Using ALARM in the Drama Classroom


My latest explorations in the Drama classroom have revolved around the drama essay and improving the literacy of my students as well as the quality of the writing tasks I ask my students to produce during class.

In introducing you to ALARM it would be worth starting at the finished product before moving back towards the beginning of the process. Have a look at Max Wood’s video below. The matrix that he talks about is what you are aiming for your students to be able to produce independently. Eventually.

Why, eventually? Well, the thing I’ve learnt from these matrices (and I’ve made a couple now) is that before you get your students to create one, you will need to create one for yourself so you know exactly where your kids are heading. That’s when it can seem a little overwhelming. In all honesty, I would say it requires an initial outlay of time (I’m talking a good 2-3 hours) to produce the resource and get your head round how to deliver it to your kids. Once you’ve done it though, you’re set. You will save yourself hours of work later on.

It’s a HUGE area and one that its creator, Max Woods, is much better at explaining than I am so I’ll just direct you to his multitude of YouTube clips to help you familiarise yourself with the matrix and how it is put together.

Here’s a quick intro vid from Max himself:


I do think this kind of matrix is worthwhile. It makes you think in the way that your kids need to. It develops the thinking skills needed to apply the content. The content means very little if it isn’t applied in the right way and I think that’s where a lot of our drama kids miss the mark. I really feel this is avoidable. In my teaching I know I don’t commit as much time to theory as I should. The kids are generally fairly reluctant and many in the course are not the most skilled writers so it feels like a chore. I plough on through but I feel the resistance.

At the moment I’m trying to reintroduce the matrices back into my teaching but also more specifically look at direction words and their influence on guiding students to write a response. From this I’m also looking at how these direction words could be more influential in directing the types of responses we ask our students to produce in their logbooks after a workshop or whilst devising or rehearsing.

To some degree I think we do skip over the direction words of questions when we’re teaching, assuming that our kids already know what they mean. We then launch into a structure and direction that is going to ensure that the content is sandwiched in as best as possible not really realising that the direction word probably has an influence on this structure in the first place.

I really feel that refining this area could mean the difference between one result or another one that is higher. It only needs to be a few marks that do it too. Coupling this kind of teaching with the appropriate choice of theory topic and well designed experiential learning could mean essay success! Well, this is what I am hoping for certainly.

I’m in the process of developing these skills with my Year 11 students so I will share some of the resources as I go. I’m also looking to backward map this in the Stage 5 drama units and assessment tasks as well as incorporating the literacy continuum. I’ll try to keep you posted with resources as I go.


Theatre of the Absurd Workshop Series

Since my honest post a couple of months ago I have been very grateful for the many positive comments and messages of support for the blog. So, thank you very much. I am timidly returning to regular blogging and share this with you today.

I often receive emails of support, encouragement and requests for resources.

One of the most viewed sections on the blog is the lesson ideas for teaching the Theatre of the Absurd. It’s a tricky theatrical style to break down and teach. Over the years I’ve scaffolded and scaffolded so that finally I have a workshop series that seems to capture the essence of Absurdism. I often end up emailing this to various people who message me with resource requests which is quite often. So, to make it a little easier on me and you, I’ve added it to this blog post today or you can find it on my Resources page (click on the link in the left hand tool bar). It should be used in conjunction with these suggested teaching strategies: Absurdism 1 and Absurdism 2.

I’ve recorded a short video to explain how to read the table. You can check it out below but it is also available at my YouTube channel.

Here is the Workshop Series – The Theatre of the Absurd PDF referenced in the instructional video.

A little reminder: These resources are not designed for assignments or assessments for University students. If you wish to use these resources for this purpose please send me an email requesting permission.


HSC Drama: Writing a Workshop Reflection

I mentioned yesterday that I would post the scaffold I use to get students writing after an experiential workshop.

I learnt this structure from @loucopoulos at his professional learning day on writing the essay for the HSC Drama exam so I take absolutely no credit for this. I’ve been trying it out this year with my seniors and it seems to be working. It’s a simple enough structure that is getting the kids writing about what they have done experientially in class and is connecting it with the themes and issues in a much more effective way.

Start by giving your students a question to respond to. For example, I mentioned in my post yesterday about activities you could use to introduce Ruby Moon. These are specifically getting the students to look at the themes and issues in the play of Australia’s identity, suburban paranoia and missing children. Your question could be something like:

What are your initial impressions of Ruby Moon and how do these contribute to your understanding of the issues and concerns in the play?

