Drama and drawing for narrative writing in primary grades

Moore, B. & Caldwell, H. (1993). Drama and drawing for narrative writing in primary grades. Journal of Educational Research, 87(2).


This study compared the effects of two types of writing planning activities, drama and drawing, against a traditional writing planning activity, discussion, on the quality of narrative writing from 63 primary grade students. Students were randomly assigned to three groups: the drama group, the drawing group, and the control group. Data were collected over a 15-week period, and each weekly session consisted of a 15-minute discussion on aspects of narrative writing, followed by 45 minutes of drama, drawing, or language arts activities, and 30 minutes of drafting. Drawing activities developed ideas through the use of storyboards. Drama activities developed ideas through improvisations and individual role-play. The control group used lessons from an adopted language arts textbook. Students’ drafts were analyzed against a scale created by the research team to assess the effects of the planning activities. Repeated-measures of analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed a significantly higher writing quality of the drama and drawing groups when compared to the control group. The researchers concluded that drama and drawing were more successful than the traditional planning activity, discussion, as forms of rehearsal for narrative writing in primary grades.

Key Findings:

According to the reported data, the writing quality of the drama and drawing groups was consistently and significantly better than the writing quality of the control group. Measurements of students’ attitudes toward writing did not appear to be a factor influencing the quality of the students’ writing samples.

Significance of the Findings:

The study’s findings suggest that arts-based planning activities impact writing quality and are a more complete form of planning than discussion before writing. Traditionally, students are given limited time to brainstorm ideas before beginning a narrative composition. This study shows that teachers can influence the quality of students’ writing through arts-based planning activities, regardless of a classroom teacher’s familiarity with drawing or drama. The author’s believe drama and drawing are resources available to every classroom teacher and should be acknowledged as effective strategies for increasing students’ motivation to write and writing quality and not just time-filling or extra-curricular activities.

The data indicate that traditional pre-writing exercises such as brainstorming and cluster-mapping, and exercises listed in language arts textbooks are less effective tools for students to initiate quality narrative writing samples. These findings suggest mutual support exists between the arts and composition writing. Curriculum developers of language arts textbooks, teacher educators, and literacy specialists should also be made aware of drawing and drama strategies as an additional strategy for planning writing activities in the primary grades.


The researchers divided two classrooms of second and third graders into one control group using a traditional discussion-based method (n=21), and two experimental groups, one using a drawing-based method (n=20) and one using a drama-based method (n=22). All groups were given a writing assignment as a pretest that was computed by an ANOVA to establish that there were no differences in writing ability between the three groups. The authors developed two instruments, (1) the Narrative Rating Scale to evaluate and appraise students’ writing quality, and (2) the Attitude Scale to determine if changes in attitude could impact the quality of students’ writing. The 15-week treatment consisted of a 15-minute period of whole group discussion, followed by 45 minutes of drawing, drama, or traditional language arts methods, and 30 minutes of drafting.

After each week’s treatment, students’ writing samples were evaluated and appraised. Participating classroom teachers were also given 32 hours of training before the initiation of the study in drawing and drama exercises to effectively lead the students through the drama or drawing planning activity as a treatment. Data analysis was carried out using the General Linear Model procedure for unbalanced design in the Statistical Analysis Software computer program. Means and standard deviations were computed for each group weekly and analyzed over time. Repeated-measures of analysis of variance procedures were used to test the hypothesis that there would be a difference in writing quality between the experimental and control groups.

Limitations of the Research:

Limitations to this study include the teachers’ limited familiarity with drama and drawing as a writing planning activity; more time was needed to develop the teachers’ confidence with drama and drawing techniques and the students comfort and confidence with performing drama and drawing activities which might have produced a higher quality planning exercise. Approximately 1,200 writing samples were collected and rated by three raters; additional raters might have strengthened the consistency of the ratings across the samples and over time.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What other forms of art-based education might enhance students’ writing quality? What are appropriate methods for training teachers to integrate drawing and drama into the teaching of writing and the writing process? How might curriculum developers and textbook manufacturers include drama and drawing activities in future editions of language arts textbooks? What results would this study garner if replicated in older primary grades, middle school, and high school?