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Bringing Theater into the Classroom

How to incorporate experiential learning methods into your instruction?

This innovation describes three different ways for teachers to introduce methods from drama-based pedagogy and drama education into their lessons. This innovation was implemented city-wide, but you can also pick individual modules for your school.

Finland 100


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100






March 2017
You can learn to work with others only by working with others.

About the innovation

What is it all about?

No matter what job people end up doing, they must know how to work with others. Communication skills are as important as the actual mechanical and mental skills used in the work. Empathy skills are important not only in working life, but also in other relationships people form all throughout their lives.

Communication skills include the skills to face other people, listen and be heard as well as teamwork skills. These skills go hand in hand with the practice of empathy, gaining multiple perspectives as well as creative problem-solving.

Drama workshops can provide these skills in an action-based and experiential way. The methods described in the steps allow students to commit to various fantastical situations and act like their character would in them. The students must consider the goals and needs of their character and simultaneously those of the other actors. Often role playing using the whole body and mind leaves a strong imprint about the things learned.

Drama-based learning is characterized by “serious playfulness.” Dramatic methods open up the process to the development of creative thinking and finding new meanings. When the students make a drama, they learn to express themselves as well as other communication skills, empathy, role playing and teamwork skills.

Drama can be used in any subject to take a deep dive into a theme and focus on its reasons, consequences and study and understand it from multiple perspectives. Students can try different approaches and new perspectives from the safety of a role. This also allows them to gain more self-awareness and understanding of the world.

These five steps provide teachers tools and ideas to understand the fundamentals of drama and bring drama education into their classroom. The steps also introduce:

Drama education modules for students. During these modules, the teacher observes, adopts and learns the fundamentals of drama and the skills and elements required to implement them.

Training teachers in drama-based methods and how to implement them. Teachers receive various tools for teaching and hands-on experience from drama-based methods.

Working methods from the productions of the local theater. These include workshops, producing teaching material and holding artist meetings.

The innovation was developed in the City of Lahti where every student in basic education can participate in drama education. Schools can obtain the City's drama education services with the Lahti City Theatre's productions or implementing drama education modules right at the school. Drama teachers train teachers on the use of drama workshops in school-specific and local training afternoons, for example.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Drama promotes profound learning through a joint experience and communication.


Students will have new-found courage and discover new emotions in an atmosphere of support and communication.


You can implement the steps anywhere. You just have to have prior knowledge of drama education or a partner who is experienced.


Implementation steps

The cornerstones of drama education
Drama is a great tool for improving team spirit, building a positive atmosphere, practicing communication and emotional skills as well as critical-thinking skills and self-regulation.

Below, you'll find the cornerstones of drama-based pedagogy. The cornerstones are the things that are especially noteworthy for the adult – teacher or instructor – employing drama-based methods. Drama is a good and constructive method only when the cornerstones are in place.


At the start of your project, make a drama agreement with the students that explicates what you are practicing and how one should behave at drama classes.

The drama agreement also states that when we assume a role, we act as the character and our actions and opinions are the character's, not our own. You don't have to do anything that feels uncomfortable. You always have the option to sit out.

For example:

“Today, we practice working together, especially listening and saying yes to others' suggestions. All exercises are suitable for everybody. Everyone is skilled. I will help you succeed. Your job is to take care of yourself, i.e. do as instructed.

Today, we'll see different ways to solve a problem. They are all equally correct. That's why you don't need to comment on others' actions unless you want to compliment or encourage a person. So, your job is to ensure that this space is safe and welcoming.”

Safety also comes from working simultaneously: everyone works in pairs or small groups at the same time so there's no audience.


Less is more. Start with easy communication exercises and games. Make sure that the drama agreement is respected. If it's not, stop the exercise and remind people of the agreement.

Recognize successes. A familiar exercise frees the students to practice their skills instead of the rules of the game. Remember the power of repetition and note how people progress as the lessons go on.


Incorporate drama exercises regularly to the school work. Even a small, successful and regular moment will improve the group's dynamic.

Stick to basic exercises until it is safe for the group to move on to more challenging ones.

Instruction in drama education
Some teachers may have enough know-how on drama-based methods to work independently, but you can also invite trained drama teachers to help the class.The roles for the teacher/instructor

Role model for motivation and failure. The drama instructor's interests, motivation and example is a big resource for the whole group. The instructor's mistakes also create a safe environment – even adults make mistakes, it's okay.

Sensitivity to fast-paced and unplanned situations. Because this is a process, even the best laid plans may not succeed and the group's needs and interests may shift the focus in another direction. The instructor must be sensitive enough to read the group and deal with uncertainty.

Variety in roles. The teacher can instruct the activities either by providing the guidelines or participating as an equal. Avoid evaluating the students, instead note everyone's successes. As the drama workshop progresses, you can employ the “teacher in a role” method, for example. In it a teacher assumes a role that allows them to introduce the theme, another perspective or conflict into a fictive situation.

