Contemporary Drama in the Context of the English Classroom
Curriculum Expectations | Resistance to the Teaching of Contemporary Drama in the English Classroom | The Importance of Drama/ Strategies to Incorporate Drama in to the English Classroom | Assessment Activities
Contemporary Drama in the context of the English classroom is an essential component of the Language Arts Curriculum but it is also a way to incorporate multiple literacies and alternate interactive assessment acivities in to the classroom everyday without always relying specifically on a dramatic text. Contemporary drama can be brought in to any study of literature/literacies.drama-mask.gif

Curriculum Expectations

The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Language describes how, "students can develop the skills necessary to become effective readers by applying a range of comprehension strategies as they read and by reading a wide variety of texts. It is also important that they read a range of materials that illustrate the many uses of writing," which includes dramatic texts (The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8, 10). The curriculum document goes on to state that, "Such reading activities are particularly important in the elementary grades, when attitudes towards reading and reading habits are first being formed. Reading experiences that invite students to discover new worlds and new experiences and to develop their imaginative powers will go a long way towards convincing them that reading can be a rich source of pleasure and knowledge" which applies directly to contemporary drama in a Language Arts setting(10).

As is highlighted in The Ontario Curriculum Grades 9 and 10: English document, "The reading program should include a wide variety of literary, informational, and graphic texts that engage students’ interest and imagination – for example...plays and radio, film, or television scripts" in a contemporary context and otherwise. (The Ontario Curriculum Grades 9 and 10, 16). The curriculum document goes on to say that " As a creative representation of life and experience, literature raises important questions about the human condition, now and in the past. As students increase their knowledge of accomplished writers and literary works, and vicariously experience times, events, cultures, and values different from their own, they deepen their understanding of the many dimensions of human thought and human experience... All students, regardless of their postsecondary plans, need to read a balance of exemplary literary, informational, and graphic texts that nourish the imagination, promote intellectual growth, contribute to a sense of aesthetic appreciation, and provide a broad range of language models for their own writing" (16). Each of these qualities can be found in contemporary dramatic texts and in the intertwining use of multiple literacies in the Language Arts classroom.

Resistance to the Teaching of Contemporary Drama in the English Classroom

1) Resistance to the Teaching of Dramatic Texts:
There is a great deal of resistance on the part of many teachers who feel that, "the teaching of drama in an English class is really meaningless: since plays are written to be seen and heard, students can acquire drama appreciation only by seeing plays performed or by actually participating in them directly" (Veidemanis, 544). According to Veidemanis, a high school teacher and advocate for the teaching of contemporary drama in the classroom, "it is evident that far too little has been done to overcome these difficulties or to reconcile conflicting viewpoints about whether drama should be taught, what should be taught and why" (544).

The misconception here is that a play must be read but there are many other ways to bring a contemporary dramatic text in to the realm of the theatrical while in the classroom (ie. finding a filmed adaptation of the play, having the students take on the roles and perform scenes in front of the class or simply having the students participate by reading out loud to engage them and help them to relate more to the text). These examples combine the use of multiple literacies in the context of contemporary drama by bringing in students' lived experience and allowing them to be creative and dynamic in their interpretation of a given source without simply reading the text on the page. Making Media Matter suggests that contemporary literacy by definition, "must recognize that an understanding of visual, as well as verbal, texts is essential in today's world . . . We must send students the message that critical thinking extends beyond print" (Milner and Milner, 2008).

2) Resistance to the Teaching of Drama in the Classroom in any Form and it's Relation to Language Arts:
"Among childhood educators there is a growing consensus that young children learn best through two experiences: dramatic play and interaction with their environment" (Brown and Pleydell, 1999) which includes the environment of the text. Young children are always at play and always, in a sense, partaking in the world of contemporary drama. As students mature and become more and more self-conscious, there is a tendency to stop this "play" altogether and thus, stifle any aesthetic/creative sense in favour of a more structured approach where students' lived experience of "play" is left at the door of the classroom.

