Setting the scene: A guide to engaging KS3 drama students

Building the foundation for achievement

'There is no other subject that develops presentation skills, self-awareness and confidence, positive self-criticism and teamwork like drama. The key is to how we engage our students.'

Elise Chambers, Head of Speech and Drama, Dauntsey's School

Drama isn't just a captivating subject, it's a gateway to essential life skills. Despite facing perennial funding challenges drama's role in shaping young minds cannot be underestimated. The foundation stage for secondary-age students, Key Stage 3 (KS3), presents a golden opportunity to instil a passion for Drama before students make their GCSE choices. To address this challenge, we've created this comprehensive guide, showcasing how drama lessons can be a rewarding choice that extends well beyond KS3.

We will unveil practical and actionable strategies from experienced educators who have successfully boosted student retention in Drama. By fostering positive experiences in drama lessons during KS3, you not only increase the likelihood of students pursuing GCSE Drama but also enhance your department's overall standing through their contributions to performances and clubs.


Keeping students engaged and uplifting success

To maintain engagement and foster success in KS3 Drama, practical teaching methods are indispensable.

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Creating a drama community

Nurturing a sense of belonging and camaraderie within the drama department is essential to effectively engage KS3 students.

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Drama as an educational and viable discipline

Drama provides both academic and practical opportunities, nurturing critical thinking, understanding diverse perspectives, and honing communication, collaboration, and creative thinking skills.

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Keeping students engaged and uplifting success

Students need to feel energised, stimulated and fulfilled. Pushing them to move out of their comfort zone and get more involved in lessons is a great way of keeping them interested. 
‘Drama should be about encouraging students to explore their potential through a variety of different mediums within the subject. At the end of the day, they want to perform.’ 

Sasha Oakley, Trinity Drama Teacher, Walthamstow Hall School

To keep students engaged in lessons and champion their success in drama during KS3, it's vital to employ practical teaching techniques. Encourage students to delve into their creative sides and grasp the essence of drama through hands-on lessons. A proven approach involves having students perform in front of their peers regularly. This not only boosts engagement but also helps students discern effective approaches.

Another strategy involves using Key Stage 4 (KS4) and Key Stage 5 performances as learning experiences for Year 9 students. This exposes them to the possibilities of drama at GCSE and A-Level, inspiring students to contemplate these paths.

A well-structured drama lesson plan, tailored to different age groups, is key. Teachers we have spoken to have found success by commencing each lesson with a warm-up or improvisation exercise to encourage active participation. You may wish to mix groupings and experiment with different genres, from studio plays to more classic theatre pieces, to nurture a range of skills and interests. Involving students in selecting repertoire and plays to study or perform to make them feel heard and respected, increasing motivation.

During Years 7 to 9, empower students to take ownership of their work and collaborate independently or in groups. Keep them informed about upcoming shows and performances with a detailed schedule encompassing auditions, rehearsals, and final performances. Consider organising workshops with professionals or alumni to broaden their horizons.



Creating a drama community

'We consistently provide them with frequent chances to showcase their talents, both in and out of the classroom, which greatly contributes to fostering positive relationships.'

Elise Chambers, Head of Speech and Drama, Dauntsey's School

Fostering a sense of belonging and support within the drama department is vital for engaging KS3 students. Here are some tried and tested methods used to create a 'drama family’ by teachers we spoke to:

  • Host lunchtime workshops to provide additional practice and support.
  • Implement peer mentoring programs where older students guide and offer feedback to younger ones.
  • Ensure the drama studio or classroom is a safe space for students to work through their challenges.
  • Emphasise the benefits of drama lessons beyond performance skills, highlighting its role in building confidence, positivity, and collaboration.

Drama offers the opportunity for students to explore a variety of topics, storylines and characters, and through this learn to empathise with a range of perspectives. This can support students to connect with their emotions and any issues that may be troubling them in a way that isn’t fostered by other subjects or experiences at school. Feeling at ease with themselves within a nurturing environment is particularly important for some students, such as boarders who are away from home comforts and family members.

Elize Chambers explains: ‘They come for a bit of an escape away from the restriction of a table and a chair. They're just wanting a bit of freedom and you get to explore so many fascinating things that others subject can't cover, like PSE or you could be looking into history or different cultures.’

