It’s been so rewarding to see the positive responses to this new resource from teachers in Aotearoa and around the world.

They are selling like hot cakes … around 200 copies so far – and that’s before we have officially launched in the UK!

Try This … is not strictly speaking a book about Mantle of the Expert, though quite a few teachers I know are using it to plan the activities within a Mantle. It’s useful for all kinds of Dramatic Inquiry in all kinds of settings.

To support teachers with planning and exploring the keys, Tim and I will be hosting a series of monthly meetings over zoom, looking at the keys one by one. These will start in October. Invitations are going out to everyone who has purchased or ordered a copy of the book by then. So, head to  to order yours and join the fun!



An Introduction to Mantle of the Expert with Viv Aitken, Tim Taylor and Whakarongo Tauranga

I’m so excited to announce the launch of this new podcast which has been a labour of love for the past two years.

Join me as I indulge in a VERY enjoyable and wide ranging conversation with Tim Taylor and Whakarongo Tauranga about the ten core elements of Mantle of the Expert; how to plan for them, and how they contribute to effective teaching and learning.

Full information about the podcast series, and access to episodes can be found at this link.

We’ve decided make this project available through a ‘pay what you can afford’ approach using the ‘buy me a coffee’ platform. If you like what you hear please share the link widely.

Introduction and Episodes 1-3 (including bonus episodes) are available now. Click the FOLLOW button on “Buy Me A Coffee” and receive info about future episodes as these are published.

Our other podcast series “Effective Teaching in Mantle of the Expert” will also be republished on the platform in due course.

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.

2022 sees the first official celebration of Matariki as a public holiday. Here are two teaching resources to support you to explore the meaning of this special festival with your class.

First, a lovely playful learning adventure for younger children, created by Whakarongo Tauranga. This one is loosely based on the book Tirama Tirama Matariki. In this learning adventure, tamariki are asked to help Kiwi and friends search for Matariki, and discover the stories told about the stars. The planning supports inquiries into lots of different aspects of Matariki. Whakarongo created this for teachers in her own kura, and has generously made it available to others who may be looking for ideas. Kia ora Whakarongo! If you use or adapt this plan, please acknowledge Whakarongo and also Rebecca Larsen who wrote and illustrated the book.

Secondly, we have this resource, written by myself. It is based on the story Matariki Breakfast by Andrē Ngāpō & Rozel Pharazyn – a text from the “Ready to Read” series, which is readily available in most schools. In this plan, children step into role as Kara and her family as they prepare their special breakfast – choosing details like what’s in the pot, and what warm clothes to wear. The plan also uses simple paper cut outs and a waiata to bring a sense of magic to the retelling of a traditional story of Matariki and her children.

I wrote this plan last year, and have really enjoyed teaching it in a number of classes from year 1-6. You’ll see the planning is very detailed as it’s designed to be picked up and used by kaiako with little or no prior knowledge of DI. It also includes some information on how the planning was developed. If you use and adapt this plan, please acknowledge myself as original author and the writer and illustrator of the text.

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.

This new book by Viv Aitken, is available from NZCER from 14th April 2021

Drawing on a decade of classroom practice, research and professional development, the book will be of interest to teachers and researchers around the world. However, it is written specifically with the local education context in mind, with references to the New Zealand curriculum, and familiar metaphors of weaving used throughout.

Viv explains that the book’s title emerged from a classroom conversation:

‘A few years ago I was teaching a Mantle of the Expert experience to a class of 9-year olds. One of the children asked whether what we were doing was real or made up and I replied, “we’re creating a story together using imagination”. The child seemed satisfied with this clarification. Just then another boy in the class spoke up:  “It’s real” he said quietly and emphatically, “in all the ways that matter.” His words capture the depth and complexity of Mantle of the Expert so perfectly I could think of no better title for this book.’

The text is wide ranging, including chapters on the history and development of Mantle of the Expert, the steps required to plan and implement a Mantle of the Expert experience, tools for enhancing teaching, tips and advice for getting started, and a section on why Mantle of the Expert is such a good fit for the goals of twenty-first century education.

Real in all the ways that matter has received very positive comments from reviewers, including this from Prof Brian Edmiston (Ohio State)

“Open this book to discover why and how you can transform your classroom with the Mantle of the Expert approach to dramatic inquiry. The theoretical sections and the descriptions of practice are as carefully created, presented, and engaging as Viv’s masterful teaching. Inquire, savor, and then share this gem with your teaching colleagues.”

Copies of Real in all the ways that matter can be ordered from NZCER at this link. Cost is $55.00 NZ

When we think about teaching in role, or putting participants in role it can be easy to assume that must be done in ‘full role’ – where the person in role moves, walks, talks and responds exactly like someone would in real life. However, that’s only one option. Dorothy Heathcote suggested 33 different ways of bringing someone from the imagined world ‘to life’ in the classroom. Here’s her list, in a colour coded version that was a handout at the 2009 Weaving our Stories Conference (thanks to Allana Taylor for this version). For more explanation of the colour coding, check out this post


The resource is a great way to think creatively about how roles can be represented by the teacher or by participants during drama activities.

