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February 2024 - Year 26 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

A Change in the Curriculum May Bring Unexpected Results: A Case Study of Introducing Educational Drama into ITT

Mariela Mondaca has been an EFL teacher and teacher educator in Argentina for 24 years. She is interested in teaching English through Drama, fostering creativity and promoting alternative approaches to traditional grammar- centred syllabi. She is currently working as a freelance teacher educator in her own online language business, where she offers personalised language development courses and workshops for EFL teachers. She also teaches Spanish as a foreign language. Email:


This article shares the experiences of a group of 28 final-year students in an initial teacher training program at a private college in Neuquén province, Argentina, in 2022. These students were preparing to become English language teachers, and English language education was their main focus. While higher education institutions in Argentina have agreed-upon basic and minimal contents, there is room for flexibility in implementation. Universities enjoy more independence, while training colleges are typically governed by each province. Moreover, individual lecturers at teacher training colleges have the freedom to follow the basic guidelines as they are provided by their province, adapt or supplement them as they see fit.



The students and I had already formed a bond since we had interacted in previous years, as I was teaching courses in the second and third year as well. As a result, there was a sense of trust among us. We had shared a year of online learning, 2020, and a year of hybrid learning, 2021. Following a short diagnostic phase, it was determined that some students were at a B1 level, while others had reached C1 proficiency according to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). The primary objective was to enhance both fluency and accuracy, enabling each student to advance within their own capabilities.
Fortunately, I had considerable autonomy in designing my own syllabus. When a coursebook was recommended, I willingly accepted it due to its strong emphasis on communication and high-quality language input. Moreover, it had a particular focus on intensive reading and level-appropriate vocabulary. Additionally, two novels, Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" and Alan Paton's "Cry, the Beloved Country," were selected for extensive reading purposes.
As I had just finished a professional development course on using Educational Drama in English language teaching, I recognized that working with this receptive and enthusiastic group could provide me with an opportunity to explore the efficacy of drama and creativity in the language classroom. Thus, I started introducing drama and activities that fostered originality and imaginative thinking, initially through short interactive exercises. These practices gradually helped us progress to more advanced creative language interactions.

The challenge

In previous iterations of the course, the syllabus had primarily focused on working through the coursebook, completing exercises, correcting errors, and engaging in discussions. These  discussions often led to debates and quite acceptable conversations that aimed at fostering critical thinking and communication skills.
However, in this particular instance, the objective was to not only encourage interaction and communication but also incorporate educational drama, stimulate creativity, and promote whole-body and mind engagement in the learning process. One of the intentions among others was to provide the students with a glimpse of how these approaches could motivate their own future students. In this regard, it is important to note that these students were in their final year of teacher training.
My goal as an educator was to equip the trainees with the essential tools to break free from repetitive teaching patterns. I had a profound desire to empower them to make informed decisions by reflecting on their current and future teaching approaches and techniques. I felt, admittedly with some trepidation, the moment was here to move away from traditional practices, and introduced them to drama techniques for the very first time.

Types of activities implemented during the course

The new set of activities that were incorporated into the course had an element of enjoyment. At the start of each lesson, the focus was on using suitable warm-up exercises and icebreakers. These activities often included mime, TPR (Total Physical Response), improvisation, and, of course, speaking. Most ideas were extracted and adapted from “300 Ice- breakers, Warmers and Fillers” (, n.d.), and Susan Hillyard’s “Teaching Through Drama” (2016).
Following the lesson warm-ups, the subsequent tasks centred on the content of the coursebook. However, I consistently modified and/or supplemented the activities there. For instance, if the book presented a vocabulary exercise involving fill-in-the-blanks, the students would engage in different scenarios instead of completing this written task. They would usually be divided into small groups of three or four, and then would use lexical items they were working on to mime, have others guess, react, and create dialogues, stories, poems, among others.
This way, instead of constantly writing or doing mechanical exercises, the students engaged in collaborative group work and only wrote to take notes as a necessary part of completing a final task. Thus, when the ultimate goal was to present a short dialogue to the whole class or perform mime for others to guess, note-taking served as a minor step rather than the primary objective. Additionally, this step promoted peer collaboration, enhanced communication, and, most importantly, developed confidence and fluency.
It is worth mentioning that, while I provided initial guidance and instructions, the students often introduced new creative elements, resulting in modifications to the activity I originally proposed. This way, they typically made it more personally meaningful.
For instance, during one particular session, the students were provided with prompt cards illustrating unusual professions. The task was for them to ask questions in order to guess the occupation of their team members. However, in some groups there was a gradual and unintended shift away from the initial activity, and they began improvising using mime and gestures. Without hesitation, I actively encouraged such transitions as I understood they were a movement towards more relevant activities for the students themselves.

