Teaching Social Studies Through Drama

Colin Anderson, Utah State University


Educators and researchers have long discussed methods for improving student achievement in the social studies and history. Research on student attitudes reveals that the social studies suffers from a lack of interest among students. Common complaints among students are that the subject is tedious, does not relate to their lives, is not particularly useful for their future careers, is repetitive, or that it is simply boring (Schug et al., 1982}. Even when students recognize the utilitarian value of skills they learn from social studies/ history, they rarely express an interest in the subject (Chiodo, 2004). After reviewing the body of literature on student attitudes towards the social studies, Shaughnessy and Haladyna (1985} concluded, "most students in the United States, at all grade levels, find social studies to be one of the least interesting, most irrelevant subjects in the school curriculum" (p. 694). Russel and Waters (2010) linked these attitudes to the prevalence of passive learning (lecture, worksheets and other busy work, and rote memorization) within contemporary social studies classrooms. Studies examining social studies/ history education suggest that pedagogical techniques from drama/ theatre may be effective at teaching these subjects by helping students actively engage with and retain material. Drama-based strategies can be particularly effective in improving student reading skills (Rose et al., 2000). By strengthening such basic skills, drama/ theatre helps support student achievement in social studies/ history. Teaching strategies that utilize historical narrative have been shown to get students to effectively engage with and improve their understanding of social studies content (Downey et al, 1991; Brophy et al., 1991). Drama can act as a form of historical narrative and be particularly effective at reaching students (Otten et al., 2004; Jackson et al., 2005). Drama-integration methods also complement the social studies curriculum by being well suited for multicultural education practices,

cross-curricular learning, and the investigation of social justice issues (Gay & Hanley, 1999; Fautely &

Savage, 2011; Lement & Dunakin, 2005}.