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Three Ways to Engage a Large Drama Class

Large drama classes can be lots of fun – they are often noisy, but full of energy and excitement, and the time absolutely flies by.

But there are challenges too – with larger classes, it can be harder to get to know students individually and meet everyone’s needs. With a little bit of planning ahead, engaging your large drama class can be a smooth process. Here are three tips that can help.

1. Learn students’ names as quickly as possible.

Obviously, you need to know who your students are, but the sooner you get to know everyone’s name, the easier it will be to run your class with confidence. Students feel important when they are acknowledged by their name. Let your students know that it might take time for you to learn their names (after all, there are lots of them and only one of you!) but the quicker you learn them, the better. Repeat their names when calling on them. Play name games during warmups. Encourage students to learn their classmates’ names quickly, too – work as a group and make it a team effort.

2. Divide and conquer.

Let your students become the experts. Divide students into groups and give them the opportunity to teach something to rest of the class. This could be especially useful if you have multiple grades at once. For example, assign each group to create a research project on a different style of theatrical performance – Greek, Roman, Commedia dell’arte, farce, theatre for young audiences, absurdist theatre, radio drama, musical theatre, pantomime, or puppetry. Have each group do the research, then present a brief lesson and a performance in that style. In this way, students can assist you in giving lessons, or augment lessons that you have already presented. Include a peer evaluation to aid your marking component. ( Click below  for a free, printable peer evaluation rubric!)

3. Let students’ voices be heard.

It’s so easy to just lead, lecture, and get stuck into a rut of the same topics over and over. If your curriculum allows it, let students suggest topics that they would like to learn more about. In the past, my students have asked to do more of improv and puppetry, so we did larger units on those topics.

Why not run units entirely based on student-led learning? Consider doing a playwriting unit with scenes and plays written by students on topics of their choosing. An improv unit with topics suggested by students. A class production with a student director, stage manager, tech crew and actors. Encourage your students to learn, grow, support, and make mistakes together.

It can be challenging for individual voices to be heard in a big classroom, particularly if students are shy or anxious about speaking up in front of a big group. Yes, there are tons of shy people who love drama class! If they have questions or concerns, I always encourage my students to pull me aside and speak to me or email me after class. Having an open-door policy is so useful in getting to know students better and ensuring their voices are heard.

Another useful technique is the “query box.” Have a small box with a notepad and pencil beside it that students can use to ask questions or make comments (anonymously if they wish). This encourages students to share their ideas in a low-pressure setting. Using daily or weekly individual drama journals are also a great way to keep tabs on students and how they are engaging in the class work. Try using an exit slip (there are tons here on the Theatrefolk blog!) each day, with a longer reflection at the end of the week. At the end of the semester, students will have amassed quite the collection of reflections. Perhaps they’ll inspire some more student-created work in the future.

Click here for a free, printable peer evaluation rubric for the Theatrical Performance Styles Presentation exercise!
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