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Mini Soap Operas

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The following activity works well for intermediate or advanced students. This exercise works with most age groups and cultural backgrounds. In this activity, students will perform mini soap operas under restrictions that make them more interesting and force students to think creatively.

The first thing to do is to choose a love-related topic that is interesting and slightly provocative to your students. When I used this lesson with graduate students and professors in China, I chose “Campus Romance.” Other amorous themes would work just as well. You can prep the activity by asking students if they are familiar with soap operas. If you have access to the proper media, you can show a clip from a juicy soap opera to spark their imagination.

After prepping the students, break them into groups of four to seven. Inform them that they will be making their own mini soap opera. Assign a setting to each group. Possible settings for a skit on campus romance might include a fancy restaurant, a local park, a crowded street, or perhaps more challenging settings such as a bus or a chemistry lab. Be creative with the choice of settings. Inform students that their skits must be restricted to their assigned settings.

Next, assign a prop to each group. The funkier the better. I had limited access to potential props in my apartments in China, but was able to scrounge up at least two good props: a voodoo doll and a Mardi Gras mask. Tell students that they are required to use the assigned prop in their skit but that they are permitted and even encouraged to use the props in unorthodox ways. Bringing in objects that the students are unfamiliar with ensures success and comedy. The only other rule is that every student in each group must speak at least once during the skit.

After making sure everyone understands the instructions, inform students that each group's performance will be peer-reviewed afterwards on the basis of quality of performance (preparation, acting, etc.) and originality of skit. Bringing in an element of evaluation and competition made the activity more exciting for the students. You could even offer a prize to the groups with the highest scores in these two categories or special awards for the best actor and actress. (Another thing that is interesting and useful to do if you have the resources, is to videotape the student performances.) Having explained all this, allow them to begin working.

The time it takes students to prepare can vary depending on how long you want their skits to be and their English level. I recommend about twenty to thirty minutes, but this could certainly be done in less time or more time. While they are preparing, you should walk around helping students out and making sure they are speaking English (if the class is composed of people primarily from the same country.)

After they perform the skits, have them give ratings to each group that is not their own on the criteria mentioned earlier and ask them to select a best actor and best actress. After calculating the results, you should announce the winners in Academy Awards style, maybe even asking the winners to give acceptance speeches.

This activity is nice because it does not require much advanced planning on your part, encourages students to think outside the box, and allows students to speak in a relaxed and somewhat silly environment. I was impressed by the quality and creativity of my students' skits and found myself nearly rolling on the floor in laughter.

Wesley Hedden
Wuhan, China

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