More than Fun and Games: Drama in the Online L2 Classroom(All Ages & Levels)

Melisa Cahnman-Taylor, Kathleen McGovern, Nicole Wells, Noura Almasaeid, Alaa Hedeeb, Elizabeth Dubberly

Popular second language (L2) teaching methodologies have long drawn from theatre practices as a means of improving listening, speaking and pronunciation as well as promoting authentic communication in the L2 classroom (Larsen-Freeman, 2010). If you open any standard text or resource for L2 teaching from those based on grammar and translation to more communicative (e.g. task-based learning, communicative language teaching) and comprehensible (e.g. teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling) approaches, instructors find dramatic techniques (e.g. dialogue practice, role plays, kinesthetic games). However, few language teachers have been trained to take full advantage of the wide and diverse range of theatre activities available to enhance L2 instruction. Based on our new book, Enlivening Instruction with Drama and Improv (2021, Routledge), this workshop will provide clear instructions, language supports, and physical examples for teaching an L2 with drama online, where even the most timid or nonverbal language learners (and their teachers) may forget inhibitions, and acquire embodied teaching and learning strategies.
Instructors guide participants in using a wide range of tested, joyful games that have a focus on fun and the byproduct of meaningful spoken language practice. Using drama, improv, and critical pedagogy, participants with all levels of theatre experience will learn to help language learners perform themselves with humor, dignity, and creativity. Experienced workshop leaders blend knowledge from theatre, second language acquisition, and critical pedagogy (e.g. Cahnmann-Taylor & Souto-Manning, 2010; Maley & Duff, 2005). Cultivating a classroom that is both surprising and engaging, these drama-based L2 activities will keep the educator learning and laughing alongside students during the unexpected turns a jointly scripted classroom might take. Attendees will begin by practicing the “key tenets of improv,” relating them to L2 oral language pedagogies, and social justice issues in the tradition of Boal (1992), engaging in advocacy, social justice and community building.
Boal, A. (1992): Games for actors and non-actors (transl. A. Jackson). London: Routledge.
Cahnmann-Taylor, M. & Souto-Manning, M. (2010). Teachers act up: Creating community through theatre. NYC: Teachers College Press
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2010): Techniques and principles in language teaching (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press Maley, A. & Duff, A. (2005). Drama techniques: A resource book of communication activities for language teachers (3rd ed.). Cambridge Handbook for Learners and Teachers Serieeditor Scott Thornbury. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, a Fulbright Scholar Ambassador, is Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia. She’s authored five books addressing intersections between language education and the literary, visual and performing arts including one book of poems, and her newest book, Enlivening Instruction with Drama and Improv.
Kathleen Rose McGovern is a TESOL Specialist with the U.S. Department of State and lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She’s authored several publications at the intersections of drama, language teaching, and immigration theories, including Enlivening Instruction with Drama and Improv.

