A moment from the workshop (photo by Vivien Smith)

I really enjoyed co-presenting with Claire Edwards at the Puketāpapa Kahui Ako gathering at Dominion Road school in Auckland recently. The focus of the day was on the new Aotearoa New Zealand Histories curriculum, and Claire and I took the opportunity to model how frame distance could be used to explore a story from local history from a range of perspectives.

Our starting point was a newspaper account of a dramatic event that happened just down the road from the school in 1872. By the end of the half-day workshop everyone was really engaged with the content … so much so, we hardly had time to discuss the way we’d used DI to teach it!

I wrote up the planning for the workshop in detail, with an explanation of each step for participants. And I thought other teachers might be interested too. Hope you find it useful … You could teach the plan as is (the story of the Cyrus Hayley affair is absolutely fascinating as a window into New Zealand society at the time). Or you could adapt the steps to explore a story from your own locality. I hope you’ll leave a comment, or get in touch to let me know what you create.

One thing to notice is how the planning deliberately avoids inviting participants to step into the shoes of historical characters. Strategies and conventions like “hotseating” and “teacher in role” may not be appropriate where real historical figures are involved. Instead, we can use frame distance to take roles as people with different viewpoints on the event. This allows us to explore the way different perspectives on an historic event change the way it is perceived. I’m encouraging all the teachers I work with to consider frame distance when teaching local histories. More on this in future posts…

Please note the curriculum links at the start of the document, including the comments about the importance of mana whenua engagement.

Thanks to Claire Edwards for finding the amazing source material about Cyrus Haley and for co-planning and co-presenting – it was great for the teachers to hear from a colleague about the impact DI has had in your school. Thanks also to Vivien Smith for taking video and photo record of the workshop, to Cat Rowlings for coming across town to attend, to participants for choosing the workshop from so many others they could have selected, and to Mike O’Reilly for his invitation to be part of the day.

As with all planning offered freely on this site, these resources belong to the original authors and are not to be on-sold for profit nor distributed in any other form.

In a previous post, I promised to gather and share Mantle of the Expert plans based on New Zealand historical events. Thanks to those who got in touch with suggestions. I know there are many other examples out there, so please let me know if you can recommend a published resource or if have a plan you are willing to share.

The examples listed below include some that explore broad historical issues, and a few looking at specific historical events. Where possible I have included a link to a copy of the planning, or information about where it can be found.

  • One of my favourite process dramas is Trevor Sharpe’s huia beak brooch originally published on the TKI website. This explores issues of colonial history and touches on conservation too. Suitable for primary and junior drama classrooms, the planning has Mantle of the Expert qualities that could be built on to extend it into a full term’s cross curricula exploration.
  • Jacob’s Secret is another great resource created by Peter O’Connor and a group of students at Waikato University in the 1990s. The booklet explores the colonisation of the Waikato, though it could be adapted to look into the history of other areas too.
  • Playing our Stories – a resource for classroom drama in years 1-6, produced by Learning Media in 2006, includes another very accessible process drama by Peter O’Connor entitled Taonga. Planned as a short unit exploring different attitudes to land and family history, it definitely has the potential to be extended into a full length Mantle of the Expert. I’ve attached a scanned copy of the planning here. I trust someone will let me know if that’s against copyright regulations but I figure it’s OK since this resource was sent out to every primary school in NZ – it was designed to be shared around! Primary teachers may still be able to find hard copies lurking in a resource cupboard somewhere! If so, check out the DVD which shows the lessons being taught.
  • Telling our stories – another resource produced by Learning media, this time for years 7-13, includes a terrific drama by Lyn Shillingford and Frances Reed based on the Tangiwai disaster of 1953.  I’ve taught this one quite a few times and it’s powerful stuff. As in the other examples listed, this drama includes a commission, a client and a responsible team so it would be easy to run it as a full blown ‘mantle’. I’ve only got an old photocopy so the quality may not be great but, again, it may still be possible to find copies in intermediate and high school resource rooms.
  • Carrie Swanson’s PhD thesis gives a detailed study of how history can also be used alongside other curriculum learning areas. By positioning students as expert scientists commissioned to re-investigate the Sinking of the Wahine in Wellington harbour in 1968, she and the classroom teacher successfully taught the history of the event alongside science principles, specifically floating and sinking and cyclones. The link takes you to Carrie’s thesis. Check out appendix B (pages 356-359) for an overview of the planning.
  • Susan Battye has kindly shared her planning for a project from 1989, where drama was used across a secondary school to teach local history – in this case the history of Maungakiekie (One tree hill) in Auckland. The planning is interesting as an example of ‘rolling role’, where different groups and their teachers take responsibility for different aspects of the research. It also makes great use of the ‘person in role’ strategy by pulling in a range of adults to take on roles and meet with the students. Lots of potential for updating or adapting this one.
  • And finally, this brief plan is one of mine. It’s an overview for a Mantle of the Expert experience inspired by the history of Kahikatea use in the Waikato. This link will take you to previous posts where I reflect on teaching this with a group of adult students.



