Webpage Supplement to

Chapter 8: Creative Drama and Role Playing in Education

Adam Blatner

Revised September 20, 2007  See Index for other webpage supplements.

Also see the late Nellie McCaslin's Reflections on Creative Drama and other approaches to drama in education.

Notes on History, Methods, Youth Stages company in New Jersey ; Further References and Other Anecdotes, including descriptions of


Although children have participated as actors in pageants and other relatively scripted forms of theatre throughout history, the idea of helping young people improvise is more recent. In Japan, before the turn of the 20th century, a Dr. Tsibuchi wrote about the values of a improvised drama in children. In England, Harriet Finlay Johnson also wrote about a similar vision. H. Caldwell Cook wrote about the values of imaginative play in 1919.

As mentioned in the book’s chapter, he generally acknowledged major pioneer of creative drama was Winifred Ward. The late Nellie McCaslin began in 1937 in the theatre arts , and gradually, interested in Stanislavski’s growing influence, gradually introduced more improvisation in her teaching of secondary school students. This was more supported by some training in Hollywood, around 1941 by Ms Ouspenskaya who promoted Stanislavski’s methods. The key was to ask, “what happened next?” in a way that goes beyond whatever the scriptwriters wrote. Imagination is thus engaged. Around 1944, McCaslin began to work at the National Teachers’ College in Evanston, Illinois, and in the mid-1950s, she observed several of Moreno’s open sessions in New York City. She felt the term “dramatics” was too suggestive of just putting on skits, so preferred to call this work Creative Drama.  She had just completed the 9th edition of her widely used textbook when she passed away.

From McCaslin’s perspective, Peter Slade, writing “Child Drama,” promoted the use of this medium for its potential to produce joy, with all of the motivating and mind-expanding elements involved. In a slight contrast, Brian Way working a decade later was more involved in drama’s applications in learning about subject matter, in history, social studies, etc. It should be noted that a fair number of creative drama teachers integrate methods derived from the process-drama approach espoused by many in Great Britain and Canada (see the Chapter on that).

McCaslin cautioned against the staging of plays and musicals that are in certain ways “too old” for younger students, and thus offer little actual dramatic value for the performers. She also was wary about another trend involving the “artistic” device of bringing modern political themes out in ancient traditional stories; McCaslin found that a bit patronizing and confusing. More of Professor McCaslin’s reflections are found in a related webpage: xxxx.hm

Creative drama tends to view cultivating imagination and spontaneity as having their own values, apart from using drama to help learn a subject. Generally, creative dramatics is used by those in the primary grades, and theatre arts classes in secondary schools are generally focused on the learning of component skills for scripted and rehearsed plays–musical theatre, comedy, drama, and the like. These are produced for the community and also for interscholastic competitions. There are auditions for the best actors, hurt feelings for those who don’t “win,” and a need for a great investment of time and effort, whether one is an actor, stage hand, or ticket-seller. Creative drama, then, is aimed at developing the skills of imagination, spontaneity, vivid embodiment, and mental flexibility, aside from any particular subject matter (such as is done more in process drama.)

Youth Stages:

Jean Prall Rosolino, the troupe's manager, writes:
Youth Stages uses creative drama and story dramatization all the time. Our programs fall into the following categories:
- After-school classes: Here we usually use a story as a jumping off point for the dramatizations, however the story is always inevitably changed by the group of children enacting it. With younger children (ages 4-2nd grade), we enact a story as a full group, allowing for numerous children to play any given part simultaneously and to change dialogue and action to meet the creativity of the group. With older elementary students (3rd-6th grade) we usually break them into small groups of 3-5 students and let them create their own version of a story thus allowing their artistic freedom, while structuring it theatrically. Sometimes sessions are not story based and students are encouraged to create their own original story.

Creative drama warm-ups/theatre games are used (Spolin-type activities), but always in a thematic way, never in isolation (we don't play a game for the sake of playing a game or just learning a skill, the purpose always ties into the whole picture). For example, I would not do mirror exercises for the sake of doing mirror exercises, but if we were working on The Snow Queen as the story we were playing around with and dramatizing, the Prologue has to do with Imps and a mirror that reflects and increases ugliness while downplaying and destroying goodness. That is a perfectly inherent and dramatic use of mirror games. I would have the children explore mirroring one another, then mirroring back the movements with different attitudes.

