Special report: Gary Anderson

Special report: Paris Colloquium 2005, Agir pour apprendre

Gary Anderson on “ A Roomful of Human Beings: Drama Techniques as Communication Activities in Language Learning”

By Gill Evans and Claire Loiseau

Recommended reading “The Language Teacher’s Voice” (Alan Maley, 2000) using ideas from Mario Rinvolucri, as well as “Drama Techniques: a resource book of communication activities for language teachers”, Third Edition, by Alan Maley and Alan Duff, Cambridge University Press, 2005.

As one of the last two speakers of the day, Gary Anderson rounded up a very enjoyable and varied two-day programme. In his usual good form, he communicated his enthusiasm and energy to a roomful of human beings, hanging onto his words.

“Stand up everybody!! Walk around the room and when the music stops, meet somebody, then try and remember who you met!” said Gary Anderson to the audience. This is how the conference started and is one of the activities presented in the book “Drama Techniques”.
Next, he went into the content and presentation of each activity:
  1. Aim
  2. Focus
  3. Level
  4. Time
  5. Preparation
  6. Procedure
  7. Follow-on (further work)
  8. Variations
  9. Notes
Then, he went through reorganised structures and reordering activities.
  1. Getting ready
  2. Working with (imagination, visuals, words, phrases, scenarios…)
  3. Into performance
Together we tried to answer the following questions:

Why use drama? Why not use drama?

“Why use drama in the classroom?”
After a ten-minute talk in small groups, we came up with the following different answers.
  1. It integrates language skills in a natural way.
  2. It integrates verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication.
  3. It draws upon both cognitive and affective domains.
  4. It contextualizes the language and brings the classroom to life.
  5. It offers opportunities for catering to learner differences.
  6. It transfers responsibility for learning from teacher to learners.
  7. It fosters self-awareness, self-esteem, confidence and motivation.
  8. It sustains motivation through variety and expectancy generated by activities.
  9. It encourages an open, exploratory style of learning.
  10. It brings positive effects on the classroom dynamics as well as the atmosphere.
  11. It offers an enjoyable experience.
To sum up, not only does drama integrate language skills as verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication, but it contextualises the language and offers an opportunity for catering to learning differences. It sustains motivation through variety, fosters self-awareness, self-esteem and builds confidence. It affects classroom dynamics and, above all, it is, or should be, enjoyable. Gary Anderson concluded this discussion by saying: “All you need is a roomful of human beings”.

Why not use drama? Know thy school, class, student, self.

Other questions to ponder:
“How many different ways have I listened to my own voice?”
“Do I speak fast or slow in my own language?”
“What makes me speak louder or more softly?
“Does my voice change when I speak English?”
“Do I change my voice when I speak on the phone?”
“Has anyone ever commented on the way I sound when I speak?”
Who is my favourite voice (actor, singer, friend, etc)?”
These are just some of the questions we can ask ourselves.

Then, he divided the work with drama into three parts:
  1. words
  2. sentences
  3. scenes
We, the roomful of human beings, happily took part in the various activities Gary proposed:


We started a series of activities taken from the book “Drama Techniques”.
“Stand up!!” he shouted “and get ready for the activity “Back to back”!”
In pairs, we used our fingers to write a word on our partner’s back; the other person had to guess the word. We discussed variations to this activity such as, for example, drawing symbols on each other’s backs (for children), or taking all the words and putting them into one sentence (a suggestion of Claire’s).

What is your favourite word?” he asked. Everybody gives his/her favourite word. It can be in any foreign language. Then, you can think about how you would say this word. What situation is linked to that particular word? Why do you remember that? How?
Examples of some favourite words given: “banana”, “dégringoler”, “saperlipopette”, “verguenza”, “tea”!

Another activity called “the photo” involves observation. Take a group of people and take a photo of that group. Then, the people move. You have to put them back in order without touching them, only by asking them to move to the right, or the left, or the front, or the back…
This involves not only a great deal of observation but also re-creating.


After a short series of breathing activities, Gary asked 8 people to go on stage. “A little story”: Each of them grabbed a piece of paper. First, they had to put the strips of paper in the right order as each sentence had a different length- “Elastic sentences”. Then, they would read their sentence from the shortest to the longest. Example: “Mary who had been away in Italy visiting her boyfriend arrived late from the airport….”
Where do you breathe? How?
Then, we talked about how we could possibly vary this activity. For example, by doing it the other way round, from the longest to the shortest, or, by letting everyone write their own sentences, or improvising a dialogue when Mary arrived.


After a series of short exercises with our voices going through our noses, our mouths and our throat, we were given some poems: some were taken from the book “Drama Techniques”, some were from Emily Dickinson.
In groups of two, three or four, we had to find a way of performing one of the poems, any way we liked, looking into rhythm, stress, music, etc. In our small groups we worked on ways of orchestrating with different short, amusing dialogues. One person could speak parts alone; two or three people could speak parts all at once; we could use chanting background words; using a high or low voice; pauses; gestures and movements and even sound effects.

We then performed them on stage.
“A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.”
Emily Dickinson

How time flies!! Gary didn’t have time for his “hat” activity. It was time to stop! “Thank you, Gary! We had a good time!!” exclaims Claire. “I do hope Gary comes back next year”, wishes Gill. As this was the last workshop of the two-day TESOL event, we all stood up and gathered around a drink.

Contributed by: Gill Evans and Claire Loiseau
Click here to e-mail Gill Evans
Click here to e-mail Claire Loiseau

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