Which emotional intelligence skill do you think can be strengthened the MOST through improvisational theater activities?

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Which emotional intelligence skill do you think can be strengthened the MOST through improvisational theater activities?

Learn What Experts Think

Have you ever been in a situation where you have approached a problem while having no prior preparation time to think through your plan of action? For many of us, particularly those working with students, this may happen fairly often. In these situations, we rely on our ability to think on the spot by quickly evaluating the environment, identifying the emotions of others involved, and controlling our own emotions to work through the problem in an effective manner. In other words, we rely on our emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is defined as an individual’s ability to understand personal emotions and those of others (Mayer et. al., 2004). This understanding enables one to identify emotions appropriately, control emotions, and communicate feelings to others (Shahzad & Mushtaq, 2014). Similar to any skill or ability, individuals must work at developing and strengthening their emotional intelligence. When it comes to children and adolescents, developing these skills can be extremely beneficial for their development and ability to problem solve and work collaboratively with others. In fact, research has shown that children and adolescents that have high levels of emotional intelligence are able to succeed academically and sustain healthy relationships with those around them, thereby creating a safe supportive learning environment (Jones et al., 2014; Jones et al., 2015; Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 2015).

There are different strategies that can be used to strengthen emotional intelligence. Today, several teachers found across all levels of education, from early childhood to higher education, use improvisational activities to model and convey emotionally intelligent behavior. Popular games used by teachers include: Charades, involving one person using gestures, movements and facial expressions to get others to guess a predetermined word, phrase, or picture, depending on the age of the students; Singing Dialogue, consisting of two players developing a scene based on the audience’s suggestion by singing all the dialogue; and Bus Stop, a game where 3 people act out different characters while pretending to wait for a bus.  Not only do these activities give students the ability to interact, collaborate, and develop relationships with their peers, they also enable students to build trust with their peers (Berk & Trieber, 2009).

Most improvisational activities do not require any materials or props— simply just willing students and some open space. When implementing improvisational activities it is important to scaffold students by providing immediate feedback and initiating activities that build off of previously learned skills (Berk & Trieber, 2009; McKnight, 2012). Resources developed by Dr. Katherine McKnight at National Louis University and video footage featured in The Teaching Channel: Fun & Funny Improv Activities provide great insights on guidelines and tips for using improvisational activities in the classroom.  

Related Resources


Berk, R. A., & Trieber, R.H. (2009). Whose classroom is it, anyway? Improvisation as a teaching tool. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 20, 29–60.

Grey, C. (1994). A profile of Viola SpolinWashington, DC: National Public Radio: Retrieved from: http://www.spolin.com/.

Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., Crowley, M. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and public health: the relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. American Journal of Public Health.

Jones, S.M., Bailey, R., & Jacob, R. (2014). Social-emotional learning is essential to classroom management. Phi Delta Kappan, 96, 19–24.

Lobman, C. (2006). Improvisation: an analytic tool for examining teacher- child interactions in the early childhood classroom. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 21, 455-–470.

McKnight, K. (2012). Writing on your feet. Chicago, IL: National Louis University. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PETo7-5gJ3A.

Shahzad, S., Mushtaq, S. (2014). Does students’ trait emotional intelligence affect their classroom behavior. Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 24(1) 71–84.

Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. (2015). Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on adult life: a review for the early intervention foundation. London, UK. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/411490/Social_and_Emotional_Skills_and_their_Long_Term_Effects_on_Adult_Life.pdf.

Weis, W., Arnesen, D. W. (2014). Employing improvisational role play to train the limbic system to enhance emotionally intelligent awareness and behavior. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 18(1) 1–10.

Wiener, D. J. (1999). Using theater improvisation to assess interpersonal functioning. International Journal of Action Methods, 52 51–69.

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