By Emily White

How can I see what I think till I hear what I say? -Alice in Wonderland

| | | | | | Introduction | What Exactly are Collaborative Dramatic | | Strategies? | What Types of Students Most Benefit From This Approach? | Role of Teachers: | | Useful Resources | References external image moz-screenshot-1.png


The act of reading is both solitary and interactive in nature. At university, when given a text to read, we are ultimately left alone to read and then withdraw what meaning we can. Afterward
, long after our schooling is behind us, we are most happy to pick up a book when it is quiet and we are alone and can get lost in the text without interruption. Of course, to believe ourselves to be on our own is not entirely true. At the very least, we are in the company of the writer. We are also often joined by the characters he or she has created. When we read, we are engaging in a human experience, not a personal one, that deals with human thoughts, human emotions in a language that is human. The image of the solitary reader, however, seems to be the dominate influence in our approach to teaching reading. Unfortunately, this one dimensional tactic does not suit everybody. According the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network, nearly 10 million Canadians do not read adequately. I think we need to reconsider our approach.

What Exactly are Collaborative Dramatic



Collaborative dramatic strategies may involve anything from a tableau to an improvised skit or even a full-scale production. The form that the drama will take depends on a variety of factors such as resources, time available to dedicate to the project, the size of the group, etc. Regardless of what form the drama will take, it must involve an element of role-playing. In his text English Through Drama, David Eccles writes “The most essential feature of the drama-process is role-play. By this I mean a pupil taking on the role of someone other than herself, and then interacting with others (also in role) to explore a situation as if they were those people, or had some of the attitudes or feelings of those people”(6-7). The other key element of this strategy is, of course, collaboration. This tactic utilizes the knowledge, experiences and abilities of each individual to benefit the entire group. Collaborative dramatic strategies allow students to use their eyes, ears, voice and body to engage with one another to decode the meaning of text.

What Types of Students Most Benefit From This Approach?

I think that this approach is particularly helpful for students that struggle with text precisely because it appeals to a wider variety of learning styles than more conventional methods of teaching text. In her piece entitled “Drama, Literacies and Difference”, Helen Nicholson addresses this point when she writes, "learning in the dramatic form itself inevitably includes a wider range of learning styles than many other subjects in the curriculum, and this suits the abilities of a greater diversity of children...students who are labeled low achievers often appear to do rather well in drama. Because drama is multitextual, the art itself provides students with different points of entry into the work, different ways of becoming involved" (118). Through drama students have the chance to interpret text through a much broader range of sensory channels. Then, in turn, the also may express their understanding with similar variety. They are not confined to writing an essay or test; they can use their voice, body language, use of lighting, props, etc. to indicate to the teacher they have gleaned meaning form the text.

It is also worth noting that collaborative drama allows student to put the ideas that they derive from a text into some real life context. When a student is acting out a character from a story, he or she must draw upon their own experiences or knowledge to give the role meaning. I think that this active style of interpreting text allows for a deeper understanding of the reading.

Thirdly, and most importantly, this method is useful to those who find reading difficult because it allows the learning experience to be a communal one. Students are not left alone to read the text and interpret it as best as they can. With this approach they can build on eachother’s understanding.


Drama provides a wonderfully safe environment for students to engage with their peers in discussions on the meaning of stories, characters and themes and to co-operate together in bringing their understanding to life in the form of role-playing. Nicholson clearly agrees with this idea when she writes, “Through the process of working, drama teacher can create a culture of collaborative learning that invites students to exchange ideas, to experiment with alternative perspectives and interpretations, to raise questions,

to reflect and speculate” (120).

Role of Teachers:

Teachers play a vital role in the success of these dramatic projects. Some teachers are hesitant to engage their students in dramatic renditions of text because these activities may easily get out of control or become superficial or unproductive. Here are some tips to ensure that everything runs smoothly:

1. Familiarize yourself with the basics of teaching drama. For example: Formatting scripts, setting up the space, organizing groups.

2. Start small! There is no need for elaborate props, huge auditoriums, or ten act plays, especially in the beginning. The purpose of these exercises is to encourage students to collaborate with one another in bringing texts to life through drama. This may be accomplished in very small groups with few or no props.

3. Guide students through the process with thought provoking and relevant questions. This will help them stay on task and encourage them to think more deeply about the text at hand.

Useful Resources

Classroom Lesson Plan: Tableaux with a Twist

The Performance Role of Reader's Theater in the Classroom

More on Readers Theater


1. Eccles, David. English Through Drama. London: Hutchinson, 1989.

2. Nicholson, Helen, "Drama, Literacies and the Difference." Where Texts and Children Meet. London: Routledge, 2000.