Lifelong Learning: Proceedings of the 4th Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.
May 14-15, 2005. Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo Keizai University.

Discovering the magic of Harry Potter:
Adapting the Drama Method in an EFL class for upper grade primary students

ハリーポッターの魔法を発見:小学校高学年のEFLクラスでのドラマメソッド (Japanese Title)

by Junko Matsuzaki-Carreira (Keiai University)



It is often said that the upper grade elementary students are reluctant to sing songs and participate actively in classroom activities. The author has been searching for a method to motivate upper graders. This paper mentions how the drama method was introduced into a Japanese EFL class using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It concludes by mentioning some of the advantages and drawbacks of the drama method.

Keywords: drama method, Harry Potter, elementary EFL instruction, student motivation

These days, there is increasing interest in learning English at an early age in Japan. At elementary schools across the nation, English conversation classes are being conducted to promote international understanding under the aegis of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, & Technology's "Period for Integrated Study" programme (MEXT, 2001).
English conversation activities were already being conducted at about 50% of all public elementary schools in Japan in 2002, when the new MEXT-inspired Courses of Study were fully implemented (MEXT, 2003). English conversation activities were done in about 92.1% of all Japanese public elementary schools in 2004 (MEXT, 2005). Many people have started to discuss the role of English lessons in Japanese elementary schools (Blair, 1997; Matsukawa, 2004).

[ p. 10 ]

The main activities in Japanese EFL classes for young pupils consist of games and songs. (MEXT, 2005). However, it is often said that the students in grades 4-6 of elementary school do not want to sing songs or participate actively in classroom games. Psychologists such as Harter (1981) have suggested that intrinsic motivation, which "refers to motivation to engage in an activity for its own sake" (Pintrich and Schunk, 2002, p. 245) decreases as elementary school students get older. Carreira (2004) also found Japanese elementary school pupils' intrinsic motivation for learning English declines with age. It might be natural to think that elementary school children would become more eager to learn a foreign language as their ages increase, but research does not seem to support that proposal. Before formally introducing English as a subject into elementary school education, more research about what sorts of activities are appropriate for such classes should be considered. The author has been searching for methods and materials to motivate upper graders.
. . .drama methods encourage children to speak and provide them with the chance to communicate, using non-verbal communication, such as body movements and facial expressions.

Via (1987) refers to drama as "communication between people" (p. 110). Maley and Dull (1982) define dramatic activities as those "which give the student an opportunity to use his or her own personality in creating the material on which part of language class is to be based" (p. 6). There is an immense range of approaches to drama, including role-play and simulation (see Clipson-Boyles, 1998). According to Phillips (1999), drama methods encourage children to speak and provide them with the chance to communicate, using non-verbal communication, such as body movements and facial expressions. There have been several studies (e.g., Miccoli, 2003) on English lessons through drama methods, most of which were done on adults and adolescents.
According to Taniguchi and Takenaka (1990), animated cartoons such as Jack and Bean Stalk are often a good way to teach English to elementary school students. The author thought movies would also be good for elementary school pupils, because they can listen to authentic English with attractive scenes. The author introduced the drama method and the Harry Potter movie to a Japanese EFL class for upper graders.
The lessons were conducted for a class of 4th, 5th and 6th graders at a private English school. The class consisted of five male and eight female students and all of the students had studied English for at least three years prior to the class. The author asked the students what story they wanted to learn in class. Twelve of the students answered Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. This paper reports how that movie was adapted for that class

The Drama Method from social constructivist perspective

According to Oldfather, West, White, and Wilmarth (1999, p. 8), social constructivism is "a particular view of knowledge, a view of how we come to know". In this view, "learning is constructed through interactions with others, which take place within a specific socio-cultural context" (Oldfather et al., ibid.). The most significant base of social constructivism was laid down by Vygotsky.

