Having taught speech, drama and dance for the past 20 years, running a successful local drama school and teaching in a variety of local and independent schools, I was running on a happy teaching autopilot. My classes were busy and popular with regular LAMDA and dance exams boasting high results and great class retention.
The situation with Covid 19 started to become very real for my drama school towards the middle of March with Boris’s first announcement that mass gatherings were banned. Still determined to run classes and schools still open, my numbers dropped significantly over night and we went from welcoming 150 pupils through our doors each evening to just 16 students attending sessions. It was clear that parents were not happy sending pupils into class.
We decided at this stage that we would make the decision to stop sessions with immediate effect. We were very concerned for our pupils welfare and wanted to do the right thing. This meant that pupils now had two outstanding sessions prior to the end of term that they had already paid for.
To refund pupils for missed classes at this stage, with future sessions returning for the summer term looking decidedly vague, would have no doubt put our drama school into financial crisis.
My husband, who is a free-lance sound engineer in theatre was facing a similar crisis with the announcement of theatres closing.
Very quickly we had gone from being ‘comfortable’ to both having zero income for the foreseeable future.
I spoke to a friend who told me that she had recently been on a course to learn how to use ‘Zoom’ I must admit I was horrified at the thought of teaching online and couldn’t possibly see how this could work? But there was no other viable option available.
With time of the essence and with the help and good fortune of having a ‘techie’ husband, on the same morning that we cancelled our classes, we were up and running by 3pm on Zoom ready to run our first session online.
One of my teachers came to my house (we weren’t at social distancing stage just yet) and we both took a deep breath and entered into the world of the unknown.
As the Zoom ‘meeting’ opened 45 eager faces aged between 6 and 10 years old were looking down their lenses at us. We were very honest with them from the start and told them that we had no idea if this new platform would work. We were even unsure of how it worked, but we wanted to give it a go, at least until the end of term so that they could still attend their lessons that they had paid for.
By two of us teaching the sessions, it gave one of us time to think and observe the classes to see exactly what was working and what wasn’t. It was clear from the very start that mime and music based visual activities worked much better than any other form of exercises.
We also discovered very quickly that all pupils would need to be ‘on mute’ for the entirety of the session in order to focus, and we asked them to put their thumbs up if they wanted to ask a question. We made sure that whilst teaching we interacted with them by name, so that they all remained engaged and felt included throughout the class.
At the end of the first few sessions we asked the children directly for feedback on the classes and that painted a very clear picture of what aspects of the class worked well for them and which didn’t. They largely enjoyed games and challenges and ‘using the screen’ as a featured part of the class to act out stories or pretend that they were in a pop video or movie.
I downloaded a wealth of sound effects to continue this line of exercises and purchased a green screen so that my ‘virtual studio’ at home looked professional and fit for purpose. We decided to ‘theme’ each week for our younger pupils and changed the green screen each week with pictures in keeping with the themes eg ‘Space’, ‘Water’, ‘Robots’ etc.
The teenage classes were very different. Our older pupils knew how to work Zoom better than we did and were very helpful in sharing ideas. They were pleased to see each other and were desperate to talk about the current situation and to let off steam about the cancellation of GCSE’s and A levels. We decided to run structured classes for an hour each evening with an additional 30 minutes aside for a ‘Green Room’ so that our older pupils could talk in a safe and controlled session with a teacher present.
Class content for teenage classes proved much easier as their engagement is generally better at this age. We have used the time to work on technique; breathing, dialect, body language and improvisation with lots of games and fun in between, all of which has worked well.
After our first week of Zoom classes, we asked parents for feedback, which came in abundance.
Due to their low expectation of the success of online classes, they were blown away. In fact we have received some of the best feedback that we have ever had since our doors opened in 2004.
We had 100% positive reviews with many parents taking the time to thank us for keeping ‘normality’ into their child’s life and for the upbeat and fun sessions that we were running during this worrying time.
In total we received around 50 glowing reviews that we put onto our social media pages and website.
This meant that class number started to grow by the week as other parents and pupils read them and logged on.
