Edutopia (George Lucas's educational blogsite) encourages active learning through playacting in Writing Aloud: Staging Plays for Active Learning. The article points out that due to budgeting constraints, many school districts pay scant attention to drama, especially to productions written, directed, and staged entirely by students themselves.
Yet, what better way to get students actively involved in learning about any topic?
The aim of the Arena Stage program, like that of similar theater-education programs across the country, is to offer the benefits of arts education at a time when schools are increasingly putting the subject on the back burner. Playwriting teaches kids how to construct a plot, write dialogue, and tell a story through action. But the benefits go far beyond that. Students also learn how to conduct research, perform in front of an audience, collaborate with their peers, and express themselves, says Adrienne Nelson, the Arena Stage teaching artist who worked with the class of thirty-two Stuart-Hobson students this year.
The Edutopia article highlights a lesson in dealing with racism from a historical perspective, but drama can also be used to help students understand literature. You don't have to upset your entire curriculum to do it either. Keep productions small--limited to a scene or two--for big impact.
One of the most fun lessons in my 10th grade classroom is a re-enacting of the original Pyramus & Thisbe storyline from Ovid's mythology, during a study of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Of course, we play it all in fun, in the spirit of Bottom & Co.'s production. By the time we read Shakespeare's play-within-a-play, the students are thoroughly warmed up, and ready to enjoy the players' version, as well as the lovers' critique. Students (in groups) write the dialogue, create mural settings, and paper-and-glue props. Their acting rivals Bottom's group!