Alison Chaplin is the Manager of Arts On The Move, a company providing drama support for schools, including great Shakespeare workshops and play adaptations for KS2 and KS3.
This April we commemorate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, and hundreds of primary school children across the country will join in this momentous occasion by taking part in organised celebrations. However, a great number of primary school teachers already celebrate Shakespeare in their own way. Schemes of work that explore Macbeth or Romeo & Juliet are already fully integrated into the Primary Framework for Literacy objectives in many primary schools, with teachers attacking the stories, characters and themes with gusto. But for every teacher who loves tackling Shakespeare, there are many who don’t. The literary experiences we have as children, when we first encounter the beautiful Bard, can either make us or break us for life. But, fear not, for help is out there…
My advice when approaching Shakespeare in the primary school is to introduce it by stealth. Find ways of catching the attention of the children and drawing them in to the whole story. For example, describe a specific setting for a scene from a play – a good one is Act 3 Scene 3 from Macbeth - the murder scene*. As far as setting descriptions go there isn’t much information to be found in the text, but some clues are there and what isn’t specified you can surmise (or make up!): it’s night time; a faint torch light can be seen, held by an unseen hand; the setting is a park near the palace, there are trees casting shadows, low bushes and rocky outcrops; the sky is full of rain clouds; it’s spooky.
Many people think that drama is just about improvisation, or performing, but it is actually a powerful teaching tool that can inspire learning across the curriculum. Drama and literacy have always been cosy bedfellows – theatre and plays are the performance arm of drama and are often a natural progression to its processes. Many drama lessons use literary texts – poems, letters, quotations – as a stimulus and writing in role is a recognised and valuable aspect of drama work. But the value of drama as a teaching tool expands across the curriculum and can help children to explore and understand a wide range of themes, issues and subjects.
Most schools don’t have a designated drama studio but some have recently begun to convert old classrooms, or mobile classrooms, into drama spaces. These are my top tips for creating a drama studio:
At the core of all drama is the concept of shared experience: of sharing thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions and information. Drama also, by its very nature, encourages participants to explore personal and social issues and builds self-esteem. But drama is at its most effective when used in the primary classroom to support and enhance thinking and learning.
For example, when reading and discussing the traditional story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, drama could be used to explore behaviour by placing certain characters from the story on the ‘hotseat’ – this can involve either the teacher or pupils working in role.