After two weeks of ‘thinking on our feet’ and learning ‘on the job’ it was the Easter Holidays. We sent our invoices for the summer term, not quite knowing if we had done enough to keep our school running through the summer term. Now we were asking parents to pay; a whole new ball game.
I can remember feeling anxious and stressed, as pupils signed up in very small number at first. We continued to stay positive and looked for opportunities to encourage our pupils to sign up; including special guest teachers and extra work shops and online performance opportunities.
After, what seemed like a very long Easter break, we had 200 pupils enrolled for the term. Not our usual high numbers by a long shot, but enough to keep the wolf from the door and to keep our school ticking over nicely.
We set about planning the term meticulously, using all of our acquired knowledge of Zoom that we had gained prior to Easter, so that we could deliver fun and interactive classes.
I must say that I have enjoyed the challenge and the chance to take a break from the usual teaching autopilot, that I can now see I relied on.
After 9 weeks of teaching on Zoom , I now feel relaxed and confident on this platform. It has almost become the norm!
I have also been running cooperate drama training sessions for Westminster council, to boost employee confidence.
These courses are a long full working day, and had it not been for the experience that I have gained and for my husbands input in setting it up, it would have felt very daunting, but they have run successfully with many more booked in the diary.
During half term I ran a theatre course, for 2.5 hours each day on Zoom for children in the younger age group. Something I would never have thought was possible two months ago, but it was well received and fun and ended with an online performance for the children’s friends and family to watch at home.
For anyone wishing to start classes on Zoom my main advice is, it will get easier, take a breath and just go for it!
Ensure that your setting looks professional and that you have lots of games and idea’s up your sleeve.
Take care also with your own voice. With pupils on mute for most of the session, your voice is in constant use and it is easy to project unnecessarily if you are used to teaching large groups.
I regularly have to remind myself that I am not in a big hall with noisy children and that I need to tone my volume down considerably.
It also helps to have ‘technical support’, even if this is one of your older students who you can make a ‘co host’ meaning that they can help with any technical aspects of Zoom (muting, unmuting, admitting pupils into break out rooms etc) whilst you are concentrating on teaching.
Whilst teaching on line can never replace face to face classes, it has been a life line for my family and small business and one that I am very grateful to have.
Online drama games and ideas
Ages 5-10 years
30 second challenges (whole group)
- Players get 30 seconds to go and find something in the house EG:
Something of a certain color,
Letter of the alphabet,
Find a disguise,
A toy with wheels,
A book with the first letter of your name in the title,
A pair if matching socks
4 things that are green etc
A toy smaller than your hand
A book with numbers in it
5 lego pieces that are really different
An item that makes you feel warm
A toy that has lots of different colors
A photo of someone you love
Your favorite stuffed animal
A kitchen item
A bathroom item
Something that makes a noise
An elastic band
- Show and tell
Players go and get something they have made or written since their last class and tell everyone about it…. Set maximum time
- Themed weeks: Each week has a theme: EG Pirates. Host can set up a back drop in keeping with the theme. Class can learn a tongue twister, poem, song & dance all in keeping with the theme of the week. There could also be an arts & crafts homework project.
- Magic Mirror
The host starts off as the magic mirror and does a series of moves which the players follow. Then select a player to become a magic mirror and everyone follows the leader.
- Musical Islands
Players to set at least 5 cushions or 5 books on the floor; they can be close together. They are only on the island of they are sitting on these items (not standing) Players remove shows and socks- bare feet for this one. The Host plays music and players ‘swim’ around the room. When the music stops the sharks are coming and players must sit on their island with their feet out of the water. If any pat of them is touching the floor then they are out. Once the music starts again the players must remove one of their islands and the game continues until they are left with just one cushion to balance on.
- Emoji musical statues
Host holds up a picture of an emoji (eg; angry, sad, happy etc) music is played in the style of that word. Players dance as that emoji and when the music stops they freeze in their emoji pose.
- Three character eliminations
The players are given three characters and their poses; eg Trolls
Poppy’s – Hands under chin smiling
Branch – Arms folded
Guy Diamond – Jazz hands
All players close their eyes for 3 counts. On three they chose one of the poses to do. Whichever character has the least amount of poses are out and so the game continues.
