USING THEATER TECHNIQUES TO DEVELOP EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS: A THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE By Mitul Trivedi

Abstract

Theatre can foster language skills such as reading, writing, speaking and listening by creating a socio-cultural context that further helps acquiring language in its true vitality. A theatrical activity is a channelled language teaching apparatus that involves all of the students interactively. Theatre, thus, can also provide the means for connecting students’ cognitive as well as extra-cognitive behaviour as it enables students to take chances with language and to experience the connection between rational thought and physical action. Teaching English as a foreign language inevitably involves a balance between receptive and productive skills; here theatre can effectively deal with this requirement. Through a theatrical activity, a class would address, practice and integrate reading, writing, speaking and listening. It also fosters and maintains students’ boosting and motivation, by providing an opportunity which is full of fun and entertainment. In so doing, it engages feelings and attention and enriches the learners’ experience of the language.

Keywords: Theatre techniques, Effective communication skills, Teaching english as foreign language, Learning and development.

INTRODUCTION

There are several rational assumptions in favour of using theatrical techniques and tactics in the language classroom. First of all it is entertaining and fun-oriented, and can provide inspiration to learn. It can definitely offer varied opportunities for different uses of language and because it engages sentimental as well as rational dialogue, it can provide rich experience of language for the participants.  Maley (2005) listed many points supporting the use of theatrical techniques and these are as following:

  1. It integrates language skills in an obvious way. Careful listening is a key tenet. Natural verbal expression is integral to most of the communicative activities; and many of them require the skills of reading and writing, both as part of the input and the output.
  2. It involves verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication, thus bringing together both mind and body (intellectual as well as physical), and restoring the balance between physical and intellectual aspects of learning.
  3. It focalizes upon both cognitive and affective domains, thus restoring the importance of sentiments as well as rationality.
  4. By fully contextualizing the language, it brings the classroom the desired interaction to real-life situation through an intensive focus on ‘semantic value’ of interaction.
  5. The emphasis on whole-person learning and multi-sensory inputs helps learners to capitalize on their strength and to extend their range. In doing so, it offers unequalled opportunities for catering to learner differences.
  6. It facilitates self-awareness (and awareness of others as well), self-esteem and confidence; and through this, motivation is developed.
  7. Being motivated is likewisely fostered and is sustained through the variety and sense of expectancy generated by the activities.
  8. There is a natural transfer of responsibility for learning from teacher to learners which is where it actually, in situation, belongs.
  9. It heartens an open, rationally exploratory style of learning where subjective creativity and the personal imagination are given enough exposure to develop. This, in turn, promotes risk-taking, which is an essential element in effective language learning.
  10. It definitely has a affirmative result on classroom dynamics and atmosphere, thus facilitating the formation of a acquainted group, which learns together.
  11. It is an ever-remembering experience.
  12. It requires limited resources. For most of the time, all a sincere teacher needs is a ‘roomful of human beings’.

Fleming (2006) rightly pointed out that theatrical techniques are inevitably learner-centered because they can only function through dynamic collaboration. They are hence social activity and thus represent much of the theatrical inputs that have emphasized the social and cultural, as opposed to the purely subjective, aspects of learning. The use of theatre techniques and activities in the English classroom provides umpteen opportunities for foreign language learners to use the language in socio-cultural “situations”. Besides, some research studies, (Maley and Duff 2001, Phillips, 2003) suggest that theatre activities can encourage interesting ways of motivating language learners and teachers. With theatre a resource as well as the target group can play, move, act and learn at the same time (Philips, 2003). Also the use of theatre activities has transparent advantages for language learning regarding motivation, the use of language in ‘context’, teaching and learning cross curricular content, etc (Philips, 2003).

There are several studies that support the benefits of theatre in foreign language learning, such as Maley and Duff (2001), Brumfit (1991) and Philips (2003). Dramatic activities, according to Maley and Duff (1979),

…are activities which give the students an opportunity to use his own personality in creating the material in which part of the language class is to be based.

Theatrical activities can provide students with a prospect to use language to express various sentiments, to solve cognitive as well as extra-cognitive problems, to make decisions, to socialize etc. Theatrical activities are also meaningful in the effectiveness of oral communication skills, as well as reading and writing. Theatre activities help students to communicate in the foreign language including those with limited lexical ability. (Aldavero, 2008).

