Drama-Based Pedagogy

Drama-based pedagogy (DBP) uses active and dramatic approaches to engage students in academic, affective and aesthetic learning through dialogic meaning-making in all areas of the curriculum (Dawson & Lee, 2016).

DBP is a collection of teaching tools (including activating dialogue, theatre games as metaphor, image work, and role work) designed to be used in conjunction with classroom curriculum. The beauty of these techniques is that they easily engage students and immediately help create an environment for focused inquiry and cross-curricular learning opportunities. In addition, these techniques support a variety of learning styles and will keep your students actively involved in the learning process. The use of drama as a teaching tool across the curriculum first gained popularity in the United States in the 1920s as “creative dramatics.” Over the years, teachers in countries around the world have continued to experiment with and further develop these invaluable teaching tools.

The American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) defines drama-based learning strategies (which includes creative drama and drama-in-education) as “an improvisational, non-exhibitional, process-centered form of drama in which participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact, and reflect upon human experiences.” Other terms for drama-based pedagogy include: creative drama, informal drama, creative play acting, improvisational drama, educational drama, role drama, and process drama.

Applications for your classroom

Drama-based pedagogy can be integrated into numerous curricular areas. It can be used to introduce a new concept or theme, check for knowledge, or extend your student’s learning. It can be used to explore a character’s motivations, infer a story’s outcome, or illuminate facts and concepts. The instructional techniques emphasize the broader goals of problem-solving and creative thinking through the creation of a kinesthetic, interactive experience. Using Drama-based pedagogy you can:

  • re-create Galileo, Newton, or Einstein’s presentations of new scientific ideas
  • examine tensions in literature such as Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; Bridge to Terabithia; Journey To Jo’berg; etc.
  • explore events leading up to major historical moments such as the Boston Tea Party, the battle over the Alamo, or the Civil War, etc.
  • solve math story problems literally—as the characters in the story!
  • enact struggles over policies such as slavery or apartheid, as well as governmental representation, the right to vote, etc.
  • debate controversies over taking care of rain forests, endangered species, habitat, drinking water, etc.
  • learn language and practice techniques to resolve conflicts, improve self-esteem, combat racial or gender stereotypes, manage anger, etc.

The curriculum is FULL of dramatic moments and tensions. Drama can help you extract those tensions from the pages of your textbooks and worksheets and “enact” them with your students. Ideally this will lead to a classroom of engaged learners who have new and different perspectives on the topic at hand.

Understanding the philosophy behind the work is important as a facilitator of DBP. Through constructivist practices we aim to invite students to actively enter the teaching and learning process. The resulting “creative chaos” can, at times, be disconcerting for some teachers, but the learning that results will be worth it! (See the Classroom Management video for more information.)

Drama mirrors the ways in which children learn through their early experiences of dramatic play. As a more structured kind of improvisational role-playing, Drama-based pedagogy generates and cultivates many cognitive skills. Of these skills, the following are important for ensuring a student’s success in school:

  • language and communication abilities
  • problem-solving / critical thinking skills
  • decision making capabilities
  • creativity and imagination
  • collaboration skills

Drama-based pedagogy, when used with structured moments of oral or written reflection, provides an excellent link between various classroom curricula and the specific knowledge and skills required for success with the STAAR tests.

As an initiative of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas in Austin, Drama For Schools is part of a long and distinguished history of the University’s commitment to public schools. In addition to preparing many of the state’s theatre artist teachers, the Department regularly partners with public schools throughout the state of Texas to examine how the arts can help motivate the process of learning. Through on-going dialogues with our K-12 collaborators, we are striving to create exciting professional development workshops for educators. We also strive to work with communities to shape our training curriculum to meet their specific needs, in an effort to support the educational missions of both the University and our school partners.