[ p. 11 ]

Vygotsky (1978) emphasized the importance of social interaction. He suggested that a child has the potential to reach beyond her present level within a certain zone, which is called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZDP). Vygotsky believes that the process of development is dependent on social interaction, which leads to cognitive development. A child needs to interact with adults and other children who are more knowledgeable in order to grow. In other words, through adult guidance and peer collaboration, a child can perform tasks which cannot be achieved alone. Vygotosky claimed that optimal learning occurred in the ZDP.
EFL lessons, viewed from a Vygotskian perspective, should provide collaboration, small group interaction, and work space for peer interaction. The instructional design should be structured to promote student interaction and collaboration. Thus the classroom can become a community of learning.
Scaffolding, a concept developed by Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976), refers to the process that "enables a child or novice to solve a task or achieve a goal that would be beyond his unassisted efforts" (Wood et al., 1976, p. 90). Scaffolding is said to be an effective way to promote learning in the ZDP. In scaffolding learners get opportunities to extend their current skills and knowledge. Teachers must know children's interests and simplify tasks so they are manageable and motivate children to pursue the instructional goals.
Teaching language through drama . . . forc[es] the learners to use their language resource

Teaching language through drama is an attractive option because it gives a context for listening and meaningful language production, forcing the learners to use their language resources (Chauhan, 2004). Drama is an activity which establishes human relationships and communication with others. A child performs drama under teacher guidance and peer collaboration. Drama activity enables children to work together in groups. That is, the Drama Method appears to promote interaction in the ZDP and scaffolding (Wagner, 2002) when used appropriately.

Movies in EFL classes

Some researchers (e.g., Edasawa, Takeuchi, and Nishizaki, 1989) have suggested movies can be a good motivator for English learners. There have been many studies and reports on movies in EFL classrooms. For example, Voller and Widdows (1993) show some guidelines of using movies in EFL classrooms. Carter and Miyauchi (2005) explored socio-cultural motives for using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and suggested several ideas to improve learners' socio-cultural knowledge. Most of the published studies have focused on adults and adolescents. There have however been few studies on movies in EFL classes for children. Children learning EFL probably are unable to understand most the expressions in movies designed primarily for native English speakers.

[ p. 12 ]

However, the author thought some freeze frames might be used in order to review English expressions which they had already learned and some of the parts of the movie which are short and clearly pronounced might be used for listening practice. Thus, the author attempted to introduce some of the Harry Potter movie to a class.

Lessons using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


Listening and speaking practice

The scene where Harry, his uncle, aunt and cousin were in the dining room eating breakfast and talking about Dudley's birthday presents and trip to the zoo was used in order to review the sentences, grammar, phrases, and words which students have already learned. After they watched the scene once, I paused the video almost every 10-20 seconds and asked some questions in English. Appendix 1 lists one sample interaction.
After completing the interaction outlined in Appendix 1, the students played Picture Bingo. I handed out some 3-by-3 grids on a sheet. They drew a picture of each scene to be mentioned in the narration, one scene per grid. After completing the pictures, they listened to the narration in Table 1, circling the scenes as they appear. The first student to get a row of three straight circled scenes was the winner. A sample student sheet appears in Figure 1.

Table 1. A sample narrative for a Picture Bingo game based on Harry Potter.

My name is Harry. This is my uncle. This is my aunt. This is my cousin, Dudley. Dudley got 36 presents this year. We are eating breakfast. We went to the zoo yesterday. I saw a snake. The snake ran out of the zoo.

Figure 1. A sample Picture Bingo student sheet based on Harry Potter.

[ p. 13 ]

Writing and reading practice

After completing the Picture Bingo activity, I handed out the paper in Table 2 to students to focus on writing and reading skills.

Table 2. A student handout for a reading and writing activity based on Harry Potter.