There are several ways in which theatre can be defined. And to mention only one of them, Susan Holden (1982), takes theatre to mean “any kind of activity where learners are asked either to portray themselves or to portray someone else in an imaginary situation”. In other words, theatre is concerned with the world of imagination – beyond self; it asks the targeted to project himself/herself imaginatively into alien situation, outside the four walls of classroom, or into the skin and persona of another cfreature”.

As mentioned before, theatre can foster the oral communication of the students. The important question is how a theatrical event does it and let our discussion now focus on this subtle question.

WHY USE THEATRE TECHNIQUES IN EFL CLASSROOM?

It is beyond doubt that using theatre and theatrical activities has natural advantages for language learning and acquisition. It encourages students to communicate, it gives them the opportunity to interact, even with restricted language, using non-verbal expressions, such as body movements and facial expression. There are also a number of other responsible factors which make theatre a very essential tool in the language classroom. Desiatova (2009) outlined some of the areas where theatre proves to be very meaningful to language learners and teachers, and they are listed below:

To expose learners to an experience (dry-run) of using the language for genuine interaction and real life purposes; and by generating a need to interact. Dialogue is an ideal way to persuade learners to guess the meaning of unknown language in a specific ‘context’. Learners will need to use a mixture of language structures and functions if they genuinely wish to interact successfully.

  1. To make language learning an active, natural, and a motivating experience.
  2. To help learners increase the self-belief and self-esteem needed to use the language spontaneously. By taking a particular role, students can escape from their everyday identity and “hide behind” another character. When you give students special roles, it encourages them to be that character and abandon their shyness.
  3. To bring the real world into the classroom (problem solving, research, consulting dictionaries, real time and space, cross-curricular content). When using drama the primary objective is usually be more than linguistic, teachers can use topics from other subjects: the students can act out scenes from history, they can work on ideas and issues that run through the curriculum . Theatre can also be used to introduce the culture of the new language and language-background, through narratives and customs, and with a context for working on different kinds of behaviour.
  4. To try to be like the way students naturally obtain language through play, make-believe and contextual interaction.
  5. To make what is learned memorable through direct experience and emotive learning for learners with differing learning styles.
  6. When students thaetricalize, they use all the channels (sight, hearing, and physical as well as emotive bodies) and each student is expected to draw to the one that suits them most naturally. This means they would all be actively involved in the activity and the language would ‘enter’ through the channel most aptly suited to them.
  7. To stimulate learners’ rational and extra-rational channels.
  8. To develop students’ ability to empathize with others and thus become better communicators.
  9. To help learners attain language by focusing on the message they are conveying, not the form of their utterance.

TARGET-GRUOP COMMUNICATION

Contextualizing theatre techniques to teach English language results in real socio-cultural communication competence, involving thoughts, sentiments, appropriateness and adaptability to the presumed foreign language (Barbu, 2007). Teaching English may not fulfil its ultimate objective. Even after years of teaching English language, the students may not gain the confidence of using the language within and beyond the classroom. The conventional English class hardly provides the students an opportunity to exercise language in this manner and develop fluency in it, and this is because students lack the sufficient exposure to spoken English beyond the class as well as the lack of exposure to native speakers who can communicate with the students on real-life matters. So an alternative to this is teaching English through theatrical techniques because it gives a context for listening and meaningful language production, leading the students or forcing them to use their own language resources, and hence, enhancing their linguistic abilities. Using theatrical techniques in teaching English also offers situations for reading and writing. By using theatre techniques to teach English, the repetitiveness of a conservative English class can be broken and the syllabus can be transformed into one which prepares students to face their immediate world better as competent users of the English language because they get apt opportunities to use the language in its socio-cultural functionality. Theatre, undoubtedly, involves, and hence improves, verbal communication, as a form of communication methodology; it helps students make use the language conceptually as well as contextually. Maley and Duff (1979) state, “theatre puts back some of the forgotten emotional content into language.” If one surveys the recent communication theories, one fact would be apparent that appropriacy and meaning are more important than form or structure of the language. Theatre can definitely help to restore the totality of the situation by reversing the learning process, beginning with meaning and moving towards language form. This makes language learning more meaningful and attempts to prepare the students for real-life situations. Earl Stevick (1980) states that language learning must appeal to the creative intuitive aspect of personality as well as the conscious and rational part.

