Teacher Tip – Five Tips For Learning Lines With Young Actors Who Can’t Read

Often in my younger classes, as soon as I mention the script, parents come to me concerned about the fact that their children can’t read.  I explain that many of the students are in the same boat. We don’t use scripts in our younger rehearsals and learn the lines as we go. While we encourage the parents to work on lines with their children at home, much of the work happens during rehearsal. But how? Here are our top five ways to learn lines with young students.

1. Phonetic Repetition.

As with adult actors, repeating the lines can go a long way in helping young actors remember them. As a director, read the line and ask the student to repeat it back. After a few singular lines with different actors, ask them to repeat the text and only prompt them when to speak. Some actors will get it right straight away and others after a few repetitions.

2. Emotional Explanation.

If a particular line is long, often the students will stumble over it even when trying to simply repeat it back. In this instance stop, step back and break it down. Ask the student what their character is really saying. How does their character feel about that? Once they have gained this connection to the text, you’ll often find they’ll easily repeat it on the next attempt and remember it in future.

3. Image Association.

With very young students, one way I help them to remember lines quickly is by using flash cards. Often the students can remember a bunch of lines but struggle with the order. By holding up an image associated with their line you are able to silently prompt them which is next. With very young children I use this technique right up to the show, sitting in the front row with my flash cards ready to prompt.

4. Action Association.

Sometimes students get a mental block about their lines. Especially when they can’t read, remembering lines can be a daunting task. In this instance, they may find it easier to remember actions. By knowing what they should be doing, they can remember more clearly what to say. Even with narration, you’ll often find that assigning an associated action to each line helps the students remember. A movement sequence is something they can learn pressure free to remember where in the script they are and what they should say next.

5. Storytelling. 

Even when the actors know their lines, they sometimes forget their cues. One way to avoid this is encouraging them to understand the story. If students are so busy concentrating on what they need to do, they can sometimes be blind to what else is happening on stage. Make sure you ask them regularly what is happening and why. Understanding the story helps them remember the part they need to play in it.

Rebecca is the founder and chief executive officer of Silly Fish Learning Ltd. She is a children's playwright with a vast and varied career in education, primarily teaching drama and English.

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