Book review: Her Own Worst Enemy

Alice Savage

The latest offering from Alphabet Publishing looks like a great resource for bringing drama into the language classroom. Her Own Worst Enemy is written by Alice Savage, a Professor of ESOL in Texas who has previous publications with Longman and OUP.

The book is based around a short one-act play. A complete curriculum is built around the play (pitched at ‘low intermediate to high intermediate’ level), including:

  • preparation tasks such as discussions, background reading, understanding pragmatics and attentive listening practice
  • the script itself along with post-reading discussion questions
  • a step-by-step production section which helps learners analyse the play, learn their lines, get into character, and develop pronunciation skills for their performance
  • post-performance tasks including debates, follow up tasks and resources for peer and teacher feedback

The play

The deal-breaker for me with a resource like this is whether the play is actually engaging. Can I see my learners getting into it? Here’s a blurb on the play from Alphabet Publishing:

Aida, a high-school student, wants to get a university degree in science. But her performance in a school play has caught the attention of the theatre director at a famous performing arts college. Which passion should she pursue, her love of science or her talent for acting?

Of course, such a topic won’t suit every context, but it’s definitely a topic that many teens and young adults will be able to relate to. My studious teen classes would certainly enjoy debating some of the issues that the characters face. In other contexts I’ve worked in, especially summer schools back in Europe and short courses with closed groups back in the UK, I can see this topic would be relevant and generate a lot of interest.

Topic aside, the play is pitched as a ‘serious comedy’. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but I can imagine the students having a lot of fun performing certain scenes (the scene in the car involves a good amount of miming and some heightened emotions).

One practical thing: there are eight characters in the play, but scope to add more. The author does provide some guidance on how to adapt the play for different class sizes.

Preparation tasks

One major strength of this resource are the preparation activities before learners encounter the play itself. The approach to preparing the students for the play includes elements of Tomlinson’s text-driven approach, which I’ve explained previously. There are some really good opportunities to explore themes in the play before reading it, through discussions and personal writing. There is a nice, learner friendly description of pragmatics as a concept, and a scaffolded roleplay task about encouraging somebody (a theme in the play) which is a great orientation to the play. Preparatory reading on STEM vs liberal arts careers is also provided. There are not many activities accompanying these readings but teachers could easily exploit them further if desired. The preparatory reading may be challenging for low intermediate learners.

The writer definitely sees the value in thoroughly preparing learners for drama by exploring the context and possible emotions of the characters. Alice’s approach was a learning point for me as a teacher – I can see now that I’ve rushed into drama activities at times without giving learners enough chance to explore themes in the text beforehand. The ‘insight sentences’ used in the text, encouraging learners to share personal responses about the topic, are a good technique.

Production tasks

After a post-reading discussion of the play there are various tasks leading up to the students own performance. Perhaps the best of these tasks is ‘Learn your part’. Learners focus on various feelings of the characters in the play, and relate these to characters in their own life. This is a great personalisation task, although may need a fair bit of teacher support in checking the various concepts (careless, admiring, empathetic, etc).

There’s a great improv section that helps the learners really get into the mind of the characters, and a short pronunciation section focusing on sentence stress, which learners then relate their own lines in the play. I’d say that the pronunciation resources could be expanded. I’d like to see more focus on features such as attitudinal function, in particular to support the focus on characters feelings/emotions. The author does point out that these resources are flexible and could always be supplemented by teachers.

There is another useful pre-performance task called ‘blocking the play’, where learners plan out the stage movements and actions of the characters. This is a useful task for learners but also for teachers who are less familiar with teaching drama (like me). I found in general that the production tasks offered a useful guideline for how I might approach this type of drama activity in the future.

Post-performance tasks

Again, the post-performance tasks were akin to the development/input response activities that Tomlinson outlines. There are some great extension tasks – thinking of alternative endings, creating a short sequel to the play, reviewing functional language in the script, etc. This is all very useful.

There are some useful evaluation activities provided, such as self-reflection questions, peer evaluation and a teacher evaluation rubric. I must say, the grading in the teacher evaluation seems a bit harsh – a score of 0-74 out of 100 is still a grade of ‘low’. Blimey! Mind you this could be easily adapted.

Overall

This is a really well-structured drama resource that I’m excited to try out in the classroom! There is a real humanistic feel about the author’s approach, with a whole range of activities encouraging learners to share personal responses, explore the emotions of others and really engage with the themes and characters in the play. The book could include more language-related activities (particularly pronunciation focused) to exploit the rich content in the play, but there’s nothing stopping teachers from supplementing the resource.  I’d certainly recommend this book for those new to teaching drama as it provides a good model for bringing drama into the language classroom.

Rating: 4.5/5

Her Own Worst Enemy is available from Alphabet Publishing, priced $14.00

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.