In our second part of the conversation with Susan Hillyard about what teachers can learn from theatre, we discussed practical educational drama techniques to use in the remote classroom. Susan has a rhyme to explain the importance of incorporating activities in which students stand up and use their whole selves, body and mind, in our lessons:

‘the longer you sit on your bum
the more brain dead you become
your bum goes numb
and your brain goes dumb’

Educational drama techniques include lots of movement, which help get oxygen to the brain, get muscles moving and make the learning experience more memorable. Check out her ideas to prevent brains from going dumb:

1- Breathing exercises

Susan recommends starting lessons with breathing exercises as they don’t take up much time and they help establish a positive working atmosphere from early on, helping students relax and activate their whole self for the upcoming lesson. They will remember things better once they have moved around and breathed.

Watch Susan’s demonstration in the video above to understand the posture needed for breathing exercises to be effective. This means teaching students how to breathe properly i.e. from their bellies instead of doing shallow breathing. Deep breathing is needed for relaxation to happen, shallow breathing is associated with high pitches.

One way to do it is through exhaling on an extended long vowel sound while counting. This sound should be sustained for as long as the person can. Many students will be keen on that, and sports-inclined ones are likely to enjoy being able to breathe out for longer than their peers, which will enhance their self-esteem.

2- Stretching

Following breathing, stretching accompanying breathing is another whole-body activity that can enhance student motivation and activate all their senses. So asking them to breathe again but stretching different parts as exemplified in the video is another simple strategy that can be part of the starting the lesson routine. Learners can lean to both sides, stretching their arms over their  heads while counting their breaths, or many other stretching techniques can be implemented. Doing this will likely change the dynamic of the lesson to a more energetic one.

3- Check in

Check ins are short activities that allow learners to share information about themselves and how they are feeling. They can use the language in a simple way, unwittingly, to tell you things they already know, so it reduces the anxiety levels.

The check in activity demonstrated above is one that makes use of proximity to the camera. The teacher should make statements such as ‘I like going to the beach’, ‘my favourite colour is purple’ and things alike, which will vary according to the age, level and interests of the learners. If the statement is true for a learner, they are invited to go up to the camera, get very close to it, smile and say ‘that’s me!’. If it’s not true for them, they say ‘not me’ and move away from the camera, out of focus. Then they all go back and the teacher makes another statement.

Same as all other activities, this activates different senses, which helps them remember. 

4- Explanation through air streaming 

Air streaming consists of using your finger to draw in the air. In the demonstration, Susan explains her personal pedagogy, SPICE, drawing each letter of the word while making the sound of the letter and looking at her nail for each. This way, the activity activates the visual sense (you are looking at your nail), the auditory one (saying and hearing the sound), and movement. This all helps content stick.

SPICE stands for:

  • S - Social development: Students have to have the opportunity to work in groups and they need to be taught how to do so
  • P - Physical development: Students must move around and have fun
  •  I - Intellectual development: Avoid work that isn’t challenging enough, in which students will get bored and are not engaged. Aim at higher order thinking skills in Bloom’s taxonomy ladder. 
  • C - Creativity development: Teach the language in a creative way. Include art, drama, dancing, movement, photography. Bring the arts into the learning experience.
  • E - Emotional development: Learn to be empathetic. Teach learners how to be sociable, control their own emotions, and understand other people's emotions.

Think about ways you can use this technique with all kinds of language content. 

5- Choir conductor 

Choose chants to go with the content you’re working on (poem, story, song, grammar).

Assign signs (put your hands on each side of your mouth, roll your arms fast or slow, etc) to actions (shout it, go fast, go slow, speak in a giant’s voice, etc). Act like a choir director: learners say the chant and you conduct them through the signs you’ve introduced. This way, students learn to transform their voice through pitch, pace and volume. 

Students could create new signs and create the chants themselves.

6- Use of realia 

Including a number of props such as a witch hat, a wand, a ball, a gift is another effective educational drama technique that can be used to foster imagination and creativity.

Pretend to do magic with the wand, throw the ball around to different people in the classroom to ask them questions (it can be imaginary from their end), imagine what is inside a gift bag. Many other props can be used in similar ways.


Try out some of these ideas and let us know how it goes through our social media channels!

Keep exploring the subject!