Using Drama Resources in Literacy Lessons

Dramathemes, 4th edition: Classroom literacy that will excite, surprise, and stimulate learning
By Larry Swartz
(Pembroke Publishers/Stenhouse, 2014 – Learn more)

domeier 2 15 bwReviewed by Mark A. Domeier

I’ve always enjoyed finding ways to get my students out of their desks and more involved in their learning. Thus, when I saw this book, I jumped at the opportunity, hoping to find some more ways to get students’ minds more active through non-traditional work. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much that would work well in a middle school classroom.

dramathemesSwartz sets the book up nicely, clearly defining the areas he’s covering and the roles each area can play in a classroom curriculum. Each section gives an overview, along with games, a drama structure, some extensions, and additional sources. It’s very easy to understand exactly what he expects to come out of each unit.

The units consider revealing identity, planting hope, sparking imagination, learning lessons, recognizing homelessness, moving on, accepting others, posing possibilities, and staging worlds.

So much to choose from

However, there are too many times that a unit is simply overwhelming. There are so many possible things to do associated with a theme that one doesn’t know where to start. Obviously, there isn’t enough time in the day to use everything, but some guidance about ideas that have proven especially effective would be helpful. After all, this is the fourth edition of this book, and he opens by mentioning how much this has changed since the first edition.

For an elementary classroom

So many of these activities seem more appropriate to an elementary setting; I can’t imagine my 7th and 8th graders doing anything more than rolling their eyes if I asked them to sing, clap, chant, etc. Here too would be a wonderful addition to this book: a guide to grade levels. Maybe there are schools somewhere in which teenagers would enjoy doing some of these things, but the petulance at perceived “little kid” ideas that I have seen in the past would only increase.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some outstanding things in here that I either do already (an autograph worksheet that I sometimes use to begin the school year) or might find handy in the future (parts of the unit “Confronting Bullying” will work well when I teach True Shoes, an outstanding YA novel about that topic).

The alignment challenge

And, as always in our modern era of education, how will these align with the standards that I have to teach in my classroom? There are so many standards that, as much as I like supplemental activities to enhance the learning experience, I have to pick and choose so I can get to as many standards as possible. Like most other teachers, I don’t just cover material, and some activities help drive home the point and help achieve true learning, but picking and choosing has to occur, and I’m afraid too many of these would muddy up the curriculum to the point of dropping essential outcomes. (To be fair, this is a book written and published in Canada and distributed by Stenhouse in the U.S.)

In the end, while there are some interesting ideas and different ways of approaching themes in the classroom in Dramathemes, there is not enough guidance to help fit these in our classrooms and too much to wade through to get to what will help individual teachers.

Mark A. Domeier has taught middle school English at the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva school district in southern Minnesota for 19 years. He also coaches, officiates, and serves as Voice of the Panthers for varsity events. In addition, Domeier stays active as a writer, having self-published two books: Heroics 101 and its sequel Heroics 201, super hero books about college students. Plus, he writes a weekly column for the local paper called Whatever Flips Your Waffle.

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