The work presented here is the result of a case study that was carried out between January and April 2002. It made up part of my written work towards acquiring my Master of Arts in drama in education, namely the Postgraduate Diploma. My intention of the case study was to find evidence that working in a drama context can enhance the students‘ creative writing skills in the foreign language (i.e. English). I wanted to find out in particular whether the texts written by the students differed in originality and word choice when compared with those of students that were taught in a non-drama context. For that purpose, I carried out a project in two parallel classes. When there is reference to the teacher (or the teacher in role), it is always me since I was the regular English teacher in both classes.
The classes consisted of 17 students each and they had been taught the same material for the previous year and a half. Both classes were in their third year of learning English at school. At the time of the study, they were in their second year of apprenticeship, attending a business college for further education.
Both classes were taught with the same material from the coursebook used in both classes (Headway New Intermediate, unit 8). The project was carried out during 4 double lessons (90 minutes each) between January and March 2002. Whereas one class was taught in a ‚conventional‘ way (labelled the «non-drama class» or «class 2b»), the other class (labelled the «drama class» or «class 2a») worked in a fictional context throughout the whole project time. Class 2a had previously used drama techniques in a shorter project (in August/September 2001) and thus had a certain familiarity with drama work.
In the drama class, I created the fictional context of a rich old aunt (Selma) in Florida who was starting to decide who she should leave her fortune to. Having no immediate family, she tried to make out where her relatives were and invited them for a family gathering in Florida. The aunt was never present at any of the meetings but was always represented (with me as teacher in role) by her nurse (Cindy) in the senior citizens‘ residence. At the first meeting, the students were asked to develop the fictional personality they were going to take on throughout the whole project. In the subsequent lessons, we worked in an episodic structure (cf. Neelands 1998: 32) to develop the story of aunt Selma’s decision of who she would bequeathe her money to. The end was completely open and the actual outcome of the story was determined by the scenes that the students developed in lesson 4.
Teacher and students worked in role throughout the whole project: the students as the characters they had created for themselves, the teacher as Selma’s nurse in her retirement residence. Selma never appeared in the drama but was always represented by her nurse due to her ill health condition. For the teacher, it was a means to solve the dilemma of having to act as a ninety-year-old lady. It also increased the motivation for the students to express their thoughts in a written from since that was the only way they could communicate with the old aunt.
Due to the fact that we were working in a context of second language learning, each double lesson contained a sequence in which new linguistic material was introduced. The constrictions of the syllabus, namely the fact that a certain unit of the coursebook had to be covered within the time we were working, meant that all the language introduced was taken from the book. The linguistic areas we had to cover were:
- Vocabulary: words relating to the world of money, finances, gambling, winning and losing money; base and strong adjectives
- Grammar: conditional clauses (I and II) and time clauses (both structures had been introduced to the students before the project, in December 2001); linguistic structures to give other people advice or make suggestions; ways of expressing present and past wishes
- Syntax: words that join ideas, i.e. «linkers».
The individual student’s progress was measured with a series of texts that were written at the outset and then throughout the project. They were evaluated against the following traits of writing (adapted from Dahl and Farnan 1998: 113): ideas/originality, word choice, organisation, mechanics, sentence fluency (esp. the use of linkers). Both classes wrote a post-project task one month after the scheme of work. In addition to the writing assignments throughout and after the project, those students of class 2a attending a preparation course for the Cambridge First Certificate Exam wrote a post-project composition which required them to use the linguistic structures taught throughout the project.