||Activities that help make the study of English
interesting ought to be encouraged and, as such, poems that lend themselves to
dramatisation should be used more widely in our schools than at present. These poems can
be used regularly in class and, like reading, spelling, or composition, can be an integral
part of the teaching scheme for the year. Some poems that can be dramatised are The
Highwayman by Alfred Neyes, The Pigtail by W. M. Thackeray, Lord
Randal and The House That Jack Built. Teachers themselves can think of
many other poems to suit the needs of their class.
One of the advantages of dramatising a poem is that the entire class can take part in the
activity. Apart from the individual lines, there can be a chorus for the story
part of the poem, which can include the whole class. Each pupil plays a part,
according to his/her ability.
For classroom acting, elaborate sets are not required. Any material at hand can be used
with the classroom itself as the stage. Thus, it is an activity that is easy to handle.
||Step One: Explanation of the poem.
The poem (if short) is written on the blackboard to be copied by the pupils, but a long
poem like The Diverting History of John Gilpin by William Cowper should be
duplicated for the students. An explanation of the poem should be brief. The meaning grows
as the poem is acted out, thus making a detailed explanation a waste of time.
Step Two: Dramatisation of the poem. The cast is selected and
the play is rehearsed. At least four trial lesson are necessary before a short poem can be
dramatised without help from the teacher. A long poem will take longer because the whole
poem cannot be rehearsed in one lesson period and has to be done section by section. It
also means that when a long poem is finally dramatised in its entirety, two lesson periods
might be necessary, or else the play would have to be acted out after school.
Sometimes it is possible to select an extract for dramatisation from a long poem. This can
be done, for example, in the case of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert
Browning. The pupils read the whole poem, but dramatise it only up to the point where the
rats are going to be drowned, ending with the lines:
Until they came to the River Weser, Wherein all plunged and perished.
Even so, the pupils practiced almost to the end of the term. The final presentation took
three consecutive lesson periods.
Costumes are not essential for classroom acting, but the play is enjoyed all the more when
the actors are dressed up. Therefore, costumes, if they are available, should be worn.
Right from the start, the pupils must be encouraged to memorise their lines. The success
of a play depends on expressive acting, which is hampered if the actors have to keep
looking at their lines. When a part is long, the teacher can break it up into suitable
units of 48 lines. For the first day, the pupil memorises the first four lines, the
second, the next four, and so on.
In the case of a lengthy chorus as in Lochinvar, there can be two or three
sets of pupils taking part, each set memorising a section of the chorus. They stand in
rows on one side of the classroom and move back as they finish their part.
Although a large audience cannot be accommodated in a classroom, at least one other person
(such as the principal or another teacher) should be present on the day of the final
performance. The actors then perform as well as they can, which helps give them a feeling
Below are instructions for acting out The Owl and The Pussy Cat by Edward
Lear. One would naturally expect a poem of this nature to appeal to children of eight and
nine, but it was acted and enjoyed by a class of 14- and 15-year-olds. As W. R. Lee has
pointed out, Probably nearly all of us are contented to be more childish in a
foreign language than in our own, or, rather, we do not in a foreign language find the
sort of games and songs, pictures and activities, unduly childish which seem in our mother
tongue to be so. (English Language Teaching, XXVI, I, 1971. p. 1.) What is
important is that activities of this kind enliven our lessons, and make the study of
English enjoyable. Psychologically they are an aid to learning.
The The Owl and the Pussy Cat naturally breaks into the following roles: Owl,
Pussy Cat, Piggy-wig, Turkey, Bong- trees, Moon, and Chorus. When the play opens, the
chorus is on one side of the room. In front of the chorus is a boat (bench preferably
covered with a green cloth) and the oars (poles). On the other side are the bong-trees
(pupils dressed in green and carrying branches of leaves). In front of them is a table and
two chairs. The table is laden with mince (assorted sweets) and
quince (slices of fruit). There is also a large spoon on the table. The play
follows on the next page.
SALLY is a teacher at the English Teachers College at Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.