- Musical disappearing
Like musical statues, only the children have to disappear from the camera, first one to disappear is the winner
- Cats got the measles
Kids do Kriss Kross legs saying:
Cats got the measles
Dogs got the flue
And so have you
Those that finish with legs crossed are out.
- Letter hunt
One child chooses a letter, other children have 30 seconds to choose three things beginning with that letter.
- Wheel of steps
The wheel is spun and pupils have to dance whichever step the arrow lands on.
- What’s in your shop Mrs Brown
Children chant the above and teacher says various things, which the children have to act out (can use sound effects)
When the teacher has had enough she says ‘Right back on your shelves’
- Story game
Story game, I’ll start the story of then I’ll nominate someone to continue the story .
- Reading tales
- Perform a few lines from ‘the Gruffalo’ Exploring bringing books to life. I will read out first.
- Discuss the characterisation of the animals. What does the fox sound like etc…
- Then do a call and response of.
- ‘He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws’
- Magic Box
The host produces a box with some items in. All of these items have something in common eg: Begin with a certain letter, rhyme with each other, all one color, contain a double letter, be said in a certain way ( shrug as you say it etc)
The host shows one item that is in the box. The players get to suggest other items to go in and try to crack the code. If the item suggested cracks the code the host says yes and virtually adds it to the box. Once the players have cracked the code they carry on playing until other players work it out
- Control the Robot : Host should download SFX robot sounds
Host gives instructions to the robots which they must follow using the SFX and physicalising their character:
Walk forward 5 steps
Turn to your left
Turn a full circle until I say stop
Speak (Robots can only speak in Bleep Bleep Bloop noises)
Clean the room
Feed the cat
- Detective ; 1 player turns from screen and whilst the host holds up a sign of something for then to act out, detective turns around and tries to guess what they are doing or where they are:
In the car
On the train
By a river
In a Zoo
At an airport
Climbing a mountain
Climbing a tree
In a long queue
Boxing an imaginary bad guy
- Story time – Host reads out a short story and players act it out on their screens:
Either a made up tale or based on any classics:
The Tiger Who Came For Tea
Alice in Wonderland
11 and over
- Antiques road show:
All players find something old in their house. They then get 2 minutes each to tell the other players about it and try to sell it they can use the following :
What is this item used for?
What special features does it have?
Where was it made?
What is the history behind it?
How rare is it?
And what is it worth?
- Here He Is Now
A number of students are selected.
They are about to all come together for a ‘group meeting’, but all join one at a time. First person is talking to someone (either there or not, depending on how audio works), they start talking about one of the guys who is about to join, and talking about their weird quirks (obsessed with sniffing own armpits etc), then they say: “Oh, here he/she is now…” and that person is un-muted, and has to display said weird quirks. Then begins talking about the next person… etc…
Players are given a short monologue to read. They then have to perform it in different styles.
- Perform it in only 7 words
- Perform it as a piece of interpretive dance to music of their choosing
- Perform it in a foreign language
- Perform it as a rap
- Dear Diary, I am fuming
- I began to shrink at lunchtime
- My mum looked different this morning, at first I couldn’t work out what had changed
- Dear Superman
- I think I’m the only human being left
- Everything I say seems to rhyme
- Did I every tell you about the day I learned to fly
- It was when I took my shoes off I noticed the roots
- Why do all my friends have sticky out ears?
- I’m down to my final crust of bread
- I found a diamond ring inside my morning muffin
- It looked like a raspberry, it smelled like a raspberry but it sounded like Beyonce
- Then I popped
- Heads, tails, heads, tails, heads
- The moment she began to sing the first light bulb cracked
- Nobody leaves until….
- How many cats is too many?
- Enter password..
- I dropped it down the drain.
- Just stop growing…
- Finish the sentence
All pupils are asked to finish the following sentence;
I am afraid that….
My big worry today is….
