Random ideas for ELT people, plus guest blogs & travel notes

Ania Kozicka

My latest guest blogger is Ania Kozicka from Poland, who has been teaching English for five years. Ania asked me to take a look at her adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose, which she was using with young learners, aged 9-13. I was quite surprised that she was using something so dark and with such an unhappy ending with pupils in that age group, so I asked her to write a guest blog about it.

I’m really happy to publish the result – a really interesting take on using drama with young learners and how to generate material for this increasingly important learner group.

Serious drama with young learners

It’s the early 1990s – a little eight-year-old girl is standing by her teacher’s desk and she hears: ‘You are going to be a Prince in the play.’  Little Ania thought –  ‘No Cinderella, no Stepmother part for me – I am going to play the part of the Prince instead. Wow!’

After seventeen years, I still remember the costume of the Prince I had and the lines I was uttering in front of the whole school, while dancing on the stage with Cinderella. Fortunately, I was luckier during ‘an audition’ for the next performance.  I was overwhelmed by an intense feeling of joy – I was chosen to play Thumbelina in the play based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. I was a girl and I was tiny – definitely better material to play Thumbelina than the Prince.

These two performances as well as the ones that followed were in my native language, Polish. My teacher of Polish was keen on theatre and enjoyed experimenting with it at school. We looked forward to preparing costumes for new performances and rehearsals. We felt like actors and actresses. I was lucky – I felt like both😉

Nonetheless, I have never had an English teacher who made the students act and play in English on the stage.

Four years ago, I started working in a small primary school as an English teacher. During the first school year, I observed students acting in Polish. Mainstream teachers chose the plays and the children to take part in them. While watching the performances, I was thinking about me acting when I was a student. I wanted to get involved in the theatre-focused school life. Why not make my students act in English?

How it started:

I gathered students who wanted to take part in an English performance. I decided to write the material for these performances myself. Together, we discussed the topics of every play we performed before I started to write them.

My first scripts were parodies of the most popular TV programmes in my country. Plays with scripts rooted in our Polish culture (based on well-known TV programmes, celebrities and their vices) were good ideas to start with. Children loved them and the audiences (including students and teachers who don’t know English) understood what the plays were about. On the whole, lots of English language, music, dance, humour and fun!

Last year, though, I decided I need a change in the choice of play topics. Humour was no longer my main area of interest. I wanted the material to be more vivid and serious.  I wrote a script which focused on the importance of a good command of English: Polish-speaking Little Red Riding Hood finds herself in a strange forest. She meets various people from well-known TV shows, films and fairy tales, such as Cinderella, the characters from Ugly Betty etc.

They all have two things in common: they all speak English and need Little Red Riding Hood’s help. The problem is that Little Red Riding Hood really struggles with her English language production. Little Red Riding Hood is even more confused when she meets a Spanish-speaking Vampire who falls in love with her. The dialogues are abundant with humour and the aim of the play is obvious – to understand the great need to learn foreign languages.

The Nightingale and the Rose featured on the cover of Wilde's book of fairy tales

 

My last script was based on Oscar Wilde’s story The Nightingale and the Rose.  I had some apprehension as the theme of the death of a lovely bird seemed to be inappropriate for young students. The rehearsals, let alone the final performance, proved I was wrong.

Students loved playing the climax – the breathtaking music, one bird dying, his friend weeping. It was amazing to observe their reactions during rehearsals. It didn’t prove that students are cruel or blood-shedding lovers  – simply that they enjoy playing with emotions and expressing themselves through drama activities. It definitely helped them recognize and understand their own emotions and learn more about their personality.

Personal development- that’s what teaching is all about!

Moreover, I am going to organize Performance Competitions this school year, I have invited English teachers from different schools to join me in this enterprise. Wish me good luck!

That’s the short summary of my personal development within four years of working as a teacher of English. I am fond of writing scripts and having them performed by my students. Watching it work – it’s an amazing experience.

This school year I am working on a script of Dance Academy.  The main focus is going to be the concept of tolerance as well as peace. No Polish bits included. When it is ready, I can share it with enthusiasts of drama for students.

