Lesson Lovenotes: Elements of Drama Teaching Suggestions

The Elements of Drama are the absolute bread and butter of the drama sandwich. In every which way possible, whether it is in individual lessons or in your programming and scope and sequencing, you must, must, must, must, must come back to the elements of drama.

The Elements of drama can be studied individually or collectively. Ideally you want to be designing lessons that may focus on an element or particular elements at any one time. In the end though, they all work together to create a drama performance.

The Elements of Drama are (I’ve grouped them together in the way that I like to teach them):

  • Focus
  • Space
  • Character/Role
  • Time/Place/Situation
  • Tension
  • Structure
  • Language/Sound
  • Movement/Timing/Rhythm
  • Atmosphere/Mood/Symbol/Moment
  • Audience Engagement/Dramatic Meaning

My initial unit of study when my student’s come into Drama for the first time in Year 9 is an introductory unit that looks at the Elements of Drama and combines Theatre Sports. Here are some suggestions that I like to use in my classroom when introducing the Elements to my students:

  • SPACE: “Simon Says, UpStage Left!” – a great little game exploring the physical stage space. Have students move from one part of the stage to the other depending on what you call out. The slowest person to get to the spot is out. Have the last two student’s have a”face off”. Have two rounds and the champions from each round can go head to head. Also great for teaching terms such as prompt, opposite prompt, masking and sightlines. You could also look at exploring types of stage spaces such as proscenium arch stage, thrust stage, amphi-theatre and theatre in the round.
  • FOCUS: Look at generating short scenes that look at a) the focus of a scene, b) the focus of the audience, c) the focus of the character and/or d) the focus of the actor. Discuss, compare and contrast scenes that have actors walking around the space doing nothing, the same scene again but with actor’s looking for something and then again but this time it’s a bomb and it will explode in 20 seconds. Discuss how the energy and tension of the scene changes.
  • CHARACTER: Character exercises are a whole post in themselves but you want to start with exercises that focus on awareness of facial expression, tone of voice, body language and movement. You could incorporate Theatre Sports here or choose excerpts from scripts. Some concepts you might also like to explore here are making offers, accepting offers, accepting  and committing to the fiction, conviction/belief, status, action/reaction.
  • TIME/PLACE/SITUATION/TENSION: Improvisation is key here. Play around with scenes that allow student’s to explore not only some typical situations but some unusual ones as well e.g. underneath a rock, at the bottom of the ocean etc. Really focus on the concept of conflict here. Get student’s to improvise scenes that look at man vs. man conflict, man vs. himself and man vs. nature.
  • LANGUAGE/SOUND: Voice workshops are a brilliant starting point. Have student’s become aware of their breath, throat and diaphragm. Consider doing an accent workshop. Have them working with scripts to explore clarity, volume, pitch, pace, inflection, emphasis and pause. Consider how atmosphere can be created using soundscapes and body percussion. Explore scenes that use no sound or language (mime).
  • MOVEMENT/TIMING/RHYTHM: No drama class is complete without a movement workshop. Consider exploring the Laban Movements and putting on music to dance to. Look at physical offers in improvisation as a starting point for a scene.  Look Look at the physicality of characters and the use of space to show relationships. Look at the blocking in a scripted scene. Consider the effect of stillness, contrast, intensity, tableau and expression in a movement piece.
  • ATMOSPHERE/MOOD/SYMBOL: Watch some film excerpts that use music to guide the audience’s feelings in a scene. Consider the use of colour and set in costumes and what they mean to the audience.
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT/DRAMATIC MEANING: At the conclusion of every exercise always ask the class what it was about the element of drama that made the audience feel engaged in the action on stage and what they understood was happening on stage because of that element. In adding this in to your classroom discussion you are effectively making your students become critical thinkers and theatre appreciators.

Image Credits: The Drama Room 5, karlao

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: 30 Australian Plays for School Use « Drama Teacher's Network

  2. I like how you organized a first year drama class into something short to read but will give months of work. What’s your advice for a new drama teacher who has never worked a light/sound board? How can I put on a show without knowing these things?

  3. I liked your suggestions, and I’m glad I do some of it already! I also like to set up a scavenger hunt in my theater too to help them get used to theater space terminology. I split them into groups to do it. They usually have a great time doing it!

  4. This is amazing! Thank you for sharing your ideas- as a first year out drama teacher who is about to start teaching (with a Year 12 class) your info/hints/tips have been invaluable!

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