David McGraw, M.A., M.F.A., senior lecturer in theatre arts, head of Performing Arts Entrepreneurship program


Explains how instructors can plan their movements across the space of the classroom to invigorate lectures and discussions.


  • Engages students
  • HIghlights key information
  • Improves instructor-student relationship


Stage blocking is the carefully planned choreography of performers on a stage designed to affect how audience members perceive the performance.  Instructors can similarly use stage blocking to enliven a lecture or discussion, highlight key information, and improve student engagement.  Using performance techniques in the classroom does not merely entertain students; rather, it helps the instructor to connect with students so they can better understand course content.


David McGraw, MA/MFA

Lecturer, Department of Theatre Arts and John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center


Explains how instructors can plan their movements across the space of the classroom to invigorate lectures and discussions.


0:00 – 0:14

The traditional classroom setting can be very effective for a one-time presentation, or to give a very traditional lecture. So I don't think we should discount that, it's very well designed to handle that sort of interaction.

0:14 – 0:23

When we want to change our classroom environment, when we want students to be more engaged participants in a discussion, that's when we need to adjust how we use the room.

0:23 – 0:53

If you're in a play and there's a knock at the door then an actor’s going to get up and answer the door. But many times stage blocking is the manifestation of the thought that's happening at that particular moment. Then based on the language of the play, an actor will move in some way to show that there's been a change in thought: a change in beat is what we say in theater. So if I'm suddenly having a new idea, a second thought, then I might stand up and start to cross.

0:53 – 1:07

So there's a lot of ways that just through, that sort of physical movement, without it being in any way overt, you can express different ideas. And in arts management we cover a number of very political, hot topics.

1:07 – 1:41

And so what I like to do is to start off by walking up to the projection screen or the monitor, and stating the current status quo, just to give the general background on the issue. And then I'll move very far away from that: I want to say “this is the current state of affairs.” And now I'm going to step to one side of the classroom – and I don't tell them that this is why I'm doing it – but I move away from the screen to show that now we're going to look at the issue together, that I’ll actually stand in line with the students. I’ll move over to their desks, I'll face the same direction that they're facing so that we're all addressing the problem together.

1:41 – 2:09

And then once we deal with one side the topic, then I'll move to another area of the classroom and I’ll actually close myself off or I’ll position myself in a different angle, so that those that want to express a different opinion feel that I'm also representative of their side. And that way it's not my topic, I am not somehow proselytizing my audience, my students, but I’m really setting up that there are multiple viewpoints, and here's how I can engage on all those levels.

2:09 - 2:43

The first step would be to actually just adjust body language. You can choose to close yourself off physically, present yourself as more of a confrontation, or that there might be a challenge to this. You can also choose to open yourself up, so you're going to think about your shoulders being pulled farther apart. You can also present yourself more at a slight angle, either in relationship to a problem over here, or even to move the problem to that side, that you’ve got both sides of an argument and that you yourself are standing in the middle, and that the audience, your class, is with you in the middle, away from the two sides.

2:43 – 3:02

Another thing that you can play with is proximity barrier. That your class is accustomed to you speaking to them five, six, seven, feet away. So what will happen to them if you start to pull in, literally? If you come in, and you break that fourth wall with your house,vwith your audience, with your students and address them in a different tone?

3:02 – 3:21

The same could be said of, if you're in your normal position as a lecturer, what happens if you put yourself back? If you want to take that global view of a particular topic and address the larger group, maybe even a group that's not in the room at present, not just your students but the larger community?

3:21 - 3:40

So an easy first step if you’re accustomed to lecturing from just one position, is to literally force yourself to move. Position some of your notes for the lecture so that at some point you need to cross over to another location I often see that when I start to walk, that's when students start to write something.

3:40 - 4:11

Using blocking in the classroom allows you to make topics that a student may not, at first glance, be particularly interested in, but allows them to see your passion for the topic. Anytime that you can force a student to change their field of focus, that you can move outside of their range, then that’s something that you're again engaging them on a physical level, that you're forcing them to kind of change their viewpoint, quite literally. So for them to do that multiple times in a class really kind of brings them back, and makes them explore more.