If I had a wish today it would be
Something that has annoyed me today is
Something I’ve achieved today is
Something boring I’ve done today is
Something I’ve been putting off doing is
A comment that irritates me is…
If I could ask someone else to do something for me it would be
If I could invent something it would be
The thing I’ve missed most in lockdown i
- First Dates
A couple have just had a blind date. They are now being interview about it separately. One really likes the other, the other really didn’t like them back. They can describe what happened on their date… why they liked/didn’t like their partner. They then have a joint interview.
- Confess Love
One person confesses their love for another (best friend etc), in a imagined video message. The person then sends a message back in response!
5 people are selected to be people living in a village. They are involved in 2 scenes each (1 and 2, 2 and 3, 3 and 4, 4 and 5, 5 and 1) the group comment in the chat with suggestions for the name of the village, the population of the village, and then where each scene takes place. For example 1 and 2’s scene is at the butchers, 3 and 4’s scene takes place at the Park etc. The showing runs twice around, 1 minute for the 1st set of scenes, 30 seconds for the 2nd set. Each person must play the same character throughout the piece. The objective is that because it’s a small village, each person is involved in all of the news/gossip/happenings, so whenever anything happens in it should affect the next scene in some way, creating some form of storyline that is resolved at the very end.
- Newspaper reporter – COVID 19
Need pen and paper.
Monologues based on isolation. Starting with the line.
‘I’d been inside the house for 4 weeks when it happened’
What is IT?
How did it change you?
What did you do to sort IT out?
How did you solve the problem?
Create 14 lines exploring the theme. Can be funny, sad, theatrical, but make it interesting.
Perform back to the group.
- Creating a character
Create your own character, it can be as ridiculous as you like and you have to wear one item that has been taken from the kitchen, mum and dads room, bathroom, & your room
- Phone calls
All players need a prop (a banana would do) to be a phone or a mobile they can use for the exercise. Discuss how we make a phone call believable in drama, using accurate dialing etc and what mood they are in as they dial the number. Each player is given an objective for their call, which they then act out for the rest of the class:
Making a complaint
Using a strange word in the call (eg: Super-dooper,fantabulous etc)
Ordering a takeaway
Claiming lottery winnings
Pretending to be ill
Asking someone out on a date
Having a gossip with a friend
- Players must list as many of things from a given list in 30 seconds. The winner is the person who lists the most:
Food and drink
Types of dog
Baddies and monsters
Makes of car
Characters in history
Words with 4 letters
Toys and games
Green things etc
Things that bounce
Communication exercises (individual)
- CHALLENGE CHAIR For this challenging exercise, you will need as many subjects as you have players. Here are some ideas. Player has to talk for as long as they can about…
My favorite holiday
The worlds worst job
My proudest achievement
The human brain
The city I live in
Hottest day of the year
How to bake a cake
If I ruled the world
Fruit VS Vegetables
My claim to fame
How I got this scar
My perfect burger
Ten years from now
- Adverts (prepare a 30 sec advert for….)
Something in the room I’m in (could ask them to go and find an object first)
A club they belong to
- Would you rather – Each player gets a turn of answering a different question
Would you rather:
Communicate with birds or cats?
Never wash but smell nice or never go to the hairdressers and keep the same hairstyle for the rest of your life?
Stay a child until your 70th Birthday or instantly be 35 years old?
Be able to make plants grow in seconds or make it rain when you clap your hands?
Too hot or too cold?
Have a long beard or have a very hairy body?
Everything you draw comes to life or every story you write comes true?
Have a bear or a lion for a pet?
Be able to feel colors or small sound?
Drink a cup of mud or drink hot chocolate mixed with hot pepper?
Have children when you are 19 years old or when you are 40 years old?
Have a million pounds to spend on what you want or a million pound to share out amongst homeless people?
Have a button that stops mum talking for an hour or have a button that stops dad talking for an hour?
Be stuck outside in a thunderstorm or stuck outside in a snow storm?
Wear a new pair of trainers every week or new clothes every week?
Go to the dentist for a filling or the doctors for an injection?
Own a dragon or a unicorn?
Kiss a frog or cuddle a tarantula?
Etc etc etc ( there is a good book on amazon called ‘Would you rather?’
