How to Teach Drama to Middle School Students

Middle school students are capable of displaying a wide range of emotions in dramatic roles.
... Toxicoz/iStock/Getty Images

Drama curriculum for middle school should take into account the rapid developmental changes that students experience during grades six, seven and eight. During these years, students may be less self-confident and more conformist than they were in elementary school, but they also are more capable of critical thinking and empathy. Teaching drama at this age can help draw out and define students' individuality, boost their confidence and improve their communication skills while taking advantage of their emerging maturity.

1 Skills Learned Through Drama Curriculum

Drama teaches skills that apply not only to other academic disciplines, but also to future employment and life in general. A dramatic monologue presented to the class teaches a student to read and memorize a text and to understand it thoroughly so he can interpret it with his body, voice and emotions. Through acting out a role in a play, a student learns to work closely with a group and to take responsibility for his part. Theater games teach students myriad interpersonal and critical skills, such as paying better attention to others and delivering narratives.

2 Sixth Grade: Learning to Use the Body

The youngest middle school students can be taught through theater games, pantomime and role play how to use their bodies -- and to be comfortable using them -- in a dramatic context. Child, the home page of playwright, composer and educator Matt Buchanan, suggests a game in which students are paired and one makes a statue of the other -- posing his partner's body while the partner "freezes" in position. This activity teaches both students how to cooperate and to think creatively. Another common partner game involves the students facing one another, with one acting as a mirror to the other, imitating his movements as closely as possible. The familiar game of charades develops students' ability to communicate using only their bodies and facial expressions.

3 Seventh Grade: Developing the Voice

Once students are more at ease using their bodies to communicate, they can begin to develop their dramatic voices through techniques such as storytelling and monologues, word games and tongue twisters. You can use puppets and masks to encourage students to play with different kinds of voices. These tools help students develop narratives, both written and spoken, and pay attention to the importance of voice as they create dialogue. Seventh-graders can begin learning the elements of stagecraft, the technical aspects of theater.

4 Eighth Grade: Incorporating Thought and Emotion

By eighth grade, students are more able to empathize with others and think critically, so they are ready for a more mature approach to dramatic study. Eighth-graders can learn improvisation as a technique in connecting the mind, body and emotion, taking what was learned in sixth and seventh grades to another level. One improv activity asks the class to compile a list of the many ways humans can move, such as walking, running or skipping. Assign each student one of these movements and then ask each student to vary the way she carries it out; for example, make it bigger, faster, heavier or more relaxed. Discuss with students how the changes in movement express changes in emotion, both as felt by the student moving and by those observing. Students will see that the way they control their bodies creates an effect.

Betsy Beacom is a writer and editor with experience in education, marketing, Internet content, social media, the performing and visual arts, literature and more. She holds bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in literature, has taught English at Yale University and has more than 20 years' experience writing and editing.