Using Drama to Support Literacy: Activities for Children Aged 7 to 14


John Goodwin

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    Effective progress in children's writing has been an overriding concern for all primary and secondary schools. Children who find it difficult to express their thinking in writing are placed at a serious disadvantage in their educational progress. By contrast, children who write well and with confidence are able to express and develop their thinking more effectively.

    The key question is, how do we teach more of our children to engage with writing to do this? The National Literacy Strategy has had a very positive effect in supporting teachers' work in the classroom and in raising standards. But all would agree that the Framework for Teaching excludes some very important experiences and approaches to the teaching and development of writing.

    The power of drama provides a real context for narrative writing, and in this book the tool kit of drama strategies has been laid out and used effectively by teachers across a wider range of imaginary contexts. Using drama makes possible a vast range of themes and story contexts which enthuse and hook children into the writing process. The real dilemmas and feelings in life can all be experienced in the safe world of drama and story and together these make a perfect vehicle for developing children's writing.

    Through his effective work in classrooms, John Goodwin shows that drama strategies provide an essential element in the successful teaching of writing. The pages of this book give practical support and guidance in achieving this aim.

    StephenNoon, Headteacher, St Saviour's Primary School, Isle of Wight


    During the last three years the Writing through Drama Programme has been operating in Isle of Wight primary and middle schools. This publication has come about as a result of the programme and attempts to disseminate some of its exciting practice. I'd like to thank the following teachers and education staff for all their generous help in providing support, time, ideas and text:

    Kevin Apps, Lorraine Armstrong, Karen Bartlett, Peta East, Amanda Johnston, Vicki Jones, Helen Lambert, Wendy Mills, Stephen Noon, Karen Osborn, Denise Stephens, Liz van Wyck, Diane Walsh, Nicky Woodford.

    Special thanks to these children for permission to include their work:

    • John Blake
    • Rebecca Clawson
    • Rhea Elliott
    • Catherine Farmer
    • Katie Hayles
    • Sarah Haskin
    • Georgina Merryweather
    • Sam Miselbach
    • Tia Pennant-Lewis
    • Christie Reed
    • Jess Rowden
    • Lucy Smith
    • Rebecca Woodford

    Gold and Platinum classes of St John's C of E Primary School, Sandown CE Primary, Isle of Wight

    Acknowledgement should also be made of Ros Wilson's Assessment Criteria.

    About the Author

    John Goodwin has combined teaching and writing for a number of years. After teaching drama in a mining community he became Senior Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth. More recently John has limited his university work to a part-time post and found more time for his own writing. He has written over thirty BBC Radio plays and a similar number of books for children.

    Nice One Sam was published by Oxford University Press in 2002 followed by several books for struggling readers for Hodder Livewire, including the Survivors series in 2005 and Water Eyes and Rock Stars in 2006. His picture book An Arkful of Animal Stories, exploring the animal's view of Noah's Ark is to be published by Lion Hudson in 2006. John is presently writing an anthology of Christmas stories which is also to be published by Lion Hudson in 2007.

    Setting the Scene for This Book

    The room is silent. Not a muscle moves. Eyes stare and fingers are held in frozen gesticulation. Some faces are turned away as if they hadn't noticed the moment of crisis as a young child makes a bodged attempt to steal a loaf of bread in the market place. The whole class has been transported back in time over a hundred and forty years to feel what it's like to be a child living on the streets in Victorian Britain.

    Later individuals speak their thoughts in role to express their emotion and feeling at the desperation of the child. The strength of feeling finds its way into individual writing which builds on the concrete experience of the drama. Children work as reporters. They conduct interviews and select quotes. They write to a tight deadline and know they must report accurately exactly what happened. The presentation of their text is enhanced by IT skills with bold headlines and later displayed on the walls of the classroom.

    A Victorian workhouse matron: collaborative writing from a Year 4 class

    Her eyes are crinkled.

    Hands like paper.

    Fish lips.

    Dense dragon skin.

    Black boots stomping on the ground.

    Vicious stark clothes.

    Power like a dinosaur

    Getting closer every minute.

    The Scope and Structure of the Book

    This is a practical handbook founded on work in the classroom.

    Its ideas have been produced and refined by practising teachers who participated in a recent Writing through Drama Programme based on the Isle of Wight. The teachers found that drama processes raised standards of literacy in their own schools in very positive and exciting ways.

    Literacy is defined here in the broadest sense: that is, as a discrete subject within the Literacy Hour and as literacy across the curriculum. Thus the book draws on lessons within the Literacy Hour and in many subject areas such as PSHE, History, Art, RE etc.