- What’s my job? Players think of a mime individually based on a job and perform for the group to see if they can guess what it is : Policeman, fireman, nurse, librarian, baker, butcher, farmer, footballer, cleaner, Astronaut, detective, servant, chef, preacher, rock climber, bus driver, teacher, dancer, shop assistant, fisherman, bon collector, guard, truck driver, body builder, diver, musician, wrester, teacher, pilot, doctor
- What’s my mood? 1 player turns from screen and the host holds up a sign depicting the mood everyone is in. The chosen player can then choose somebody to ask questions to and they must answer in the style of the mood:
- Comic strip
All pupils have to make up a story in three frozen pictures in their square.
- Developed mimes:
Secretly unwrapping a present
Watching a horror movie
Breaking into a safe
Getting a poisonous snake into a box
Defusing a bomb
Sneakily eating someone elses chocolates
Walking along a ledge with a big drop beneath
The floor is lava
- SFX challenge
Host has a playlist of sound effects and plays them. Actors must then act out a scene using their imagination to the SFX. Host chooses the best one to show everyone:
SFX list can include:
The man-eating plant
Spoken group games
- What’s my line. 1 player decides on a job title. The other players ask questions to ascertain which job the person has eg:
Do you wear uniform?
Do you make lots of money?
Do you sell things?
Do you work in an office?
- Fortunately/ unfortunately
The whole group make up a story saying a couple of lines each but each player must start with either Fortunately or Unfortunately in rotation.
- A truth and a lie
Players tell the group one true fact about themselves and one lie. Everyone votes on which statement is true and which is a lie.
- Boxing/fighting an imaginary person:
Use SFX and theme music and allow good ones to show the others. Eg: Rocky, kung-fu panda, James bond music etc
All of the players are pupils who are late for school, they have been brought before the head teacher (host) and must make up excuses (as wildly imaginative as possible) as to why they are late.
- Titles for individual acted scenes
The magic box
Danger at the zoo
The magic spell
The boy/girl who couldn’t speak
The birthday surprise
The time machine
In the airplane
A fairy tale
One person is selected, others are unmuted, ask questions one at a time. (If they talk at the same time person does not have to answer)
Person cannot say ‘yes’ ‘no’, nod or shake their head. Can’t keep giving the same answer. Must not pause. Must answer all questions truthfully.
- Super Hero Origins
Each person explains that they have a super power. Must describe it, in detail. How they first discovered it. How it works. How they use it. The prose and cons it has brought to their lives. If they use it of good or evil. Do they have any arch- enemies? Can be done for laughs… but also can be played totally seriously.
- Virtual eliminator
1 person is nominated as Prime minister. He can only keep 5 people on the planet who are useful to the earth, the rest will be exiled.
All people have 1 minute to say why they are valuable and irreplaceable to the earth and what skills they can have… these can be as far fetched as they like.
At the end the ‘Prime Minister’ chooses 5 people to keep.
- Fortune tellers (making assumptions)
One person from the group is selected and is ‘spotlighted’ They can briefly show us around the room they are in.
The rest of the group then say what they are assuming from that person.. e.g
‘I imagine that you like clothes’
‘I imagine you are hard working etc’
‘I think you have a girlfriend/boyfriend’
‘I imagine that you have a pet’
‘I imagine you play music really loudly’
- Characterisations/Improv – Weird room mates
One person in the group places a spoken advert looking for a roommate, she asks everyone to leave her a ‘recorded’ messages for themselves as to why she should pick them to live in her house with her.
Pupils take turns to be strange characters who are leaving messages in response to the advert (spotlight each applicant)
- Group discussions
Bad/good school teachers that have influenced us
- Foreign language
Select pupils to tell us about their day in gibberish. The challenge is to see if the ‘audience’ can get the gist of what they are saying.
- Self adverts
Pupils have 30 seconds each to perform an ‘advert’ of themselves saying only positive things.
- Interacting on screen
** Needs a smaller group
Throwing and catching a white sock between screens… the person throwing must call out the name of the person they are throwing it to, it can land anywhere, on the floor, in their face etc
Dessert Island Discs
Students to choose 1 piece of music, 1 book, I item of clothing and 1 type of food that they would take onto a dessert island with the