Davis, L.E. (2006). Effects of Social Skills Role Play for Emotional and Behavior Disordered Students. Instructional Technology Monographs 3 (2). Retrieved <insert date>, from http://itm.coe.uga.edu/archives/fall2006/ldavis.htm.

Effects of Social Skills Role Play for Emotional and Behavior Disordered Students


Leigh E. Davis


The purpose of this study was to examine the best ways to promote social skills generalization in students who have been diagnosed with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD). As a teacher of students with EBD, I have learned that each child has a unique set of obstacles that prevent him or her from using a social skill correctly in a real life situation. The review of the related literature indicated that role plays, conducted in a relevant context with visualization assistance (digital video in this instance) could be a powerful tool in assisting students with EBD to retain and use social skills knowledge in real life situations.  Two questions driving my research were: what individual obstacles stand in the way of each child’s mastery of social skills, and what effect, if any, does and increased amount of role play performance and practice have on the child’s ability to put social skills knowledge into everyday usage. The participants were three of EBD students, ranging in age from five to seven. The data collection was based on anecdotal data such as observations and journals, as well as frequency of both positive and negative behaviors that are measured on a daily point sheet. The results show that the social skills educations of this student population needs to be highly individualized, and that more research needs to be conducted in studying not only the effects of role play on social skills performance, but ways that role plays can be enhanced, such as using digital video as a visualization technique.

Literature Review Methods Results and Discussion Conclusions References


The literature (e.g. Gresham et al., 2001) suggests that although efforts put forth in social skills curriculum are with good intentions, for children with emotional and behavior disorders (EBD), they often fall short in the area of generalization. Frequently, children with EBD do not demonstrate evidence of social skills generalization, even after much effort. One possible reason could be that social skills training is decontextualized and carried out in a contrived setting (Gresham et al., 2001).

  In my experience as a teacher of students with severe emotional and behavior disorders, I can see this phenomenon. Often, a student can verbalize how to perform a social skill correctly, but does not know how and when to use the social skill. One strategy found to be successful in teaching generalization of social skills is to assign work to students that will require students to use the acquired social skill in a setting other than school. For example, give them training in different settings, lots of examples, and train behaviors that will naturally be reinforced in other environments (Criste &Neal-White, 2005).

My primary interest in this study is to explore strategies that may help my students in generalizing social skills knowledge to real life. I accomplished this by firsthand observation of my students’ personal set of obstacles that make following a social skill correctly more difficult. Second, I used increased amounts of role-play of the desired social skill in order to reinforce positive behavior in the child, including individual role plays that will be videotaped to be used as a coaching tool.  Last, I will observe the child again in a natural social setting such as play time and regular class time, depending on the child’s most problematic environment, to see if there is any change in the student’s ability to use the desired social skill.

What purpose does social skills education serve if students are not able put those skills into practical use? If students with EBD are to be successful in a less restrictive environment, they must be able to generalize their social skills knowledge into spur of the moment, real situations. The problem I sought to explore focuses on my classroom population young students with severe emotional and behavioral disorders (SEBD). Having taught these students for a year, I have had time to witness the fact that they are very able to learn about the social skills that are crucial for functioning in a less restrictive environment. The difficulty lies in the fact that these students have a great deal of trouble putting social skills into action; i.e., generalization. Why a student has trouble in social skills generalization is deeply individual, with barriers to employing such skills varying from child to child.

There is a great deal of research concerning children with EBD in general, and some research (e.g. allowing for practice in multiple environments and in different conditions, Criste & Neal-White, 2005) that suggests the best ways to promote generalization of social skills in children with EBD. My interest lies with my students on an individual basis. The purpose of my study was to 1) discover situations where personally relevant obstacles cause students to have difficulty in applying the desired social skill correctly in real life situations, and 2) explore the value of role-play exercises in the student’s social skill performance. I sought to understand what triggers my students’ inability to put social skills into action. I aimed to put research into action and explore what results occur, when I increase the amount of socially relevant role play activities in my students’ social skills learning.

