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Social and Emotional Learning & Theatre - Making the Connection

VIEW a Comprehensive Guide to SEL in the Theatre Classroom created by the PA Department of Education and the PA Thespian Chapter. 

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a construct intended to provide students with the skills to confront challenges, build resilience and demonstrate empathy for others.  Social Emotional Learning encompasses skills in self awareness, social awareness, self management, responsible decision making and relationship skills.  Broad SEL instruction often takes the form of reflection, discussion, and lecture; however when not planned as carefully as we plan other lesson outcomes, students can view this as formulaic and scripted, and it will have very little impact.  Click here to learn more about the Social and Emotional Learning Framework created by CASEL, or the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

For SEL to be most effective, it must be intentionally embedded within the curriculum.  This page features some sample lesson plans and articulates the social and emotional learning embedded within each; aligning Social Emotional Learning competencies with theatre standards through the lens of the artistic processes and pointing the way to intentionality.  

Need a great resource for ideas for SEL inclusion in Theatre Education K-12?  Check out North Carolina's SEL Theatre Arts K-12 document. This comprehensive guide suggests theatre activities for all ages directly connecting to SEL. 

Looking for funding to intentionally add SEL to your Theatre Program?  Check out the Arts and Social Emotional Learning Funding Guide prepared by the Arizona Department of Education.

In addition, check out these SEL resources curated by CASEL during the COVID 19 pandemic.

Download and Use

Enjoy these sample lesson plans which model Social and Emotional learning connections in theatre classrooms. 

  • Building Ensemble
    High School - SEL/Theatre Lesson

Social & Emotional Learning Lesson Plan Library

EdTA member benefit:  members may click below to access an entire library of SEL aligned theatre lesson plans modeling the inclusion of social and emotional learning skills in theatre instruction created by educators for educators.  


A Teaspoon of Light - Elementary

See SEL in action!  In this elementary lesson from New Zealand, drama teachers help children verbalize and process trauma through drama and creative play.  The metaphor for the trauma is a torn cloak of dreams, which must be repaired by the children using role play and other creative dramatics techniques. 

A Teaspoon of Light - Elementary Grades K-2

Lesson Plan Title: A Teaspoon of Light Written by: Professor Peter O'Connor, Auckland University 
Description:  In this story theatre lesson children immerse themselves in the story of Sarah, a young girl whose dream cloth has been torn.  They must work together to find a way to repair the dream cloth and restore Sarah's dreams. 
Source:  University of Auckland site: www.teritotoi.org  Access the full lesson:  A Teaspoon of Light 

SEL Competencies: 
Self Awareness (identifying emotions)  - Self Management (stress management)  - Social Awareness (empathy) - Relationship Skills (communication, teamwork) Responsible Decision Making (evaluating, reflecting, solving problems) - Responsible Decision Making (solving problems, evaluating, reflecting)

Theatre Standards: 
Creating: TH:Cr2.1.K.b. With prompting and support, express original ideas in dramatic play or a guided drama experience.  TH:Cr2.1.1.b. With prompting and support, participate in group decision making in a guided drama experience.  TH:Cr2.1.1.b. With prompting and support, participate in group decision making in a guided drama experience   TH:Cr2.1.2.b. Contribute ideas and make decisions as a group to advance a story in a guided drama experience.
Performing:  TH:Pr6.1.K.a. With prompting and support, use voice and sound in dramatic play or a guided drama experience.  TH:Pr6.1.1.a. With prompting and support, use movement and gestures to communicate emotions in a guided drama experience. TH:Pr6.1.2.a. Contribute to group guided drama experiences. |
Responding:  TH:Re7.1.K.a. With prompting and support express an emotional response to characters in dramatic play or a guided drama experience. TH:Re7.1.1.a. Recall choices made in a guided drama experience.  TH:Re7.1.2.a. Recognize when artistic choices are made in a guided drama experience. TH:Re9.1.K.c. Compare and contrast the experiences of characters in a guided drama experience. TH:Re9.1.1.c. Describe how characters respond to challenges in a guided drama experience. TH:Re9.1.2.c. Evaluate and analyze problems and situations in a guided drama experience.
Connecting: TH:Cn10.1.K.a. With prompting and support, identify similarities between characters and oneself in dramatic play or a guided drama experience. TH:Cn10.1.1.a. Identify character emotions in a guided drama experience. TH:Cn10.1.2.a. Relate character experiences to personal experiences in a guided drama experience.


