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Warming up the voice and throat is as important for teachers as it is for actors.
Teachers often find that they lose their voice by the end of term, so make vocal warm-ups part of your regular lesson preparation.
These can include humming, taking deep breaths and performing ‘noisy yawns’ – the latter will help stretch the vocal muscles and energise your body through the stretching and pulling of faces. If you can arrive at your lessons feeling energised and alert, your increased presence will immediately energise your audience.
Our voices are created by our bodies, so the more our bodies can do to reflect and support our voices, the more effective those voices will be. When greeting your students, adopting a stance in which your chest and arms are open makes it more likely that your voice will follow through and sound more welcoming.
Adopt a stiff and still body posture in a closed stance, and your voice will soon be struggling to get out. Stamping your feet on the ground can also have the effect of making you feel more grounded and confident. If you feel tension growing within you during the day, take a moment during break to reset your body by shaking or stamping this tension out.
Your students will similarly benefit from brief bursts of physical activity. Spending an extended amount of time slumped in the same position at a desk can leave the muscles feeling heavy, but you can alleviate this by changing the energy in the room.
Ask the students to stand up, stretch and look at things from a different perspective by temporarily moving to a different position within the classroom. Break up the day with short concentration games to help reset the mind – for example, asking students to collaborate in counting alternately from one to 40, replacing certain numbers or multiples with words (buzz) and actions (reverse direction).
Theatre rehearsal rooms are considered to be safe spaces where everyone is invited to try out new ideas, be creative and make mistakes. Teachers can nurture similar environments of their own by encouraging students to boldly experiment and have the confidence to try out new ideas. Instead of shutting down wrong answers straight away, offer positive responses (‘Yes, and…’; ‘I can see how you reached that answer, but…’) and invite students to explain their reasoning.
Use a variety of ways to bring information to life and build new perspectives. Adding an element of surprise to each lesson will keep them memorable, and cement the expectation that no two lessons will follow the same format.
In a geography lesson, for example, you could ask your students to write a poem or rap about a new topic to activate different parts of the brain. Invite students to start a lesson themselves and assign the role of the teacher to them for a brief period. Instead of opening lessons with statements, try opening with questions of ‘what?’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ – invite your students to be inquisitive from the off.
Don’t forget that your own learning and development needs as a teacher should to be tended to as well. Many local arts organisations have learning departments and offer teacher training programmes and opportunities for schools.
The National Theatre’s learning programmes, for instance, are specifically designed for schools; state schools also have free access to an extensive digital library of recorded world-class theatrical productions via the NT Collection. The NT’s virtual Drama Teacher Conference can meanwhile offer drama teachers the opportunity to experiment with new teaching approaches with the help and support of artists across the theatre industry.
Sheila Chawla manages the National Theatre’s TheatreWorks programme, which delivers professional and personal development training inspired by the performing arts.
The NT makes theatre for everyone, staging productions in London, on tour nationwide and worldwide and via digital broadcasts, while supporting creative education through nationwide learning programmes; to find out more, visit nationaltheatre.org.uk/learning or follow @NT_Schools
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