Literature Review

It is not uncommon to hear adults complain about the lack of social skills possessed by the current young generation. But what exactly does this mean? More specifically, what are social skills? Why are social skills necessary to a successful education, and life after school? To what degree are schoolchildren adept at employing learned social skills? According to Gumpel and Golan (2000), a child’s ability to interact successfully with their peers is a basic skill that has an impact on the quality of other parts of that child’s life. A specific group of children that have difficulty using social skills knowledge correctly are children with emotional and behavior disorders (EBD). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Public Law 101-476, defines EBD as follows:

            A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long

            period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects educational


  • An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

  • An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.

  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances

  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression, or

  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. (United States Department of Education, 2006).

             The purpose of this literature review is three fold: first, to determine what social skills are; second, to determine best practices for teaching social skills in general; and finally, to determine the best practices for teaching social skills for retention and generalization to children with emotional and behavior disorders

Social Skills Instruction

Both character education and social skills training programs have become increasingly popular in the curricula of American schools. Even after much attention has been given to social skills training in schools, there seems to be a great deal of debate as to how effective these programs really are. Gresham et al. (2002) assert that “various meta analyses of the literature suggest that social skills training has not produced large, socially important, long term or generalized changes in social competence of students with high-incidence disabilities”  (p.332). Obviously, if previously used methods of social skills training has not produced results, specifically, generalized results, then those methods need to be examined. The most essential component for the long-term social success of a child is that the child be able to generalize his or her knowledge of social skills to extend to any real-life scenario. According to Gresham et al. (2001), when analyzing often used social skills training methods,

One of the most persistent weaknesses of the social skills training Literature is its failure to demonstrate sufficient generalization and maintenance of instructed social skills. Two reasons have been noted for this lack of generalization and maintenance: (a) failure to adequately program for generalization and maintenance; and (b) the use of weak treatments in contrived, restricted, and decontextualized settings to teach social behavior (p.340).

Some students, especially those with some level of emotional behavior disorder, do not have a normal reference point for learning social skills. Telling a child to remember to keep quiet while his hand is raised is very much different from teaching the child how to keep himself quiet in a “heat of the moment” situation. When the child feels that what he has to say is very important or urgent, it is difficult for him or her to remember a set of procedures. In fact, Gresham et al. (2002) have found that “The most effective social skills training strategies appear to be some combination of modeling, coaching, and reinforcement procedures” (p.340). Not only does the child need to learn social skills within a relevant context, there needs to be a direct support presence to implement modeling for the child. The modeling should show how to carry out the skill that they are learning, as well as reinforce the successful aspects of the child’s social skills. Now that it is apparent that not all techniques are successful in helping children learn social skills, it is necessary to look at what does work. It has already been noted that in order for the student to retain and generalize social skills material in other situations, then the instruction must be presented and learned in a relevant context (Criste, Neal-White, 2005).  Holsbrink-Engels and Geralien (2001) suggest that in order to develop interpersonal skills, the students need to solve social-communicative problems.

Developing interpersonal skills is an integral component of being able to relate to others on a social level, as well as being able to build and maintain satisfying relationships. Students with emotional and behavior disorders by definition have increased difficulty in not only learning social skills, but also using them in their own everyday encounters (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 34, Section 300.7).

 Over time, the treatment options for children with emotional and behavior disturbances have changed dramatically. According to Roberts et al. (2003), “Funding restrictions and questions regarding treatment outcomes have reduced residential or inpatient treatment, whether in the public or private sector. Consequently, schools are the de facto mental health service provider because school systems are mandated to serve children” (p.522). This de facto service suggests that for many children, schools are a major source of their social skills development, but “children with serious emotional disturbances (SED) are often the most difficult for psychologists to treat and for schools to educate and manage” (p.522). Although students with emotional and behavior disorders (EBD) are often difficult for schools to manage, it is extremely important to these students’ education that they are able to gain the same level of social competence as their non-disabled peers. In previous discussions, it has been emphasized that the best practices for teaching social skills to anyone involves using relevant contexts for the material being taught, and that the material be learned through a problem-solving context. (Holsbrink-Engels, 2001).