Young researchers panel

Presenter #1: Alaa Hedeeb is currently a teacher of Arabic for Clayton County Public Schools in Jonesboro, GA. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English Literature & Translation from Birzeit University, Palestine. At present, Hedeeb is a senior graduate student in the World Language Education program at the University of Georgia, USA. Email:
Teaching more than Gibberish! A Drama mediator for learning Arabic and more…
The integration of drama in language classrooms plays an important role in the dimensions of the learning process. Drama-based pedagogy scaffolds the engagement of learners and strengthens their confidence to use the target language in a joyful, meaningful context. (Cahnmann-Taylor & McGovern, 2021). Therefore, learners can personalize the target language and create their own meaning by activating their internally persuasive discourse. The power of internally persuasive discourse is that it allows people to have control over their use of language (Bakhtin, 1981). Through this ownership and personal choice, the individual can use language meaningfully to facilitate linguistic and ideological growth. Considering the pedagogical and linguistic aspects of using drama in the language classroom, teachers may use certain types of drama techniques such as improvised language games, mime, role play and simulations. This session will demonstrate the acquisition of Arabic vocabulary for high school students using one of these drama games, The Gibberish Interpreter (Cahnmann-Taylor & McGovern, 2021). It will also explain the importance of its implementation in the second language learning process and on the learners themselves.
The participants interpret the verbal and nonverbal gestures to provide meaningful input in humorous style. The teachers encourage their students to speak spontaneously by correlating the spoken language with the body movements and facial expressions. In addition, the teachers are facilitators and mediators to support the output in a positive classroom ambiance (Ronke, 2005). Such joyful games help learners from tight cultures escape strict realities, take risks, and reach higher levels of comfort to acquire and deploy the target language (Pomerantz, A. & Bell, N.D., 2011). In classrooms where the teachers create a non-repressive atmosphere, the learners feel that they are more understood and valued and that they can contribute to the whole.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four essays (M. Holquist, Ed.; C.Emerson & M. Holquist, Trans). Austin: University of Texas Press.
Cahnmann-Taylor, M., & McGovern, K. (2021). Enlivening Instruction with Drama and Improv: A Guide for Second Language and World Language Teachers (1st ed.). Routledge.
Pomerantz, A. & Bell, N. D. (2011). Humor as a safe house in the foreign language classroom. The Modern Language Journal, 95, p. 148-161.
Ronke, A. (2005). Drama and theater as a method for foreign language teaching and learning in higher education in the United States. Berlin, Germany.

Presenter #2: Nicole Wells
Nicole Wells is a third grade dual language educator at a primary school in Athens, Georgia. She has twelve years of teaching experience in the content areas of reading, writing, social studies and Spanish. Wells is currently a graduate student at the University of Georgia in the Language and Literacy Education program.
Fairy Tales Come Alive: Drama in a Hyflex Dual Language Classroom
Second language (L2) acquisition and drama based activities function in tandem to motivate students to fully engage in the learning process. Curriculum and target language objectives are the script, one from which the teacher and students methodically improvise for their own exclusive production (Cahnmann-Taylor & McGovern, 2021). Drama based pedagogy in a hyflex third grade dual language classroom positively impacts the motivation of students to participate in the language acquisition process. Humor serves as a means for students to negotiate personal identities and restructure institutional identities that may be imposed upon them (Pomerantz & Bell, 2012). This session presents examples of humerous dramatic practices that encourage students to actively participate in the activities and establish a connection with best practices in language acquisition.
The instructor sets the stage for viewers as they experience L2 dramatic practices through the lens of third grade dual language learners. Using pedagogical practices relating to drama and playful games, educators will learn the value of incorporating dramatic elements into the classroom. Inspired by the joyful atmosphere the games bring to the classroom, teachers will be galvanized to play along with their students. Humorous improvisational activities challenge students to discover their inner fairy tale character on their journey to becoming bilingual.
Cahnmann-Taylor, M., & McGovern, K. (2021). Enlivening instruction with drama and improv: A guide for second language and world language teachers. New York: Routledge.
Pomerantz, A., & Bell, N. D. (2012). Humor as safe house in the foreign language classroom. The Modern Language Journal, 95, 148-161.

