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Notes towards using Te Papa Tongarewa resources as pretexts for Drama Units

Writer: Trevor Sharp Te Papa Tongarewa resources  are copyright secured for schools. They are free and can be projected, printed, copied or inserted into another resource for educational purposes. To see if your school is registered, have your password reissued, or go to here to find out how to register.


Select a resource that you feel has possibilities for inspiring an interesting drama. Link the digital resource to a 'big question'. This refers to a theme or issue that is relevant to the resource and that the drama unit will explore and serves as a focusing idea. The question has the advantage of suggesting that there is something that is to be revealed through the students' work in the drama - something to be discovered.

 Year Level

Usually a range of year levels is possible. Older or more sophisticated students may bring deeper responses to the issues than more junior or less able students, but the responses of each are relevant and valuable to the participants.

 Curriculum Level

This needs to relate to the experience and drama abilities of the class rather than just their year level.


This is an estimation at best. Much depends on the interest that the work sustains, the depth at which the class responds, and where the exploration takes the participants.


Often the focusing idea (big question) will relate to something in the Values section of the New Zealand Curriculum. Conversely, the curriculum values can assist with framing the big question or the big idea.

Key Competencies

At this stage, it can be tentatively decided whether there are any of the Key Competencies in the New Zealand Curriculum that can be emphasised in the unit. Many of the key competencies tend to play a significant role in the structure of most of these dramas.Student progress in the Key Competencies needs to be evaluated and monitored. This can be done by teacher observation but is also very effectively achieved through student self and peer evaluation. Of course, students need to be taught how to do this effectively.

 Cross-curricula links

Dramas relating to the Te Papa icons will tend to lend themselves to linking between learning areas. Mainly the links will be to Social Studies and English but other areas, such as Sustainability Education will also sometimes be involved.Links between learning areas should be explored. This can lead, for example, to units of work or broad programmes designed to:

  • develop students' knowledge and understandings in relation to major social, political, and economic shifts of the day...

p.39, The New Zealand Curriculum

Achievement Objectives

The units will always involve a number of Achievement Objectives used in combination. Choose the curriculum level to suit the class. Although Year 9 and Year 10 should be working ideally at curriculum levels 4 and 5, this will depend on the amount of drama teaching they have had previously. Commonly, Year 9 will in fact begin working at Level 3.

Specific Learning Outcomes

These need to be specifically drama focused and to grow out of the achievement objectives selected for the unit.


This list needs to be compiled as the unit is written. These dramas nearly always require a range of resources of different kinds and a list is essential to be sure that everything is assembled when the unit begins. Heathcote always emphasised the desirability of authenticity in resources and students do notice if 'old documents' have actually been photocopied or trouble has been taken to hand write and 'age' a page out of an old diary. However, much depends on the time the teacher has and the interest in such details. Students appreciate the effort put into the resources anyway.


This section also needs to be written as the words come up in the writing of the unit. However, it is really only relevant if it is intended the unit be used by other teachers.The recently updated Drama Glossary provides definitions of the way a wide range of terms are used in the New Zealand context.

Learning Sequence Teaching Notes


Try to find a game or exercise that relates in some way to the ideas being explored in the drama (c.f. The big question). It is ideal if you are able to adapt a game to have close relevance to what is to follow. For example, the status exercise is often done as a decontextualised activity but in the drama, "Now that the rain has stopped...", it is integrated into the drama's theme.The Pretext Finding something to initiate the drama is a very important step. The pretext has to grab the interest of the drama's participants and make them want to continue. The initial activity also needs to provide a task or next step for the students and introduce a tension which can be as simple as a time press (i.e. a time limitation for something to be done). Often, the way in can be provided by the icon itself as in the "Kuia toby jug", or a letter, perhaps requesting information as in "Huia beak brooch), a found object (perhaps a person's bag found abandoned). The first activity will frequently be a teacher in role (TIR) role play that needs to be brief, set a task, and introduce a tension.The Rising Action Where the drama goes from here can be quite organic and depend on a number of factors. It is impossible to be prescriptive, as much will depend on teacher experience and instinct (built up from following a number of dramas written by others). What is of key importance is that the teacher:

  • always keeps the big question and values being explored clearly in focus
  • remembers the drama learning that is happening in accordance with the Achievement Objectives and the stated Learning Intentions. The teaching of drama terminology and improving of drama skills in techniques, use of conventions, understanding of elements and practice of processes - especially devising - is central to the work.

