In exploring sustainable development, children are looking at issues that often really matter to them – and which therefore involve emotions, values and controversies. Drama and role play activities can provide a safe space – and useful frameworks - to explore these issues.

These activities can also protect us as teachers. We may not wish to be in the role of 'solution-provider', especially when solutions are likely to be provisional or controversial.

For example, an issue like global climate change stimulates debates at every level: the basic science involved; ideas about what we should do about it and how serious it might be; conflicts of interest over its implications. We are not helping children if we pretend this is not the case, or if we suggest that we have “the answers.” We will, however, wish to support and guide their learning in appropriate ways.

On Drama: Looking into an issue [prompts] you will find teachers’ statements about using drama to support children’s safe exploration of issues. You might want to work with colleagues to rank these in priority order [eg as a ‘diamond nine’].

It may help them to focus on a particular controversy, such as climate change or GM crops, or something which has caused a great degree of local debate [such as a [proposed new shopping centre, road or airport].

The following activity serves as an example for using drama. It uses role cards based on life in Douentza, Mali. These illustrate some of the conflicts of interest between different cultural groups in the area. The two roles are designed to stimulate debate about different perspectives.

The role cards can be found on the pdf: Mali - conflict between a herder and a farmer. Explain to participants that they will be using these cards as an information base.

The pdf: Using drama approaches outlines some ideas which can be used when exploring an issue. Ask participants to try out two or three of these ideas. In small groups, and at your own level, try out two or three ideas from the pdf.

Ask participants to feed back on the following:

  • When might they use activities like these with children?
  • How would they adapt these activities to explore a different issue? [For example, the conflict between wildlife conservationists and local farmers in Helen Cowcher’s picture book, Tigress].

In debriefing, you might invite participants to consider:

  • Helping younger children find a way in to complex issues like this, by first exploring local land use conflicts [eg over car parking in residential areas, or about use of the school playground]. How are these conflicts resolved?
  • Whether there may be things children can learn from Douentza which can help them think about our local situations.

The activity may also raise questions about the causes and consequences of desertification. Desertification is a huge issue in many parts of the world, threatening settlements, livelihoods, water supplies and the natural environment. It has both natural and human causes, and increases pressure on land use. This, in turn, can aggravate tensions between the people who live off than land.

For guidance on the teaching of controversial issues see the QCA Citizenship and PSHE Teachers’ Guide