Research Summary

Drama and Environment: Joining Forces to Engage Children and Young People in Environmental Education

Using Drama in Environmental Education

Australian Journal of Environmental Education

This research considers the role of drama in environmental education. Studying the arts in school can increase student interest, motivate students’ self-expression, present different viewpoints in an accessible way, and enhance the understanding of abstract topics. There is relatively little research, however, on the role the arts—particularly drama—can play in education on pro-environmental attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors.

The authors used a simplified model of environmental behavior that views intention to change behavior as a proxy—and necessary precursor—to adopting a behavior. Intention is influenced by knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. The authors applied this model to five case studies; they then used these case studies to develop a narrative. The cases included drama-related interventions from three theater companies offering environmentally themed plays, one oratorio (musical composition) performed in community festivals, and one play-building workshop in which high school students were given information and asked to design a theater piece around the material. Data gathered from each site varied, but included observations, surveys, and interviews with participants, as well as surveys and interviews with audiences. Data were collected before and after the drama intervention. In some cases, a third survey was administered several months following the intervention.

Findings were divided into four categories: (1) knowledge and awareness of consequences of the environmental issue, attitude, or behavior; (2) beliefs and attitudes toward the environmental issue or topic; (3) intention to change one’s own environmentally related behavior; and (4) changes in environmentally related behavior. In four of the cases (two theater companies, the play-building workshop, and the oratorio), audience members and/or participants demonstrated an increased understanding of environmental issues after the drama intervention, compared to before. One case study—the oratorio—offered data suggesting that the program positively affected environmental beliefs and attitudes of audience members and participants. The oratorio and the play-building experiment significantly impacted respondents’ intention to change behavior. Two theater companies were able to provide data on energy and water consumption behaviors following their programs; in both cases, findings indicate decreased consumption.

Based on these findings, the authors suggest that drama can positively influence environmental knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes, and can successfully influence an intention to adopt pro-environmental behaviors. The authors also suggest positive results stemming from the non-confrontational nature of drama and an ability of these programs to provide simple, actionable solutions to environmental issues, including turning off lights or taking shorter showers. Drama can also inspire future engagement in environmental issues.

Further, the authors posit that drama is an even more successful medium when students are able to create their own plays, allowing them the chance for self-exploration and deepened engagement with the material. The positive impacts of this type of program can be extended by allowing students to perform their pieces for peers or younger students. The authors warn, however, that the content for these pieces should be developed by skilled practitioners to avoid errors in information. Students should also be given ample time to prepare for their performance, and the use of drama should be integrated with other classroom-based activities.

The Bottom Line

Drama can be used to make environmentally related information more accessible and appealing, with positive results related to current knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, and providing the opportunity to spark future engagement. Students who are involved in the process of creating their own dramatic piece can exhibit positive changes in their environmental learning and behavior if the appropriate scaffolds are used.