Middle grades devised pantomime illustrates a community issue important to the students- look for the parallels to SEL.  

Students devise scenes that illustrate a social issue to engage audience interaction and social dialogue. 

Pantomime - A Middle Grades Unit

Lesson Plan Title: Pantomime  Written by: National Theatre Standards Writing Team 
Description:   Students will work together to  create, rehearse, revise, and present a short pantomime in the form of a story with a beginning, conflict, and ending resolution that expresses meaning, emotion, and character. This pantomime will be done in small groups around a theme that involves solving a community issue (e.g. need for a new park, clean ground water, healthier cafeteria food). Proficiency will be demonstrated through the use of facial expression, gesture, full body movement (stage picture), movement in space (blocking), and cessation of movement (tableau).
Source:  Educational Theatre Association - Model Cornerstone Assessments  Access the full lesson: Pantomime Model Cornerstone Assessment

SEL Competencies:  Self Awareness (identifying emotions) - Self Management (self discipline, organizational skills) - Social Awareness (respect for others, perspective taking) - Relationship Skills (teamwork)
Responsible Decision Making (identifying problems, analyzing situations, evaluating, reflecting)

Theatre Standards:  
Creating: TH:Cr2.1.7.a. Demonstrate focus and concentration in the rehearsal process to analyze and refine choices in a devised or scripted drama/theatre work.
TH:Cr3.1.8.b. Refine effective physical, vocal, and physiological traits of characters in an improvised or scripted drama/ theatre work. TH:Pr5.1.8.a. Use a variety of acting techniques to expand skills in a rehearsal or drama/theatre performance.
Responding: TH:Re7.1.8.a. Apply criteria to the evaluation of artistic choices in a drama/theatre work.
Connecting: TH:Cn10.1.8.a. Examine a community issue through multiple perspectives in a drama/theatre work.

Student actors decide on a social issue distilled from their own personal experiences, in this case, catcalling, and then prepare a scene illustrating the issue with with a clear protagonist and antagonist.  This is presented for an audience to inspire a discussion facilitated by the "Joker", who remains apart.

The audience is encouraged by the Joker to wrestle with the problem portrayed, suggest alternate tactics and even joining in the scene as "spectactor" to try out their ideas for empowering the protagonist. In this way the scene becomes a "rehearsal for reality" and a catalyst for change.

Forum Theatre - High School Devised Theatre Unit

Lesson Plan Title:  Theatre of the Oppressed - Forum Theatre  Authors:  Brian Jennings, Theatre Educator, with Kate Lee, NYC Theatre of the Oppressed Specialist 
Description:  Students will devise a series of two to three short scenes that depict different aspects of a chosen social issue. Students will present the scenes for an invited audience using forum theater techniques to encourage audience interaction with the social issue.  Source:  Educational Theatre Association - Model Cornerstone Assessment Project
Access the full lesson:  Theatre of the Oppressed Model Cornerstone Assessment

SEL Competencies:  
Self Awareness (identifying emotions, accurate self perception, recognizing strengths)  - Self Management (self discipline, organizational skills) - Social Awareness (perspective taking, empathy, respect for others)  - Relationship Skills(communicating, social engagement, teamwork)  - Responsible Decision Making (identifying problems, analyzing situations, solving problems, evaluating, reflecting, ethical responsibility)

Theatre Standards:
TH:Cr1.1.III.c: Integrate cultural and historical contexts with personal experiences to create a character that is believable and authentic, in a drama/theatre work.  TH:Cr2-III.a: Develop and synthesize original ideas in a drama/theatre work utilizing critical analysis, historical and cultural context, research, and western or nonwestern theatre traditions. 
Performing: TH:Pr6.1.II.a: Present a drama/theatre work using creative processes that shape the production for a specific audience.
Responding: TH:Re9.1.III.c: Compare and debate the connection between a drama/theatre work and contemporary issues that may impact audiences.
Connecting:  TH:Cn10.1.III.a: Collaborate on a drama/theatre work that examines a critical global issue using multiple personal, community, and cultural perspectives.   TH:Cn11.1.III.a: Develop a drama/theatre work that identifies and questions cultural, global, and historic belief systems.

Special Topic: Responding to Trauma

Supporting Students During Times of Anxiety and Stress
a curated list of resources for those wishing to hold guided discussions or build curriculum in response to the January 6, 2021 events.