Using Classroom Drama to Enhance EL Students’ Use of Academic Language

Research-Based Questions to Guide Best Teaching

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Using Classroom Drama to Enhance EL Students’ Use of Academic Language

In our post, “And Now Presenting…! How Dramatic Arts Integration Increases EL Students’ Use of Academic Language in the Classroom,” we highlighted the work of Alida Anderson and Sandra M. Loughlin, who investigated how integrated dramatic arts influences EL students’ use of academic language in class. Among other things, Anderson and Loughlin found that during lessons that incorporated classroom drama (such as having the students act out planetary orbits), both teachers and students asked more “who, what, when, where, and why” questions (273 and 276). They also note that during dramatic lessons, students used more descriptive and elaborative language. During conventional lessons, however, students asked more questions about directions, rather than content, and used maintenance phrases (e.g. yeah, okay) more often (277).

“In the drama context, ELs used language to interact, critique, question, and revise their ideas in collaboration with their peers. By contrast, in the conventional ELA context, students had very limited opportunities to interact with each other or with their teacher about the concepts and information. They were most focused on understanding the language of instruction” (278).

The main activity in the authors’ study focused on planetary orbits. This demonstrates that the use of classroom drama can extend beyond English Language Arts classroom and into Social Science and STEM classes as well.

Questions to Guide Educators’ Professional Development:

  1. How often do the teachers in your school/district use student-created classroom drama to help students (especially EL students) develop both their understanding of content and their use of academic language in class?
  2. For teachers who do use classroom drama: During what types of lessons do they use student-created classroom drama? What design or implementation strategies have they found to be effective?
  3. For teachers who do not use student-created classroom drama: Why not?
  4. What are some ways that student-created classroom drama could be used in math? Science? Social Studies? English Language Arts? Electives and Arts classes?


  • Allow teachers time to examine which of their lessons they could modify to incorporate drama (in which students create their own skits or plays)
  • Allow teachers time to make lesson plans that incorporate student-created classroom drama

Encourage teachers to think outside the box! Students are creative and can come up with interesting ways to physically showcase abstract ideas.

Free Printable:

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