Theatrical activities can be used to provide the learners with the opportunities to be involved actively in the process of interaction. The activities involve the students’ whole personality and not only their cognitive process. Effective learning can be achieved when the student involves himself/herself in the tasks and is motivated to use the target language.

Morrow (1981, as cited in Sam 1990) stated that communicative activities should conform to some principles : students should know what they are engaged into and its rational objectives. In communication, it is required to work in the context as a unit. Communication cannot be fractured into its various components. Theatre can be considered a communicative activity since it fosters communication among learners and offers plenty of opportunities to contextualize the purposes of communicative act.

Vernon, with many other scholars in the discipline, supports the view that these conversational uses of language also encourage fluency. He further states that while learning a play, students are encouraged to listen to, potentially read and then repeat their lines over a period of time. By repeating the words and phrases they become acquainted with them and become able to utter them with increasing fluency by encouraging self-expression, theatre motivates students to use language confidently and creatively.

Speaking is the most common and important means of a communication act among human beings. The key to effective communication is speaking clearly, efficiently and articulately, as well as using effective voice projection, speaking is linked to success in life, as it occupies an important position both individually and socially (Ulas, 2008).

Several scientific investigations have demonstrated that creative, instructional and educational theatrical activities have positive input to the general education practice and that these activities improve oral skills. According to Makita (1995) dramatic and role-playing (simulations) activities are valuable classroom techniques that persuade students to participate actively in the learning process. These theatrical activities can take different forms and that the teacher can provide students with a variety of learning experience by developing different methodologies according to the needs of his students. These role-playing activities facilitate the teacher to create a supportive, enjoyable classroom setting in which students are encouraged and motivated to effectively learn the target language. Theatre has a significant function especially in specifically improving acquired/improved oral skills among the basic language skills. Smith (1984) noted, although theatre has existed as a potential language teaching tool for hundreds of years, it has only been in the last thirty years or so that its applicability as a language learning technique to improve oral skills has come to the forefront. Regarding the point that theatre has an important influence on language teaching, Goodwin (2001) states, theatre is a particularly effective apparatus for pronunciation teaching because various constituents of communicative competence (discourse, intonation, pragmatic awareness, non verbal communication) can be exercised in an integrated way. However, there are some other elements involved in acquiring oral communication skills : adding efficiency to communication and theatre activities facilitate the improvement of these elements. Whitear (1998) approach in this regard is,

…speaking is not only about words, structure and pronunciation, but also feelings, motivations and meanings that are valuable benefits for bringing drama to the language learner. Drama techniques and activities to develop communication skills through fluency, pronunciation, cooperative learning, confidence building and intercultural awareness may be added also to the above mentioned elements.

One of the central tenets of the social aspect of oral communication skills is the ability to deliver a speech effectively and with conviction. Theatre appears to be the ideal method for learners to develop confidence and hence conviction. In this regard, Pietro (1987) says, students who are not by nature communicative often appear more willing to join in the discourse when they realize that they are not dominated by any dominant figure.

Sam (1990) agrees by stating, theatrical activities can be used to provide opportunities for the students to be involved actively, the activities involve the students, whole personality and not merely his cognitive process. Peregoy and Boyle (2008) stated,

Drama activities provide students with a variety of contextualized and scaffold activities that gradually involve more participation and more oral language proficiency, they are also non- threatening and a lot of fun.

Desiatova (2009) stated that using theatre and theatrical activities has clear advantages for language learning. It encourages students to communicate; it gives them the opportunity to interact, even with limited language, using non-verbal communication, such as body movements and facial expressions. Students’ involvement in the negotiation and construction of meaning during participation in a theatrical situation allows them to develop insights into the relationship between context and language, and provides them with an opportunity to link the language they are learning to the world around them (Maley and Duff, 1978). Theatre has been credited with the capability to empower learners and allow them some ownership and control over their own learning (Wilburn, 1992). Working in theatrical situatedness allows students to test out various situations, registers and vocabulary in a real way without having to suffer any real consequences (Neelands, 1992). Kao and O, Neill (1998) propose that confidence levels increase when students have something to talk about and, most importantly, when they know how to express their ideas.

