Teacher feedback: using drama activities in MFL lessons

MPP workshop
Sarah Williams

Two eager, intrepid Modern Foreign Language (MFL) teachers from Greenford High School, Maddie Fisher and I, had the pleasure of attending a workshop on using the Multilingual Performance Project’s (MPP) exercises and skills in languages teaching at the Sir Robert Taylor Society Conference in Oxford in September.

Both of us have some drama background and we were very open to ways to bring drama skills into our teaching of French, German and Spanish. The MPP practitioner led us through various ‘games’, common to all of which was using physicality, a ‘whole body’ approach to teaching languages, that we both warmed to. Much laughter resulted and several participants quickly suggested how they might use or adapt these ideas back in the classroom.

The following week I tried out two games with my Year 10 German class and Year 9 French class, both relatively low ability groups. I used the games of sevens, first using numbers, as it was introduced, and then playing the same game using a phrase I wanted the class to really get the hang of. German students perennially struggle to get the perfect tense right (in my experience) so we played the game using the sentence ‘Letzte Woche bin ich nach Stuttgart gefahren’ a sentence of exactly 7 words. In French we played ‘je ne m’entends pas bien avec mon père’. In both cases this appealed to both classes who are often restless and struggle to maintain focus on a task for long. They liked the game and were keen to stay ‘in’. But what to do with those who are ‘out’? More on this later.

As Year 10 had just learned parts of the body, I also used the illnesses and injuries game, giving each student a ‘breakage’ (such as ‘Ich habe mein Bein gebrochen’) that they had to embody, repeat and exchange with their peers. This also drilled the perfect tense structure again. To my delight and astonishment, this produced lots of spontaneous language, such as ‘oh, das ist schlecht’, ‘ich kann nicht sehen’, ‘ich kann Fußball nicht spielen’, ‘das tut mir leid’ etc. 

We shared our learning with colleagues later that month, and chose to teach them the same two games. We deliberately put everyone slightly out of their comfort zone by trying the games in the languages they are least familiar with, to emulate the students’ experience. Again much laughter ensued, which I think is a great tool, as laughter relaxes us all if learning is fun it’s likely to be more effective. 

All colleagues were tasked with trying one of the games in their teaching in the following week. Follow-up reports were largely positive. One colleague shared a useful solution for managing those who are ‘out’: she keeps them in the game, but they gain a ‘point’, with the idea being to gain none, so with more points, you ‘lose’. Notably colleagues said that it had animated and engaged their classes, the ‘physical ‘aspect of the work had had a positive effect on engagement, and students wanted to learn, but because they get excited, behaviour can be harder to manage. 

Like so many new ideas, one tries many, and it is probably down to the individual character or preferences of the teacher as to which ones actually ‘stick’. Personally I plan to keep using ‘sevens’ and variations on the ‘illnesses and injuries game’ throughout the year, to see whether this might have a long term effect on students’ confidence in speaking and their ability to speak spontaneously.  

Sarah Williams is a Modern Foreign Languages Teacher at Greenford High School @ghsmflofficial

If you're interested in learning more about the drama activities used in the Multilingual Performance Project workshop, we have short films explaining the activities in our Resources section.

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Are creative or functional teaching approaches more effective in the language classroom?