Some Ideas about Teaching



Using Drama in the History Classroom


I learned this sequence from the excellent Jonathan Neelands many years ago on a CPD course for teaching drama in English lessons.   It has mutated slightly as I have used it over the years (any faults you find are all my own), but it works wonderfully for almost any historical narrative (‘story’) to want to do with the pupils, and it works without fail, every time, with pupils of any ability.


Imagining a story (such as that of Kunta Kinte):


1.       Either tell the story, or read round appropriately, or (if the story is already known to the pupils) rehearse the sequence of facts by Q&A.


2.       The whole class sit in a huge circle.

          Explain that you are going to re-tell the story ‘a bit at a time’, each person in the class telling the next ‘bit’.

          Establish the ‘rules’.  

   Each pupil tells their ‘bit’, then ‘passes the story on’ by tapping the shoulder of the next pupil.

   Nobody is to tell too much – that would leave the people at the end with nothing to say.

   If a person really can say nothing at all, they simple say ‘and’ and tap the next person’s shoulder.

   The class have to promise not all to say nothing – that would leave the last people with all the work.

   If somebody misses something out, it is no big deal – the next person simply begins: ‘before that…’ and so the story carries on.

You begin with: ‘Once upon a time’ and pass on immediately – challenge the class as a whole to so tell the story round the class that the last person finishes the story and all you have to say is: ‘And the all lived (un)happily ever after’.


3.       Put the class into groups of three or four (depending on the number of main characters in the story).

          Tell them to re-do the same exercise, only going round and round in their group of four.

          This time they have to tell the story until you shout ‘next’.   Keep shouting out ‘next’ to keep the story turning.

          End the exercise as soon as the first group finishes.


4.       Pupils stay in their groups of three or four.

   Explain that so far they have been telling the story from the vantage point of an outsider – the ‘narrator’.   Explain that now you want them to see the story from the vantage-point of someone inside the story.

   Talk with the pupils about how not every character in the story would know ‘the whole story’ – they would have to conjecture some parts, and might make mistakes; they would see things from their own point of view.  

   Allocate a ‘character’ to each person in the group.   Give them a few moments to think about what ‘their character’ would know, think and feel.   With less able pupils, it is worthwhile letting them at this point get together with pupils from the other small groups who have the same ‘character’ as theirs, then asking them to go back to their group.

   Now Character 1 (Kunta Kinte) tells the story from the point-of-view of that character.   After a while, shout the name of the second character (Captain Davies) and that character ‘takes over the story’, from his own point-of-view.   ‘Go round’ the characters in the same way as last time, so that everyone gets two or three goes.   Less able pupils sometimes find it too hard to secure a meaningful continuous narrative whilst ‘jumping from character to character’ in this way – all I do in those situations is to ask each ‘character’, returning from their ‘same-character’ groups, in turn, to tell the other characters in their mixed group the whole story from their own point of view.


5.       Optional extra – works best with more able pupils, but can go well with all pupils who have successfully interacted with the story.

          Call the whole class together.   Posit a confrontational situation which ‘follows on’ from the basic story – an alarming ‘next step, in which you challenge the class (in their roles) and they have to (in role) contradict/prevent you.

          For example, a successful ‘next step’ after the story of Red Riding Hood is that the Prince (play by yourself) turns up to arrest her mother – and the class, as villagers, have to say whether they agree and argue with you whether you ought put Red Riding Hood into care.

          One possible ‘next step’ in the story of Kunta Kinte would be to turn up as the ‘Commissioner in Charge of Slaves’.   Explain that you have the power to release him from slavery and send him home, but that you’re uncertain whether he deserves it.

          Call on the following people (simply call them out from the class – the pupils will be able to adapt to role easily, though you may wish to start with the more outgoing, able pupils):

   Kunta’s parents

   His friends from his home village

   The people who captured him to be a slave

   Captain Davies

   3rd Mate Slater

   Slaves who were with him on the voyage

   Mr Carrington

   Mr Reynolds

   People who were slaves with ‘Toby’ on the plantation

   Mr Ames

   The men who captured ‘Toby’ when he ran away

   Kunta Kinte himself


Ask each person          

   How they knew Kunta Kinte

   What happened between him and them

   What they thought of him

   To express an opinion about whether he ought to be freed.

   But encourage the rest of the class to ‘butt in’ with comments/opinions as long as they are in role.


Of the above:

1   establishes the story,

2   is an exercise reinforcing the sequencing of the events,

3   reinforces the events of the story at individual level

4   requires empathy, but forces the pupils to understand the nuances of the story from different standpoints

5   requires them to use their deep understanding to make points in a hypothetical situation.


Posted on: Mar 11 2008, 10:22 PM




To cite this page, use:   CLARE, JOHN D. (2003/2008), 'Using Drama in the History Classroom',  at Greenfield History Site (