Authored By: Rachel Chuvalo Creative Drama Is | Philosohical Contributions Leading to the Development of Creative Drama In Education | Integration of Creative Drama into the Curriculum | Theoretical Frameworks in Support of Creative Drama: Reader Response Theory and Common Place Location | PRACTICAL USES OF CREATIVE DRAMA IN THE CLASSROOM: WRITING IN ROLE, HOTSEAT, TABLEAUX | RESULTS OF CREATIVE DRAMA IN THE LANGUAGE ARTS PROGRAM | Teacher Resources | References

Creative Drama Is

The National Council of Teachers of English defines creative drama by the following criteria:

  1. informal, done by the students for the students (as opposed to an audience);
  2. spontaneous, in both the creation of the action, and the enacting of it;
  3. a "process of guided self-discovery led by the teacher for the benefit of the students".

Through creative drama, teachers can:
  • improve oral, writing and listening skills of students
  • affect ability to analyze, make decisions, and act responsibly;
  • affect concentration and aptitude for following directions
  • encourage cooperation and interaction with others
  • encourage tolerance of all their classmates
  • increase students' motivation to learn
  • encourage and develop students'creativity and imagination

This creative approach to the Language Arts class supports student-centred learning because it allows for a focus on the needs, abilities, interests and learning styles of the students. In terms of literary interpretation, the focus of this wiki, it is imperative that students know that literature can indeed belong to them (not solely to the teacher); and that they are literally an active participant in their own learning.

Philosohical Contributions Leading to the Development of Creative Drama In Education

18th Century -"Let All the Lessons take the form of doing rather than talking"

Naturalist Philosopher Jean-Jacqes Rousseau helped to bring the notion of "experience" to the forefront of Education, being the first to substitute "acitvity for book-learning" (Coggin, 222). He encouraged the development of the natural instincts, play being the essential action of children. His influence can be seen in the work of later educators as in the excerpt below:

From The Play Way (1917) by H. Caldwell Cook, pioneering teacher and advocate of natural education in self-governing communities:
1. Proficiency and learning come not from reading and listening but from action, from doing, and from experience.

2. Good work is more often the result of spontaneous effort and free interest than of compulsion and forced application.

3. The Natural means of study in youth is play.

Rousseau's emphasis on learning through experience is captured in, "Creative Drama - A Visit to a Class" (Morton, p.627), wherein an English teacher states that "the main thing is the experience, for that's what leads to the growth and development of the participants."

19th Century - The works of Sir Charles Sherrington, renowned neurophysiologist shows that there is no movement without emotion. This idea again is reiterated in "Creative Drama - A Visit to a Class"

...that's where many teachers who try drama have trouble. They start out with verbal improv and somehow that stiflesmovement - at least free movement...we're so used to thinking of students in a classroom as being almost bodyless heads." (Morton, p.626)

Integration of Creative Drama into the Curriculum

Undoubtedly, those aims of the English teacher are not that different from that of the Drama teacher: both aim to inspire creativity, self expression and literacy through literary interpretation. The Ontario Curriculum for Language Grade 1-8 shows that the arts curriculum provides ample opportunity to integrate some of it's key instructional methods into the Language curriculum:

"Expectations from the arts curriculum can also be linked with language expectations to
create integrated units. The arts curriculum provides students with rich opportunities to
engage in auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic experiences that would also support learning
required in expectations in all four strands of the language curriculum. For example, roleplaying,a key component of the Drama and Dance curriculum, can be used to enhance students’ understanding as they learn to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and ideas; identify and present a variety of points of view; or explore new interpretations of texts."