Generalization of Social Skills

Amory, Naicker, and Vincent (1999), purport that there is a correlation between computer games and learning. According to their research, computer games can enhance learning through visualization and experimentation, which can help in developing critical thinking skills. Of course, a play-based learning environment is much more motivating to a learner than say, drill and practice. What if a play-based learning environment could include other proven methods for teaching social skills successfully, such as using a relevant context and requiring students to solve problems. Could a video or computer game provide the visualization, relevant social context, and problem-based scenario for the student to solve through using social skills knowledge?  According to Fontana Beckerman, Leonard, and Adela (2004), “Interactive media can mediate and assist the young child in the creation of a meaningful knowledge structure” (p.50). Interactive media often gives students a set of preliminary knowledge, which assists in the comprehension of the game’s overall purpose. (Fontana et al. 2004). For a child with EBD, who already has a difficult time constructing knowledge structures concerning social skills, any means by which the student can more easily adapt social skills into their schema for understanding interpersonal skills would be invaluable. “Visualization and problem-solving skills are an integral part of adventure and strategy games…visualization strategies nurture creative problem solving” (Amory et al., 1999, p.312). It makes sense that, in order effectively to solve a problem, one must first be able to identify the problem. This statement also leads into the idea that strategy and adventure games should also have a problem-based element to them.  Additionally, young children may be changing the way they perceive problems due to the popularity of video games in particular.

The case for using games as a learning tool is made by Barab, Thomas, Dodge, Carteaux, and Tuzun (2005). Barab and others first recalled the theories of Vygotsky, in asserting that the zone of proximal development for a child is often in a play situation, and that “in play, a child always behaves above his average age, beyond his average behavior” (p.89). Fontana et al. (2004) report about a video game created specifically to assist young students in learning social skills within a relevant context.

In their study, Fontana et al. (2004) implemented a social skills-based video game to second grade students with the focus of violence prevention. The characters used in the game were basically cartoon characters. Some observations of the students’ reactions are noteworthy.  As stated by Fontana et al. (2004), “Young children responded that warnings featuring cartoon animals are more believable” (p.51). The fact that the children pointed out the cartoon animals as believable makes the point that for warnings/talking interactions to seem real and therefore more relevant for the students, they need to be realistic and presented visually.  According to Fontana et al. (2004), non-verbal cues from characters could be easily discerned by even very small children.  “Young children, 6 to 7 years old, were able to identify simple emotions such as a character’s shyness, curiosity, puzzlement, and reluctance to do something” (p.51). It is noteworthy that the children were able to perceive emotions on the cartoon characters’ faces using only non-verbal cues.  For students that are EBD, a situation such as this is an excellent teaching tool for how to perceive emotion non-verbally, and to practice picking out correct emotional cues from the cartoon characters in an environment that is much less threatening or intimidating than practicing with real people. One such video game implemented in several Florida second grade classrooms, was designed to teach violence prevention.  In The Tunnel Funnel Game, “…students walk through a dark tunnel and observe three conflict-ridden situations…In the first conflict situation, a girl (who represents the student playing the game), has the toy she is playing with grabbed away by her brother. Gopher Peace (a character) appears and encourages the student to tell the ‘Brother’ character how she feels, and to ask for the toy back nicely. The ‘Foozle’ characters encourage the student to either hit the brother or think of ways to get even with him” (p.54). Although this scenario probably is quite brief in the game, it is a scenario full of relevance for a young child. The context is relevant, because for a young child, this would be an emotionally charged event, but is simulated within the safe environment of a video game. This would be especially beneficial for students with EBD, because even role-playing with other peers or adults can be extremely stressful for them. 

At the close of the study, Fontana et al. (2004) found that “significant positive changes were found in the level of the experimental group’s knowledge and attitudes about human behavior and in their understanding of how to respond to potentially conflict-ridden situations” (p.55). What seems to be the successful combination of elements in the video game was that it was: interesting to students, especially with the use of appealing characters, the situations were relevant to children. The students were able to use visualization of the problem and multiple efforts to assist them in solving the social problem.