Presenter #3: Noura Almasaeid
Noura Almasaeid is a Graduate student at the University of Georgia pursuing her Master’s degree in World Languages and TESOL Education. Her teaching career as an Arabic teacher started in 2011 at a non-profit organization and since then she has attended many regional workshops & conferences for teaching foreign languages. She obtained a certificate from ACTFL Startalk multi-state pathways program for participating in a 6 months-long program. She plans to teach Arabic as a foreign language after obtaining teacher certification.
We Made a Mistake!: Lowering students’ anxiety and raising engagement and concentration.
Scholars, researchers, and teachers concur that students’ anxiety from making mistakes in the L2 classroom have caused students to be apprehensive about speaking and improvising, thus hindering second language acquisition. Therefore, humor and drama based approaches were used in a hybrid second grade class to evaluate the effectiveness of these approaches in lowering students anxiety and raising their engagement. “Poststructural and critical theories serve as a foundation for understanding why drama games and improv theatre activities can be so effective in lowering students’ anxieties, increasing investment, and developing a political consciousness in and through target language acquisition” (Cahnmann-Taylor & McGovern, 2021).
In this presentation I discuss a drama-based game entitled, “We Made a Mistake!”, where the students shout out this magical sentence “We Made a Mistake” after each mess up while turning around and raising their hands. This game enacted loud laughters and a “safe house”, because mistakes were celebrated which made the learning process joyful. The concept of the safe house is extended beyond its traditional concern with physical places, moments in time, or activities, to include humor, a form of talk notable for its playfulness, indeterminacy of meaning, and deniability (Pomerantz & Bell, 2012). It is fascinating that the sentence “We Made a Mistake” starts with the pronoun “we” and not “I”, which makes mistakes shared by interlocutors, and not blamed on one student.
The instructor has found that improvising and competing through the drama-based games, kept students attentive and engaged in a stress free environment. Moreover, the drama-
based games have raised students’ consciousness of how language is constructed and structured by repeating phrases or adding and elaborating from the student’s repertoire. The participants will be encouraged to integrate drama-based games in the L2 classroom by adopting and adapting them based on the level of students and topics introduced to achieve multiple functions and learning outcomes.
Cahnmann-Taylor, M., & McGovern, K. (2021). Enlivening instruction with drama and improv: A guide for second language and world language teachers. New York: Routledge.
Pomerantz, A., & Bell, N. D. (2012). Humor as safe house in the foreign language classroom. The Modern Language Journal, 95, 148-161


Presenter #4: Anastasiya Smith
Anastasiya Smith is currently a first year PhD student at the University of Georgia with the focus on TESOL and World Languages. She also serves as an instructor and tutor for the UGA Russian Flagship Program, a government sponsored language program aimed at preparing global professionals for the multicultural world.
Enlivening small group online tutoring with drama games: “Where I am from” as a preview to a discussion of how a place shapes who we are.
Drama based pedagogy is not a new phenomenon in the language teaching practice and its benefits are described in the detailed reviews of the publications on the topic (Belliveau and Kim (2013), Shewe (2013)). One of the critical benefits of using drama based techniques is creating the class ensemble, “a collective space of engaged and embodied language learning” (Cahnmann-Taylor and McGovern, 2021, p. 34). Another one is the erased border between “focus on form” and “focus on meaning”. As Cahnmann-Taylor and McGovern (2021) state, “Exposure and use of meaningful, fluent language cannot be separated from attention to accurate form” (p.34). Furthermore, involvement in the drama activity gives the students motivation “to explore new ways to mean and be meaningfully accurate in the target language” (Cahnmann-Taylor and McGovern, 2021, p. 34).
Adding drama games to the additional speaking practice sessions for upper-intermediate learners of Russian in the government funded Language Flagship Program proved to be an impactful tool. The purpose and settings of the sessions allow for flexibility and creativity. Moreover, since the sessions are held online via zoom, playful environment is a welcome component to boost the learners’ engagement.
In this presentation I discuss the use of the game “Where I am from”, in which participants focus on three aspects of the place they describe: landscape; what people do; values, beliefs and opinions (Cahnmann-Taylor & McGovern, 2021, p. 173) as a lead-up to the discussion of how the place may contribute to a person’s success. Students reported being completely involved in the process and tuned in to what their peers were saying; they shared the challenges experienced in the game and some limitations that will be discussed as well. Overall, drama games and improvisation have a tremendous potential for small group engagements and deepening the speaking practice for language learners.
Belliveau, G. & Kim, W. (2013). Drama in L2 learning: A research synthesis. Scenario, 2, 7-27
Cahnmann-Taylor, M. & McGovern, K. (2021). Enlivening Instruction with Drama and Improv. New York and London: Routledge
Schewe, M. (2013). Taking stock and looking ahead: Drama pedagogy as a gateway to a performative teaching and learning culture. Scenario, 1, 5-23