MIME

John Dougill (1987) defines mute-act/mime as ‘a non-verbal representation of an idea or story through gesture, bodily movement and expression’. Mime emphasizes the paralinguistic, or in a more subtle way an extra-linguistic, features of communication. It builds up the consciousness of learners by encouraging them to perform. Mime helps develop students’ sense of imagination and observation and can also be quite simply ‘a source of great entertainment’ with students tending ‘to be very enthusiastic about this aspect of drama’, (Hayes, 1984). To the language teacher, one could generally say that mime is acting out a concept or an idea or a narrative through gesture, bodily movement and expression, without using words. Savignon (1983) states that the mime helps learners become comfortable with the idea of performing in front of peers without the concern for language and that although no language is used during a mime it can be a spur to use language. John Dougill (1987) supports this when he says that not only is mime one of the most meaningful activities for language learning, it is also one of the most potent and relatively undemanding. Its strength lies in that although no language is used during the mime, the mime itself can act as a catalyst to generate and elicit language ‘before, during and after’ the activity. Mime is a significant way of reinforcing memory by means of visual association, and recall of language items is assisted whenever an associated image is presented (Rose, 1985). Mime can help to memorize language in the minds of the students.

Mime can generate language use where explanation is required. Teacher’s instructions and the discussion of the students, if the mime involves pair work or group work, learners normally find it easier and more motivating to produce language when they have to accomplish a task (Ur, 1981). If the mime is then performed before the rest of the class, the target language can be usefully employed for evaluating and interpreting what has been seen.

ROLE PLAY

According to Blatner (2002) Role Play is a systematic process for exploring the issues involved in complex social situations. McCaslin (1990) concurs with this viewpoint by contending that the focus is on the value that the assumption of the role has for the participant rather than for the development of an art. In role play the participants are assigned roles which they act out in a given situation. According to Kodotchigova (2001) role play prepares L2 learners for L2 communication in a different social and cultural context. The purpose of role play is educative rather than therapeutic and the situations examined are based on objectivity. Role play enables participants to intensify previous experience and to translate it into characters for the narrative structure. In this way, according to Wrentschur and Altman (2002), the participants become able to adopt roles hither to alien to them, and to try what it feels like to be on the other side for once. The main benefit of role play from the point of view of language teaching, as well as learning, is that it enables a flow of language to be produced that might be otherwise difficult or probably impossible to create. Role play can also help recreate the language students use in different situation, the sort of language students are likely to need outside the classroom (Livingstone, 1983). By simulating reality, role play allows students to prepare and practice for possible future situations.

Conceptual basis for role play could be obtained from situations that teachers and learners experience in their own subjective, to be more precise, from their socio-cultural, lives, from books, television programmes and movies or from their daily interactions with other people. After choosing a context for a role play, the next step to follow is to provide ideas on how this situation may develop.

Broadly speaking role-play involves being an imaginary person usually in a hypothetical situation and sometimes in a real one (Venugopal, 1986). Livingstone (1983) sees role play as a class activity which gives the students the opportunities to practice the language aspects of role-behaviour, the actual role they may need outside the classroom. According to Richards (1985) role–play involves a situation. From the above definitions we can come up with the conclusion that role-play is thus an activity which requires a person to take on a role that is real or imaginary. It involves spontaneous interaction of participants as they attempt to complete a given task.

SIMULATION

Jones (1980) calls a simulation as case study where learners become participants in an event and shape the course of the event. The learners have roles, functions and responsibilities within a structured situation involving problem solving. Simulations are generally held to be a ‘structured set of circumstances’ that mirror real life and in which participants act as instructed. Jones (1982) defined simulations as ‘a reality of functions in a simulated and structures environment’. A simulation activity is one where the learners discuss a problem within a defined setting. In simulation activities, the students are either performing themselves or someone else. Simulation activities are also interaction activities with various categories of ‘dialogues’. One category would be social formulae and dialogues such as greeting, parting, introductions, compliments, and complaints. Simulation exercises can teach students how to function in a social situation with the appropriate social necessities.