When looking at specific strategies for increasing generalization of social skills knowledge, several strategies are recommended. They include, but are not limited to:

-Training in different settings, different people, and under different   conditions

            -Give lots of examples

            -Train behaviors that will naturally be reinforced in other environments

            -Teach self-government skills

            -Give assignments to generalize behaviors (Criste, Neal-White, 2005).

These strategies seem related to the above study involving video games, in that the games utilize a strategy recommended by Criste and Neal-White. For example, looking at the game scenario that involved a child stealing the player’s toy, the environment is different from the school setting, and the social skill of reporting a problem instead of fighting back, can be reinforced with peers, teachers, and at home. So, in this aspect, the game demonstrated strategies that would be helpful in promoting generalization of social skills knowledge. Perhaps this might be one contributing factor to the game’s success.


As shown in the literature, social skills learning is a crucial aspect of a child’s education. Despite best efforts, the literature suggests that much improvement is warranted in how social skills are taught to children, especially children with EBD who, because of their disability, have a more difficult time putting this social skill learning into everyday use. Potential for success in helping students use social skills knowledge in everyday situations, i.e. generalization, seems to be an essential element of social skills education. Without the ability to generalize what is learned, students with EBD have a much more difficult time interacting with teachers, peers, and adults in day-to-day interactions. In turn, without the ability to perform social skills correctly, students with EBD by definition have a more difficult time learning in school than their non-EBD peers (United States Department of Education, 2006).

            In looking at successful strategies for both obtaining social skills knowledge and generalization of that knowledge, it seems that strategies, such as much practice, relevant situations in practice, and visualization, go far in promoting generalization of positive social behavior. For students with EBD, who have a more difficult time performing social skills correctly, to what degree would the above strategies be effective? The situations in the video game seemed to be a form of role play in that the students placed themselves in a simulated environment and situation, and assisted the students by providing a visual reference point for the social skills learning. Further research will need to explore strategies that work for promoting generalization of social skills in students with EBD, on an individual basis. After reflecting on the literature, the purpose for my study was to explore how an increased amount of role play interactions helps or not helps students with emotional and behavior disorders in generalizing social skills learning?



            Because of the exploratory nature of the study, I chose to use qualitative methods. Three students who attend Rutland Academy participated in this study. Two were first graders, one of whom is very familiar with the social skills curriculum at Rutland. The other child is a Kindergarten  student and has been at Rutland for less than a year. My primary role at Rutland is the Pre-Kindergarten through First Grade classroom teacher, so I had a great deal of daily contact with these students. In determining what level of social skills implementation each of the three students are capable of, I conducted firsthand observation in the student’s natural setting: the regular school day. The time of day that observations of the child occurred depend greatly upon what the child’s most problematic social skill is determined to be. Direct observation is an appropriate method for exploring the student’s behavioral ability, because it allows the researcher to see an accurate representation of how the child interacts with others socially.  I videotaped my observation sessions as a supplement to firsthand observations. I looked carefully for how the students interact with each other, as well as with adults in the specified time. Each student has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which outlines their specific instructional needs, including behavioral goals. Based on the information gathered during the first observation and the student’s IEP goals, a target social skill was chosen as the focal point of the child’s role-plays based on the student’s primary needs. Background information on the child’s behavior and social skills abilities at school were recorded in a daily journal and will reflect the teacher-student interactions that I experience with these children.

            The student’s ability to carry out a particular social skill was measured against the Student Achievement Model for social skills education. This model breaks each social skill down into steps that are rehearsed and practiced with the students. As I observed each child, I looked to see: a) to what degree the child is able to perform the social skill’s steps, b) what the antecedents to the skill occurrence are, c) what the trigger(s) or obstacles seem to be that interfere with the child’s ability to perform the social skill correctly. In addition to analyzing observed social skills performance, each child’s situation was viewed holistically, taking into consideration how the child’s unique point of view can shape their own social skills abilities. According to Neal and Criste-White (2005), strategies that can improve generalization of social skills can include training behaviors that can be naturally reinforced in other environments, giving lots of examples, and training in different settings.       

