Drama for Pronunciation

Posted December 2004: Gary Carkin uses drama as a support platform for pronunciation practice. See Essential Teacher, Winter 2004 (p. 58), for Karen Taylor's review of Pronunciation Power (English Computerized Learning).

Among native speakers, drama has long been used for the purpose of developing clear pronunciation and good speech habits. Drama in English language courses can enliven the class, support communicative language practices, and spur the development of imaginative interplay among learners. It can also act as a platform for pronunciation practice.

Repetition and practice can help students develop better speech and articulation habits and achieve the clear speech they desire. However, repeated corrections can be boring to the class and deadening to the student being corrected. I advocate the use of classroom practices that empower students to take control of the correction process by making them aware of problem sounds. If students have a model of a clearer standard and a support platform for practice, they can improve. That support platform can be drama.

I have been using drama in teaching English pronunciation for 20 years and have found it to be very effective. I use Skinner's (1990) excellent book, Speak With Distinction, which comes with backup tapes or CD-ROM for practice, and read plays from the English Teaching Theatre's Off-Stage (Case & Wilson, 1982) as well as Ten Plays for the ESL/EFL Classroom(Carkin, 2003). Any short plays that have comic value and topics that lead to cultural discussion make pronunciation practice enjoyable and learning active in the English language classroom.

Start With Play Reading

A starting point for using drama for pronunciation practice is play reading. Plays give you the opportunity to talk about general rules for stress and intonation in English speech and for students to practice negotiating such stress and intonation as they read dialogue. As they read, you can diagnose their phonetic problems and model better placement of articulators for a clearer sound. The students, in turn, can make note of their own problem areas.

As students read, they should focus on two things: using intonation that will best communicate a character's meaning and placing their articulators to produce the meaning clearly. This focus can carry over to their speech habits outside of the class as they seek to communicate their meaning clearly with appropriate stress and intonation.

Move on to Play Production

Play production offers long-range practice. Students who have roles in short plays will need to rehearse their roles and practice their lines many times as they move toward the performance.

Here again, you can point out the areas that students will need to work on to be clear. Because a clear performance is the aim, students are less likely to object to being corrected in their pronunciation of individual phonemes or intonation and stress patterns. In this way, the students' aim is similar to the teacher/director/coach's. You and the students work hand in hand to structure a clear and artful performance.

Drama Resources Online

Here are some useful, free online resources for using drama in the classroom:

References

Berlinger, M. R. (2000, April). Encouraging English expression through script-based improvisations. The Internet TESL Journal, 4(4). Retrieved September 23, 2004, fromhttp://www.aitech.ac.jp/~iteslj/ http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Berlinger-ScriptImprov.html

British Columbia Education. (1995). Drama 8 to 10. Retrieved September 23, 2004, from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/drama810/drtoc.htm

British Columbia Education. (1998a). Drama 11 and 12: Film and television. Retrieved September 23, 2004, from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/film1112/filtoc.htm

British Columbia Education. (1998b). Fine arts K to 7. Retrieved September 23, 2004, from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/fak7/fak7toc.htm

Carkin, G., with Hall, D., & Day, K. A. (2003). Ten plays for the ESL/EFL Classroom. Manchester, NH: Carlisle.

Case, D., & Wilson, K. (1982). Off-stage! London: Heinemann.

Foutz, T. (2000). Unit lesson plans. Retrieved October 8, 2004, from http://www.byu.edu/tma/arts-ed/units/unithome.htm

Skinner, E. (1990). Speak with distinction. New York: Applause Theatre.

Gary Carkin (g.carkin@snhu.edu), a trained and still practicing actor, is a professor of ESOL at Southern New Hampshire University, in the United States.