Research Summary

From Acting to Action: Developing Global Citizenship Through Global Storylines Drama

Using Drama to Teach Global Citizenship and Environmental Education

The Journal of Environmental Education

Drama is a powerful tool for exploring and enacting various relationships, values, attitudes, and human identity. Global Storylines, an education for sustainable development (ESD) and global citizenship education (GCE) initiative in Scotland, uses the power of drama to explore themes relating to ESD and GCE. Using a research-in-action methodology, participating teachers were trained to implement Global Storylines dramas and collect data. From analysis of the results, the author argues that educational drama provides a powerful pedagogical asset for ESD and GCE.

Sixteen participating teachers from eight primary schools implemented yearlong Global Storylines projects in their classes. They collected classroom observations, samples of students’ written and oral responses, analytical field notes, and reflections. For each Global Storylines topic, students and teachers created stories of communities, closely reflecting actual communities, and grappled with various issues and challenges. Storylines were trialed with two age groups. The first group were 6- to 8-year-olds, using a story called The Village and the Giant that focused on how to build the best community possible and what to do when someone or something—in this case, a giant— acts in a destructive, antisocial manner. The second group included 9- to 11-year-olds and The Water Source story, which focused on responsibilities and decisions of sharing limited natural resources (e.g., water) with those who have none.

Global Storylines did not provide a prewritten script for students to read from; instead, teachers and students together created the story based on the title and basic premise. In this way, the creation of the drama became the learning medium. At the beginning of the process, students researched key questions they had to gain understanding of the people, geography, and history of the given community. Each student then took ownership of one community member (e.g., a scientist, cook, plumber, and engineer) and “walked in the shoes” of their character by creatively improvising a series of episodes relating to the storyline and various ESD and GCE topics. Each teacher was the facilitator, or director, of the process. They held the line of the story together and provided prompts for each episode, such as a stranger arriving in town with news that the water source has dried up. Logs from teachers provided thorough accounts of the ESD and GCE learning experiences.

Teachers noted the powerful and unique pedagogy provided through educational drama. This included whole class improvisation with occasional “stop the drama” callouts from the teacher to provide out-of-role debriefs and opportunities to look at conflict resolution. Another activity explored opposite perspectives, such as whether or not to take in drought-stricken refugees. A strategy called “still image” was also used to isolate a moment in the drama and explore the internal thoughts and external actions of the characters. These teaching strategies provided students with an in-depth understanding and appreciation for complex situations. By promoting active participation from all the students in the class, these strategies also provided a means for everyone’s voice to be heard and considered.

In their logs, the teachers reported students’ increased interest in learning about other global communities and environmental issues. Fourteen of the 16 teachers mentioned students continuing their learning experiences outside of school with Internet searches and discussions with their families about environmental and global citizenship issues. Furthermore, all teachers noted student engagement with critical thinking, such as analyzing and deliberating ideas and synthesizing and evaluating solutions. These critical thinking skills are foundational to ESD and GCE. Teachers found the process to be particularly useful in the development of ESD- and GCE-related values, such as concern and empathy for environmental and social justice issues.

Students grappled with these storylines by making connections through cross-curricular learning. They gathered information through drama lessons, reading, technology, music, science, and geography. They became immersed in the fictional context, but made connections to “real world” current events. Students also developed relationships as they learned how to communicate and collaborate with one other and with their teachers who, at times, would be in character and participate in this democratic learning experience. These relationships between the learning context and the fictional storyline, and the relationships between participants—students and teacher alike—along with the unique pedagogy of educational drama, provided a rich engagement and exploration of ESD- and GCE-related values, topics, and themes.

The Bottom Line

Educational drama provides a powerful and unique pedagogy for students to engage with and explore environmental and global citizenship topics. Through this process, students develop critical skills, perspectives, and values necessary for navigating complex and multifaceted issues. Global citizenship and environmental themed drama can be utilized in the classroom by asking small groups of students to research given topics, discuss various ways to resolve the issues, and improvise mini scenarios in front of the class, with each student representing a different stakeholder in the issue. Pausing these scenarios at various moments provides time to have whole-class discussions about how various characters may feel or the consequences of different actions.