Using Drama and Movement to Enhance English Language Learners' Literacy Development

Article excerpt

One of the biggest challenges teachers face in today's classrooms is instructing students who are non-native English speakers. Research supports using drama and movement to enhance the literacy development of English language learners. Besides being "fun" learning experiences for children, drama and movement have proven to assist with developing decoding skills, fluency, vocabulary, syntactic knowledge, discourse knowledge and metacognitive thinking. Additional benefits for English language learners include increased motivation and reduced anxiety. This article explores various ways to incorporate drama and movement into classroom activities to support English language learners' literacy development.

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I believe in action and activity. The brain learns best and retains most when the organism is actively involved in exploring physical sites and materials and asking questions to which it actually craves answers. Merely passive experiences tend to attenuate and have little lasting impact (Gardner, 1999, p. 82).

When drama and movement are integrated within the daily curriculum, engaging and numerous learning experiences transpire for early childhood learners (Chauhan, 2004; Royka, 2002). Besides being "fun" for most children, kinesthetic activities can help young learners, especially English language learners, develop decoding skills, fluency, vocabulary, syntactic knowledge, discourse knowledge, and metacognitive thinking (Sun, 2003). Teaching language skills through drama and movement gives children a context for listening and meaningful language production, provides opportunities for reading and writing development (Chauhan, 2004), and involves children in reading and writing as a holistic and meaningful communication process (McNamee, McLane, Cooper, & Kerwin, 1985). In addition to the development of gross and fine motor coordination skills, creative expression and thinking, social interaction, problem solving, cooperative play, rhythm, and rhyming skills can be enhanced.

Young children are often more receptive to any kind of drama activity since they are closer to the exploration stage of development (Royka, 2002) thus, early childhood teachers often use games, play, and drama activities in their daily classroom instruction. Integrating drama and movement techniques into the early childhood classroom can be especially effective in the development of language proficiency for English language learners (ELLs). These kinesthetic, authentic experiences use language in an interactive context (O'Malley & Pierce, 1996). Using the Total Physical Response (TPR) and the Language Experience Approach (LEA) are two techniques to facilitate learning through drama and movement and can be integrated across the curriculum.

Drama and Literacy in the Classroom Dramatic Literature-Based Experiences and English Language Learners: Facilitating dramatic literature-based experiences to support English Language Learners (ELLs) is vital. Peregoy and Boyle (2008) suggested that acting out stories and events is a highly motivating approach for students to process and to share information. Wright and her colleagues (2007) agreed and added that dramatizing stories is not only motivational but allows students to think in more sophisticated ways. Other benefits of story dramatization include introducing children to the process of writing, allowing for creative expression of ideas and feelings, providing opportunities to develop social skills, and allowing young children to work through ideas and experiences (Cooper, 1993; Paley 1990).

Opportunities for ELLs to develop reading fluency and a better understanding of syntactic knowledge through the reading and writing of stories are provided with the implementation of dramatic experiences in the early childhood classroom. Tompkins (2009) stated, "Listening is a key to language development because children learn English as they listen to the teacher and classmates talk and read aloud" (p. …