Boost Social-Emotional Learning with Creative Dramatics

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Boost Social-Emotional Learning with Creative DramaticsSome of you may be aware that I didn’t start my career in education. In fact, my first college degree was in theater. During my undergraduate time, my father used to ask me, “What are you going to do with a theater degree?”

I went into theater because I had a real passion for acting and the art of production. After graduation, I quickly discovered there were few opportunities in the theater world where I could make a living. I wasn’t one to “suffer for my art.” I liked fancy shoes too much! So, I returned to college to get a degree in education. Where else was I going to get a daily captive audience? Little did I know how beneficial that theater training would become.

One area of focus of my theater degree was creative dramatics. Creative dramatics is an improvisational (improv) form of acting, where students learn to visualize, pretend, and reflect on experiences real and imagined. Students use different formats such as movement, pantomime, improvisation, role-playing, and group discussion to develop greater communication skills, social awareness, confidence, problem-solving abilities, and self-concept. The goal of creative dramatics is to guide children to a greater sense of self-fulfillment and acceptance (McCaslin, 2005).

Not only can creative dramatics positively impact students’ social and emotional mindfulness, increase happiness, and develop a balanced person, it can also greatly increase content understanding and literacy skills.

Benefits of Using Creative Dramatics in the ClassroomThe three main benefits of using creative dramatics in the classroom are strengthening emotional control, increasing self-concept, and improving social interactions.

Strengthening Emotional Control
Creative dramatic activities are designed to benefit the participants, not an outside audience like a production of a stage play. Therefore, students learn how to represent externally what they experience internally, allowing them to be expressive in a safe place without judgment. When students can take on the personality of an individual in a novel, role-play being someone other than themselves, or imagine being a fabricated character, they can experience emotional release and acceptance from others. Additionally, they learn through collaboration and cooperation the skills necessary for dealing with various and unknown situations.

Increasing Self-Concept
An individual’s self-concept, or self-efficacy, is formed through personal experiences with success and failure, vicarious experiences (seeing others like us be successful), social persuasion by others (what others say about us), and our own physiological state (attitude about ourselves). During creative dramatic activities, students learn quickly there are no mistakes, only opportunities, because the activities are unscripted with few structures, so failure doesn’t exist. Students see others work through situations, learning from them how to solve problems and deal with the unknown. Feedback by participants after activities is intended to be corrective for “next time” and not to be a reward or punishment. Finally, students’ attitudes toward school are enhanced, because creative dramatics activities have few rules, are highly interactive, and are extremely engaging.

Improving Social Interactions
Positive social skills are among the most important and significant attributes of the human experience. In today’s world, due to advances in technology, students can be less engaged in daily robust interpersonal social interactions—thus reducing opportunities to learn and develop a wide range of acceptable social skills. Through creative dramatics activities, students learn to listen, take turns, and respect personal space. Additionally, they learn an awareness of others and how to use feedback to make positive changes in behavior. In my experience, students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) feel comfortable during creative dramatics interactions because there are few structures, and they learn effective social responses without judgment.

Using creative dramatics can greatly increase a student’s ability to deal with uncertainty and errors, an extremely helpful tool when working with gifted students who are often afraid to take intellectual risks or make mistakes. Working through a creative dramatics situation gets all members of the scene involved in collaboration to find a resolution. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Click here for a list of creative dramatics activities that I developed with Dr. Katherine McKnight. Each activity has examples of how to use the activity generally as well as within different content areas!

See, Dad—that’s what I did with that theater degree!

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

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McCaslin, N. “Seeking the Aesthetic in Creative Drama and Theatre for Young Audiences.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 39(4) (2005): 12–19.

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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