Drama with Young ELLs

Engaging young English Language Learners through drama to: build confidence with language; give purpose to language and communication; increase comprehension; and inspire a desire to learn.

“There was a boy, he was here a couple of years and… he came in third grade from the Philippines and didn’t know any English at all. But, I know he knew how to read in his own language. And… but he was a little shy… he never really had a chance to speak much in his classroom. And so when he came to drama, at first he was a little shy. But then once he understood what was going on (because he didn’t really understand English very well, so he didn’t understand at first) but then he became a real leader in the drama class. And it was interesting to see, because here was this boy who never spoke in class. So then over a couple years in drama he was actually participating more. Now he’s on 6th grade and he’s got the confidence, and teachers can see what his skills are, what his strengths are.”  ELL Resource Teacher

Excerpts from an Evaluative Study conducted on ‘In Our Own Words,’ an ELL-focused project partially supported by the National Endowment for the Arts

"The program is quite successful in facilitating language with the LEP group. It builds vocabulary, generates opportunities for negotiation in group tasks, motivates the desire to speak and builds the confidence of the speakers. All of these aspects contribute to the development of English language proficiency."
"This drama program has clear potential to ignite the children’s confidence which then spills over to the general classroom where they start speaking more and communicating more with their classmates and teacher."

Through hands-on interactive activities and lessons geared to specific grade levels and language proficiencies, teachers develop the knowledge and skills to implement drama strategies in the ELL classroom.  The workshops build from Dan’s book, In Their Own Words: Drama with Young English Language Learners.

“I was impressed by the leadership roles some kids were taking. Dan would ask ‘who would like to be our narrator?’ and kids I have never seen volunteer in class would step forward.” Elementary ELL teacher

“Drama made me think about my own abilities. I never knew I could act and now that I realized it I’m curious about my other abilities. What am I capable of doing? I will never again doubt myself and think I can’t do something. People don’t judje you the same way you think they do. They also look at your personality and heart so don’t you ever hide that [ …] Drama lets you express the word through feeling. The words aren’t written in a book, but are written through the eyes, the smile, the movement of one’s body. Being able to interpret meanings and evaluate yourself is not easy.” 10th grade ELL student

“While participating in drama class I learned that if you work together with each other, you can get things done easier and faster. I’ve also learned that if you cooperate and pay attention drama will be easy and can also help you […] I most liked it when we played the show in front of our families and friends. I liked that time because we got to show our families and friends what we’ve been working on and also what we’ve put together. It was really fun […] Before Mr. Dan came to our class, we were dead as in not really paying attention and cooperating. But ever since he came into our class everything changed. It surprised me because when the final day came everyone did really good. Better than all the other days […] I would do drama again because I really enjoyed it. It also changed the way I was dedicated and the way I showed who I was. It taught me a lot about acting and a lot more other things […] It is important to do drama because it can help you and relate in life. Everything you do in drama reflects in what you do. Drama class is also important because it describes the person you are and how dedicated you are.” 8th Grade ELL student

Entering Stage Left, the English-Language Learner
NEA Today; a newspaper for members of the National Education Association
Click here for the article
When he begins his 10-day drama workshops, Daniel Kelin, director of the Honolulu Theater for Youth, doesn't hear much from the English-language learners. But by the end they're giggling, running from role to role, urging each other to "open your mouth like fish," and acting out Pacific Island stories about the sea and its magic men. Even more impressive, the students are able to narrate their own stories, using the English language in a purposeful new way and growing in confidence in themselves.

"I want to thank you for your time, energy, patience and expertise with my class. I have truly enjoyed having you join us. I have been struggling with the "how". How do I get them to open up, become creative and imaginative. I have definitely learned the how from observing you. I will use your techniques and strategies to work with my kids. You seem to be an unforgettable teacher in their lives. They loved having you here and this must be a trend wherever you go."

Elementary teacher