After observing the three students, I increased the amount of role play used to reinforce correct social skills performance. These role plays occurred for each individual child three times per week. These role plays reflected the target social skill identified as an area of need during the observation and review of the IEP. The steps to each skill will be practiced with myself first, and then the child will role play an instance of using the social skill in a relevant context. Usually, I would suggest an instance, real or imagined, where the child’s target skill would need to be performed correctly. The scenarios were designed to reflect the student’s obstacles to performing a skill, while still providing for a comfortable and emotionally secure environment. These role plays occurred three times per week, one-on-one with myself, the teacher.

            At the end of each week, I observed first hand the student’s ability to focus on and perform the social skill during the pre-determined class period. I will record my observations as anecdotal data in a journal to compare with my analysis of the videotape data. Additionally, student point sheets which record the frequency of both positive and negative behaviors will be used to determine the frequency of successful and unsuccessful instances of social skill uses for the specials time period. I will be looking to see any degree of change in the child’s ability to perform the social skill correctly, according to the following questions: Are the antecedents or triggers affecting the child in the same way? Does the child show any progress toward mastering the social skill in a natural setting? Does the child show any regression in the social skill usage?

            There are biases evident in this study. I, as the teacher of the students involved in this research, wish for my students to experience success in learning these social skills. I maintained an objective viewpoint by videotaping my observation sessions, which allowed me to re-visit each session and examine my observations. Additionally, a daily journal of each child’s behavior also allowed me to examine my perceptions on a frequent basis.

Before role play interactions could begin, each child was observed exclusively throughout an entire school day. Observations took three days, one for each child. During these observations, anecdotal data was taken in the form of a journal entry for each child, focusing on what problem behaviors occurred most frequently, what the antecedents were, as well as the child’s general mood and interactions with others. A decision was made as to which behavior goal the student was having the most difficulty with. Next, a pre-role play interview was conducted for each child. This interview involved asking the child what they knew about their target skill, and to perform what that skill looked like, if possible. The purpose of the interview was to indicate what level of knowledge this child had about the social skill that was proving most difficult for them. Third, each child participated in an individually-tailored intensive role play that was pertinent to their target skill three times per week.  These role plays were taped using digital video and played back to the child as a coaching tool during each role play session. Recording the role plays allowed me to instantly analyze with the child what they did well during each role play and what could be improved upon. On a daily basis, observations were made as to the child’s ability to perform their target skills correctly in non-contrived, everyday situations throughout the typical school day. Lastly, daily point sheets that reflected the instances the child either performed the skill correctly or incorrectly were analyzed and percent frequency of ability to perform the skill was averaged on a weekly basis.

The decision of which target social skill per child to focus on was made by observing the child over the course of a school day, examining the child’s point sheets to see which behavior was most problematic, and by referring to the child’s IEP. Within the text of this paper, I will refer to the children as follows: Kay is a first grade female who has been at Rutland since November of 2005. Jon is a first grade male who has been at Rutland since April of 2005. Keith is a Kindergarten male who also has been at Rutland since April of 2005.

Kay has been in my class for almost a year, so I am more familiar with her needs than the other students. According to her IEP, she has difficulty verbalizing emotions appropriately and using self control strategies when upset. Her point sheets reflect this problem, showing that most teaching interactions directed at her social skills instruction are related to not using self control in some capacity. Over the course of one school day, I observed 5 instances in which Kay engaged in some degree of loss of self control; ranging from pouting and sulking to engaging in self-injurious tantrums. The antecedent of this behavior appears to be instances where Kay is unsure of herself, such as trying new work or ant teacher-initiated redirection. This year, the frequency of Kay’s severe tantrums have increased, leading me to see that the successful use of self control strategies should be the target skill for her.

            Jon has a great deal of trouble interacting with others appropriately, especially sharing attention with others. His problem behaviors are evidenced in his IEP goals that state the need for Jon to remain in a group activity in a calm and agreeable manner until the task is finished. Per firsthand observations, Jon student often interrupts conversations or interactions between adults by getting out of his seat, touching/tugging on adults, or by creating a situation, such as throwing items from his desk in order to gain attention.  When working in a peer group to complete a task, Jon will often invent excuses to leave the group before finishing the task, throw items at his work area, or put his head down and refuse to work. Jon appeared to have the most difficult time sharing attention in instances where he felt attention was being taken from him, such as another student needing help. Based on the aforementioned information, the target skill of sharing attention with others seems most appropriate for Jon.