However, if you want to try to write your own script here are some hints to help you:

–            Think of a topic for the play that will appeal to the students who want to take part in the play as well as the audience (it’s good to keep rehearsing something they enjoy for a few months and then perform it)

–            When you have selected the topic, it’s time to think about the message – what is the reason for the audience to watch it? What conclusions should they draw?

–            Count the students who want to work with you and make them help you create characters for them

–            Add some humour – witty dialogues are always welcome and they always work

–            Think about suitable music, either just to be played in the background or to indicate some important parts of the play

–            Remember about scenery and appropriate costumes in advance so the students have time to prepare them

–            Involve the students in everything, make them feel responsible for the play. When they do it and it’s successful, they will have a great feeling of achievement

–            Be a real director – guide them how to play, demonstrate and help them find their way of playing the part

–            Needless to say, accuracy in pronunciation is crucial, loads of practice is needed to prevent students from creating bad language habits

–            The level of the language in the script should be slightly above your students’ level – they need a challenge

–            Don’t force your students to play parts they don’t like – the aim of drama plays is to make them realize they can speak English and kill their inhibitions, not increase them – they may have trauma like mine with the Prince for their whole life

Students love creative teachers. Students love teachers who do more than just sitting behind their table. Good luck with your own performances!

About me

I am a teacher of English in Poland. I have been working with young learners for five years. I teach in a state school and a private language school. I am a highly positive and enthusiastic person – it is really helpful when it comes to working with young people. In summer, I teach English to international students at a summer school in England.  It is an amazing experience to have a multinational group of students in the classroom and work with a group of fabulous English teachers – I look forward to next summer!

When you see me you may catch me…

–            writing a script🙂

–            listening to music

–            dancing

–            enjoying the sun – the best source of energy

–            reading a book

–            watching the Smurfs – they always make me smile!🙂

–            sitting with a Spanish grammar book –  I believe a teacher cannot understand their students unless they are students themselves.

Feel free to interrupt me then – I love meeting new people!

If you would like a copy of Ania’s adaptation of The Nightingale and the Rose, email her – aniako18@wp.pl

Comments on: "Guest post 22 – Ania Kozicka on serious drama with young learners" (15)

  1. Vladimira said:

    Dear Ania,
    amazing post! It reminds me of my own attempt to write a script in a summer camp. That was like 10 years ago when I was a teenager myself but I enjoyed it really. However, I am not teaching children anymore (hopefully get some group next year). Anyway, thanks for nice ideas and hints on writing a script, might be useful for other teachers in my school.

    PS When I played in our local little theater as a pupil, I had a role of a soldier in a play about Joan of Arc…at least, it was a very important soldier🙂

    Thanks for nice post,
    Vladka

  2. Hi Ania,

    Can I second Vladimira and say what a fab post. Your use of drama with your students sounds a really good way to work on English (I really like the idea of a Polish-speaking Red Riding Hood being stuck in a place where everyone only speaks English) and fun. In fact, could I be a student in your class (frustrated actor here!).

    Actually, I’ve seen the power of drama with students of English first hand – at the end of last academic year one of our teachers directed a version of Cinderella set to Abba’s I have a dream, which she did with our Entry 1 (i.e. beginner and elementary) students. And it was really great. Drama does have such power when done well.

    Best

    Mike =)

    • Ania Kozicka said:

      Hi Mike,

      Thank you very much for the great comment. I really enjoyed the adventure with the Red Riding Hood play- loads of fun! I’m thinking of ‘translating it’ so it can be used by any teacher of English who knows students’ native language. However, it doesn’t seem to be easy as the humour may be lost then. I’ll try my best.

      You’re right- drama is powerful and fun!🙂

      My students usually create roles for themselves. Think of a character for the play and you are in!🙂

      best wishes,
      Ania🙂

      • I really like that – the students thinking and creating their own roles. As well as giving them a real chance to own the character (and the language) this is good as it means no one needs to be excluded, since the students create their own role, they control how much they are involved (so they can say just one line or a speech of Shakepearian length😉 )

        Good stuff!

  3. I’m not a someone who teaches young learners, or is particularly inclined to use drama in my classroom (no prejudice, it’s just not my cup of tea). However, I loved Ania’s account of how she went about using drama, and her passion for teaching and her students is inspirational. Thank you.

