What is a tableau?

In a tableau, participants make still images with their bodies to represent a scene. A tableau can be used to quickly establish a scene that involves a large number of characters. Because there is no movement, a tableau is easier to manage than a whole-group improvisation – yet can easily lead into extended drama activities. It can be used to explore a particular moment in a story or drama, or to replicate a photograph or artwork for deeper analysis.

How do you use tableaux?

Students stand in a circle, or around the performance area and a theme is given.  One by one, they step into the space and establish freeze frames in relation to one another until the tableau is complete. At this point, thought tracking can be used to find out more about each of the characters.  The scene can also be brought to life through improvisation, with the teacher clapping her hands to signal the beginning and end of the action.

Once students are familiar with the technique, they can also work in small groups on different aspects of a theme.  The class can discuss each group’s tableau in turn, mentioning what they can see happening, what they would like to know more about and what they think could happen next. Afterwards, each group can comment on how these viewpoints compared with their initial intentions.

Click below to watch a 14 minute TeachersTV video on tableaux, thought tracking and soundscapes for key stages 1 and 2.


    • Pupils look at a painting or illustration of a historical scene that shows a selection of different characters.  They bring it to life by representing the characters with their bodies.
    • Current Affairs/History: Small groups are given different newspaper reports of the same incident (or differing accounts of an historical event) and asked to produce as accurate a tableau as possible.  This can be used to examine how events may be communicated differently according to the observer’s point of view.
    • For a more light-hearted activity, groups can devise a tableau on a specific theme, such as epic books or movies, famous locations or well-known historical events.  The other students then try and guess what the tableau represents.