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Love them or hate them, most students around the world will be familiar with the concept of soap operas. For students in English speaking countries, soap operas can often be a way of not only understanding something of local culture, but also can help with listening comprehension. And, thanks to the internet, you can now access English speaking soaps wherever you are in the world – a good homework task to set maybe?! The activity would be great as a summer school project, or with teenagers or young adults.
Aim: For students to write a scene (or two) from an imaginary soap opera and then act for the class, film or record it.
Preparation: You will need 3 boxes (or other containers) labelled ‘character’, ‘location’ and ‘action’ to put slips of paper in, a pile of (recycled) paper torn into eights (enough for 3 per student) and, if you wish to record the performances in some way, a way of doing this (video recorder, dictaphone or computer with mic, students own phones, etc)
1. Write ‘Soap Operas’ on the board and ask for a definition (something like: a drama series that continues indefinitely). Ask for some names of any that are famous in their country, or ones they know from other countries and perhaps tell them about famous ones where you are from if you are from a different country. Ask your students if they ever watch them. You will probably get some strong opinions on both sides (don’t worry if everyone hates them, it will kind of add to the fun!). Elicit why or why not they watch. Ask them what kind of stories occur in ‘soaps’. All the time be writing up any useful vocabulary on the board, reformulating where appropriate (eg. love affairs, unrealistic, over the top, secrets, families, neighbours, lies, murders, addictive, etc).
2. Put the three boxes labelled ‘character’, ‘location’ and ‘action’ at the front of the class. Give each of your students 3 pieces of paper.
3. On the first piece of paper ask them to write a description of a character they might find in a soap opera, for example their name, age, job, marital status. You might want to give them an example such as “Cindy, 28, married to a rich man, wants to be an actress”
4. On the second piece of paper as them to write a location, for example: “an Italian restaurant on a Saturday evening”.
5. On the third piece of paper ask them to write an action or scenario that might happen in a soap. For example: “Someone is trying to stop their partner finding out that they are having an affair”.
6. Ask the students to fold up their pieces of paper and put them into the corresponding box.
7. Put your students into small groups (3-4 people). Ask each student to choose a piece of paper from the “character” box and then each group to choose a piece of paper from both the “location” and “action” boxes (this means that all the pieces of paper from the “character” box should be gone but there should still be some left in the other two boxes.)
8. Ask your students to work together to come up with a scene from a soap opera with all the characters on their piece of paper that is set in the location they have and contains the action. Give them a few minutes to discuss. If they are really struggling with the action or location give them the option of choosing another one, as you will have plenty spare. Ask them to think of a name for their soap.
9. Ask them to write a short script/dialogue for the soap opera in their groups. Try and get them to take turns in writing so that everyone takes part in this stage, although they should all be contributing with ideas too. It is a good idea if each student takes responsibility for one of the characters (which they will later act as) but it doesn’t matter if this is the character they chose before or not.
10. If some groups finish much more quickly than others they can choose a new “location” and “action” and add a new scene to the soap opera (in which case they may have to think of more characters too, which is fine). They don’t need to take it too seriously – it is fine to be over-the-top and make fun of the genre!
11. At this stage you need to decide which type of production you are looking for. You can either:
a) Ask the students to each take on a role and perform in front of the class as a short play.
b) Ask the students to perform the scene(s) onto an audio recorder (such as Audacity), Dictaphone or phone and make it a radio soap opera which the class can then listen to.
c) Film the students on a video recorder, camera or phone acting their dramas and then play to the rest of the class (this would be the best option if you have the resources and space!)
For options “a” and “c”, it would be good for the students to learn their lines. This could be set for homework and the recording done in the next class if possible. For option “b” they could obviously just read. Either way, it is good for them to rehearse, and for you to monitor and help with pronunciation, etc.
12. If you have the resources and time and you have recorded them in some way you could add music, titles, sound effects or edit your mini soap operas. It is great to get them to share with the whole class though so the other students can recognise the characters, actions and locations they originally wrote. Also, it is a great opportunity for students to record themselves and hear themselves speaking without being too intent on scrutinising pronunciation, rather a more gentle awareness exercise.