    Features of the book include:

    • A directory of drama strategies, with examples of how they are used in practice.
    • A Lessons in Action section providing longer sequences of work.
    • Examples of teachers' planning as a model for your own practice.
    • Extracts of written work by children.
    • Teacher comments in the form of journal extracts reflecting on the experience of using drama processes for the first time.
    • A glossary of drama strategies.

    Extract from a Teacher's Journal

  • Glossary

    • Caption A title or heading that accompanies another piece of work such as a still image.
    • Ceremony Special event created to mark or celebrate something significant.
    • Collaborative writing With an adult as scribe and arbiter the whole group work together to produce one piece of writing made up of different individual ideas, words and sentences.
    • Conscience alley Standing in two facing rows, pros and cons are put forward as a character walks down the alley and listens to the conflicting advice given.
    • Costume or prop Articles of costume or special objects presented as an introduction to a culture or lifestyle of a character or place.
    • Dream pictures Drawings and phrases to depict a dream which a fictional character may have had.
    • Forum theatre A drama interaction of two or more characters is interrupted allowing time out to be given where advice is fed back to one or both of the characters. The interaction is then rerun taking on board advice given.
    • Hot seating A character is put on the spot and questioned by the rest of the group. Answers are given in role by the character.
    • In role Taking the part of someone other than yourself in the drama.
    • Journeys An adult leads the group through different parts of the building or site as if they are exploring an imaginative land or country.
    • Meetings Gathering together in role to discuss an issue or problem.
    • Mime Using body movement and gestures, without words, to express an idea, show an action or portray a character.
    • Modelling Creating a statue or frozen character by moving your body into an appropriate position.
    • Movement sequences Using movements, improvised or rehearsed, to explore a situation, place, feeling or event.
    • Narrate To tell a story or set a scene.
    • Role on the wall Filling in a drawn outline of a character with words or phrases which describe that character.
    • Sequencing An active and practical way to create a time line or the order of scenes in a play by using people to make the line.
    • Sound collage Use voices, objects and instruments to create a sound picture of a place, mood, theme or story.
    • Space building Create an imaginary space, building or environment by placing everyday objects to represent significant things within the space.
    • Speaking thoughts Children speak the thoughts of characters.
    • Still image Using the body to create a frozen picture.
    • Teacher in role The teacher takes the part of a fictional character in the drama.
    • Thought tracking Children speak aloud the feelings and emotions of a character while participating in a still image depiction of that character.
    • Trial The classroom becomes a courtroom where a fictional character is put on trial by the class.


    Ackroyd, J. (2000) Literacy Alive: Drama Projects for Literacy Learning. Hodder Murray.
    Carter, D. (2000) Teaching Fiction in the Primary School. David Fulton.
    Corbett, P. (2002) How to Teach Fiction Writing at Key Stage 2. David Fulton.
    Grudgeon, E. and Gardner, P. (2001) The Art of Storytelling for Teachers and Pupils: Using Stories to Develop Literacy in Primary Classrooms. David Fulton.
    Kempe, A. and Holroyd, J. (2004) Speaking, Listening and Drama. David Fulton.
    Kempe, A. and Lockwood, M. (2000) Drama In and Out of the Literacy Hour. University of Reading.
    Lamont, G. et al. (2000) 100 Ideas For Drama. Collins Educational.
    Neelands, J. (1990) Structuring Drama Work. Cambridge University Press.
    Neelands, J. (2004) Beginning Drama 11–14. David Fulton.
    Palmer, S. (2000) How to Teach Writing across the Curriculum at Key Stage 2. David Fulton.
    Other Resources
    BBC Video Plus Pack/Zig Zag (2002) Children and the 2nd World War.
    Department for Education and Skills (2003) Primary National Strategy. Speaking, Listening and Learning: Working with Children in Key Stages 1 and 2.
    The box of materials includes a helpful video of classroom examples. If you're unsure of how drama strategies work in practice the video will provide you with practical demonstrations.
    The Imperial War Museum Education Department has a whole host of excellent resources for supporting work in schools, especially First and Second World War material. This includes replica artefacts such as gas masks (original gas masks are highly toxic and contain asbestos), posters and evocative evacuee photographs. A comprehensive catalogue is available.
    Build up your own collection of original artefacts as stimulus for drama and writing. Old keys, hats, gloves, shoes, photographs, postcards etc. can be the starting point for character and narrative exploration.
    Use visits to historical sites, unusual buildings, museums as stimulus. Pose questions to discover hidden stories. Invent scenarios. Use still images back in school to begin to build ideas. Give children opportunity to produce their own versions of the past and present.

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