their lines, and as for acting, forget it, they need to be liberated from the page to be free.
Do I explain things to students in their mother tongue? Yes, I tell students that we were going to prepare a funny sketch as part of a show because it is always a motivator. Then we perform the sketch, either at the school assembly or in front of parents or other classes. It doesn't matter how or where, as long as you perform it for others.
On the other hand if you don't speak the native language, that's OK. Actions speak louder than words, so just do it! When I taught in Nepal there was no explanation, we just did it - learned the vocab, put the skit together. The kids absolutely loved it and applauded the lesson at the end. They don't really need any explanations! LOL!
Don't be a perfectionist, just get stuck in and see how it goes. Unless your mandate is to teach drama, focus on teaching English and leave drama as a perk. If you are being paid to be an English teacher, you must make that your priority. Don't spend half the lesson on drama techniques, you won't get as far with the English. Take maybe 5 minutes for drama warm ups - saying a sentence angrily, then sadly, then happily, then reluctantly, etc. That's a valid drama activity because it works on language fluency at the same time. Even without acting, kids love my funny sketches, and even the shy ones get involved.
If you need any help, please ask me in the comments box below (your email is kept 100% private). I'll be happy to help. All the best, Shelley Ann Vernon.