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Acting Skills for Language Teachers General Handout: Mark Almond

Acting Skills for Language Teachers General Handout: Mark Almond

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Published by markalmondelt
Specialist in Drama in English Language Teaching

Acting Skills for Language Teachers to Develop Classroom Presence
Why are performance skills relevant to us? Probably more than any time, our teaching is constantly being assessed either formally or informally (tutorials, course evaluation feedback, observations etc). Far more importantly though, certain ‘performance skills’ are relevant because most of us genuinely want our learners to share our passion for language and communication. We genuine
Specialist in Drama in English Language Teaching

Acting Skills for Language Teachers to Develop Classroom Presence
Why are performance skills relevant to us? Probably more than any time, our teaching is constantly being assessed either formally or informally (tutorials, course evaluation feedback, observations etc). Far more importantly though, certain ‘performance skills’ are relevant because most of us genuinely want our learners to share our passion for language and communication. We genuine

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Published by: markalmondelt on Sep 10, 2010
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Specialist in Drama in English Language Teaching
Acting Skills for Language Teachers to Develop Classroom Presence
Why are performance skills relevant to us? Probably more than any time, ourteaching is constantly being assessed either formally or informally (tutorials, courseevaluation feedback, observations etc). Far more importantly though, certain‘performance skills’ are relevant because most of us genuinely want our learners toshare our passion for language and communication. We genuinely want to see ourlearners make progress and be successful. So, certain ‘performance skills’ arerelevant because they help:
-
make our lessons enjoyable – give our students a positive attitude towards thesubject and will hopefully make the learning experience more memorablebecause anxiety is low
-
we want to be viewed positively by our learners ie. we want them to like us – anatural, human instinct which also usually increases motivation and again willpromote a more positive attitude towards English
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us develop strong relationships with our learnersWhat skills do actors have that teachers can learn from in order to make a lesson amemorable and enjoyable experience? Just as actors have stage or screen presence,we as teachers can develop classroom presence by transforming certain skills for theclassroom:
-
Classroom presence . Take a ‘confidenceplaying card. Ace is high. Walk upto the chair, sit down and introduce yourself to the group according to yournumber. Can everyone guess which number you had? What behaviouralaspects determined your choice? In your opinion, which of these demonstratehigh confidence and which demonstrate low?
a broad smile
relatively slow speech
a long ‘er’ (compared to a short one!)
keeping your head still when you speak
eye contact
any others?
Eye Contact 
How important is making
genuine
eye contact with your students? How long shouldyou make eye contact with someone without making them feel uncomfortable? Howdo you
share
eye contact? On stage, it is essential you make genuine eye contactwith your co-actors in order to provoke a spontaneous, natural reaction as well as toconvince your audience that the actor is “in the moment”. Occasionally, it isnecessary for an actor to speak directly to the audience, as with Shakespeare’ssoliloquies. With a small audience, making genuine eye contact does not pose toomuch of a problem but with large audiences it is more difficult, but nevertheless stillpossible to make people
feel seen
. Some actors divide up the auditorium and movefrom one section to another giving the impression of making eye contact. Think of 
Mark Almond, email:
 
 
something you could quite easily talk about continuously for a minute and play TheEye Contact Game!Other acting skills that can be transferred to the classroom …
-
spontaneity and readiness to improvise e.g when a lesson lags or a studentbecomes disruptive (actors sense from audience reaction and adjust).Sometimes in this situation, we need to go up a gear or sometimes just leavean activity and move onto something else. What is certainly true is that weneed to stay awake! We need to be tuned into our students and have oursensors turned on all the time. We need to be experts in ‘reading a situation’and responding appropriately
-
setting up anticipation/intrigue/arouse curiosity e.g putting a visual aid orpiece of realia (a paper bag of something) at the front of the class at thebeginning of the lesson which you’re going to use later on. Sometimes if appropriate, let each classroom activity be revealed one at a time to createsuspense and surprise.
-
conveying enthusiasm and energy (being “fresh”) – David Raven’s 4,575performances in The Mousetrap. Teaching the present perfect as though it’sfor the first rather than millionth time. Smile, be wide-eyed and pretendyou’re enjoying yourself! It’s amazing how easily a lacklustre teacher devoidof energy can send a class to sleep. Stay sharp and on the ball – even after aheavy night – you have to sometimes dig deep to find the energy
-
creative and spontaneous use of gesture and facial expression . Just before Igo into class, especially first thing in the morning, I briefly (and secretly) gothrough the following routine:
Give yourself a vigorous face massage concentrating on your forehead,cheeks and jaw
Open your face as widely as possible stretching eyes, cheeks, mouthand chin. Now scrunch up your face as tightly as possible. Repeat
Move your eyebrows up and down. Try to move one at a time
Break into a big grin with wide eyes
Now tighten your eyesWork in small groups. Perform a couple of the following facial expressions foryour partner to guess. Can you feel the different muscles in your face being usedto create these expressions?frown gawp gaze glare grimace leer pout scowl smirk sneer wincemouth shrug
-
creative use of movement and space . If it’s difficult to reconfigure the layoutof your classroom, what can the teacher do to vary his/her movement andposition? In theatre, determining where an actor moves or stands on stage iscalled
blocking
. Blocking is vital in establishing relationships betweencharacters, maintaining audience interest and controlling audience attention.In the same way, teachers should vary the way space is used in the classroomand how different positioning can help maintain interest and motivationduring the lesson.
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Lots of us do this already but sometimes, we need to consciously decide toadjust our position to vary classroom dynamics
teaching from the back of the classroom making the back-row students thefront-row students and vice versa
kneeling or crouching down between desks
crouching down at the front of the room
sitting behind a vacant desk amongst the students
sitting on the teacher’s desk
sitting on a student’s desk
sitting on the floor
leaning on a student’s desk entering his/her personal space
weaving slowly between the students’ desks
standing in the doorway
standing on a chair or table
-
creative use of voice“Teachers continue to take their most precious asset, their voice, for granted”“There is virtually no systematic training for teachers in the effective use of thevoice”Alan Maley, The Language Teacher’s Voice (2000)
Do you agree with the above? Is it true for you? Does it reflect your owntraining?
Do you use your voice to its full potential in your teaching ie. your full vocalrange? How?Practising correct diaphragmatic breathing is a good place to start. Try the following:Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and stand tall. Place your hands on yourlower ribs (the diaphragm is located underneath). Breathe in deeply through yournose for four seconds, hold for four, then breathe out through your mouth for four (if you are relaxed, your abdomen should expand)!As above, but say the days of the week, the months of the year, then the alphabet –all in one breath.Now in small groups, choose one of the quotes below. Try modifying your voice whilesaying them. You can modify your voice by …
clenching your teeth
putting your tongue behind your top teeth
curling your tongue back
using a falsetto voice to sound like a stereotypical old person
contracting the back of your throat to give yourself a husky voice
putting your tongue behind your bottom teeth
speak ‘through your nose’ as though you have a bad cold (aim to makeyour nose vibrate as you speak).
put your chin down (no strain in the throat) and speak in a deep, booming,authoritative voice
Mark Almond, email:
 

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