Creating theater materials for English learners

Alice Savage and Walton Burns give us a taste of what to expect from their Pre-Conference Event talk at IATEFL, 1st April 2019, Liverpool (UK).


See who else is talking at the joint MaWSIG-LitSIG PCE here. Tickets are available here.

In real life, people do not just exchange information; they negotiate a relationship. Issues of status, levels of intimacy, and objectives such as to convince, encourage, intimidate, manipulate, or charm come into play. These human drives can make real conversations scary for language learners, yet there is a paucity of language learning materials that offer models for these interpersonal dynamics.

However, there does exist a rich source of material that showcases contextualized human interaction: plays. After all, a play is a story made up of conversations among people who are actively striving to achieve goals. As such, monologues, sketches, and short plays and films offer myriad opportunities for authentic, natural, real-world language work both on the page and in practice.

In this session, presenters will attempt to help materials writers fill the gap by demonstrating models of different activity types for using a script or a video to develop language, fluency, and cultural awareness. Development of collaboration skills is a given, since theater work by its very nature brings people together for a common purpose.

The presentation will start with a sketch that allows participants to try out characters engaged in a battle of wills. The experience is then followed by a demonstration of various activity types that can be paired with the plot-driven narrative. These may include background readings, critical thinking discussions, improvisations and roleplays, pronunciation-in-context tasks, and even grammar practice.

Alice Savage grew up in a theater family, studied drama at the University of Washington, and has a degree in English language teaching from the School for International Training. Now a faculty member at Lone Star College in Houston, Texas, she teaches an English through theater course and has authored several short plays for ESOL. Currently, she is working on a handbook for teachers interested in using improvisation, monologues, sketches and short plays in the classroom.

Walton Burns is the senior editor of Alphabet Publishing, an independent educational publishing company. Having taught English in the Peace Corps in Vanuatu, trained teachers in Kazakhstan, worked with Afghan high school students, and prepared Turkish judges and Chinese video game champions for Master’s programs, he has turned more and more to freelance writing and editing ELT materials, which lets him enjoy time with his son. He has books out with Compass Publishing, OUP, and Pro-Lingua, and, of course, Alphabet Publishing.

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