A number of, "researchers and theorists attribute benefits to using drama in the classroom. In Dramatics and the Teaching of Literature, James Hoetker (1969) contends that drama increases creativity, originality, sensitivity, fluency, flexibility, emotional stability, cooperation, and examination of moral attitudes, while developing communication skills and appreciation of literature. Hoetker describes drama as a method of better accommodating students whose learning styles are visual or kinesthetic, of teaching critical skills, and of producing aesthetic experiences with literature" and thus touching on this concept of multiple literacies/lived experiences as well to accomodate learning(Bruce Robbins,

There are also many other ways to bring contemporary drama in to the English classroom, no matter what the literary medium may be in order to engage the students in this time of multiple literacies when the focus based solely on the printed word is diminishing and where each student must be appreciated as an individual learner with his/her own perspectives to bring to the text. Contemporary drama can help these perspectives to emerge in any student, at any level of learning.

The Importance of Drama/ Strategies to Incorporate Drama in to the English Classroom

1) At the most immediate level, bringing drama in to the classroom by introducing activities, such as the ones that this teacher is facilitating with a literary text, shows us that it is not always about the reading of a contemporary dramatic text but rather, making any text interactive and bringing the students in to the world of the text through the use of dramatic strategies of time, place, character, conflict and action.2) At the intermediate level, not only reading but writing is also of critical and invaluable importance in the Language Arts classroom. Through writing, students can bring in elements of contemporary drama by creating. By writing a script, students will learn a very valuable way to express themselves without having to write a formal essay. If a particular contemporary text is being studied, students can model playscripts off of one of the major characters and thus address issues of character as well as plot, theme and conflict while creating their own story and possibly performing it. Milner and Milner's Making Media Matter describes this as a process of students as creators and that, "Beyond it's natural appeal, asking students to be producers [or creators] invites them to be active language users" as well (Milner and Milner, 2008). By promoting multiple literacies, teachers are encouraging the use of language whether it be based on a contemporary play or any other form of literature and the use of contemporary drama in the classroom facilitates this.3) Another strategy to incorporate contemporary drama in to the English classroom is to contact your local theatre guilds and to invite a playwright/director in to the classroom to engage the students and allow them to see beyond the text in to the technical world of the theatre and how it relates to the playscript that they are engaging in. In this sense you are introducing multiple literacies in to the classroom by engaging in the performative aspect of the text.Below are some websites based around this theme that may be useful for teachers looking for ways to incorporate contemporary drama techniques/strategies in to their classrooms including some ideas for mini lessons involving contemporary drama:

Assessment Activities

This is where the use of multiple literacies can come in to play to enhance the experience of the study of contemporary drama in order to create an effective assessment tool that not only highlights the importance of drama but also it's importance in the context of literacy as a whole.

1) Have your students read a contemporary dramatic play and have a discussion in relation to plot, theme, character and conflict. After you have discussed the play and it's various elements:

A. Have the students break up in to smaller groups of 3-4

B. Have them choose an element of the play that was the most appealing to them whether it be an element of plot, a particular character or conflict, moment within the script, etc.

C. Each group of students must write an alternate script based on the play that they read (either a continuation of the story or a completely new story in a contemporary context but using the elements of the play discussed in class) and allow the students to present the adaptation in any form that they choose. For example:
  • Students can create a news broadcast of an event that took place in relation to the play/characters of the play
  • Students can continue the script with their own adaptations to character/conflict/plot
  • Students can create a talk show segment where characters from the script are brought onstage and interviewed

Allow students to be as creative as they would like with this assessment activity but make sure to emphasize that the elements of the play discussed in class be brought in to the project in some shape or form so that the essence of the script is not lost. The activity can be based on one moment of the play, a particular scene or the play as a whole.

D. Students will present their script work to the class in whatever creative format they choose as well as submit it to the teacher for assessment.

2) Bring the students in to the world of contemporary drama by taking them to see a play in the community.

A. As a class, attend a play in the community (preferrably one that is being worked on in the classroom).

B. Explain to the students that they will play the role of critic and tell them to bring some paper and a pen to the show and whenever possible, to write notes about the play that they are viewing. (ie. during intermission or even during the show so that they have their ideas fresh in their minds)

C. Have the students go home and write a newspaper article ( as the Theatre Critic) and ask them to discuss what they saw in the production, what they liked/disliked, the theatrical conventions employed, how the dramatic interpretation differed from the text that they read in class, etc.

*Both of these assessment activities touch appropriately on this concept of contemporary drama and it's place in the Language Arts classroom while bringing in this concept of lived student knowledge by incorporating multiple literacies/media literacies that are ingrained in the lives of students today. By bringing these literacies to the forefront, you as a teacher are encouraging not only a reading of the text but a complete experience of the text while using strategies based in contemporary drama.*