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Hispania Volume 73, Number 3, September 1990

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Teaching in Community Colleges

Prepared by Gerard Melito148


September, 1990

Dear Colleague,

This section of Hispania is in danger of becoming extinct! If you have enjoyed this section of Hispania as much as I have, I'm sure you will want to see the Community Colleges pedagogical section continued.

As little as five type-written pages double spaced are acceptable. The article I have written for this issue «Using Theatrical Techniques in Foreign Language Classrooms» is a technique I have used for the past twenty years in teaching Spanish. I presented these ideas at the Northeast Conference in April, 1990. The time spent on this article was minimal. There was only the wish to share a teaching technique that may prove helpful in your teaching of Spanish.

Some of the educational situations and students we face at the community college level are unique. WE, together, can pool our expertise and form a national interchange of sharing our ideas in pedagogical matters and the teaching of Spanish. Your ideas, plans, activities and innovations in the teaching of Spanish may prove invaluable to a fellow colleague. If you have considered writing such an article, please do not hesitate. Write and submit it today! I will be happy to help you in any way possible in the publication of your article in our Community Colleges pedagogical section.

You may submit all such articles to:

Prof. Gerard Melito

Mattatuck Community College

750 Chase Parkway

Waterbury, Connecticut 06708


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Using Theatrical Techniques in the Foreign Language Classroom
Gerard Melito



Mattatuck Community College

The use of theatrical techniques in eliciting oral responses from our foreign language students is very compatible with the emphasis on oral proficiency on the community college level. Quite specifically, the traditional dialogue in which various members of the class role-play a contextual situation involving linguistic functions and relevant vocabulary may borrow some techniques from theatrical rehearsal and production.

I advocate the use of the traditional dialogue as a script integrating theatrical techniques to achieve oral proficiency in the target language. These techniques may be given in the mother tongue to enhance the performance of the dialogue as script. Anyone who has ever been involved in any kind of amateur theatrical production will recognize such techniques as pantomime, blocking, pausing for beats, and gestures as elementary. However, previous participation in theatrical productions is not necessary to implement these various techniques in the foreign language classroom. Only a willingness to try some thing different that will enliven the atmosphere of the foreign language community college classroom while reinforcing linguistic functions is necessary.

The principal advantage of such an implementation is that the shift of focus is placed directly on the learner. Besides adding a theatrical flair to the foreign language classroom, it engages all learners in a meaningful, exciting group learning activity. The learner occupies stage center and is responsible for speaking and performing in Spanish in the classroom setting. From the first rehearsal or read-through

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to the final scheduled mini-performances, the student is responsible for learning the script, achieving some degree of fluency in its delivery as well as learning the various nuances of the role.

Another important advantage in engaging students in role-playing the dialogue as script is to have them involved in a total physical response in front of the classroom. Such physicalization enhances voice projection, memory recall, and, in many instances, an improvement in the fluency of the idiolect of the learner in Spanish. Speech retention of the dialogue and its attendant catchy phrases will become part of the learner's repertoire of responses.

If the student has the role of actor, then the instructor, quite naturally, must assume the role of director as interpreter of the dialogue or text as script. However simple the dialogue, the instructor as director can block or suggest appropriate movement, mime, gestures, voice inflections or actions appropriate to the learner as actor in his/her role. Whether on the amateur or professional level, blocking is the first activity necessary to successful stage production.

In the foreign language classroom, before blocking can be implemented, it is necessary that the student understand the text and be able to reproduce it with some degree of fluency. Therefore, the first responsibility of the instructor as director is to drill the dialogue or text quickly but efficiently, making sure that its meaning is clear. Of course, this has always been a feature of good and effective language teaching. It is important to emphasize that sound teaching practices should not be forfeited as the learner prepares for his role in Spanish. The result is a successful foreign language activity; the fun and excitement of this activity are secondary to this end.