For example, imagine you want to explore an event from New Zealand history – such as the chopping down of the flagpole in Kororāreka. You might think “I want to use teacher in role for this”. Now, you could go into full role as Hone Heke (convention 1) but to add a bit more frame distance and artistry, and to show some respect to this culturally significant figure, you might choose one of the more abstract conventions, such as slowly creating in front of the children a drawing of Heke beside the damaged flagpole (convention 9) and using the ‘teacher-in-role’ voice to narrate events from his perspective… “Aue – I had my reasons, and they were good ones…” Another option would be to invite children to close their eyes and ‘listen in’ to account of Heke’s deeds reported next day by one of his followers (convention 25). These are still examples of “teaching in role” but in a more abstract form.

Tim Taylor has recently written a blog post with an excellent guide to Heathcote’s role conventions (which he refers to as the conventions of dramatic action). The guide includes lots of illustrated examples of how the conventions can be used to select roles for the teacher AND participants. Find Tim’s guide here.

Questioning is a crucial aspect of teaching in Dramatic Inquiry. With a little practice you can move beyond the simple ‘who, what, where, why and how?’ to questions that reposition learners, elevate language and deepen thinking. Here’s a fabulous tool to help with this. It was created by Michael Bunting and originally published on the UK Mantle of the Expert website. This version was created by Whakarongo Tauranga. Thanks to all of the above for permission to share and use this.

Print it out, keep it on hand and explore what happens in your classroom when you start introducing questions in new ways. It’s amazing…

Coming up VERY SOON, Drama New Zealand is offering two FREE workshops for primary and intermediate teachers looking at dramatic inquiry for home learning / distance learning. These will be held over ZOOM and facilitated by Viv Aitken and Renee Downey. Further information below (including full flier and facilitator biographies)

There has already been a lot of interest in these workshops, and they are almost full, so please contact Drama NZ to register your interest (links are shown below). Depending on demand, we may repeat the workshops again in the near future. LINK TO FORM

This is still one of the most useful resources anyone ever gave me! It’s from Allana Taylor’s workshop at the 2009 Weaving our Stories Conference, and it’s a version of Heathcote’s 33 role conventions. Heathcote’s list is well known. Simply put, it helps teachers see some of the many different ways we can put ourselves and our participants into role during a classroom drama experience (the list is not exhaustive – for example it doesn’t include digital possibilities for evoking roles – but it’s an amazing start)

What’s special about this handout is that Allana has colour coded the conventions in line with Jerome Bruner’s theory that learning occurs through ICONIC, SYMBOLIC & ENACTIVE / EXPRESSIVE forms of representation. The colour coding puts the different roles into these three categories. The green ones are ENACTIVE (physical representations made through the body). The red ones are where the role is ICONIC (evoked through artefacts, symbols, images or drawings). The blue ones are SYMBOLIC (where writing or other forms of language are used). Bearing these different categories in mind can really help the teacher choose what kind of learning experience to offer – and how to move between all three during different episodes.

When planning to teach in role, or put participants in role, it’s well worth having an explore through this list to see which role convention feels right for your purpose. As a rule of thumb, the more abstract the convention, the more distance it provides. So, if we are wanting to engage with something important, such as an atua, or a real figure from history, we are more likely to choose an abstract role convention (red or blue) for this.

Thanks Allana, for a wonderful tool that has stood the test of time

Heathcote’s role conventions – in colour.
Allana Taylor, Weaving our Stories conference, 2009

Something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while is a new strategy I have been using for bringing a fictional ‘other’ into a classroom drama. What do I mean by a fictional ‘other’? Well, that could be a whole post in its own right, but basically a fictional ‘other’ is anyone from the imagined world that we ‘evoke’ within the classroom world. The fictional other could be a story character, the client in a Mantle of the Expert experience, an angry neighbour or an imaginary member of our class who has made a mess of the PE cupboard and got us all into trouble. Fictional ‘others’ allow teachers to present someone else outside of the classroom as an audience, an interested party – or indeed an impediment – to the work of the classroom. Carrie Swanson writes more about fictional others in a journal article that can be found here.

There are lots of strategies we might use to bring a fictional other to the attention of the class. Probably the most familiar are the strategies of ‘teacher in role’ or ‘adult /person in role’ where the teacher or some other adult or person takes on a role as someone from the imagined world. Often this is done as though the role was actually present and able to speak, move and respond, but there are lots of other possibilities. Dorothy Heathcote’s list of 34 role conventions sets out a whole range of ways in which a teacher in role or person in role can be varied, including some in which the role is represented in non human form, though something like a letter, an object or a piece of discarded clothing. For a list of Heathcote’s role conventions, click here

What Heathcote’s list does not include are digital possibilities for evoking a fictional other, and this is something I’ve been experimenting with recently. If you caught up with Miguel’s blog about his Mantle adventures, or my post about working with officials from the Ministry of Education in Bangladesh, you might notice that in both cases we used something called ‘voki’ to evoke the fictional other of the client.

Voki is a free online tool for creating an animation that ‘speaks’ the words you give it to say. Here’s a link to the voki site. And Here’s a quick video of the kind of thing you can produce.

The app gives several options for gender, ethnicity, accent, clothing etc so you can tailor it to suit your situation. My advice would be to keep things realistic and simple rather than going for the more ‘way out’ features – unless that suits your context, of course! One thing I really like about using Voki is how participants could return to the link time and again and revisit it for clarification. It’s also great how you can pull up the voki on a small device like an ipad and thereby ‘evoke’ the role several times over in different parts of the group for different groups. I especially like how when the programmed animation has finished, the fictional other stays ‘present’ with eyes following the cursor: a lovely sense of fictional otherness!

One final tip: Voki can’t always pronounce words correctly so you may find it helpful to spell out some words ‘funnettickly’ !