Theatre games lead literacy growth

Drama has become another tool to build literacy at St Fiacre’s Catholic Primary Leichhardt.

Students in Years 3 to 6 delved deeper into the meaning of texts including Margaret Wild’s acclaimed picture book Fox, and Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing, over seven weeks with the help of a resident artist from the Sydney Theatre Company.

The School Drama program was developed by the organisation in partnership with the University of Sydney to improve students’ literacy skills and teachers’ capacity to deliver drama programs in the classroom.

It is the second year St Fiacre’s has taken part in the program. Students from Kindergarten to Year 2 will have their turn to experience its active drama and storytelling elements in 2016.

Principal Jan Heyworth said the program gave students greater confidence, and improved their voice projection, comprehension and writing.

“The children learn to go more deeply into the meaning of the text,” she said. “The artist in residence works with the teacher and they co-teach.

“There’s no right or wrong in drama, it’s about being able to understand what you’re reading and express it in ways that are meaningful. They go into things like characterisation and plot and the intention of the author – all in a way that is fun and creative and gives them a lot of scope for expressing themselves in different ways.

“Our teachers are amazed at the improvement in the children’s writing.”

Sydney Theatre Company education artist Kaylee Hazell worked with Year 3 students including Matilda Hefferan, Eliza Muir, and Luka Toogood. They played drama games and told stories which drew heavily on imagination.

The ‘bus seat’ game asked students to do adopt a character getting onto a bus and give the person sitting down a reason to move from their seat. In ‘What are you doing?’ students mimed an action and when asked the question, answered with a different action that the next person then had to act out.

There’s no right or wrong in drama. It’s about being able to understand what you’re reading and express it in ways that are meaningful.

– Jan Heyworth

The students also formed freeze frames for each scene in Fox and wrote an alternate ending to the book before reading it through to the end.

Fox is about a magpie who has a burnt wing and this character, dog, takes care of her.  Then this fox comes into the bush and magpie decides to go with fox and leave dog behind,” Matilda, 9, said.

“I thought it would be a sad ending if magpie never went back to dog, so I decided that if I chose that fox just wanted a friend then all three of them would be together.”

Matilda said drama games were the most fun element of the program.

“We’ve been doing a lot of improvisation and making things up on the spot which is a good skill to have in drama, because sometimes you have a script but if you don’t you need to be able to make it up on the spot,” she said.

“It’s helpful sometime in writing because sometimes you have only a short period of time to write and you have to quickly come up with something.”

Eliza, 9, said conscience was another game students played.

“We get two sides – like an alleyway – and we get someone to walk through them to make a decision,” she said. “They would go to each side and hear what the conscience was saying. One was bad and one was good.

“Bus seat was my favourite game. People moved from the seat because of the disturbing and weird stuff that people were doing to try to make them get off the seat. Someone pretended they went and did a marathon then they wiped the sweat on me.”

Eliza’s said her alternate story ending, written from magpie’s perspective, could be interpreted as a dream.

“My ending said I woke up on dog’s back,” she said. “You could take it as my story could have all been a dream and fox being there was all a dream, or that dog came and helped me and we’re back to where we were in the start as friends.”

Luka, 9, said it was difficult to describe the best thing about the program.

“You get to learn different things about drama and to express emotion,” he said. “I like the bus seat game, because you get to be silly and you can express your ideas.”


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