Q: Who is that man? A: This is my ( ).
Q: Who is that woman? A: This is my ( ).
Q: Who is that boy? A: This is my ( ), Dudley.
Q: Do you like them? A: No, I don't. They are ( ) to me.
Q: Where did you go on Dudley's birthday? A: We ( ) to the ( ).
Q: What did you see? A: I ( ) a ( ).
Q: What did you do? A: I ( ) with a snake.

They filled in the blank spaces parentheses with the following words; uncle, aunt, cousin, mean, went, zoo, saw, snake, and talked. Refer to Appendix 1 for the correct answers.

Hot seating

Hot seating, a drama technique, refers to a process in which a character who acts out a given role is interviewed (Clipson-Boyles, 1998). The hot seat is a place where a person sits to be questioned by others. The person in the hot seat could be a character from fiction, a historical character, a famous person, or an imaginary person (Clipson-Boyles, 1998).
The students took turns pretending to be Harry. I asked them some questions based on the sheet in Appendix 2. They really concentrated on the lesson and tried to understand and speak English because they liked Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I had never seen them listen to and answer questions as enthusiastically as this.

[ p. 14 ]

Evaluation by the students

At the end of the lesson, a questionnaire consisting of closed and open questions in Japanese was administered to the students. Each item of the closed-ended statements with a 4-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 4 (strongly disagree). The closed section of the questionnaire consisted on the following two statements:
In both cases, eleven of 13 students answered "strongly agree" and only two students answered "agree". The open-ended section of the questionnaire asked respondents to write their impressions of the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone lessons. Some characteristic responses, with translations in brackets, appear in Table 3.

Table 3. Selected student comments on the Harry Potter-related lessons.

[Harry Potter is very fun so I can learn English very well.]
[Harry Potter is fun and easy to understand.]
[Answering questions while pretending to be Harry was very fun.]
[I want to do more activities using Harry Potter.]
[Harry Potter is good because I can learn about the country where English is spoken.].
[I want to know about Britain more.]
[I definitely want to go to Britain someday.]

Perspectives and implications

One thing that became clear is that using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone wisely can enhance upper graders' motivation for learning English. Most of them have read and/or watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone previously. Students already have a good background knowledge of the story very well and like it. Furthermore, some students show some interest in Britain in their questionnaires. Movies have the potential to enhance learners' socio-cultural interest.

[ p. 15 ]

According to Clipson-Boyles (1998), drama methods help children develop in the following ways:
By acting out . . . [a character], it seems that some students gain a deeper sense of empathy with him and awareness of factors that seldom develop just from passive viewing.

By acting out Harry, it seems that some students gain a deeper sense of empathy with him and awareness of factors that seldom develop just from passive viewing. Many answered questions with more emotion than they did in regular lessons. For example, in answering the questions about his uncle's family, some of the students answered them in a low tone, because they thought Harry did not like his uncle, aunt and cousin. When they answered the question, "How did you respond to the snake?" they tried to answer "Anytime" with some surprise in the same manner as Harry did, including intonations, pronunciations, and facial expressions.
The students who knew more details about the story of Harry Potter or who were more proficient at English helped the other students, which promoted scaffolding. It appears that the Drama Method using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone promotes peer collaboration.
Furthermore, students used all four skills during the Harry Potter related activities. Wagner (2002) argues that drama has a positive effect on reading and writing. The Drama Method using materials such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone seems to develop reading and writing as well as listening and speaking skills.


The Drama Method may be an ideal way to promote peer interaction and collaboration. This method may promote scaffolding and helping students reach the ZDP. Further, it is a good way to integrate the skills of speaking, listening, writing and reading. Drama activities however cause student's embarrassment and encourage incorrect English forms (Sam, 1990). However, if we choose an appropriate drama activity for students and plan lessons carefully, these disadvantages might be reduced.

[ p. 16 ]

Anecdotal evidence suggests Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone may be a good motivator for upper grade EFL students. In the future, more materials based on this book/film should be developed. The J. K. Rowling Teacher Resource File, available at, already has a number of lesson materials and background information about the materials created by J. K. Rowling. Some of those materials are suitable for EFL contexts. Some Christians however object to Harry Potter for promoting witchcraft (Wagner, 2003). In Japan, such heated debates about Harry Potter have not taken place, but teachers and parents who use Harry Potter as materials should know both sides of the story.


