How to Make Your Drama Class More Successful–Lessons Learned from 38 Years of Teaching Drama-Elementary

This is part one of two. Click here for post two and three:

Novice drama teachers ask me what is my secret to success in the classroom. How do I make my drama classes so successful? Heck, I don’t know really.  I’m intense, have high expectations of all my students, energetic and enthusiastic about the subject matter.

I’m guessing those are innate descriptors of me, but not of everyone who teaches drama.  (Although I am acquainted with many drama teachers who are quite a lot like me.) But I have taught drama for thirty-eight years with students of all ages from all walks of life. Generally, I retain them, too.  How?  Smoke and mirrors folks, smoke and mirrors.

The first part of these series of blog posts are about teaching drama to elementary students.  If you want to remember the reason that you loved the theatre so much, teach a creative dramatics class.  In the words of a second grader, “I love drama class.  It’s awesome!” That pretty much sums up an elementary kid.

Here is a list of lessons I have learned from teaching drama for 38 years. I can’t believe it’s been that long.  Really?

img_0359These cast members of Aladdin, Kids who were hanging out during rehearsals.  I found that coloring pages worked wonderfully this last summer during camp.

Here is a bit of advice for a Creative Dramatics class (grades second through fifth)

  • Think of each class in 15 minute increments. If your class is about sixty minutes in length, you’ll need about three to four activities per class. This includes a warm up exercise at the beginning and cool down at the end.

  • Be flexible with your time allotments.  Sometimes the students will wear out quickly or want to play the game longer or practice their performance a little more. Or you have too many students absent from class that day and you are unable to move ahead on the lesson or rehearsal. This one is tough to learn.  Just because you have planned for three days on some unit of study doesn’t mean you are going to get them. 

  • At first, the students will wear out very quickly–want to get drinks, go to the bathroom, etc. if you are studying creative movement in particular. Over time, say several days, they will be able to go longer stretches of time. Usually, we take a bathroom/water break half way through class.

  • If students exhibits signs of wearing out too quickly, help them to temper their energy. Give them permission to slow down or rest for a second, but we stay on our feet so that this doesn’t become a crutch.

  • Use drama games, read aloud age appropriate books about theatre as filler or warm ups or cool downs at the end of class. Vary the exercises–do some that are for sitting down, a few physical execises and/or working in teams or individually.

  • It is my opinion, improvisation is something that young students do not fully understand.  Better to play games where they must think quickly or practice using one’s imagination than to jump head long into improvisation.  They could study how to create a story with a beginning, middle and end.  Your Language Arts teachers will thank you.  🙂


  • Avoid doing all the movement exercises with them, but allow them to discover the movements themselves. If you do all the movements for and with them, they stop creating and just imitate you instead. I believe in the “Suzuki Method of Acting” (my own title)–I model for them a few times and afterward encourage them through side coaching.

  • Steer clear of costumes for class performances. I know this seems like a mistake, but think of it this way: if one student brings a fantastic costume from home and the other students forget or their parent was unable to find one or is unable to purchase one, it makes for problems.  Collect costume pieces yourself and use those instead.  Or ask for donations for a “costumes box”.  It will fill up quickly!

  •  The use of props can become a crutch for a beginning student. However, if a    wooden spoon can be used as a wand and then in another scene it is used as a sword, that’s a better choice.  By substituting one object for another, the students begin to think creatively.

  • The students love creating masks. I can recommend ones that work well.  (write me at or

  • Have plenty of extra scripts, pencils and hi-lighters for the students to use. They lose their originals a lot.

  • If your students have never performed a script, you’ll need to teach them the fine art of hi-lighting their lines. Also, you’ll need to show them how to write blocking down in their script and the importance of notating.

  • Practice bowing!  There are several styles you can use, but take a bit of time and teach them how to bow.

  •  Practice applauding for one another. This isn’t that “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy, though. We practice applauding to show support for one another not the quality of the performance.  For some students, merely standing in front of their peers is frightening to them.

  • Practice stage etiquette, especially those manners we practice during rehearsals.  I stress teaching them to say, “thank you” when I give them a note.  Also, learning to stay quiet while others are rehearsing is tantamount with me.


  • Refrain from planning performances on shortened school days.  Some students have a difficult time with changes in the routine and will act up on those days.  Avoid parent/teacher conference days, school holiday performance or end of the year performance days for your class plays, too.


  • Lastly, have fun!  Above all, youngsters who are just beginning to act should enjoy themselves. This doesn’t mean you have to have chaos or unbridled silliness. On the contrary, having boundaries helps all involved. If the students are having a great time with you, they are learning.  Laughter encourages sustained learning and we laugh a lot in my classes. I find the more fun I have teaching my students, the happier we all are.  Don’t you?

I am certain there are more tidbits of advice I could extoll, but these come to mind first.

Read part two of this post.  It’s all about middle and high school drama class.

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I’d love to hear from you.





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