The level of pastoral support afforded by drama lessons offers the opportunity to lay the foundations for strong teacher-student relationships in KS3, and for the drama department to be seen in a very favourable light by students.

By offering students a supportive community from an early age, you maximise student enjoyment and positive associations with the subject, and ultimately encourage them to pursue Drama at GCSE level and beyond.


Drama as an educational and viable discipline

Children learning to express themselves – it's the famous 3 C's of communication, collaboration, and creative thinking. However, witnessing some of these children, who might otherwise struggle to find their place, build relationships, and adapt to a more traditional desk and textbook style of learning, is truly inspiring.’

Andrew Williams, Head of Drama, New Hall School

Drama extends beyond performance; it offers a range of academic and practical opportunities. It nurtures critical thinking, encourages the understanding of diverse viewpoints, and sharpens communication, collaboration, and creative thinking skills.

Highlighting the various components of drama, including technical roles like lighting, sound, makeup, and stage management, can reveal new career paths for students who prefer to work behind the scenes. Ensuring that you provide practical and exciting opportunities will help to nurture students' passion for the arts.

Showcasing your drama students' success

To showcase the value of drama at KS3 and beyond, you could consider these strategies:

  • Utilise school open evenings and options evenings to exhibit the diversity of Drama and the potential career paths it offers.

  • Actively participate in career fairs to expose students to the professional world of performing arts.

  • Invite industry experts, poets, playwrights, or alumni to engage with students through workshops, lectures, or showcases.

  • Encourage students to attend performances by other schools, colleges, or professionals to ignite their own creativity.

Displaying the accomplishments of your Drama students, both past and present, is a potent means to promote the subject to peers and parents.

Advocating drama GCSE as a viable choice to parents

To persuade parents of the value of Drama as a GCSE option, consider the following:

  • Utilise KS3 parents' evenings to introduce Drama as a valuable subject for GCSE.

  • Present case studies of past students' success through interviews or testimonials.

  • Organise open days and evenings with current students sharing their experiences.

  • Invite former students who pursued careers in the arts to answer questions and provide insights.

Emphasise drama's academic and transferable skills for the future:

Every parent wants their child to develop self-confidence and self-awareness.’

Sasha Oakley, Trinity Drama Teacher, Walthamstow Hall School.

Engaging parents ensures their support and underscores the worth of drama beyond KS3.

Demonstrating value to senior leaders

Profiling your department’s achievements with senior leaders, including governors or trustees, in mind is critical in securing strategic support from within the school. Tangible and measurable strategies are likely to be most successful, especially those that position your department as underpinning wider school aims:

  • Showcase high-quality productions involving KS3 students to underscore the department's contributions to this important Key Stage.

  • Leverage drama as a marketing tool for the school by involving students in events and collaborations with other departments.

  • Demonstrate how drama can enhance other subjects and promote inter-departmental co-operation.

  • Consider running graded assessments in Musical Theatre, Speech & Drama or another discipline that would best highlight the talents of your students and staff's skills.

Offering exams from recognised awarding bodies, such as Trinity College London, validates Drama's academic value and clearly illustrates student progression. Assessments for groups or whole productions (full cast and crew) can be particularly useful at KS3 as they can be used as an opportunity for students to experience exam conditions, as well as potentially testing out pieces to be used in GCSE exams:

'Trinity Drama exams have been incredibly valuable to our KS4 students. We use them as a mock exam process for their GCSE exam work. Not only do students benefit from the experience of performing to an external examiner, they also have the opportunity to gain an additional graded exam which looks great on their college applications.’

Michelle Austin, Head of Drama, Orchard Mead Academy

Find out more about exam options for groups of students available with Trinity via our ‘Trinity Insights Pack - Group Drama Exams’. This collection of useful, free teaching resources offers:

  • Sample programmes of repertoire suitable for Group Acting exams at Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced Grades.
  • A handy checklist of the key dates and tasks you need to consider to successfully deliver drama exams for groups.
  • A helpful guide to use in conversations with senior leaders and parents about the value of drama assessments.

Download all six free-to-access resources now from the Trinity website.

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