This short clip is something rather special. It was captured at the recent Te Aho Tapu symposium, in Hamilton (October 2016) and shows the climax of a teaching demonstration by Prof Peter O’Connor and a group of young people from Rototuna Junior High School. Peter and the children worked together over two sessions exploring ideas and moments from John Marsden’s Home and Away – a quality picture book about the experience of young children caught up in conflict and taken to a refugee camp.

The children were ‘distanced’ from the material by taking on a variety of roles and perspectives. Here we see them in role as advocates for Toby – a five year old boy whose application for entry  is being considered by the Minister for Immigration (Peter in role). See how Peter uses his high status position  to pose complex questions, model elevated language and press for commitment… and see how he trusts the silence – and the children. And look how well the children listen to each other, appeal for empathy and reach for poetic language to express their views… Some of the children said afterwards they were so absorbed in the moment they forgot about the circle of onlookers. Some also reflected how this experience had made them want to learn more about refugees and reach out to refugee families in their own community. Powerful stuff!

Thanks to Miguel Garcia who shot the footage and to Peter and the children for permission to share it here.

Click here for video

In my report from the Heathcote conference I mentioned the digital rolling role project that had been trialled by teachers from a range of countries.

Of particular interest to secondary colleagues, this project is an exciting example of how online spaces can be used for drama collaboration. Sue Davis has now kindly shared her slides on slideshare. Well worth a look.

Thanks Gaenor for spotting this one…. Debra Kidd from the UK has written some very compelling material about using MOTE at secondary. You can follow her blog here… I’ll also set up a link from the site. Impressive and inspiring stuff for our colleagues working away within NCEA and timetable constraints at secondary level….



The latest Ed Gazette (15th August) includes a feature on secondary teachers using innovative approaches to support learning in their classroom. Gaenor Stoate of Spotswood College talks about how Mantle of the Expert has been successfully incorporated in her school’s Performing Arts programme. Read more here….


Thanks to Gaenor Stoate for drawing this article to our attention. It will be of particular interest to secondary English and drama teachers. A lovely account of MOTE used to engage and empower unwilling students at a more senior level.

Check out the student’s incredibly insightful comments on why they prefer working in role…

Check out also the creative ideas for letting them do their exams in role…

Most of all, check out what these teachers managed to achieve with a bunch of students who (according to their own teachers) were ‘thugs’ and would never ‘get it’.

Click here for link


Spent a fulfilling day this week with a small group of university students exploring a NZ issue – in this case Kahikatea deforestation – through Mantle of the Expert.

The objective was to set up opportunities for solo work and collaboration in the Visual Arts, using drama as a pedagogy – and based around a social issue of strong local resonance

First, we explored an old photograph showing men digging a huge muddy ditch. We explored the thoughts and feelings of these men at these moment in their lives. Students were asked to remember this image and consider, as the day went on, what it might have to do with our ‘company’.

Then, students were enrolled as “Arts on the Street” – public Art makers. Their particular speciality – large scale public representations of local history. Through drama, we discovered that past successes of the company included a painted mural in the town of Russell, depicting the social history of the place (we knew we must have done a good job because we received a letter from the rate payers organisation thanking us for our attention to detail and our historical accuracy). We also recreated the moment that the mural was unveiled, and heard the various reactions.

Once we had built belief in our company (a bit of a rush job, as this was a ‘mini mantle’ only), we received the commission: Hamilton Civic Arts Trust were inviting us to enter a video for a new project….

Commission letter

Hamilton city has a well known and very ugly grey concrete wall in the city centre known as ‘wintec wall’. The commission described how this wall was to become a screen for projected art videos. We were asked to create a 30 second video exploring the history of Kahikatea forests in Hamilton.