Blocking can be used to encourage and help otherwise passive and shy students to overcome their anxiety in performing before the class. To make sure that everyone is participating, the instructor as director may require that all desks and chairs be arranged in a semi-circle à la theatre-in-the-round. This will enable all to participate without the option of withdrawing into a corner.

Using a sample dialogue as script is appropriate and most effective to describe the actual blocking process. One of the most successful usages of the dialogue as script occurred in an evening section of Elementary Spanish 2. It involved two dialogues. The composition of the class included several senior citizens and several students in their late teens and early twenties, as well as a few students in their thirties and forties. Using the dialogue as script integrated the classroom well in a meaningful and enjoyable experience in which everyone gained proficiency in Spanish.

The first script was entitled La cita. After drilling the dialogue, I assigned two members of the class the parts of Carlos and María. They were the initial couple to play the role of a young man pursuing a young lady for a date; the young lady is hesitant and playing hard-to-get. The first two lines of the dialogue are:

Carlos: ¿Qué piensas hacer este fin de semana?

María: No mucho. Tengo que estudiar.



On Carlos's first line, I suggested that Carlos run up to María while she was walking ahead of him. On María's line, I suggested that she avoid Carlos by looking away from him on her line No mucho. I also suggested that she continue walking away from him on Tengo que estudiar. The next pair of lines to be blocked was:

Carlos: Te invito a una fiesta. ¿Quieres ir?

María: No puedo. Tengo que escribir un informe sobre la política argentina.



On these two lines, Carlos followed María, ignoring her rejection; María continued to move away from Carlos on No puedo. To emphasize the idea that María was indeed tired, she seated herself on a chair in the center of the classroom stage. She sat down on the line Tengo que escribir un informe sobre la politica argentina.

The next pair of fines blocked was:

Carlos: ¡Qué suerte tienes! Mis amigos argentinos van a dar una fiesta. Te pueden ayudar.

María: Parece interesante. No sé. No termino hasta las dos.



On the Line ¡Qué suerte tienes! Carlos sat down next to María. Then he smiled and raised his voice excitedly with a wild gesture of this arms on the line Mis amigos van a dar una fiesta. María looked at him bewildered. Carlos then composed himself and paused, saying very matter-of-factly Te pueden ayudar. María paused for two beats (counting by thousands) and rose as she said her line Parece interesante. She looked away on No sé. Then

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she walked a few steps to the right on No termino hasta las doce.

The closing lines blocked were:

Carlos: ¿Y qué? La fiesta dura hasta la madrugada.

María: Bueno. Voy contigo.



Carlos rose and followed María. María, on her last line, turned to look at Carlos. She smiled at him. He smiled back.

The second script was not a dialogue but actually a script involving several members of a family helping out to do the spring cleaning. The father pantomimed painting the kitchen wall while the son mimed playing a Nintendo game. The daughter of the script mimed washing dishes while the mother pantomimed sweeping the floor while giving orders.

This otherwise lifeless, dull and monotonous text was embellished by using pantomime. The class had an enjoyable time and learned such Spanish vocabulary as barrer, sacudir, fregar los platos, pintar among others. The command forms given by the mother in the script were learned by the entire class as the performance was repeated with other class members.

To summarize, there are many benefits in using the dialogue or text as script. Three basic steps can help community college instructors implement this technique in the classroom. They are:

Step 1: Use your dialogue as a script to be performed. Arrange the desks and chairs in a theatre-in-the-round fashion. Model your script for linguistic practice via tape or teacher/student mimicry.

Step 2: Be a model yourself as the director. You can read through the script with volunteers, native speakers or other persons with a reasonable Spanish accent.

Step 3: Use some theatrical techniques in preparing. You can suggest appropriate pantomime, gestures, and voice inflections that will enhance the script. Your students may have some useful suggestions. You can prearrange elementary blocking, suggesting where the learners will move to better interpret and speak their roles in Spanish.





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