Guest blog 25 – Ania Musielak on using drama games to teach soldiers

My last guest blogger of 2010 is Ania Musielak from Poland. I attended Ania’s drama workshop at TESOL France in Paris recently. Apart from being an excellent trainer, Ania is a walking advertisement for the importance of teacher enthusiasm and optimism. When she talked about using drama techniques in her classes with soldiers, she said she encountered absolutely no problems persuading the boys in uniform to do the activities she was describing. Seeing the way she throws herself into her work with good humour and energy, this came as no surprise.

Ania presenting at TESOL France, November 2010

I’m a Polish teacher and teacher trainer and I’ve been teaching using drama techniques for almost eleven years. Apart from drama, I’m interested in literature (especially the works of Shakespeare) and popular culture. I’m interested in the notions of the body, carnivalesque, advertising, kitsch, camp and films.

I have a PhD from the Silesian University in Katowice.

In my PhD thesis, there’s a chapter on The Body In Sports (e.g. in wrestling, in the past and nowadays) and the images of the body in contemporary popular culture.

I’ve worked at the military unit in my hometown, Tarnowskie Góry, and also at a college teaching British Literature and Culture and as methodology director in a private language school. At the moment, I’m writing workshops and teaching English to young learners and adults. It’s my goal to prove to my students that learning can be fun and effective at the same time. I’m not afraid to join my students in acting out and letting my imagination run wild.

Enthusiastic participants at Ania's workshop

In drama there are no wrong answers, everything is possible.

I have always loved teaching adults (especially beginners) as I considered it a very challenging and rewarding task. Some time ago, I was working with a small group of adults who knew very little English. Oh, and it’s important to know – they were soldiers who had to learn English as it was crucial for their further military careers.

So there I was, probably the only girl at the military unit. Who was more frightened – me or them – I will never know. My soldiers had six hours of English every day (plus homework, of course) and the course lasted for almost six months. Phew…sounds tough. And the skills I was responsible for were speaking, writing and reading.

As I have always been fascinated with drama and the possibilities it offers to both the students and the teacher, I decided to use some drama games to relax my students and make them speak. I think that drama techniques are simple and fun methods of teaching (and learning) and I was determined to introduce some of that fun to the gloomy military unit I was at.

We started with very simple techniques – saying Hi to the others in various manners. They were shocked when I asked them to stand up and move around. And to spice it up a bit, I used finger puppets with this exercise. Can you imagine a bunch of uniformed soldiers prancing around the classroom with a finger puppet of a king, a fashion model or a farmer, shouting, reciting or whispering Hi! to one another?

That was a good move, as this exercise put them at ease – they didn’t need to say much, just Hi in a different way. And what was important – I joined them! When they saw that I was willing to make a fool of myself, they were happy to follow! I decided to build on that exercise – we added some more expressions such as What’s your name? and How are you?.

They had to continue speaking in the register of the character. Later on, we made some pairs – e.g. a fashion model and a doctor, or a king and a businessman. What surprised me was the fact that they were even willing to play female characters.

Once the students were relaxed and at ease with the procedures, I applied more “complex” games. When we studied the verb to have, I asked them to find people who had a guitar/a motorbike/a great mother-in-law, and so on and so forth. When they couldn’t remember a word/a structure, they used their body language and mimed or drew what they wanted to say.

And that is why I (and my students) love drama – it helps us to be spontaneous when expressing emotions and by involving body language – treats people as entities. Like in every day communication, there are pauses, misunderstandings and our whole body gets involved in conveying the message.

Knickers - important to an understanding of the next paragraph...

I also made sure that when it was time for a reading lesson – it was not a reading aloud session – I used children’s stories that were uncomplicated. First, I took a very simple children’s story about animals and the different colours of their knickers, which was easy and entertaining for them. And can you imagine the joy of learning the word knickers – it definitely was not on the curriculum. 😛

The next step was to come up with their own characters (not only draw them but also write the stories behind them). They came up with characters ranging from Private Joe Jones to Steve the Sad Farmer… After that, I divided them into three groups and each had to choose a form for their work  – a comic strip, a picture story or a concertina book (I extended the reading into a writing project).

They were presented with big pieces of paper, colourful markers, cut-outs from magazines and glue. My soldiers were so fascinated with their tasks that their works turned into real masterpieces. They loved feeling like children again (and children have fun learning, don’t they? I always observe my four-year old daughter with fascination – how quickly and effortlessly she learns new words in both English and German and how much fun she has at that).

Drama brought balance to my classroom and the games were not merely fun but made the learning process memorable, meaningful and more efficient. Thanks to dramatization, my soldiers had a positive and confident attitude towards the learning experience. The games developed their imagination and creative freedom and helped them acquire the skills as if by accident, naturally – just like children!

