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Language Learning, Dramatic Play, and a Golden Monkey

In late March, student storytellers in Chinese class performed two children’s stories. They adopted the expressiveness and even physical gestures of the characters, Dongdong the Golden Monkey, Panda Meimei, and many other creatures. 

Dramatic play is an effective, holistic way to develop students’ Social, Physical, Intellectual, Creative, and Emotional (SPICE) Skills, especially in a language class.  It increases the efficacy of language acquisition while increasing learners’ self-confidence, pronunciation, fluency, and literacy.

To begin, we watched a video of last year’s students performing their plays. After watching, 4th grader Luca said, “I feel like they worked really hard to memorize the script.” 

“And they spoke really clearly,” Brendan added from across the classroom.

Ryland agreed with his classmates, but added that he felt motivated, too. “When I was watching them, I felt like I could try to do better than them.”

In the 5th grade class, Samantha observed, “It’s really cool to see previous students’ performance and then get to do the same thing.”

“It’s kind of inspirational,” Ellie added.

Next, we read the books aloud as a class to reinforce students’ understanding of the stories. Then, students split into two groups for a “Think-Pair-Share” activity, a discussion technique for boosting engagement and understanding. Students with the same lines from different teams discussed specific characters to deepen their relationship with their roles and develop empathy with their character’s experiences. 

In the 4th grade class, James reflected that this kind of project had some different learning outcomes than other lessons, “[This project] was focused on speaking instead of writing,” he said. “It was an opportunity to work on my pronunciation.” 

“It was also different,” Solon said, “because we had an opportunity to memorize lines and the pressure that if we didn’t know them, we got a taste of what it’s like having to talk on the spot.” 

“It was really fun, but it was also hard,” Ella added. “When I was doing it, I was scared. But since then, I really don’t have stage fright anymore. I don’t know why! I feel really happy that I did it, and it was a really good experience.” 

Caleb, who was listening thoughtfully to his classmates’ reflections, summarized the mix of what he was hearing—and feeling—himself. “This experience gave us, like Solon and Ella said, a taste of what it’s like to mess up on the spot [in a new language], but it also gave us some encouragement. It was partly for our grade and partly a competition, so it made us want to get it right and do it perfectly.”

The learning activities were full of laughter. The students were consistently engaged in the project, and it allowed them to flex their creativity. Furthermore, the active learning made for a great show as well as improved language learning outcomes. They won’t soon forget their lines! 

Watch the three final performances:

4th grade presents: Golden Monkey Dongdong (Team 1)

4th grade presents: Golden Monkey Dongdong (Team 2)

5th grade presents: Meimei the Panda

5th-grade reflection videos

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