There is a thin line between role play and simulation. These two theatrical activities usually overlap. Role play is frequently used within simulation in role-simulation, the participant remains the same individual while reacting to a task that has been simulated on the basis of his/her own personal or professional experience. In language teaching the differences between role play and simulation are not that important. As Livingston (1983) pointed out ‘the main concern for the language teacher is the opportunities role play and simulation provide’.

IMPROVIATION

Landy (1982) defines improvisation as ‘an unscripted, unrehearsed, spontaneous set of actions’ in response to minimal directions from a teacher, usually including statements of who one is, where one is and what one is doing there. The focus is thus on identifying with characters, enacting roles and entering into their inner experience of imagination and fantasy. And according to McCashin (1990) the focus of improvisation is on helping learners to discover their own resources from which their most imaginative ideas and strongest feelings flow, participants gain freedom as self-discipline and the ability to work with others develops. Hodgson and Richards (1974) in their book improvisation, define the term as ‘spontaneous response to the unfolding of unexpected situation’.

The implementation of techniques that aims to improve the Foreign Language learners’ confidence level would invariably lead to improvement in the use of the target language. Improvisation provides learners with opportunities to not only improve their language communication skills, but also to improve their confidence which will ultimately lead to the development of positive concepts. Before beginning the improvisation session the teacher or the facilitator has to involve the establishment of a context which serves to inform the participants where they are and what they are expected to portray in their inter-relationships with other characters. Since this is an unscripted, unrehearsed drama exercise, the participants are at liberty to make their own spontaneous contribution as the play unfold. This entails that they have the freedom to add their own words and develop their characters in the ways which they would like to. Thus one of the advantages of improvisation is the level of freedom that the participants are able to exercise during the execution of the creative session.

 

ROLE OF THE TEACHER

In using theatre techniques in the classroom, the teacher becomes a facilitator rather than an authority or the source of knowledge. Hoetker (1969) warns,

…the teacher who too often imposes his authority or who conceives of drama as a kind of inductive method for arriving at preordained correct answer, will certainly vitiate the developmental values of drama and possibly its educational value as well.

Classroom theatrical activity is most useful in exploring topics when there are no singular, correct answer or interpretation, and when divergence is more interesting than conformity and truth is interpretable. As Douglas Barnes (1968) puts it ‘Education should strive not for the acceptance of one voice, but for an active exploration of many voices.’

Using drama activities and techniques inside the classroom has changed the role of the teacher. The class becomes more of a learner-centered rather than a teacher-centered one. The role of a teacher is merely to be a facilitator than the ultimate source of knowledge and wisdom.

CONCLUSION

Drama is an appealing teaching strategy which promotes cooperation, collaboration, self-control, goal-oriented learning as well as emotional intelligence skills. Drama bridges the gap between course-book dialogues and natural usage, and can also help to bridge a similar gap between the classroom and real life situations by providing insights into how to handle tricky situations. Drama strengthens the bond between thought and expression in language, provides practice of supra-segmental and Para-language, and offers good listening practice. If drama is considered as a teaching method in the sense of being part of the eclectic approach to language teaching, then it can become a main aid in the acquisition of communicative competence. Drama activities facilitate the type of language behaviour that should lead to fluency, and if it is accepted that the learners want to learn a language in order to make themselves understood in the target language, then drama does indeed further this end. One of the greatest advantages to be gained from the use of drama is that students become more confident in their use of English by experiencing the language in operation. Drama in the English language classroom is ultimately indispensable because it gives learners the chance to use their own personalities. It draws upon students’ natural abilities to imitate and express themselves, and if well-handled should arouse interest and imagination. Drama encourages adaptability, fluency, and communicative competence. It puts language into context, and by giving learners experience of success in real-life situations it should arm them with confidence for tackling the world outside the classroom.

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[1] Research Scholar, H M Patel Institute of English, Training and Research, Sardar Patel University, Vallabh Vidyanagar. Anand, Gujarat.