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.
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!
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
– 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 – firstname.lastname@example.org