    • Ania Kozicka said:

      Hi James,

      Thanks for your comment🙂

      I think using drama in the classroom is not a must. Finding a successful way to get to your students- that matters!
      My way is built from drama bricks – I really enjoy working this way! I am sure your way to your students is great and a successful one! Good luck with following it🙂

      Ania🙂

  4. Ania Kozicka said:

    Dear Ken,

    Thank you so much for making me your guest here. It’s so exciting🙂

    Dear Vladka,

    Thanks for the kind comment.

    It’s such a pleasure to watch your students performing plays written by you and following your hints/ suggestions! And their happy faces ( and yours as well) when they are successful – priceless:-)
    I hope you will have a chance next year to experience the feeling.
    Last night I finished my script entitled ‘Dance Academy’. I can’t wait to start the rehearsals! However, I will have to make a choreography for the play – another challenge!

    ps. Important soldier sounds really ok. Apart from the Prince, I used to play a cherry too, not a particularly important one;-)

    I look forward to reading your blog post.

    best wishes,

    Ania

  5. Hi Ania,

    First of all, I want to echo the comments above – a great post! Thank you for sharing the details of how you prepare scripts and practice for performances. At my school, we also have an annual performance in English. The main difference is that it is compulsory for each class rather than a case of who wants to do it.

    The last three years in 3rd grade (students aged 8-9) we did something in the style of a TV show with students reporting on different topics that we had covered in class. I really enjoyed working with them in class, especially in the director role! I also allowed the kids to have some input and suggest changes. I think that helps them feel really involved in the production.

    This year, I’m working with 4th grade and the format will be an adapted script of the Wizard of Oz. Thank you for the suggestions about music. A couple of songs are in the script but there is no background music as far as I’m aware. I shall now look for some!

    • Ania Kozicka said:

      Hi David,

      I’m delighted you found some useful tips in my blog post.

      Compulsory may be enjoyable too! Some students may need ‘compulsory encouragement’ so they don’t miss the fun- and then they are grateful;-)

      I’m lucky to have actors/actresses-like students. They love performing and they enjoy the rehearsals. It is really great you to let your students suggest changes- they feel responsible for the performance which allows them to build confidence – not only in terms of lg usage🙂

      An adapted script of the Wizard of Oz – sounds great! Good luck with the rehearsals and playing the director role! I enjoy it a lot as well:-)
      Teaching is sharing – I’d be more than happy to send you my script so you can use it/adapt it in your future work or just look for ideas and hopefully inspirations:-)

      Ania🙂

  6. Ania Kozicka said:

    That is the very point Mike!🙂

    No one is excluded, no one is forced to play roles they don’t like. However, the teacher has to shape students’ ideas so the script makes sense but everyone feels they are a part of the enterprise!🙂

  7. Dear Ania,
    I enjoyed reading your post, as I’m in favour of using drama or at least drama activities in teaching. Unsuccessfully I’ve tried 3 times by now to set up a drama group. As I’m not working in a state school the main hinderance is the scepticism of parents (they won’t learn anything, just play around). I still won’t give up and I’m planning now to try a drama summer school next year. Hope to hear more from you, it’s very inspiring!
    All the best
    Anette

    • Ania Kozicka said:

      Hi Anette,

      You are absolutely right. It’s easier to use drama in state schools – I run additional classes for the rehearsals in primary school. I’ve been thinking of introducing drama to my lessons in private school. However, it seems impossible to change the syllabus and stretch the course for the sake of drama. Maybe one day…

      Am really happy you are not going to give up!🙂

      Maybe a very short play during the lesson (based on something your students are really interested in) could be a step forward.
      Good luck with your drama at summer school adventure, definitely loads of fun ahead of you!🙂

      My favourite quotation ever..
      ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’ – so let’s follow Walt Disney’s advice!

      Ania🙂

  8. A lovely story. Good luck with the joint school project! Sounds like a lot of energy flying around.
    My Spanish friends made up a little poem to help me learn a bit when i was visiting them.
    “Las conchas son bonitas.
    Las encuentras debajo de las olitas”
    David

  9. Ania Kozicka said:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your comment. There’s loads of energy required when there are loads of kids around and I’m always surprised how it’s generated!
    Spanish language is so beautiful. When I use it in the play again, maybe I’ll include the poem there😉

    all the best,
    Ania🙂

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