            Keith is diagnosed as moderate to severe Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and is five years old. At the time of this research, Keith was not medicated for ADHD. The biggest challenge for Keith is to focus on a task for a minimum of five minutes. He often can not focus for more than 10-15 seconds at a time, and must constantly be prompted to remain on task. This constant feedback for negative behaviors causes a lot of frustration for this student, as he expresses a strong desire to “be good in school”. His IEP goals state that he be able to attend to a task for a minimum of five minutes and be able to comprehend information being presented and/or learned. This student’s antecedents to off task behavior seem to be any noise, sight, or event that was disruptive to him. I noticed that even small distractions that would not disrupt others, such as the sound of a garbage truck arriving at school, were enough of a distraction to completely absorb this student’s efforts at concentration. Based on my observations, Keith must be redirected every 10-15 seconds at a minimum. During more high anxiety times of the day, such as transitions times or work that is disliked, redirection can be as frequent as every 5 seconds. The constant off task behavior is proving detrimental in that he is focusing all his attentive energy on “behaving”, and has little left over for actual academic learning. Therefore, the target skill that would prove most beneficial to this student is remaining on task 

As previously mentioned, each role play was tailored to prescriptively address each student’s personal needs. The flow chart below illustrates the role play procedures and example scenarios for each child (See Figure 1). 

Results and Discussion

Preliminary Observations

            The preliminary observation of Kay occurred on a tumultuous day in terms of problematic behaviors. Her IEP points to an inability to request help appropriately when she has difficulty with work, discuss emotions rather than act negatively upon them, and to use a self control strategy when upset. On three occasions, Kay seemed to “shut down” and pout when redirected after an inappropriate behavior, most often neglecting to be called on before speaking. Even though the initial inappropriate behavior was relatively minor, blurting out, she seemed to be very embarrassed about the redirection. After each of these three redirections, She was able to eventually accept a consequence (point loss)  but required a great deal of my support and also a great deal of prompting that she use a self control strategy, such as laying her head down on her desk for a few minutes. On a fourth redirection for refusing to complete her work, this student was not able to regain self control, and began to walk around the room, scratch herself, and expressed a wish to die. She escalated to the point of needing to be restrained in order to protect her safety, and regained the ability to sit still and quiet about twenty minutes later. The observation revealed that Kay seemed to need a great deal of support in learning how to stay calm when upset. Three out of four times when prompted to use a self control strategy, this student utilized it. According to the social skill of using self control, a student should be able to use or ask to use a self control strategy of their own volition. Seeing that Kay is very cognizant of her peers seeing her receive a redirection, being able to control her anger without being told could be a powerful tool in assisting her to avoid such emotional loss of control.

            According to Jon’s IEP, working with others is his most problematic social behavior. Throughout the day, Jon seemed to have the most trouble when attention was taken away from him whether at the teacher’s decision, or by another student’s actions. On five occasions, Jon blurted out comments as soon as I or the paraprofessional left his desk to help another student. He seemed to accept redirection very well, perhaps because he was then getting attention of some kind. Later in the day, this student and another one were paired up to work cooperatively on an assignment, with a teacher present. As soon as the teacher turned to speak to the other student, Jon threw his work materials at the face of the other student. Again, Jon seemed to accept his consequence without issue, but the concern remains over his inability to interact appropriately with others. The observed set of behaviors, an inability to work cooperatively with others and excessive attention seeking has led me to the decision that sharing attention with others would be the target skill most beneficial to this student.