Next it was off in the cars to check out the wall, take measurements and consider the best use of our video.We also visited a Kahikatea forest fragment (Claudeland’s bush). First, students collected images and samples and got to know the look and feel of the forest. Then they were invited to sit down on the edge of the forest as they were going to meet someone closely associated with these trees. I put on a mask and stood, simply doing a ‘wiri’ with my hands. From this, the students inferred that I was playing the role of Kaitiaki (or spiritual guardian) of the trees.

The students thought about what questions they might have for the Kaitiaki. I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to speak ‘as’ Kaitiaki. Instead I used Trevor Sharp’s very nifty convention from his ‘Huia Beak’  drama. I distributed pieces of paper containing fragments of historical information – then I asked the questions to the Kaitiaki (now represented simply by the mask lying on the ground). The students then spoke the answers, drawing on the information in front of them. We discovered how this 800 acre forest had been reduced to a tiny remnant the wetlands drained and how the 300 year old trees were struggling to cope. At this point, students made the connection with the photograph we had seen at the start. We even located the actual drainage ditch at the site. The stories of the settlers working hard to make the land productive, were placed alongside the story of destruction and loss as told by the Kaitiaki.

Armed with this information, we travelled back to the campus and  began working on some ideas for the video. The commission required simple power point and luckily we were able to get some ‘professional development’ (aka straight skills teaching) from Donn, one of our Arts lecturers. Working in collage, the team came up with some abstract responses to what they had seen, heard and gathered.

Students have taken materials home to continue their work on the commission….

Not a full Mantle, but satisfying as a way to spark interest and commitment in a shared project. Nice, too, to link with Arts making as I more often find myself involved with science, technology and suchlike.

Attaching the plan for this mini mantle if anyone is interested. Feel free to use however you see fit, but please acknowledge the original author. (NB the plan is formatted for A3 – thanks Nat for the template!)


Claudelands – answers from the Kaitiaki

A successful planning session was held in Hamilton last week where local teachers came together to brainstorm ideas and share advice for term four:

Amongst others, we generated the following ideas:

  • A Mantle of the expert approach to the story Jack and the Beanstalk, for year two primary students. In this case, the teacher has decided to place a strong emphasis on the drama for learning / process drama side with teacher going into role as the giant’s wife, very distressed at the stealing of her golden hen…. The teacher really wanted to work with this theme after experiencing some petty theft within the classroom.
  • A MOTE for senior high school students involving a company that regulates new technologies in the marketplace [this one can be seen as working in the ‘regulatory’ mode from Heathcote’s list]. This one is going to be used as a starting point for a senior drama unit and the students will be challenged to explore ethical and political issues arising from secretive surveillence in society. Students’ ideas will be used as the basis for a devised performance.
  • For a senior primary class, a mantle of the expert exploration of the environmental damage from ‘Rena’ (the cargo ship currently aground off the Bay of Plenty). We discussed how important it would be with this one to take care with ‘frame distance’, as this is a real life issue, currently unfolding. We talked about how we could enrol the students as a company commissioned to clean out and recycle the shipping containers that have floated off the ship… this will take the class into science, design and math learning.

The gathering was useful not only to touch base with other teachers but also to remind ourselves of some of planning steps and guiding principles of planning in MOTE. Again, it was impressive to see primary, early years and secondary teachers sharing ideas. Kia Ora team!

Received this email from Esther at Auckland Girl’s Grammar – she’s been bravely trying some drama strategies she learned in the IFTE conference workshop within her Secondary English classroom. Well done Esther – sounds like you are taking some risks and creating rich learning experiences for the students!
Great to see the collaboration between teachers within the school too – we need more of this at secondary!

Just to let you know, that with some nervous excitement, we are both trying out some techniques we learnt from you!  Fortunately, we have also had the help of our school drama teacher  to help guide us.

So far I have got my Year 9 English class to become a team of investigative journalists following up on a story animal cruelty and a strange rebellion on Manor Farm [aka Animal Farm] – where I ended up impersonating the drunken Mr Jones languishing at the Red Lion pub as they interrogated me!
This week I am getting my Year 12 English class to become a Trauma team  who are going to work with a family where domestic violence and murder have occurred (from the novel ‘Purple Hibiscus’) and interview then prepare psychological assessments of each character for a meeting with a lawyer.
Before the year is out I would like to think about how I can apply MoTE to my low stream class and my Art History class too.
Its all very scary and I feel like a first year teacher all over again but it is reinvigorating my teaching and certainly impacting student engagement in my classroom. Many thanks for providing the inspiration in your workshop that ignited this professional growth!
Best wishes
Esther Graham
Auckland Girls’  Grammar School.