(Curriculum, p.24)

Theoretical Frameworks in Support of Creative Drama: Reader Response Theory and Common Place Location

Both of these theories place the reader at the heart of literary interpretation. While Rosenblatt's Reader Response Theory claims that meaning is created through the reader's interpretation of the text - by what the particular set of words, 'stir up" in the reader, (Milner & Milner, p.176)
Sumara's Common Place Location Theory argues that meaning is created when the reader identifies with characters and plot rather than "locating interpretative truths within the text" (Schneider, Crumpler, Rogers, 54)so that identity is brought into the spotlight. In the same way as Reader Response Theory, Common Place Location states that a location created between the reader and the text can never look the same because we are always creating a new self based on new experiences. In Process Drama and Multiple Literacies, Carmen L. Medina explores how through drama, students bring their "linguistic, cultural, and personal resources to make sense of particular literary experiences in the classroom." (Schneider, Crumpler, Rogers, 53)


Medina and asserts that "providing curricular engagements such as drama...invites children to articulate multiple ways in which they perceive texts and self." Futher, she claims that these interpretations serve to explore "the relationship bewteen the issues in the text and the histories and present circustances of their own lives and others." She carries out her study in a classroom. With a group of five fifth grade students, all recently immigrated from spanish speaking countries, the common theme of immigration and English education is explored through My Diary from Here to There, the story of Amanda and her brother Raul, who have moved from Mexico to Los Angeles. Through a drama structure known as "Writing in Role" students write character diaires, assuming the role of the character(s) in the story. Because of the connection bewteen the students and the text, the student is expressing her own feelings through the voice of Amanda:Student:
Hi Diary: You know, today I feel bad and at the same time I feel sad because I am leaving my best friend and the country where I was born. Me and my family do not know when we will return. And at the same time I feel happy because I am going to meet a new city and new people but that is all right I will never forget who I am...
(Schneider,Crumpler, Rogers, 61)
The underlined statement significantly highlites cultural identity as the way in which this student is identitfying with the main character. Hotseating was used next, in which students enacting a role are questioned by their peers to explore further aspects of the character. This technique is most effective when students are asked to brainstorm thoughtful questions that perhaps arose in their minds but were never answered in the text. In this session, linguistic identity - the conflict between the students' identification with their mother tongue and the necessary use of English is brought to life. In the dialogue, we see how students engagement with the text becomes personal and meaningful as spontaneously, they experience the struggle Amanda and her brother experience in the story. Significantly, all students - not only "Amanda" get to experience this as the teacher asks them to speak English. *represents the English translation
FRANCISCO: A donde naciste Amanda? *Where was Amanda born
TEACHER: Can you ask in English?
FRANCISCO: Oh.TEACHER: What do you want to say?
FRANCISCO: Where are you from? [Silence]
IVONNE (AMANDA): Ciudad Juarez. I am from Ciudad Juarez.
YOLANDA: Tu soportas a tu hermano? *Do you get along with your brother
TEACHER: Can you say it in English?
YOLANDA: Es que no se como se dice. *I don't know how
CARMEN (Medina,significantly) Do you get along with your brother?
IVONNE (AMANDA): Como se dice "hay veces"? *How do you say,"sometimes"?
CARMEN: Sometimes.
IVONNE: Sometimes.
(Schneirder, Crumpler, Rogers, 62)
Lastly, Medina encourages the students to use Tableaux - frozen images in which characters and portrayed through a visual representation of emotion and/or action. This can be created and presented in small groups, and interpreted by the class. Medina asks the students represent Amanda and Raul's first day of school. The students have related with the main characters again through linguistic identity, having created "an image of the teacher standing up in the front of the class pointing with her hand to the chalkboard. At the same time a group of girls was represented in the back of the classroom looking at an open book and talking amongst themselves." (Scneider,Crumpler, Rogers, 63) In this image the students see themselves, not just the characters of the story, in their struggle to understand the goings on of the classroom with little knowledge of the language of instruction. Scene from "Dangerous Minds" reminds us of the implications of culture in students' interpretation of literary texts. The film demonstrates how an innner city English school teacher is finally successful in engaging her students. This has come about completely spontaneously - through one of the students identifying through his own experience with the lines she has read from a text. Other students in turn bring their own personal experience to the discussion and thus create for a consensus based on shared experiences. Particular to this film is that all the students are from classically underpriveled groups in the united states (ie. Latinos and African Americans); so that culture becomes the experience through which the students generate personal meaning. (please watch up to 2:00 minute mark only)


Significantly, the students portrayed in Dangerous Minds are said, "underachievers".
In "Drama and Language Arts: Will Drama Improve Student Writing?" a fifth grade teacher introduces a drama driven language arts unit in order to understand the ways in which drama can improve writing skills. Findings are significant only in those middle and lower range students, and
"These findings point to what many in arts education have maintained for quite some time: mainly that the arts, and in particular drama, engage students who do not excel in traditional school activities and allow them the opportunity to express themselves in ways that do not rely on standard paper and pencil-type activities. What is significant is that the studentsin this study were able to translate those experiences (namely those from the drama) into the paper and pencil activity of writing and increase their abilities to succeed in the more traditional tasks of school. The only area where scores did not increase significantly was in conventions, which makes sense given thatdrama would have little effect on items such as grammar, spelling and punctuation."

