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Written by Administrator Gordon Hensley   
Friday, 05 February 2010 03:13

Process Drama

What is Process Drama?

Process drama is working through a problem or situation using improvisation as a group. Improvisation is essentially "making it up as you go along." Most younger children have a difficult time with Improvisation, but some excel with impressive creativity. Older students (3rd -6th grades) get the most out of improvised dramas and activities. The "process" aspect of this style of creative drama is that the students often lead the lesson as they make discoveries. The class is working for the experience-the process. The experience of creating a character and making decisions on the spot can be a great way to encourage students to be proud of themselves and carefully choose their choices. Improvisation also lends itself to learning listening, control, mental agility, spontaneity, and cooperating with others.

This informal teaching style may appear out of control to many, as it makes the teacher look vulnerable. Facilitating a process drama requires some flexibility in thinking and some thought about where you think the students may "go," before the lesson is actually taking place. It also requires a teacher to step in and "redirect" if required for safety. In these respects, process drama is as structured as any other learning activity.

Why should my students use Process Drama?

Studies show that experiential learning educates the whole child, and prepares students for the real world. The outcome of shared work and learning through doing far exceeds that of holding a learner to a teacher's pace.

Where does Process Drama fit into my curriculum?

Since the only requirement is for students to work their way out of a "mess" or situation, you may choose any type of curricular area. Social skills are a great starting point in process drama, but you may also include historical scenarios (slaves trying to escape for freedom, etc.), or concepts that need to be resolved.

How do I start?

In the beginning, Improvisation can be very intimidating and students may be reluctant to "play." There are several obstacles in learning to trust Improvisation. They include:
"I can't"- students that are intimidated by theatrical performances

Risking- students are often reluctant to explore, to risk

Fear of failure- students fear failure in front of teachers and peers

Brain freeze- students have problems coming up with ideas repeatedly

Concentration- students get hung up on this "only being a class" and split their focus

Quick thinking- students may not have much practice thinking on their feet.

As a teacher, you must be willing to side coach and offer ideas to help students out, and keep them cooperative. Improvisation improves with practice. Consider some of the following tips on facilitating improvisation in your classroom.

Anything goes… within reason- have a wide spectrum of acceptance.

Conflict- avoid conflicts by accepting ideas and compromising them.

Saying no- improvisation must have yes answers to move forward. Encourage "yes!"

Encourage specifics- point out good, specific choices and encourage others.

Pantomime- If you have difficulty saying it… pantomime it!

Playwright on your feet- make it up as you go. Play now-critique later.

Discuss- point out good ideas and foster others.

Just do it!- jump in and have fun. Try not to be critical …be fun!

From Improv! A Handbook for Actors by Greg Atkins

Research shows that the main reason many students benefit from process drama is that they can often relate. This is why it is very important to make sure you deal with a "universal." A universal is a concept, idea, feeling, situation, or oppression that most people (hopefully everyone) can relate to. An example would be asking students to act out two types of people. Let's say the Reds and the Blues. The Reds make the Blues work for them, burn down their homes, and treat them very badly. This process drama is universal because it links to slavery, power struggle, control, the holocaust, prisoners of war, and more! Students are guaranteed to connect with some aspect of the lesson.

Some other universals include:

Decide on your goals or learning area (area of exploration).
This can be as specific or vague as you like. Choose what you are comfortable with. A goal could be an educational goal, or a class goal. Your learning area may be the Civil War, or Name-calling. Because this work is exploratory, this decision is very important.

Think of questions that will provoke thought and possibly lead to discovery of conflicts.

Plan your introduction.

Decide of your stages of development.

Plan closure.


There must be a clear conflict, and a moment of decision in which the students make a real-life decision rather than acting out their decision.

Include some "gray area". Choose topics that make students define themselves through the decisions they make. Stay away from clearly "right" and "wrong" decision making.

Clarify when you are in and out of role by adding a physical prop to your character (a hat, a tie, etc.).

Here's a brief breakdown of some pros and cons of traditional instruction (formal) versus process-based (informal) instruction:


Teacher is in control ...................................

The event happened "then"..........................

Learners are lead along...............................

A quick system ..........................................

Teacher translates concepts........................

Holds learner to teacher's pace...................



Teacher seems vulnerable

The event is happening now

Learners explore

May seem haphazard and non-productive

Learners discover concepts

Work, learning, and progression is shared


What does Process Drama look like in a lesson plan?

Using Process Drama in a lesson may look something like this:

Welcome students to the island of Imajah. Explain that we need to work together to create the island terrain. Play music while students create the environment. Encourage them to safely use tables, chairs, and anything else they can find.

Ask students to divide into their groups: spirals and triangles. These are unicorns and dragons, respectively. Review that both groups eat, sleep, lay eggs (yes, unicorns too!), and lead regular lives on opposite sides of the island. Highlight the fact that they have been rivals since the beginning of time, and do not get along.

Lead them in an improvised narrative about waking up in their group, finding food, and beginning their day by exploring the island. Place the egg in the center of the room. Narrate that the unicorns and the dinosaurs find the egg at the same time. Remind them to be very careful… each species only lays an egg every 100 years!

Invite each group to a meeting with the island head (you). To decide what to do about the egg. Give each group a few minutes to discuss their plans.

Hold the meeting with one group facing the other. Keep them separated. Use a stick on each side to control talking. The one with the stick speaks, then may pass it to someone else. A decision must be made. Facilitate a fair meeting.

What educational standards are met by Process Drama?

National Theatre Standard and Benchmarks
Understands the context in which theatre, film,
television, and electronic media are performed today
as well as in the past
Level 2 (Grade K-4)
Identifies and compares similar characters and
situations in stories/dramas from and about various
Understands the various settings and reasons for
creating dramas and attending theatre, film, television,
and electronic media productions
Knows ways in which theatre reflects life
Level 3 (Grade 5-8)
Understands similarities and differences among
archetypal characters (e.g., the trickster, the villain,
the warrior, the superhero) and situations in dramas
from and about various cultures and historical periods
Understands the knowledge, skills, and discipline needed
to pursue careers and avocational opportunities in
theatre, film, television, and electronic media
Understands the emotional and social impact of
dramatic performances in one's own life, in the
community, and in other cultures
Knows ways in which theatre reflects a culture
Knows how culture affects the content and production
values of dramatic performances
Understands how social concepts such as cooperation,
communication, collaboration, consensus, self-esteem,
risk taking, sympathy, and empathy apply in theatre
Level 4 (Grade 9-12)
Understands how similar themes are treated in drama
from various cultures and historical periods
Understands ways in which theatre can reveal universal
Understands similarities and differences among the lives,
works, and influence of representative theatre artists in
various cultures and historical periods
Knows cultural and historical influences on American
theatre and musical theatre
Understands ways in which personal and cultural
experiences can affect an artist's dramatic
from <http://www.mcrel.org/compendium/Benchmark.asp?SubjectID=12&StandardID=6>

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