Teaching Drama to Kids Without Reading a Script: Pantomime and Expression

Teaching Drama to Kids Without Reading a Script: Pantomime and Expression
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But I Can’t Read!

When teaching drama to the very young, teachers hear their plaintive cry: “But I can’t read!” The underlying assumption, of course, is

that they will be required to read a script. Imagine their wide, wondering eyes as the drama teacher tells them, “But you don’t have to!” It is possible to develop a rehearsed performance with non-readers, and to do so without the use of words.

Really, getting them to recite written lines onstage is nothing more than a side-effect of being in a play. To teach acting, it is preferable to start with pantomime in order to focus on the important parts: self-awareness, physicalization, working cooperatively, and of course, acting.

How to Teach Pantomime

Teaching children pantomime is teaching them the essence of acting. By not allowing them to use words, they become forced to show, not tell. And that is, after all, what acting is: showing.

A great way to start young children in drama is with simple pantomimes. Take 3”x5” index cards, cut them in half, and write a simple action on each one. Simple actions include, for example, skiing down a hill; eating spaghetti; blowing your nose; and brushing teeth. The cards go into a hat, and pick one out for each student. As the kids become warmed up, they become receptive to a few notes or directions.

Whenever drama teachers direct children, it is extremely important to focus on the positive. So, tell a child first what they did well, then add that maybe he or she could make it even better by … encourage kids to exaggerate their actions to the point of it seeming silly, then tone it down just a little.

A Play in Pantomime

Any story line can be plotted out and pantomimed. Let’s take a simple activity, a roller coaster ride, and see how we would guide actors through the “script” via pantomime.

Let’s put a line of chairs, one for each actor, across the stage. A big sign should be painted and placed on one side: ROLLER COASTER RIDES. Another sign on the opposite side says: RIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Any number of children can do this together, but let’s say we have five. Four of the children will act like children, the fifth child will portray Grandma.

Upon entering: How do the different characters walk? How is Grandma’s walk different from the children’s walk? How do old people walk; how do young people walk?

The children notice the signs and show excitement. Point at signs, jump up and down, plead on their knees, etc. Grandma, however, shows fear. Shaking head, face in hands, etc.

Grandmas gives in, and everybody sits. Now is the time the children must work the most as a team. The roller coaster swings right, swings left… all of the riders must move the same way, because they are sitting in the same roller coaster. This is a great activity to foster cooperation and the ability to collaborate.

What makes this funny, is that eventually (and together as a group,) the children become frightened or even dizzy and nauseated. Grandma, however, starts to really enjoy herself. At the end, the kids can’t get out of their seats fast enough, but Grandma won’t budge – she is going to ride again!

You, the teacher and director, need to focus on each little bit and help the children show, with pantomime, what is happening in each scene. This very fun pantomime activity can be done exclusively without words. It teaches physicalization, cooperation, and of course, acting.

Additional Resources

This post is part of the series: We Need Drama, Music, Art and Dance in Education

Reasons, suggestions, and lesson plans for teaching drama K-6. Includes many drama games.

  1. Music, Art, and Drama in the Classroom: An Essential Part of Learning
  2. Reasons to Include Drama in the Curriculum
  3. Dance in Education: Choosing Dance over Sports
  4. Drama Lesson Plans for Kids: Pantomimes for Non-Readers
  5. Drama Games and Acting for Kids: Pantomime Ball Toss
  6. Drama Games and Activities: Who Wears This Hat?
  7. Use Drama in School: Write a Commerical Lesson Plan
  8. Teaching Drama: Acting and Emotions
  9. Two Drama Games For Elementary Students: Warm-Up Activities
  10. Use the Machine Game to Warm Up Your Students