(McKean and Sudol, 30).

In Just Playing the Part:Engaing Adolescents in Drama & Literacy the creative process and what it does for writing is revealed through a look at TeenStreet, a community theatre ensemble for adolescents. Notably, those who thrived in TeenStreet had previously had "bad experiences" with literacy in the education system, specifically with writing. Whereas literacy had formally not been relevant to their lives, "Imaginal Interaction" transformed their use of writing, many members claiming a new "understanding and appreciation of literacy." (Worthman, 9) The text used was the personal experiences of teens, and the motivation to write was to interpret and revise this "dramatic storying". TeenStreet members speak of their experience as having "transformed their understanding of writing, creativity, and themselves." (Worthman, 9) Their experience was transformative because many had not previously had their writing considered or responded to.

Teacher Resources

"Everything I read tells me that involving students in learning through drama is effective and enjoyable, but nothing tells me how to do it"
A great resource for integrating creative drama into course content is Drama Schemes Themes & Dreama: How to Plan, Structure, and assess classroom events that engage all learners. It includes various forms of drama including movement, improvisation, and communication, and has A LOT of great ideas, some of which include:

A Playlist - Students create a playlist of a character in literature, or even the song the character is listening to at a moment in time, with an explanation of why the song was chosen. (Swartz, Nyman, 45)

Identity Mask - Students make masks to represent themselves - whatsymbols/features should be used to represent their individual identity? (Swartz, Nyman, 45)

What Are You Thinking - Bring a tableaux to life by having students say what their character might be thinking or feeling in the moment represented by the tableaux. Students can do this in turn, with a tap on the shoulder or a point in a direction. (Swartz, Nyman, 45)

There are also great ideas for Assessment,this one focuses on Communication:

Does the Student....

  • Reveal thoughts willingly
  • Explain and describe ideas clearly
  • Share personal connections and experiences
  • Accept and build on the ideas as of others
  • Make positive suggestions to complete tasks and build the drama
  • Raise significant questions
  • Communicate ideas through art, movement and/or writing
  • Communicat thoughtfully in role
  • Revise and rehearse to interpret and present text out loud
  • Seem to enjoy exploring texts
(Swartz, Nyman, 89)


Coggin, Philip. The Uses of Drama|: A Historical Survey of drama and education from Greece to the present day. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1956. Print

Schneider, Jenifer Jasinski, Thomas Crumpler, Theresa Rogers. Process Drama and Multiple Literacies: Addressing Social, Cultural, and Ethical Issues. Portsmouth, NH: Heinenmann, 2006. Print

Christopher Worthman. "Just Playing the Part": Engaging Adolescents in Drama & Literacy. New York and London: Teachers College Press, 2002. Print

Swartz, Larry, Debbie Nyman. Drama Schemes, Themes & Dreams: How to plan, structure, and assess classroom events that engage all learners. Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers, 2010. Print

The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8 | The Arts The Arts, 2009 (revised)

National Council of English Teachers. 1998-2010. accessed Oct 11, 2010.

Beatrice K Morton. "Creative Drama - A Visit to a Class" The English Journal Vol. 62, No. 4 (Apr., 1973), pp.622-627
McKean, Barbara and Sudol, Peg(2002) 'Drama and Language Arts: Will Drama Improve StudentWriting?', Youth Theatre Journal, 16: 1, 28 — 37

Maples, Joellen(2007) 'English Class at the Improv: Using Improvisation to Teach Middle SchoolStudents Confidence, Community, and Content', The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues andIdeas, 80: 6, 273 — 277

Flynn, Rosalind M.(1989) 'English and History via Drama: Ways and Means', The Clearing House: A
Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 63: 2, 79 — 81