            Keith has an IEP that focuses mainly on improving his ability to remain on task during the school day and not to disrupt the classroom environment. My observation on that day revealed that he is less able to stay on task than I originally thought. Keith completed just over 25 redirections, based on occurrences recorded on his point sheet with me concerning not staying on task during an assignment. He was able to complete these interactions without getting angry, but I began to see that even when this student was sitting still, he was very frequently not engaged in learning. This was evident to me in how many times he looked away from his work, blurted out, turned in unfinished work, or did not hear things that were said to him. Keith seems very willing to comply with teacher redirections during the first part of the day, but seems to lose patience more quickly after lunch when redirected. Could this be due to frustration at the cumulative amount of feedback given to his inappropriate behaviors? Does he experience more frustration at the end of the day? It appears that the social skill remaining on task would be most beneficial in assisting this student in improving his behavioral and academic performance.

Role Play Performance

            The first role play activity was an informal pre-test for each child. Beginning with Kay, I asked her to tell me what she knew about using self control when she is angry, and also how she could tell she was getting angry. To most of the questions, she replied with “I don’t know”, or simply did not respond. I surmised that she either did not know the answers or was uncomfortable discussing them. The second day of role play activity, Kay was not able to participate, due to an emotional meltdown. After that, the first few real role play interactions had to be heavily staged, prompted, and set away from the class. Beginning the second week or role play, Kay seemed more confident about participating in role play, and I was gradually able to move the location and content in a more realistic direction. What seemed to pique her interest more than anything else was being able to see her role play performance instantly on the computer by means of the digital video taken during the role play. She appeared to be motivated by seeing herself engaging in appropriate behavior on the digital video. This video replay element also seemed to increase how much information was retained from one role play to the next, as this student would often refer to her video when discussing her target skill. During the second week, this student was able to complete role plays on using self control strategies surrounded by the rest of the class, and remembered to ask to use the strategy on her own by the last role play.

            Jon had a difficult time understanding why being able to share attention with others was important. This may be partly due to the fact that he is diagnosed with pervasive developmental delay (PDD), which means that he is at an earlier developmental level than his peers, both academically and socially. When conducting the pre-test, this student had a difficult time understanding the concept of sharing attention with others until I asked him how he would feel if his teachers did not spend any time with him. He responded that he would feel sad, and I was able to build the role plays based on that level of understanding. This student seemed to enjoy the role plays, but did not seem to understand that the digital video was to be used as a coaching tool. He became highly excited about the novelty of the video, but was unable to talk, even on a very basic level, about his performance in the video. Additionally, this student missed half of the role plays due to emotional meltdowns and absences combined. This student seemed to grasp a very basic understanding of his target skill by the end of the second week, being that he needed to “play nicely with other children” and to wait his turn to speak.

            Remaining on task is the social skill that best reflected the academic and behavioral needs of Keith. When I conducted the informal pre-test questions with Keith, he demonstrated an understanding that to remain on task was to keep working. This student greatly enjoyed participating in the role plays, but had a great deal of trouble staying on task for the role play. He needed to be prompted every 10-20 seconds, but when I asked him to show me what “on task” looked like, he was able to sit quietly, and focus. The digital video proved to be a powerful tool for this student’s understanding of what on task behavior looks like for him. This student also discussed his video performance when talking  his about his target skill. There were a few occasions where this student was able to critique his videos himself, catching such mistakes such as feet kicking or bouncing in his seat. Although he understands what on task behavior should be, and he can self-correct when prompted, Keith still has a great deal of difficulty remaining on task in actual class situations.

Application of Target Skills

The final step was to graph the percentage frequency of the target behavior by looking at each child’s point sheet for that child’s target skill for the study. The frequency of positive points earned indicates how often a child was able to his or her target skill in real life situations during the school day. The student earns positive points throughout the day each time he or she is observed engaging in appropriate behaviors. Typically, a teacher engaged in around 50-60 of these observations with each student on each school day, and observations for a student should occur about every 5-10 minutes. Based on how many times throughout the day the desired behavior occurred, a percentage of frequency was derived. Again, these target behaviors correlate directly to each child’s IEP, and the target goal for each child is listed on the right side of the graph. The data collection occurred between September 25, 2006 and October 4, 2006. The data was taken by myself based on interactions with each child recorded throughout the day on their point sheets.

