How DRAMA can help in understanding the past.


Why not just read about it?

When I was in primary school, I learned history by reading books, or listening to my teachers tell me facts about the past. This is the most usual mode of learning about our history. That’s why there are history books! Of course, if I was given the opportunity to dress like a member of the Kelly Gang in the 1800’s or construct the Eureka Flag, I might have a clearer memory of those incidents in Australian History.

Acting Out

As opposed to kids behaving badly, ‘acting out’ scenes from our history can create strong memories of these events. In our drama incursion ‘Terra Australis – Oi Oi Oithe children get the opportunity to literally embody a selection of these moments. By dressing up like miners from the goldfields, they learn what it felt like to be constantly in fear of their livelihood being threatened, as they act out a scene where they are questioned by the dreaded police as to the legitimacy of their claim.

At the Eureka Stockade, they learn how often the rights of the miners were called into question and how this ongoing struggle led to a prolonged battle between these two opposing sides.

Working Together

All of our primary school incursions at The Drama Toolbox involve putting students into groups and encouraging them to work together to stage a scene. By using teamwork to perform significant moments in our history, primary school students engage their creativity and use both sides of the brain to problem solve and physically embody these historical figures with their classmates. Imagine how much more engaging it would be to learn about the epic journey of Burke & Wills if you could strap a pack on a camel and walk in their footsteps yourself!

Feeling Feeds Understanding

When I was ten years old, I found it incredibly difficult to understand exactly what it must have felt like to be a convict. Yet so much time was spent attempting to teach me about that time since it changed so much of our country’s history. When I stand in front of the children as Captain Arthur Phillip and call them a bunch of cockroaches and threaten to throw them off my ship if they get scurvy, it creates a sense memory of being in that moment far more effectively than reading about it in a book!

History can be difficult to understand, given that the people who lived it had experiences far removed from our own. Through drama incursions we open the door to history a crack by allowing the students to engage in an interplay of imagination and physical play to recreate certain moments from the past. Allowing those creative discussions forges new pathways in learning that can be hugely beneficial to both children and adults!

Creating Memories

Picture this: On the 28th of June 1880 Ned Kelly and his gang took hostages at the Glenrowan Hotel and there was a shootout with the police resulting in the death of the Kelly Gang and the arrest of Ned Kelly. In November 1880 Ned Kelly spoke his last words “Such is Life” before being hung until dead at the Old Melbourne Gaol.

A simple date in our history books and a small list of facts.

Now picture this same scene with your students acting the parts of the Kelly Gang, the hostages at the Glenrowan Hotel and the police in a slow-motion shootout, followed by an arrest and eventual hanging (all pretend of course!)

Which version do you think your students would find more memorable?


Michaela Smith
Senior Teacher
The Drama Toolbox

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