Post- extensive reading activities

In previous years, students would independently conduct extensive reading as part of the work that was assigned to them at the start of the year. They would then come to class prepared for a discussion on a designated date, ready to explore the topics of the novel, its themes and elements. However, in this drama-focused course, the lessons revolved around a completely different array of activities.
The group was led to apply many varied drama techniques while working with the first novel, "Cry, the Beloved Country". One of these techniques, freeze frames, was used to analyse the settings of the novel, its environments and situations. The students were instructed to choose a specific moment from the novel and were given time to organise themselves. Subsequently, they presented their freeze frame of that particular moment to the rest of the group. This involved adopting poses, gestures, and positions that effectively conveyed a live picture capturing the essence of that moment in the story.
Following the freeze frame activity, the subsequent conversation centred around the tangible experience the group had just enjoyed through their portrayal of the frame. This concrete representation served as a focal point for the rest of the group to join in the discussion. Consequently, rather than engaging in abstract talks about distant situations and emotions, they were able to work with something more tangible and relatable. Finally, the students expressed they had liked this particular activity very much.
In addition, in order to explore character analysis, the students were prompted to imagine the potential progression of a situation or conversation depicted in the novel. This approach fostered improvisation, as the students immersed themselves in the world of the characters, their personalities and emotions. This particular type of activity was greatly appreciated by the group, which provided evidence of its pedagogical value.

The issue of exams

One of the most striking and unexpected outcomes of this kind of work emerged during the exam period. Naturally, the exam format had to be adjusted to align with the pace, focus, and progression of the course. Exams shifted from being primarily grammar and language-centred in previous years to placing greater emphasis on the students themselves, their creativity, and self-expression.
In this regard, the written component of the exams still revolved around newly acquired vocabulary and expressions. However, instead of being instructed to complete gap-filling and language exercises, students were asked to provide their own examples of the use of lexis, create stories, or describe situations to apply the new language. The quality of their work proved that they had acquired a much wider range of expressions, more fluency and a greater confidence to express themselves compared to the years before.
Regarding the oral exams, students were presented with open-ended questions that encouraged them to expand freely in their responses. Some examples of such questions included: "How do you think advertising will change over the next 30 years?", "What transformations are occurring in the field of education today?", and "Recall a significant event from your past. Briefly describe where and when it took place, who you were with, and why it was important for you."
It was in this instance of oral examinations that the most astonishing and remarkable thing happened. To my surprise, approximately 80 percent of the students shared deeply personal and cherished events with me. In the middle of an apparently ordinary exam situation, there emerged bittersweet memories, tears, smiles, and sighs. As a teacher, I found myself increasingly taken aback by the profoundness of these confessions and intimate stories.
This was an unprecedented event in the course, which caught me completely off guard. I had no idea that the students' responses would gravitate towards such personal anecdotes. Initially, I had simply anticipated accounts of concerts they had attended, or perhaps details about other exams they had taken. However, what came next was a cascade of stories about meeting soulmates, discovering religious faith, enduring the impact of divorce, coping with the loss of beloved ones, going through labour, and various other deeply significant experiences.
I could not help but feel curious about what had happened to make these students so willing to open their hearts to me this way. Although I had no concrete evidence, I found myself inclined to believe that it was the cumulative effect of the course's approach throughout the year. The bond we forged through creativity and the expression of emotions and ideas in our drama-based activities must have made a profound impact on them. This powerful connection and the students' readiness to share their deepest experiences highlighted the transformative potential of incorporating drama in the learning process.


The dynamic and engaging nature of our drama-based activities created a unique learning environment throughout the course. The playful atmosphere in our classes was evident. At times, the students even expressed a reluctance to leave once the lesson had finished, and a desire to continue playing. However, beyond the surface of all the fun and enjoyment we had, there were moments of deep connection. One such instance was the end of our journey together: our last lesson.
In our final lesson, we brought to life some short but relevant personal stories the students had written in just ten lines. It was in these simple moments that the true transformative power of incorporating drama in the learning process became apparent. By watching others act out their stories, the students were able to explore their own emotions and the experiences they had written about. This showcased how drama has the power to transform learning by making it more engaging, meaningful, and connected to our lives.
Our journey together reminded me of the words of Ken Robinson in his book "The Element," where he emphasises the importance of finding joy, passion, and a sense of purpose in education. Through drama, it was possible for me to tap into the students' innate creativity and provide a springboard for them to express their emotions and ideas authentically. This created a special bond that went beyond the usual teacher-student dynamic, forming a connection that has extended beyond the classroom ever since.
As an educator, seeing the students openly share their most personal experiences and witnessing how this transformed their learning journey has reinforced the importance of using drama in education. It is a powerful tool that not only improves language communication skills by lowering the students’ affective filter, but also fosters personal growth, self-expression, empathy and understanding. It humanises learning, connecting students on a deeper level and empowering them to shape a better world.
I believe in the importance of the simple. Ordinary educational experiences sometimes have the power of reminding us of the importance of making education personal and nurturing the overall development of students. In embracing the potential of drama, we can embark on a path that encourages a joyful and purposeful learning experience, where students can unlock their full potential.

References (n.d.). 300 Ice-breakers, Warmers and Fillers.
Hillyard, S. (2016 ) English Through Drama, Helbling Publishing
Paton, A. (1948) Cry, the Beloved Country, Scribners & Jonathan Cape
Robinson, K. (2009), The Element, Penguin

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