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Teachers… be theatrical and captivate your audience

miranda and kids risized

Often times, students love their teachers while others dislike them. Why is that?

Why is it that some teachers make us learn and love a subject while others send us to sleep?

When you first start teaching children English through theatre, it is important what you teach them as it is equally important how you teach that makes a lesson successful. And learning how to be a good communicator is fundamental for any new teacher.

Actors on stage are told how important it is to maintain the audience’s attention throughout a play. If they do not captivate an audience, they won’t get an applause at the end. Or in Shakespeare’s time, they would get a tomato thrown at them!

Teaching children is similar to acting. When you walk into a classroom for the first time, if you are unable to engage and motivate your children successfully, they instantly stop listening and become bored. They may not throw a tomato at you but you will lose their attention rather quickly which will cause your instruction to be ineffective and unsuccessful.

So, just as an actor learns how to entertain and inspire an audience, the first step to becoming a successful English Theatre Teacher is to learn how to communicate, to connect, and interact with your class. This will allow you to understand how to control your class, transfer your positive energy, and feel more confident yourself.

Body Language Skills:

If you want to make a good impression with a new class of children and parents, you need to be able to send the right message –  one of trust, confidence, friendliness, and professionalism.

Whether you like it or not — people will judge you in the first few seconds of meeting you on how you look and sound including how you stand, whether you communicate aggressively or have friendly gestures, whether you look confident or nervous, happy or sad, tired or awake.  This is a lot of judgement in the first 5 seconds and that’s a lot of pressure on you!

Don’t worry!  By learning some simple and effective theatrical skills, you can ensure you get over the initial nerves of meeting and greeting your very first class of children and their families.

  1. Don’t slouch! Stand up straight, shoulders back and uncross your arms and you’ll immediately feel and look more confident and open.
  1. Smile and they’ll smile back Smiling has a natural disarming effect on people. When you smile at someone more often than not they will mirror your behavior and smile back at you. By smiling you will appear warm, friendly and welcoming and above all you’ll communicate self-assurance. – All important qualities to establish in your first lesson.
  1. Make everyone feel special Make a positive impression by greeting parents with an energetic firm hand shake and using direct eye contact (there’s nothing more telling about someone’s personality than a weak handshake!). When you talk to children – kneel down to their eye level and smile.
  1. Negative Body language Avoid the following negative body language gestures which emphasize shyness, insecurity or disinterest.
  • Biting your nails
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Looking at your watch
  • Drumming your fingers
  • Yawning
  • Rubbing your face

Voice Technique:

  1. Speak up! There is nothing more frustrating or irritating than trying to understand someone who mumbles! Children switch off if teachers are inaudible, chew their words, or trail off at the ends of sentences. To make yourself “ heard,  learn to adapt an enthusiastic, clear and engaging voice that will enthuse children. To project your voice, imagine you are speaking in front of hundred children, even when you only have ten! Don’t shout but inject a light and bright quality to your voice, chop and change your pace, rhythm and volume.
  1. Speed Use an enthusiastic tone of voice but don’t over exaggerate by speed talking! If you gabble, children won’t understand a word you are saying, so try and find a happy medium.
  1. Voice Musicality Using the same tone and pitch in your voice for the whole lesson is like listening to a broken record. You will appear dull and monotonous. Try and imagine that your voice is like a musical instrument, be inventive, play with it, have fun and vary it. Interpret different voices and adopted them to different activities. Surprise children by whispering a request, try singing a question in a high pitch or use a deep tone of voice to interpret different characters. Your children won’t expect it and it will make them laugh.
  1. Keep the language simple Don’t confuse children by using over complicated terminology in your first lesson. Keep your language simple and level appropriate and always help convey the meaning of the vocabulary by adding physical or facial gestures.

Try the following exercise by simply saying out loud the following instructions:

  • Come here and sit down please.
  • Wash your face
  • Brush your hair
  • Clap your hands.
  • Open the door
  • Put on your shoes
  • Clean the window

Now repeat and say out loud the same instructions but this time adding facial and physical gestures to the words. It’s a lot easier to understand, right? Try and become much more physical in everything you say in your English class from day one.

  1. Relax and breathe When you become apprehensive or nervous speaking in front of an audience for the first time, do you find your breath quickens and you find it difficult to speak? Do you feel you can’t seem to get enough air in your lungs or your throat tightens and closes? Or just when you want to sound super confident and in control, your voice betrays you and out comes only a tiny squeak? That’s because you stop breathing properly. Deeply. If you slow down and take deep breaths using your diaphragm and not your upper chest you’ll discover you not only calm your nerves but you’ll have a powerful and strong speaking voice that your children will want to actively listen to.

Let’s put it all together I hope these few simple “theatrical” ideas help you overcome any pre-lesson nerves you may have in approaching your first English theatre class of children and parents. Learning to incorporate positive body language and voice technique in teaching children does have enormous benefits but it does take practice, trial and error.  Remember to always plan your lessons well in advance and rehearse acting them at home, it will help you feel more confident when you are faced with a real audience!

Happy teaching Miranda