Exploring a text through drama: pretext, still images, mapping, role walk and hot seat activities

I am really looking forward to learning more about Creative Arts teaching and learning this semester at university. I’m feeling anxious and enthusiastic in equal measure. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of the creative arts to engage and excite students and facilitate learning (especially across other KLAs), but I know that some areas like Visual Arts will come much more naturally to me than say…music…or drama. Which is why I want to try and absorb as many strategies and teaching ideas as possible.

Today we experientially learnt some techniques for using drama in a primary classroom. I have attached the text that we used in class (below) but these are activities that could be easily adapted to cover content from other key learning areas such as English and HSIE. The following tasks that we explored could be carried out across 6-8 sessions of between 30-45 minutes each (over several weeks).

Warm up activities focused on movement and contrast:

  • Experimenting with high, middle and lower levels: This exercise helps students become more aware of how their movement and actions convey meaning and helps them to understand how their bodies interact within a space. Get students to move around the room using high, middle and lower levels (reaching as tall as they can, going as small as they can) to make them aware of the way their bodies can communicate ideas and emotions. Introduce different rhythms and tempos with instruments. Use an instrument such as a tambourine and get them to freeze in position.
  • Groups of 2s and 3s: Building upon the previous exercise, get students moving around the classroom again. Explain that when you hit the tambourine, they need to group into pairs and adopt contrasting positions (i.e. one student may move first to a high level, causing the other student to contrast this with a low position). Get them to focus on exactly where they are in relation to the other students, furniture in the room. Give them time to commit it to memory. Alternate ‘Groups of 2’ with ‘Groups of 3’ and snap them between both physical arrangements using the tambourine as a segway. This exercise creates a high energy in preparation for following tasks. It is inclusive and gets students interacting with each other and stimulates memory.
  • Contrast and response: This exercise is another contrast and movement exercise involving groups of 4 or so. In this warm-up activity you provide the class with a stimulus word to re-enact. The one we used was ‘crisis’ but it could be any word (off the top of my head, words like ‘celebration’, ‘accident’, ‘confrontation’, ‘reunion’, ‘crime’). This activity can create some interesting discussion points for the class to ‘make’, ‘perform’ and ‘appreciate’, going around to each group and interpreting and analysing what is being re-enacted.


In this activity, the class reads through the text being used for the unit of work.

As a group, the class discusses the story asking questions such as – What do we know from reading this? What can we infer from reading this? What questions are beginning to form? In pairs, students list down as many questions as they can think of and discuss top questions as a class. Throughout the discussion, students start to speculate about what could be happening in the text.

Still Image

Groups of 5 come up with interpretations of the scene of the discovery. They come up with a ‘still image’ of the scene. Groups ‘make’, ‘perform’ and ‘appreciate’, going around to each group and interpreting and analysing what is being re-enacted. You can ‘tap in’ each character who get to say one line in character, to help the class interpret each role.

Here’s one example from YouTube of ‘still image’ being used in a classroom:


Using the story as stimulus, each group creates a map of an imaginary town from the story, planning out geographical features. Here you can focus on how power relations play out in the town, why the town is designed the way it is and what dark secret the town is hiding that explains the tension within the story. Each group explains their version of the town to the wider class.

Role walk

Using one town to focus on, students move around the room and think up an imaginary character from the town, considering their emotions, their stance and movement and their perspective. Each student stops to talk to another local from the town. This activity can be drawn out, getting students interacting in roles to represent their character. You can manipulate the script each time, encouraging a new piece of gossip and emphasising that each character should have a strong reaction to the tension of the story and explore that in their conversations.

Hot seat

This can be an extended lesson, exploring the viewpoints of different town folk. One student at a time sits in the Hot Seat and the class and teacher ask them questions, giving them a space to explore their character and developing the story further.

Ritual image/perspectives

Enact one scene that best sums up the views of different town folk into one ‘still image’. For example, the scene we looked at in class involved town folk standing at the grave of the young boy, conveying their attitude by the distance they hold from the grave. Using other examples at random (that would need to be related to the story being used), it could include a scene in a courtroom where community members have turned up to watch a hearing, or a scene at a local football match. The idea is to take a photo of the scene that can be displayed on the board and analysed by the class in order to explore different viewpoints and find meaning in the composition of the photo.

I leave you with this clip which talks about the impact of drama on literacy education and shows some activities in practice (including Conscience Alley which I talked about last semester).


These ideas can be credited to Ewing, R. & Simons, J. (2004). Beyond the Script: Drama in the Classroom – Take 2. (2nd Ed.) Newtown, NSW: PETA.


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