Using drama to teach science

What has drama got to do with science teaching?! Perhaps more than we think – used in the right way, drama can do some pretty important things:

  • engage and motivate students (be aware that some students might find drama terrifying)
  • engage and motivate teachers – creativity in teaching!
  • help model abstract ideas that can’t normally be seen and so help students create meaning
  • help teachers see what students are thinking
  • provide an opportunity for students to discuss and reason with scientific ideas

Let’s look at some examples below that can work really well in science classrooms. And remember, it’s important to allow time for an evaluation to take place – what were the limitations and strengths? Did the use of drama help or hinder your understanding? What are the potential misconceptions that could be introduced?

Dramatic models!

Get students to act out what is happening at the molecular, cellular or atomic level. This is a great opportunity to find out what students are really thinking – how does an oxygen molecule move?! Straight lines or in a wiggle? Students can either devise their own dramatic model in small groups or you can direct it by assigning roles and positioning students. Remember that you don’t need to use all students all of the time when modelling a process.

Examples: (i) students take on the role of being a particle. You can heat them up (speed up a metronome), cool them down (slow down a metronome) and see what happens when energy is transferred through them – great to teach state changes and energy transfer (ii) students act out what is happening during active transport as particles cross a membrane (iii) students act out what happens during a displacement reaction and (iv) students pretend they are electrons and move around a circuit – climbing over chairs (resistors) which slow them down (v) model movement of particles at dynamic equilibrium from reactants to products and products to reactants.

Key word Charades – what am I?

Students are given a key word on a card and have to act it out in front of the class as a mime. Classmates then guess what the word is. It’s best to give students some preparation time beforehand to improve the quality of the mime.

Examples: (i) get students to act out nucleus, cell membrane, ribosome, cytoplasm and cell wall or (ii) students act out key words to describe properties of metals e.g. lustrous, sonorous or malleable.

Mini historical plays

Students create a short play based around one aspect  of a scientist’s life which they then present to the class.

Examples: students tell the story of Darwin on the Beagle, Rutherford and the discovery of atomic structure or Mendel and his peas.

Without hesitation, repetition or deviation!  

A student comes to the front of the class and talks about a topic without hesitation, repetition or deviation. This is timed using a timer on the board. It really helps if you give students a prop to talk about e.g. have a plant when talking about photosynthesis. Classmates can then put their hand up if they spot a hesitation, repetition or deviation. This is a great way to assess prior knowledge at the start of a lesson or topic.

Example: (i) a student is given a pot plant and asked to talk without hesitation, repetition or deviation for one minute on the subject of photosynthesis (ii) a student is asked to describe and explain the structure of the periodic table by referring to one on the wall or board (give them a metre ruler to point with, for some reason they enjoy this!).

Further reading
  • Abrahams, I., & Braund, M. (2012). Performing science: Teaching chemistry, physics and biology through drama. A&C Black.
  • Darlington, H. (2010). Teaching secondary school science through drama. School Science Review, 91(337), 109-113.
  • Metcalfe, Robert J. Alban, et al. “Teaching science through drama: An empirical investigation.” Research in Science & Technological Education 2.1 (1984): 77-81.
  • Stagg, B.C. and Verde, M.F. (2019) Story of a Seed: educational theatre improves students’ comprehension of plant reproduction and attitudes to plants in primary science education. Research in Science & Technological Education37(1), pp.15-35.