When applying for teaching jobs in China, the most relevant experience I had was as a youth theatre drama teacher. Due to this background, the teaching agency I ended up working for in China placed me at an arts school, and the job offer I was given was English and drama. Fine by me. I love drama and think it can be used in many ways to teach English.
When I arrived at the school, I was told that I would teach drama club every Friday for an hour. Great. However, it wasn’t until I started that I found out that it would be grade 2. This means the children are aged 8 and 9. It’s only their second year learning English, and now I have to teach them drama… in English. Challenging? Yes.
Their knowledge of English is very limited so going in depth about different drama activities, methods, and theatre was out of the question. Everything has to be basic and watered down a bit for them to understand. I know each class will either go well and they will get on board with it, or they just won’t grasp it and I’ll have to sweep it under the mat and start again.
That said, there are some great things about teaching drama to Chinese students.
1. Small Drama Class
As opposed to the 35 children I have in my English classes, my drama club only has 20. Though they are still naughty and lively, 20 is easier to manage. I also think they gave me some students who are better at English. When it came to the end of semester English tests, a lot of the drama club students got the best scores. Not due to drama club, but because I think they are generally better at English, hence being put in the English drama club.
2. Lots of physical activities
Drama can be fun and physical so the amount of English they need to speak doesn’t need to be much. Even those who struggle at English can still join in a lot of the activities. ‘BANG’ is a simple game which requires little English. They love it and ask me to play it in every class.
3. Put together by the one and only Helen
I have total control over what I teach, which is a refreshing change to my structured English curriculum. As Christmas day was on a Friday, it meant I had drama club, so what did I do? Taught them jingle bells and got them to act out being Santa Clause.
Challenges aside, I love it. I look forward to those Friday afternoons. I teach nearly 500 different students a week, so it’s impossible to get to know them all. But these 20 I know very well, and they are wonderful. So when somebody next gives you a challenge, such as teaching 8 year olds drama in their second language, embrace it, because it just might be one of the most rewarding things you do.