Case Lahti

Drama-based methods are at their heart holistic, experiential and process-oriented. Therefore, the instructor must experience the methods as a participant before implementing them into their lessons. Remember to utilize the services of drama teachers!

The approximately six-lesson-long drama module should be designed according to the wishes and needs of the teacher and students. The module is held in the classroom and the teacher is involved throughout the whole module. This allows the teacher to experience drama-based methods themselves and observe their class without management responsibility. It's also fun for the students that the teacher participates as an equal.

At the end of the module, the teacher gets to keep all the exercises in order to continue with them using a plan designed together with the drama teacher.

Drama-based methods in practice
Drama-based pedagogy is marked by stages that are interlocking and move along slowly. This allows the mind and body to be open to new things and ready for the day's theme.

The lesson plan for a drama class can be simply as follows:

1. Introduction: Opening circle. What are we practicing? How?

2. Warm-up tasks. The warm-up tasks are mostly centered around physical activity and connecting with others in various ways.

3. Working. Stop the work or exercise when it's running smoothly.

4, Reflection: Closing circle. What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about the group? How did you evolve in the skills practiced? You should also try reflecting and expressing opinions using action-based methods, for example through the followingexercises.

  • Opinion line: Assign the ends of the line as “completely agree” and “completely disagree.” The teacher makes statements and the students express their opinion by standing in the corresponding place.

  • Marking the moment: The teacher goes through the lesson's activities together with students and asks them to pick a memorable moment. It can be a learning moment or when they paused or succeeded or simply enjoyed. After they choose a moment, they go to the place and position of the moment. They can even explain the reasons for their choice.

Drama-based methods in traditional teaching

As teachers become familiar with the methods of drama, they can integrate them into various subjects, such as literature and history.

For example, lessons on the Ancient Greece can use drama to study the use of masks in theater. The students can make their own masks and use them in various physical exercises.

The students can also create a process drama based on the Minotaur mythology. In the drama, the students assume a role and carry the story in various, spontaneous situations. Process drama enables reflecting on thoughts and decisions in different situations. The characters in a fictive world also allow an in-depth view into the subject.

Partnering with a theater
Theater provides a versatile learning environment.

It is a work place for a multitude of professionals, and a completed production is a great example of project-based learning and multiprofessional cooperation. Theater provides the children with a unique multi-art, communicative art experience.

You can use the following examples to use the theater as a learning environment.

Behind the scenes

Allowing students behind the scenes introduces them to many different professionals. They also get to see the working community at a theater and theater as an employer.

How many different professions you can spot during your tour? How many are needed in a single production?

Contact a theater and make an appointment for a tour.

The themes of the play

Study the themes of the running play beforehand. You can find material and info on the themes, say, on the theater's website, the playbill or a potential theater community outreach worker.

Incorporate these themes into your teaching. The play can be used either as an introduction or the finale.

Theater pedagogy supporting the theater tour:

  1. Before the play, get to know the themes, characters and visual world of the play with the students. Usually you can also find photos and other material on the theater's website.

  2. Discuss the similarities and differences of theater and cinema.

  3. Talk about proper theater etiquette: how should the audience behave in a theater vs. a sports event.

  4. Set up a discussion with the theater cast and crew or a representative before or after the show.

  5. Share your viewing experiences at school with others.

  6. Consider also other partners to help you incorporate the theater tour or play into your teaching work, such as the local library.

Case Lahti

All the local 3rd graders are invited to attend a children's play at the Lahti City Theatre annually. The visit includes a workshop designed and instructed by a drama teacher before or after the play. The city provides all 9th graders a “Culture Card” that provides affordable art experiences.

The drama teacher assists these students and others attending basic education to have a successful experience at the theater through workshops, teaching material and artist meetings, for example.

Pre or post-show workshops focus on studying the themes of the play and connect it to the students' own experiences. Sometimes the workshops include the cast and crew of the play and the students can share their viewing experiences with them. The teacher can also continue to work with the theme in the classroom with the teaching material prepared by the drama teacher.

Teacher Training
If you're interested in including drama education in your teaching, there is plenty of literature written on the subject.

There's also strength in numbers: use peer learning and ask a colleague with prior experience in drama education to help you. Be a student with your class.

Many universities also provide courses on drama education.

Case Lahti

The City organized a training workshop afternoon called “Education Partnership and Cooperation Between Homes and the School through Theater.” It was designed with the student welfare professionals working in basic education and was open for all teachers and student welfare workers in basic education during the 2016–17 school year.

We studied what makes a successful negotiation, how one can be heard in a negotiation and how experiential learning methods can be integrated into education.

These drama-based methods included everything from improvisation exercises to experiential theater. The participants studied communication both through their own actions and observing and developing a scene prepared by a teacher work group on school negotiations.

The City is planning to integrate drama education modules into collaborative, preventative student welfare work in the future.

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