Social Emotional Role Play

Role-Play as an SEL Teaching Tool

Young individuals require time to practise social and emotional skills and receive feedback on their performance before they can begin to apply them in their daily lives. According to research, this is why: When it comes to social and emotional learning, the limbic system of the brain is responsible. This system learns best through practise, one-on-one feedback, and positive motivation. They are a great method to include practise and one-on-one feedback into our social and emotional learning approach, and they are usually a lot of fun, which helps with motivation as well.

Role-plays, in addition to being associated with limbic system learning, have many of the same advantages as other integrated arts and/or modal learning approaches, including the following: They assist pupils in processing new material, deepening their comprehension, and synthesising complicated ideas in a short period of time.. When role-plays are incorporated into the instruction of social and emotional skills, they can even serve as scaffolds for higher-order thinking skills such as analysis, prediction, comparison, and synthesis.

In contrast to “putting on a show,” in which performers are isolated from a passive audience, an effective role-play exercise involves participants interacting with one another. Using well-constructed role-playing scenarios in the classroom can be a fun and engaging type of modal training that engages students in all four learning modalities (kinetic, auditory, visual, and tactile). However, in order to accomplish this, we must establish a clear, conscious strategy for how to conduct a role-play and how to take advantage of each opportunity.


Inviting kids to discuss various issues they’ve encountered is a good idea. Make a chart of their responses and look for common themes. Then choose one of the scenarios to act out in your head. Talk about what the people involved were feeling and what social and emotional learning skills would have benefited them.

Here’s an illustration: For example, the phrases “fought with brother over the remote,” “fought with sister over who got to clean the dishes,” and “felt left out at recess when I couldn’t play dodgeball” would appear on a chart showing students’ recent conflicts. We can see that there is a recurring theme of arguments between siblings in this. When we role-play the conflict about washing dishes, we might ask the student who offered this example to share their feelings with us, while also imagining the sentiments of their sister. Afterwards, we can come up with various SEL techniques that could have been implemented to resolve the situation.


Make certain that everyone is aware of the situation that will be examined throughout the role-playing session. Restate the problem and make it clear what the class is hoping to achieve as a result of their efforts. Next, think about what kinds of SEL skills the characters might be able to employ to try to fix the problem.

It is possible for the adult leading the exercise to frame the scene as follows: “We will role-play a quarrel between two siblings about who gets to do the dishes first.” We hope to see the siblings come to a resolution that is acceptable to both of them in their disagreement. I-messages, which begin with the letter ‘I’ and express the speaker’s sentiments, beliefs, or ideals, will be used by the characters in an attempt to address the situation, and the audience will be paying attention to the characters’ emotions as well as the effect of the I-messages.”


Assign character names to the performers and make certain that they understand their roles before casting them. The true names of the players should not be utilised in the role-playing scenario, even if the circumstance is based on a real-life occurrence. This will assist everyone in concentrating on the situation at hand rather than on the individuals involved, which is a critical component in conflict resolution.

The audience’s role is to discreetly observe the actors and reflect on the SEL learning targets that they are being presented with. Making fun of the actors, crying out while the role-play is in action, or conversing with one another during the role-play are all not appropriate behaviours.


Students should cry out “Action” to signal the start of the role-play. While you are watching the role-play, keep the problem, the proposed solution, and the SEL learning objectives in mind at all times. Keep a close eye on the performers’ bodies and yell out “Freeze” when they are displaying heightened physical emotion. This will result in a visual tableau of the activity, which will serve as a learning opportunity for the audience. Make use of this tableau as a springboard for asking higher-order reasoning questions.

During a scene in which the players are enacting a situation in which they are determining who gets to do the dishes, one of the actors raises her voice and points at the other, screaming, “You always leave it to me!” A “freeze” is called by the teacher at this specific point, after which he or she asks the audience questions like:

“Take a look at the bodies of the characters. “Can you tell me what you think they’re thinking?”
“What do you anticipate will happen next, based on what you’ve seen so far?”
How could these characters conduct differently if they wanted to de-escalate the situation?
After engaging in a back-and-forth conversation with the audience about their observations, predictions, and analyses, you can include their suggestions and restart the action. Finally, at the completion of the role-play, students might call out “Scene” to indicate that the role-play has come to an end.


Then, once you and the students have mastered the art of role-playing and the debates that follow, you may recreate the same scenario with a variety of actors, approaches, and outcomes to see how they change. You can ask more higher-order thinking questions that encourage pupils to analyse and synthesise the information they have been given. As an illustration:

“What would happen if the characters employed self-talk?” says the author.
“What would happen if the characters had used I-messages earlier in the conflict?” says the author.
How could things turn out if the characters spoke in a more gentle tone of voice?”