- In school settings: We often design our programs to tie in with other areas of the curriculum. We use the tools and techniques of creative drama to bring, most frequently, literature or social studies to life. Creative dramatists need material to dramatize, so why not use material the children are currently studying! We may have children reenacting The Boston Tea Party or recreating scenes from Charlotte's Web. Again, we focus on process, not product; the experience for the participants, not the experience for an audience is of greatest importance.

- Workshops: These are most often one-time sessions. We are frequently asked by libraries to dramatize books in a workshop setting (especially for summer reading club programs). As per the blurbs above, these sessions change depending on the kids and their interests and strengths. If every little girl wants to be the princess and the boys all want to be the pea, then the actor-educator becomes the prince and all the other characters...while simultaneously finding an active/dramatic role for the pea to play in the story! Preschools often invite us in to cover thematic teaching units; winter/getting dressed, spring/planting etc. so we use creative drama
activities to cover these topics.

- Performances: Our acting company of adult actors perform scripted plays for children (3-5 years, 3-9 years, or K-6th grade audiences). Youth Stages performances are always participatory... and you never know what children might say or come up with, so good improvisational skills are necessary on the part of the actors! During rehearsals, we use creative drama games and activities in addition to script work.

- Teacher in-service training programs: Youth Stages conducts a workshop each semester for a local college (The College of New Jersey) where 18-21 year olds are studying to become elementary school teachers. In a single two-hour session, I try to show potential teachers the powerful tool that creative drama can be in their future classroom! I take them through a creative drama lesson plan, then point out all of the core curriculum content standards that were met in
the single lesson! We also conduct teacher training sessions for a number of preschool organizations (NJAEYC, BCAEYC, The Child Care Connection) showing preschool teachers simple creative drama techniques that they can incorporate into their lesson plans.

As a complement to the creative drama work, my teachers are constantly increasing their own knowledge of the various art forms of theatre. Two of my artists are in improv troupes, one in NYC and one in Philadelphia, two that I know of are currently performing locally to maintain their own acting skills, and I took a weeklong session in 2006 at NYU with Dorothy Heathcote, the queen of creative drama!

I agree with Adam Blatner that there is not enough "training" being done in creative drama. (Besides, it's difficult to "train" someone in an improvisational art form!). Some of the colleges and universities offer classes in their theatre departments and some elementary education colleges are requiring potential teachers to take a class, but I think the majority of people learn it as they go...in a classroom or after-school class setting! NYU has a good Educational Theatre Department and Arizona and Texas are know for their educational theatre departments, but I am not on the cutting edge of who's out there and what they're doing. AATE and ASSITEJ are good organizations to connect up with and become a member of!

For further information, contact Jean Prall Rosolino, at: manager@youthstages.com  or phone 609-430-9000

Further References on Creative Drama and Role Playing in Education

(There are also further references in the chapters and webpage supplements to chapters on process drama in education, theatre-in-education, and in the general bibliography at the end of the book.)

Amies, B., Warren, B., and Watling, R. (1986). Social drama: Towards a therapeutic curriculum. London: John Clare Books.

Bell, S. (1981). Sociodrama as an instructional approach for teaching about exceptional children and youth. Journal for Special Educators, 17(4), 371-375.

Blatner, Adam. (1995). Drama in education as mental hygiene: a child psychiatrist’s perspective. Youth Theatre Journal, 9, 92-96, March 1995)


Blatner, Adam and Allee Blatner. The Art of Play: helping adults reclaim imagination and spontaneity. New York: Bruner/Mazel, 1997. (Previous editions in 1985 (privately produced) and in 1988, from Human Sciences Press)

Chesler, M., and Fox, R. (1966). Role-playing methods in the classroom. Chicago: Science Research Associates.

Clifford, Sara, & Herrmann, Anna. (1999). Making a leap: Theatre of empowerment--a practical handbook for creative drama work with young people. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Courtney, R. (1974) Play, drama and thought: the intellectual background in drama in education. New York: Drama Book Specialists.  

Courtney, Richard. (1988). Re-Cognizing Richard Courtney: Selected Writings on Drama and Education. Markham, Ontario: Pembroke.

Cranston, Jerneral W. (1991). Transformations through drama: A teacher's guide to educational drama, Grades K-8. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Dunne, Tim & Warren, Bernie. (1989). Drama games: A practical guide for leaders working with disabled people. North York, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3: Captus Press.