1. Answer the question in a sentence or two.

2. Elaborate on that answer by explaining it.

3. Use a workshop example in a quick recount.

4. What insights does that example provide?

To reiterate, the idea behind the structure is to help students better incorporate their experiential learning and make better connections to the issues and themes as well as the elements of drama.

This is how I would respond to the question using the scaffold, indicating in brackets at the end of the sentence when I have addressed each part of the scaffold (remembering also that you can say “I”):

The initial impression I get of Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron is one of darkness and mystery (1).

This is because the plot mirrors the familiar fairytale/fable of Little Red Riding Hood and looks at the consequences of a missing child on a couple as well as their neighbourhood. This fairytale, both traditionally and over time has been manipulated and at the core contains a dark, moral message. The idea of a missing child creates a feeling of unease and when delving further into the make-up of a neighbourhood it becomes clear that many people do not really know their neighbours (2).

In a series of activities as part of a class workshop, my class looked at two different versions of Little Red Riding Hood and the aspects that had been “fractured” or manipulated in each version and what impression was left for the audience of the characters, story and moral message. We discussed how this links in to the themes and issues in the play that we had read about: Australia’s identity, suburban paranoia and missing children. We researched a number of different missing Australian children and discussed the circumstances behind their disappearance focusing in particular on the parent’s role and who the abductors usually were. Finally, this lead to a discussion about our own neighbourhoods, what they look like, sound like and feel like (3).

Through these exercises I was able to get a better sense of the issues and concerns that we had read about in preparation for reading the play Ruby Moon. That there is more to Australia than simply white, sandy beaches and at the core of many Australian neighbourhoods and families there is a sense of unease and mystery about our neighbours because of incidences like missing children. That families become “fractured” because of it. That we cannot fully trust people because we don’t really know who they are or what they are thinking and this is a common feeling amongst much of Australian society (4).

I hope my paragraph above makes sense. It’s hard to critique your own writing because I mainly find my faults rather than looking for what I’ve done right. As many of our students do also I’m sure. Feedback is always welcome so please share your thoughts in the comments.

If you get an opportunity, I would highly recommend attending Costa’s course. I found it really helpful. You can find more information about the HSC Essays and Dramatic Practice course here.

Experiential Learning in the Drama Classroom

Whichever system you work in, it’s a good idea in Drama to get student’s to be reflective about the practical exercises they are participating in in class.

As teachers, not only do we want to create great performers and play makers, we also want our student’s to be articulate, appreciative arts lovers. It’s important that student’s learn this skill as in its essence that is what Drama and Theatre is trying to do – connect you to your greater understanding of the world and your place in it and to then talk and share your thoughts.

At the conclusion of every practical activity we do in class, I try to allocate about 15-20 minutes or so for reflective writing in a logbook. You may prefer to set this as homework and use class time for additional practical tasks. You choose what works best for you. I have also just recently experimented in trying to turn the logbook digital. However that is for another time.

The logbook is a place for student’s to be reflective about the process of making, performing and appreciating Drama. It should include:

  • Resources: photocopies, pictures, articles, class notes, research material;
  • Assignments: insert them into your logbook after they’ve been marked;
  • Assessments: these provide you with vital information on what you need to do and your progress;
  • Workshop Descriptions: a lesson-by-lesson account of what you do in Drama;
  • Observations: records of reactions, observations and opinions about your work and others;
  • Experiences: a note of anything that happens outside of class. Shows you see, films you watch etc.

The key point I’d like to focus on, is that of the Workshop Descriptions. I’ve actually created a scaffolded workbook template that I get my student’s to fill out at the conclusion of every lesson. Here it is:

  • What was the purpose of the exercise? (What were you hoping to achieve? What skill or element was to be explored?)
  • Explain/Describe what happened during the exercise (number the steps if that helps).
  • What observations did you make about yourself and others? (give examples of specific scenes enacted, shapes created etc.)
  • Make a personal judgement on how successful you or your group were and what you learned.
  • How does this exercise link or relate to your purpose?

Student’s can then submit their logbook at the conclusion of a performance as part of their assessment as a way of demonstrating the process that they went through to create their performance work. I also get the student’s to fill out a self-evaluation of their own performance and that of others and include that in their logbook. Many of the descriptions and reflections can then be put into a Drama essay. I will discuss this in a future post.

