What Do I Say?

Ten ways a drama teacher can respond constructively and sensitively to student work


Picture this: Two aspiring young actors are sheepishly performing a scene in drama class. As the players nervously attempt to apply their stage skills, the audience strains to hear their whispered lines. Instead of focusing on the words and their meanings, the actors concentrate on not forgetting their lines—and it shows. And while they stumble over the words, they exaggerate the character’s movements and gestures, attempting to produce the emotion and meaning of the moment.

Not a good start toward creating believable characters!

As the scene ends, all eyes turn to you. It’s feedback time and as their drama teacher you think, “Where do I start?”

So maybe this sounds a little overly dramatic, however, it is a scene played out in drama classrooms across the country. Theater teachers regularly face that delicate balance between truthful feedback and respect for a young actor’s feelings. In just a few words, your feedback can either help a young actor’s understanding of his craft or sabotage his confidence toward pursuing an acting career.

Recently, a survey given at Orlando Repertory Theatre, a professional theater for young audiences in Orlando, Florida, asked professional teaching artists to identify meaningful feedback when assessing performances by young actors.

Below, they share the 10 most effective opening line responses to students’ work:

  1. “You are really improving, however I know it can be better by…” 
  2. “Good. How can you make the scene more honest?” 
  3. “Project your voice as if the whole audience is sitting in the back row.” 
  4. “Keep what you are doing and think about adding…” 
  5. “Please describe to us the subtext of what you are saying.” 
  6. “Good. Now what are some ways you could challenge yourself in this scene?” 
  7. “Theater happens between people, so listen to everything being said.” 
  8. “Where is the importance? What do you really need in the scene?” 
  9. “Breathe. Don’t rush to get to the next moment, embrace the one you’re in.” 
  10. “What felt good in this scene? What could be different?”

Teachers are charged with mentoring and fostering artistic expression in young people. A constructive approach to feedback serves as a responsible assessment tool to help young actors improve their craft. It also offers encouragement—a motivation we all need in order to succeed.



Diane Messina
Original Writer

Ern Messina

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

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Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



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