Helping Students Effectively Interact with New Knowledge: Dramatic Instruction

By Scott Sterling

Key in the Marzano Framework’s efforts toward rigor is the concept that students not only need to be taught new knowledge, but how to interact with it. How can they use it? Why is this important? How do we expand on these new ideas? These are all questions that students should be able to answer at the end of a lesson or unit.

Dramatic instruction can be a valuable tool in the rigorous classroom. Acting things out moves information from short-term, rote memory into episodic memory, which boosts the chances of the information being effectively recalled from long-term memory.

Yet, dramatic instruction is not used as much as it could be. Some teachers believe that it just has to do with acting out scenes, an activity that might not apply to subject areas or topics other than language arts and, perhaps, history. Here are some strategies that can be used across the disciplines for a variety of tasks.


You don’t have to be a person to be interviewed. In this exercise, students pair up. One is the interviewer while the other is some object having to do with the lesson. For example, in a math class the person in the hot seat could be portraying a concept, like a prime number. The interviewer asks the prime number not only facts about itself, but gives their partner an opportunity to think about off-the-wall answers that can help students retain their knowledge (“How do you feel about your only relative being the number 1?”).


This is a riff on charades. Students stand in the room, trying to mirror your actions at the front. You will be miming whatever concept is at hand in a way that demonstrates the idea. For example, for studying fission in science, you would mime splitting into two halves of yourself.


Along the same lines, students stand facing you in groups of three. You point to a group and call out a concept or vocabulary word. The group needs to collaboratively represent the phrase using their bodies. They don’t act it out individually; they each form a piece of the puzzle. This can be done silently if you think the students need an added collaborative challenge.


One more charades-like activity. In this, students pair up. One is the giver and the other is the receiver. Taking turns, the giver pantomimes giving a gift having to do with the topic. The receiver has to guess what the gift was and act as if they truly appreciate it, even if it’s a prime number or something representing chemical change.

One-word storytelling

This is a great formative assessment strategy. Have the students sit in a circle. Whatever the concept that was just studied, the students have to retell what they just learned. Each student provides one word as you move around the circle.


For this activity, students also sit in a circle. When you come across a multi-step concept or problem, each student is responsible for providing one step as they rotate around the circle. When a person has finished their step, the rest of the class replies with “And?” which is the cue for the next student to move the process along. This creates both episodic and repetitive memory.

Invisible tug-of-war

This is another formative assessment possibility. You can either have students pair up or use the entire group. They are to split equally on either side of an imaginary line. You call out questions to each half. If they get the question right, they have to act as if they are starting to get the upper hand in a game of tug-of-war. If the other team gets the next question right, the balance shifts and so on. At a set number of questions, the winning team gets to “pull” the other team over the line.