Podlozny, A. (2000). Strengthening verbal skills through the use of classroom drama: A clear link. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34(3-4), 239-276.


This study examines the relationship between in-school drama instruction and student verbal achievement. The researcher conducted seven meta-analyses from 80 experimental studies that examined the impact of in-school drama instruction on at least one of seven identified measures of verbal achievement: story understanding (oral measures and written measures), reading achievement, reading readiness, oral language development, vocabulary, and writing. The results demonstrated a strong correlation between drama instruction and six of the seven verbal outcomes. They also specify which forms of drama instruction are most effective for yielding particular verbal outcomes.

Key Findings:

  • Drama instruction where students act out a structured plot had larger effect sizes for story understanding, reading achievement, reading readiness, and writing. Acting out unstructured or combination structured/unstructured plots resulted in larger effect sizes for oral language development.
  • Programmatic activities in which drama leaders actively participated in enactment were associated with the largest effect sizes for students’ story understanding.
  • The researcher found mixed results for amount of drama instruction, and higher effect sizes for reading readiness, vocabulary, and writing with longer instructional time. Oral story understanding and language development had higher effect sizes with less instructional time. One possible explanation for this outcome is students’ total instructional time in the learning context. Longer drama instructional periods were often found in learning contexts with high levels of instruction in general (1200-1640 minutes) while shorter drama instruction was found in context with low levels (315-720 minutes).
  • Five meta-analyses found no relationship between either age or population background (socio-economic, disability levels) and effect size.
  • Published studies and studies with a weaker design were most associated with higher effect sizes.

Significance of the Findings:

The researcher’s meta-analyses highlight particular drama instructional approaches most associated with high effect sizes in verbal development (as defined by the seven verbal outcomes examined). This provides insight into which specific drama approaches are likely to be most successful in the classroom to foster student verbal development. This includes allowing students to act out plot points and the active participation of a leader or teacher. The researcher also illuminates future research areas by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of studies in the field that research drama and verbal achievement.


The researcher framed her review of drama instruction, defined in terms of three characteristics: enactment, plot, and leader. The studies she selected featured a pretend situation that used either verbal or physical enactment preformed by the child or through puppets. Plots could be structured, unstructured, or a combination of the two. The drama leader could be an active participant involved in the drama, a facilitator, or completely removed.

Through a wide search, the researcher collected 265 possible research studies to which she then applied further selection criteria. Eighty studies qualified for meta-analysis meeting the criteria of empirical studies published no earlier than 1950, experimental in design, which measured the relationship between drama instruction and verbal achievement, and had sufficient information to calculate effect size.

The researcher and her assistant coded studies in terms of several attributes: verbal and drama outcomes, year and status of publication, research design, age and specific demographic characteristics, and drama instruction construct and duration. She then calculated the average effect size across all the studies and tested nine hypotheses through seven meta-analyses: type of plot, role of leader, degree of transfer, amount of drama instruction, age, type of publication, study design, publication status, and publication date.

Limitations of the Research:

While the researcher used specific selection criteria to enable comparison across the studies, she notes it is still difficult to make equal comparisons because many studies have serious design flaws.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How does the relationship between drama instructional time and total instructional time impact the effectiveness of drama on verbal development? Does drama instruction have a greater impact on the verbal development of low socio-economic students?