The structures of these drama units are predominantly teacher determined because of the need to present them as completed units. There is every opportunity, when they are being done with a class, for the teacher to allow them to develop in other directions.Tools The full range of drama conventions, techniques, elements, technologies and processes are the range of tools that the teacher has at his/her disposal when deciding how best to move the drama on or deepen the students' response to issues raised. Teacher experience and the teaching of a range of dramas written by others are the ways in which the innate knowledge of what is best to do next is developed. It is the students' development of proficiency in working with these aspects of drama that is the subject of assessment.Endings Look for a climax on which to end the drama (what happened to Hilda in Palmerston North) or a poignant twist or some kind of analogy that will perhaps universalise the particularity of working in role (as in the Bikini story that is an epilogue to the "No nukes in the Pacific" drama). There is no need to always provide answers to everything. Sometimes it is very effective if students, through drama, provide a range of possible outcomes.

This column provides space for a kind of "Notes to self" for the teacher. The notes can be recorded alongside the relevant part of the Learning Sequence.The types of things that might appear in this column are:

  • reminders of resources needed
  • reminders of finer pedagogical points
  • assessment opportunities


 Appendix 1: Assessment Template

The template provided with each of the dramas is just one way of recording the drama achievements of the students in the unit. The learning outcomes are derived from the New Zealand Curriculum's Achievement Objectives for the relevant curriculum level.If your school has a different system for recording achievement, you may need to modify the template.While careful monitoring of progress and some recording of achievement is valuable for improved student learning, the teacher must be careful to target assessment carefully and not over-assess the work because this can come to have a detrimental effect on the flow of the work.


 Appendices 2 to 7: Key Competencies Evaluation

These evaluation templates cover the Key Competencies of 'Managing self', 'Relating to others', and 'Participating and contributing'. They are certainly not the only way this might be done but hopefully provide a starting point for further refinement.There are templates for self-evaluation as well as peer and group evaluation. Both perspectives are important. However, the teacher needs to choose what templates to focus on at different times. All of the templates should not be used at every evaluation point.I envisage that teachers will develop their own foci, questions and points of rating to suit their own students. Ultimately, the very best practice would be to co-construct the templates with students so that they are customised to individual needs and the students have a sense of ownership of them. Of course, the templates will change as students develop and have different skills they need to work on.The Key Competencies of 'thinking' and 'using language, symbols, and texts' tend to be more specific to the activity being undertaken at any time and so are not included in these templates.


 Selected Resources

Key Texts

  • Ministry of Education. Drama Posters Teachers' Notes
  • Ministry of Education. (2004) Telling Our Stories: Classroom Drama in Years 7 - 10, Learning Media Limited: Wellington.
  • Morgan, N. and Saxton, J. (1987) Teaching Drama: A mind of many wonders, Hutchinson: London

Background and Theory

  • Ackroyd, J. (2004) Role Reconsidered: A re-evaluation of the relationship between teacher-in-role and acting, Trentham Books: Stoke on Trent.
  • Booth, D. (1994) Story Drama: Reading, writing and roleplaying across the curriculum. PembrokePublishers Limited: Ontario
  • Bowell, P. and Heap, B. (2001) Planning Process Drama. David Fulton Publishers: London.
  • Fleming, M. (2003) Starting Drama Teaching (2nd Edition), David Fulton Publishers: London.
  • Neelands, J. (1998) Beginning Drama 11 - 14, David Fulton Publishers: London.
  • Neelands, J. (1992) Learning Though Imagined Experience. Hodder & Stoughton:Oxon.
  • Neelands, J. (2004). Miracles are happening: beyond the rhetoric of transformation in the Western traditions of drama education in Research in Drama Education Vol. 9, No. 1, Australia: Carfax.
  • Neelands, J. and T. Goode. (2000). Structuring drama work - a handbook of available forms in theatre and drama (2nd Edition), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • O'Connor, P. (2003) Reflection and refraction: the dimpled mirror of process drama. Doctoral Thesis. Brisbane: Griffith University.
  • O'Neill, C. (1995). Drama worlds: A framework for process drama, Portsmouth: Heinemann.
  • Taylor, P. and Warner, C. ed. (2006). Structure and Spontaneity: the process drama of Cecily O'Neill, Trentham Books: Stoke on Trent.

Dramas to Use

  • Ackroyd, J. (2000). Literacy Alive: Drama projects for literacy learning. Hodder & Stoughton: London
  • Bennathan, J. (2000) Developing Drama Skills 11 - 14. Heinemann: Oxford
  • Miller, C. and Saxton, J. (2004). Into the Story: Language in action through drama. Heinemann: Portsmouth NH.
  • Neelands, J. (1998) Beginning Drama 11 - 14, David Fulton Publishers: London.
  • O'Connor, P. (1994) Jacob's Secret: A drama approach to Social Studies. Reta Publishing: Auckland.
  • O'Toole, J, Burton, B. and Plunkett, A. (2005) Cooling conflict. A new approach to managing bullying and conflict in schools. Australia: Pearson Education.



Printing the template

To download and print the template, select from Word or PDF formats:

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