Mardi Gras Readers (FRONT PAGE #1) / Graham Blackall / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Lesson Lovenotes: Teaching DADA Performance Art

One of the units in the NSW Year 11 Drama syllabus is called Theatrical Traditions and Performance Styles. I stumbled upon DADA when researching new and different styles to teach my student’s. There was something really wacky and totally left of centre that I liked about it. So I decided to create a mini unit as an introduction to theatrical traditions and performance styles.

I think DADA works well as an introductory unit for a number of reasons:

  1. It is simple for new and unfamiliar students of drama and
  2. It encourages random, spontaneous creativity and ideas because there is no right or wrong.

The thing I tend to find with most of my student’s, whether they have taken drama since Year 9 or coming fresh to the subject after not having done it in the junior school, is that the student’s ideas of what drama actually is and what it actually involves is very different to the reality of having to stand in front of an audience and perform. Somehow, they all seem to miss this rather important concept.

Thus, my daily challenge as a drama teacher is to try to make the classroom environment comfortable enough for the student’s so that they attempt a performance.

The difficulty with senior drama is that there is little time to indulge fears and boost confidences. You’ve got to be prepared to get up and perform no matter what. The difference in quality is often determined by whether or not a student took Drama in the junior school or whether they are in fact new to the whole subject. There tends to be a great divide in the classroom initially because of this. However, I think DADA fixes all of that.

Below is a list of strategies that I have used to teach my student’s about DADA. I think it links in well with the Theatre of the Absurd which is what I teach after this unit because it frees them of any fears they may have and helps to set a context that can be developed further through the Theatre of the Absurd. I hope you find them helpful.

  • Fruit Salad: This exercise can be used as a practical/experiential starting point to Dada.Give each student a small square of paper. Ask the student’s to think of their favourite fruit. They are not to tell anyone what their chosen fruit is. Ask the student’s to write down five words that they would use to describe their fruit. Have the students share their five words, one student at a time. Ask the student’s to then think of one movement or action that they can repeat over and over again whilst saying their words. With the teacher as facilitator, experiment with performing the sequence individually and then integrating different pairs together. At the conclusion of the exercise discuss what the student’s observed. If you get responses like “random”, “messy”, “weird”, “it didn’t make sense” then you’re on the right track.
  • Learn about DADAists: This can be used as a theoretical introduction to Dada. There is a fantastic site called the International Dada Archive created by the University of Iowa. I use the Online Bibliography link as a starting point to get student’s exploring what some of the Dadaists created. A lot of it is art and manifesto type stuff but you can use that as a starting point for discussion. It’s also good to get them to research the leaders of the movement. People like Hugo Ball, Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara.
  • Get the student’s to watch some clips: I find this part of the mini-unit very important. Drama is visual so student’s need to see what these performances looked like. From there you can dissect them looking at things like the dramatic form, theatrical techniques and conventions used and elements of production used. Here a couple I’ve been using directly from YouTube:

Karawane – Dada Sound Poetry

Gadji Beri Bimba – Dada Sound Poetry

The ABC of Dada – A great three part video with a lot of background info, pictures and sound examples.

  • Do a voice workshop: A lot of the Dada performance work was nonsense, sound poetry. This part of the mini-unit is an excellent place to bring in some technique workshops looking at the role of voice and breath control, warming up the voice and face muscles and using that to manipulate and experiment with sound creating soundscapes, different moods and atmospheres using rhythm etc.
  • Create a mini-performance with costumes and all: What was unique about Dada was the way they produced their costumes. A lot of them used masks and cardboard for costumes. They looked childlike. I get my student’s to split into small groups and create their costumes using cardboard. They then can either manipulate their fruit salad sound poem, one of the ones they created during the voice workshop or something completely new. I give them a lesson to create their costume and a lesson to discuss and improvise and playbuild their performance. In the third lesson they perform for the class and feedback is given on each of the groups.

The mini-unit in its entirety should take no more than 3-4 75 minute periods.

Each of these exercises ties in really nicely with the elements of drama so before and after each exercise use the discussion time as a place to reflect on how these were all used.

Did you find this article helpful? Please leave your comments below.

Image Credits:

The Discreet Charm of The Bourgoiesie, DerrickT, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)