Drama uses the greatest resource that teachers have available to them – children’s imagination. Creative play is a natural part of children’s lives before they start school, helping them to make sense of their place in the world. Such creativity can be harnessed through drama to enable active and interactive learning experiences throughout the primary years and across the curriculum.

Here are five ways to try out drama in your lessons across the curriculum, to inspire and motivate your students.

1. Essence Machines

Extracted from Lesson Plans: Cinderella – Listen To Me – Restorative Justice (5-11 years)

This game is great for generating physical and vocal ideas around a theme. A topic is chosen and players must think of a repeating sound and action linked to the theme. The class makes a circle and one person starts by stepping forward and making a repeating sound (or words) and movement. For example, one person might step forward as the Fairy Godmother and wave an imaginary magic wand, saying, “You shall go to the ball!” They should keep repeating this action, like a loop of film. Another player might be Cinderella cleaning the floor (with suitable sounds) and two other children could step in as Cinderella dancing with the prince or an object, such as the clock striking midnight.

Each person repeats their sound and action until as many students as wish to have stepped in. After a while you can stop the action with “Freeze!” and ask everyone to rejoin the circle. The class will have generated many layers of images, sounds and phrases from the story. 

As well as being frozen, the Essence Machine can be “switched” to slow-motion, double-speed and can even go backwards! Many themes can be explored, such as sports, basketball match, supermarket, hospital, restaurant, bullying or emotions. You can explore books, history and factual material, or create a machine that actually produces something, like chocolate biscuits, school dinners or weather conditions.

2. The Mirror Game

Extracted from Lesson Plans: Funnybones – Drama and Dance Unit (5-7 years)

In the story, two skeletons are going to practise being scary by standing in front of a mirror. One is a skeleton and the other is the reflection. However, you can play the mirror game just for fun or to encourage concentration.

Demonstrate the game with two students. The pair should stand facing each other, a short distance apart, with an imaginary mirror in between. A is the skeleton and B is the reflection. A starts moving slowly, smoothly and scarily while B tries to reflect A’s movements as accurately as possible. When they have got the hang of this, give a signal (clap your hands/play a bell) for the players to swap so that A is now the leader.

  • Divide the class into pairs and ask them to label themselves A and B
  • Play the game, emphasising slow movements
  • Swap leadership a few times
  • Give a theme such as morning exercises, getting dressed or singing a song
  • Ask a pair to show what they were doing
  • Give the signal to swap a few times then stop the activity and ask students to guess who is leading at that moment
  • Repeat with more pairs

Teaching Tips

  • Play some spooky music to help create the atmosphere
  • When students swap over leadership they should make the change as smoothly as possible so that it is hard for others to guess who is leading!

3. Rumours

Extracted from Lesson Plans: World War Two Evacuees Drama Unit (7-11 years)

This story-making activity involves the whole class working together. It can be used for characters from any story – fiction, history, religious education and so on. Here the example is World War Two evacuees in the UK.

Give the following instructions: “Imagine you are evacuees waiting for the train. Find a space and make a still image to show who you are and what you are doing. At the moment you know very little about what is happening today. What questions might you have in your mind? “

“When I clap my hands you can begin to move around in character and whisper messages to the other chldren. You can ask questions or tell them some ideas about what you think is going to happen. If you hear something interesting, you can pass it on to other people. Off you go.”

After a couple of minutes call the children together and ask them to share what they heard and what they think might happen to the evacuees.

4. Teacher in Role

Extracted from Lesson Plans: – The Gruffalo Drama Activities (4-7 years)

Meet a Creature
Drama strategies can easily be introduced as a way of enhancing a storytelling session. Begin by reading the first part of “The Gruffalo” by Julia Donaldson to the children up until the end of the first meeting with the fox. Show them the pictures and discuss the story with them as usual. Now you are going to introduce the techniques of teacher in role and hot seating. No acting skills are required; you simply talk to the students as if you were a character. This is only a small step from reading the story aloud. The techniques can help the children examine and discuss the feelings of the characters.

Show the children the double page spread before the title page and ask them what creatures they can see there (a butterfly, a beetle and a woodpecker.) Ask them what questions they would put to any of these characters if they met them, about what has happened in the story. Explain that you are going to pretend to be one of these creatures and that you will show when you are pretending to be the character by putting on a special hat (or other piece of token costume). You can choose which of the three creatures to be. Step away from your chair and put on the hat (a baseball cap might suit the woodpecker – keep it simple). Sit down again and begin by saying “hello” as the character.

You can give the children clues about who you are by telling them where you live and what you have seen. Encourage them to find out who you are and to pose questions about what you have seen. Ask pupils questions too. In this way you can encourage the children to recap on the story so far by questioning them about why the fox ran away. It’s up to you how much detail you ask for. You can finish by quoting the mouse’s words:

*Silly old Fox! Doesn’t he know,
There’s no such thing as a Gruffalo?

Then simply say goodbye and remove the hat to signify that you are stepping out of role. You can repeat this at other points in the story, taking different roles such as the fox, the owl, the snake and the mouse.

From “The Gruffalo” by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (1999).

5. Soundscape

Extracted from Lesson Plans: The Tiger Child Drama Unit (4-7 years)

Show the children the cover of “The Tiger Child” by Joanna Troughton. Ask them where they think the story takes place (jungle/rainforest). Explain that we are going to use sounds to create a picture of the rainforest. The teacher will act as the conductor, while students use their voices to ‘paint’ a sound picture of the jungle where the Tiger Child lives.

  • Invite suggestions for sounds which might be heard in the rainforest e.g. monkeys, insects, streams, birds, frogs, raindrops, creaking branches
  • If appropriate, allow everybody to choose their own sound
  • Control the shape of the piece by raising your hand to increase the volume or bringing it to touch your lap for silence
  • With a large class, divide the participants into sections, allocating a particular sound for each section, then conduct them accordingly

The Tiger Child by Joanna Troughton (1996).