(Fall, 1995). Drama and theatre in education: Contemporary research. Captus Press, as above.

Duke, Charles. (1974). Creative dramatics and English teaching. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Duveen, J & Solomon, J. (1994). The great evolution trial: Use of role-play in the classroom. Journal of research in Science Teaching, 31(5): 575-582.

Flowers, John V. & Booraem, Curtis D. (1980). Simulation and role play methods. In: F. H. Kanfer & A. P. Goldstein (Eds.), Helping people change: A textbook of methods (2nd ed.). Elmsford, NY: Pergamon.

Fox, Mem. (1987). Teaching Drama to Young Children.Heinemann.

Gangi, Jane M. Encountering Children’s Literature, An Arts Approach. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004.

Garvey, D. M. (1967). Simulation, role-playing, and sociodrama in the social studies (with annotated bibliography). Emporia State Research Studies, 16(2), 5 34.

Gray, Farnum & Mager, George C. (1973). Liberating education: Psychological learning through improvisational drama. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing.

Haas, Robert Bartlett (Ed.) (1949). Psychodrama and sociodrama in American education. Beacon, NY: Beacon House.

Hagen, Uta. Respect for Acting. New York: MacMillan, 1973.

Heinig, Ruth Beall. & Stillwell, Linda. (1975). Creative dramatics for the classroom teacher. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Heinig, Ruth Beall. Creative Drama for Kindergarten through Grade Three. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1987.

Hodgson, John and Ernest Richards. Improvisation. London: Methuen, 1967.

Hollander, Carl E. (1978). Psychodrama, role playing and sociometry: Living and learning processes (pp168-241). In D.W. Kurpius (Ed.), Learning: Making learning environments more effective. Muncie, IN: Accelerated Development, Inc.

Hornbroak, David. Education and Dramatic Art. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Kase Polisini, Judith (Ed.). (1985). Creative drama in a developmental context. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Kase Polisini, Judith. (1989). The creative drama book: Three approaches. New Orleans: Anchorage Press

King, Nancy. Giving Form to Feeling. New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1975.

Koste, Virginia Glasgow. Dramatic Play in Childhood: Rehearsal for Life. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995.

Kritzerow, P. (1990). Active learning in the classroom: The use of group role plays. Teaching sociology, 18(2), 223-225.

Landy, Robert J. (1982). Handbook of educational drama and theater. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Lee, Teena. (1991). The sociodramatist and sociometrist in the primary school. Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, 43(4), 191-196.

Levy, Jonathan. Practical Education for the Unimaginable: Essays on Theatre and the Liberal Arts. Charlottesville: New Plays, Inc., 2003.

Lyons, V. (1977). Psychodrama as a counseling technique with children. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 11(4), 252-57.

Maier, Henry W. (1991). Role playing: Structures and educational objectives. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 6(4), 145-150.

Mathis, J. A., Fairchild, L., and Cannon, T. M. (1980). Psychodrama and sociodrama in primary and secondary education. Psychology in the Schools, 17(1), 96 101.

McCaslin, Nellie. (2005). Creative drama in the classroom and beyond. (8th ed). New York: Allyn & Bacon. (Previous editions every several years since the late 1960s!)

McCaslin, Nellie. (1997). Children’s theatre in the United States: a history. (2nd ed). Studio City: Players Press.

Milroy, E. (1982). Role-play: A practical guide. Scotland: Aberdeen University Press.

Neville, Bernie (1989). The search for spontaneity (Chapter 7, pp. 193-227). Educating Psyche: Emotion, imagination, and the unconscious in learning. North Blackburn (Vic.), Australia: CollinsDove.

Nieminen, S. (1986). Using psychodramatic techniques as a means of preventive mental health work in Finland. School Psychology International, 7(2), 94 97.

Pearson-Davis, Susan. (1989). Drama in the curriculum for troubled young people. Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, 41(4), 161-174.

Pereira, Nancy (1976). Creative dramatics in the library. Rowayton, CT: New Plays.

Ritch, Pamela Sue. (1978). Creative drama as a teaching strategy: historical review and organizing framework. PhD Dissertation, College of Education, Departmant of Drama, University of Texas (Austin). (PCLibrary, Diss.UT 1978 R511)

Roberts, Vera Mowry. (1962). On Stage. New York: Harper & Row, p 20.