And what I considered my greatest achievement was the fact that their enthusiasm was not faked and did not wear off for a long time. Most of them managed to pass their exams at the military unit with flying colours and some continued their adventure with English.

Unfortunately, Ania wasn’t able to get permission to use a picture of her with the soldiers, so here’s a picture of Your Humble Blogger trying out a drama activity at a military base in Taiwan…

Taiwanese soldiers get the giggles during a routine drama activity

19 thoughts on “Guest blog 25 – Ania Musielak on using drama games to teach soldiers

  1. Dear Anna,
    Let me thank you very much for your great post and even greater workshop at TESOL France. It was so inspirational and motivational for me! You have a power to make people love drama (not only your students but also teachers like me for example). In fact, I have never tried a “true” drama activities with my adults (maybe some role plays :)) but I am going to use one today! Hope it will be good and my students will enjoy it!

    Thank you very much for your enthusiasm.

  2. Vladka thank you so much:) I really do love drama and I believe in its power. Works with everybody – kids, teens and adults. I really like your ideas on teaching and started reading your blog. Thank you once again:)

  3. Hi Anna,

    What a wonderful thing to be able to read about your dramatic experiences with the soldiers, and funny to think that you had us doing the same activities in your TESOL France session – thanks again for that, as it gave me a lot of good ideas.

    Thanks again for the prompt of the snowman-role-play lesson more recently. Another example of how drama has made language teaching a bit more fun!

  4. What a fantastic / simple way to integrate drama in the classroom Anna! The “Hi!”activity can be used with any levels on the first day of class as a way to get students comfortable with one another, break the ice.

    I haven’t used much drama in my classes…maybe because I didn’t see fun ways of using it such as the way you (and Ken!) use it. Maybe it’s time I re-thought my opinion 🙂

    Thanks for sharing…wish I had been to your session at TesolFr. Who knows, maybe I’ll have another chance! 🙂

    1. @cecilialcoelho Thank you:) I sometimes think that I use too much drama – as with every lesson I try to squeeze in some drama games/activities. I wish you had been to France – I really want to meet you in person. Your posts and tweets are really inspirational:)

      1. Ania and Cecilia,

        I think there is a chance that you might both be at IATEFL Brighton, right?

  5. Witaj Anno:)

    What an amazing and inspirational post- congratulations 🙂
    When people think about ‘drama in the classroom’, they associate it with young learners – including me as I work with this age group. I’m a drama enthusiast as well 🙂
    However, now I’ll think of your soldiers too! When I have the chance to teach adults in the future, I’ll make them
    play and let them experience the joy of childhood again.

    ps. There is a military unit in my hometown too and I know the soldiers have English exams exactly the same you described as my friends teach them.

    You made me eager to send my CV there… 🙂

    All the best,
    Ania 🙂

    1. Cześć Aniu,
      I really enjoyed working in the military unit – so go ahead and send your CV 🙂 I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
      And thank you for your nice comments. I have to say that I really like your guest post about drama with young learners! It was great 🙂

  6. Hi Ania!

    I will join the lovely people commenting before me in saying that I loved your workshop, got so many ideas from it and absolutely loved your enthusiasm!

    One of the best workshops I have attended : )

    I am also very happy to talk to you later – wish we had some more time. So nice to keep in contact with you on Twitter!

    Thank you so much Ania! See you in Brighton!

    Hi Ken!

    Thank you for having another super educator on your blog – and it was so great to meet you at TESOL France!

    Kindest regards,

  7. Hi Ania and All,

    I’m a little late in joining in, but I have to praise your post, too! Really inspiring and encouraging. The fact that you used drama in military context sounds almost surreal! There’s no excuse not to use drama now:)

    All the best and thanks for sharing your enthusiasm with us,


  8. Ania….I just picked up on this and want to add my tuppence ha’penny worth.
    I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and have just finished the first year of a Ministry backed project where I’m training 20 teachers to teach English through drama in special education, including orphanges for street kids, a children’s hospital, a liver and heart transplant school, two shanty town schools and home tuition plus sts in wheel chairs and 12 other special schools in the City. We, too were scared to death at the beginning……although believing in our method and the results have been striking.
    Perhaps you might like to join a free on-line course to discuss these and other issues with about 300 people from around the world?
    I’m a co-moderator and we have quite a big contingent from Argentina but few from your end of the world.
    Susan Hillyard

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and the invitation to join an online course:) Drama helped me a lot in my classes but the military unit was probably the only “challenging” place. Apart from that I used drama (or rather drama games) in my regular classes so that does not compare to the environment you described. It still would be great if I could discuss some drama related topics with others. Thank you once again.
      Best wishes Ania:)

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