Blair, R. J. (1997, July). The role of English and other foreign languages in Japanese society. Internet TESL Journal, (3) 7. Retrieved online from on October 18, 2005.

Carreira, M. J. (2004). Motivation for learning English as a foreign language in Japanese elementary schools. Unpublished master's thesis, Tsuda College, Tokyo, Japan.

Carter, P. & Miyauchi, H. (2005). "Sounding Harry out": Socio-cultural aspects of teaching English through movies. Teaching English through Movies, 10, 29-38.

Chauhan, V. (2004, October). Drama techniques for teaching English. The Internet TESL Journal, 10 (10). Retrieved August 11, 2004, from

Clipson-Boyles, S. (2003). Drama in primary English teaching. London: David Fulton Publishers.

Edasawa, Y., Takeuchi, O., & Nishizaki, K. (1989). Use of films in listening comprehension practice. Language Laboratory, 26, 19-40.

Harter, S. (1981). A new self-report scales of intrinsic versus extrinsic orientation in the classroom: Motivational and informational components. Developmental Psychology, 17, 300-312.

Maley, A. & Duff, A. (1982). Drama techniques in language learning: A resource book of communication activities for language teachers. Cambridge University Press.

Matsukawa, R. (2004, May). Shougakkou eigo katsudo no nani wo hyouka suru ka? Eigo Kyouiku, 53 (2). Available online at essay/200405/index.shtml.

Miccoli, L. (2003). English through drama for oral skills development. ELT Journal, 57, 122-129.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, & Technology. (2001). Shougakkou eigokatsudou jissen no tebiki. [Practical handbook for elementary school English activities]. Tokyo: Kairyudo Publishing.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, & Technology. (2003). Regarding the establishment of an "Action Plan to Cultivate Japanese with English Abilities". Retrieved online from on 11 August 2003.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, & Technology. (2005). Shougakkou eigokatsudou jishijoukyou chousakekka gaiyou (Heisei 16 nendo) shuukei. [2004 implementation report on English activities in elementary schools]. Retrieved online from on August 20, 2005.

[ p. 17 ]

Oldfather, P., West, J., White, J., & Wilmarth, J. (1999). Learning through children's eyes: Social constructivism and the desire to learn. Washington. DC: American Psychological Association.

Phillips, S. (1999). Drama with children. Oxford University Press.

Pintrich, P. R. & Schunk, D. H. (2002). Motivation in education: Theory, research, and application. (2nd, ed.). New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Rowling, J. K. (1997). Harry potter and the sorcerer's stone. New York: Scholastic.

Sam, W. Y. (1990). Drama in teaching English as a second language - A communicative approach. The English Teacher, 19. Retrieved online from November 20, 2005.

Taniguchi, K., & Takenaka, S. (1990). An effective use of video materials in class. JASTEC Journal, 9, 70-71.

Via, R. (1987). "The magic if" of theater: Enhancing language learning through drama. In W. M. River (Ed.), Interactive language teaching. (pp.110-123). Cambridge University Press.

Voller, P. & Widdoows, S. (1993). Feature films as text: A framework for classroom use. ELT Journal, 47, 342-353.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner & E. Souberman, Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wagner, B. J. (2002). Understanding drama-based education, In G. Brauer (Ed.), Body and language: Intercultural learning through drama. (pp.3-18). Westport, CT: Ablex Publisher.

Wagner, R. (2003, October). Bewitching the box office: Harry Potter and religious controversy. Journal of Religion and Film, 17 (2) 1-7. Retrieved online from on November 20, 2005.

Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17 (2) 89-100.

2005 Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index
Complete Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index

Last [ p. 18 ] Next