Rosenberg, Helene S. (1987). Creative drama and imagination: Transforming ideas into action. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Nice historical review.

Rubenstein, Ted. (2006). The use of role play as an assessment instrument. In S. L. Brooke (Ed.), Creative arts therapies manual. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. Pp.232-243.

Shaftel, Fannie R., and Shaftel, George. (1982). Role-playing in the curriculum (2nd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. (This is a revised edition of their 1967 book, Role playing for social values.).

Shearon, E. M., and Shearon, W. (1973). Some uses of psychodrama in education. Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama, 26(3-4), 47-53.

Slade, Peter.

Stanford, G., and Roark, A. (1974). Human interaction in education. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Stanford, G., and Roark, A. (1975). Role playing and action methods in the classroom. Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama, 28, 33-49.

Steinberg, Patricia. (1998). Theatre for conflict resolution: in the classroom and beyond. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Stewig, J.W. (1992). Dramatic arts education. In M.C. Alkin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of educational research. New York: Macmillan. (pp 342-346.)

Strimling, Arthur. (2004). Roots and branches: creating intergenerational theatre. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Swink, David F. (1993). Role-play your way to learning. Training and Development, 47(5), 91-97.

Taylor, Philip. Applied Theatre. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003.

Torrance, E. Paul. (1975). Sociodrama as a creative problem solving approach to studying the future. Journal of Creative Behavior, 9, 182-195.

Torrance, E.P., Murdock, M.C., & Fletcher, D. (1995). Role playing as creative problem solving. Clubtown, South Africa: Benidic.

Van Mentz, M. (1983). The effective use of role-play: A handbook for teachers and trainers. London: Kogan Page.

Wagner, Betty-Jane. (1976). Dorothy Heathcote: Drama as a learning medium. Washington, DC: National Education Association of U.S.

Wagner, Betty-Jane. (1990). Dramatic improvisation in the classroom. In S. Hynds & D.L. Rubin (Eds.), Perspectives on talk and Learning. pp 195-211. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Ward, Winifred. (1957). Playmaking with children (2nd Ed.). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. (First edition back in the early 1930s.)

Warger, Cynthia L. (1985). Making creative drama accessible to handicapped children. Teaching exceptional children, 288-293.

Warren, Bernie (Ed.). (1995). Creating a theatre in your classroom. North York, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press. (An earlier 1991 version, A theatre in your classroom, was similar, but present edition has a bit more.

Way, Brian. (1967). Development through drama. London: Longman. (Also, in 1990: reissued by Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1990.)

Wells, C. G. (1962). Psychodrama and creative counseling in the elementary school. Group Psychotherapy, 15(3-4), 244-252. 

Wilder, Rosalyn. (1977). A space where anything can happen: Creative drama in middle schools. Roywayton, CT: New Plays Books : 2nd ed, 1997; then renamed and re-published in 2004: A space where anything can happen: drama, a route to self-other affinity of urban youth.. NJ: Encomium, Inc. Or Charlottesville: New Plays.)

Zeleny, Leslie D. (1956). The sociodrama as an aid in teaching international relations and world history. International Journal of Sociometry 1(1), 29-33.

Various Quotes and Anecdotes:

"Not only is educational drama more interesting than many other traditional forms of learning, but its visual and participatory nature is particularly useful among those with poor literacy skills. In addition, studies have shown that in general, individuals develop a deeper understanding and remember more when they learn through experience and discovery rather than through lecture or demonstration." (Morris, A., & Stewart-Dare, N. (1984). "Learning to learn from text;" and Hill, S.,& Gray, G. (1987). "Health Action Pack." Excerpted from www.pprsr.org, click on Education Through Drama.)

Linda Ciotola <vegmom@closecall.com> April, 2005:

I used role reversal in teaching a college course on communications, primarily to help students gain the knack of putting themselves in others’ shoes when trying to get their message across effectively. Also taught doubling as a way of teaching them how to listen carefully and pay attention to non-verbal messages.

In another class I taught a basic acting class to the beginning theatre majors, and used doubling again to deepen their understanding of the character. In a third context, teaching high school English Literature, again doubling was a technique that I found helped students learn to read between the lines. Actually, this was more than ten years before I discovered psychodrama, so I wasn’t actually teaching Moreno’s technique; rather, I was helping people to attend to the small voices that were very possibly attending the role predicament and hadn’t been overtly expressed.