            Looking at Kay’s graph shows the frequency she was able to use a self control strategy during the school day. The data collection began the week of one of this student’s lowest  troughs, the week ending September 22nd. The percent frequency of this student’s use of self control at the onset of the study was at just over 60%. Throughout the course of the study, it appears that Kay was gradually able to increase the frequency of her use of self control strategies when upset. The perfect frequency of her ability to use self control at the close of the study was at about 75%, which is an increase of about 14 percentage points. It is interesting to note that Kay was her most successful in using self control strategies both two weeks before beginning the study and about two weeks after the study. Kay’s highest percentage yet, at 88%, occurred the week ending October 20th

Figure 2: The percentage frequency of the target behavior for Kay

Kay's Data

            Jon had a target skill of attending to a group activity until the task is finished. As mentioned earlier, this student often has difficulty sharing attention with both peers and adults. Learning how to share attention appropriately with others corresponds to this IEP goal in that this student’s reasons for becoming distracted in group activities are that he has a difficult time remaining on task if others are talking or receiving attention from an adult. Jon will often create a situation such as throwing materials, shutting down and refusing to work, or crying if he believes he is not receiving enough attention during the activity. If this student were able to appropriately wait his turn to talk or receive help, then he would be more able to attend to group activities until completion. The week the data collection began for Jon, he was at one of his highest levels of performance in sharing attention appropriately, at 78%. One week into data collection, the graph shows that he hit his second lowest trough this school year thus far, at 62%. The second and final week of data collection shows improvement at a level of 73%, and one week after the close of the study, an upswing to the highest percentage yet, at 85% ability to share attention appropriately with others during the school day.

Figure 3: The percentage frequency of the target behavior for Jon

Jon's Data

Keith was assigned the target skill of remaining on task.  Keith is diagnosed as having moderate to severe ADHD, and was not receiving medication neither at the time of data collection nor at the time this paper was written. His IEP goal states that he will remain on task and engage in learning for a minimum of 10 minutes on 80% of trials. This student had a particularly difficult time with remaining on task. During pre-data collection interviews and observations, it was observed that this student was on task on average 10-15 seconds at a time. He is given many opportunities during the day to receive feedback on his on-task behavior due to his very short attention span. Keith experienced very few fluctuations in the percent frequency of his ability to remain on task for the first month of the school year. At the beginning of data collection, Keith was at 67% ability to remain on task during the school day. This was only increased to about 71% after week two of data collection. It is interesting to note that one week after the close of the study, Keith raised his ability to remain on task by nine percentage points, to 80%, and to 81% by the following week.

Figure 4: The percentage frequency of the target behavior for Keith

Keith's Data

            In looking at the above data, it seems that each child’s role play performance is related to their preliminary observations, and is indicative of how each child’s role plays were tailored to their needs and personal set of obstacles to correct social skill usage.  In the case of Kay, she was originally observed to be apprehensive and anxious about redirection by me, her teacher, in the presence of her peers. Likewise, she was very self-conscious when performing her role plays. Once her personal obstacles were noted, I worked on her role plays in a more secluded setting, and seemed to increase her motivation level. Jon’s personal obstacles are rooted in needing attention, whether negative or positive. His need for constant attention meant that during observations, he constantly engaged in inappropriate behaviors in order to gain attention. Unfortunately, acting out for attention became a problem during role play, so the times of day Jon completed role play had to be constantly changed in order to accommodate and reinforce positive behaviors. Keith demonstrated a large amount of off-task behavior during observations, and it seemed as though anything that would catch his attention was an obstacle to him remaining on task, his most difficult social skill. Keith experienced a more stable frequency of social skill performance than the other students, and like all three participants, seemed to experience an increase in appropriate social skill behavior about 1-2 weeks after the close of the study. Keith was the most motivated to complete the role play performances, and perhaps that could explain the more consistent rise on positive social skills performance as represented in Figure 4.


This study was exploratory in nature, so my findings have been limited in scope and in conclusiveness. In order for any findings to be more established, much more research needs to be conducted in this area. However, given the constraints on time and extensiveness, I believe this study poses some important thoughts and questions.

            In the cases of two out of three participating students, the active use of digital video in the role play activities appeared to assist with retention of target skill knowledge, and as well as with motivation. These two students, Kay and Keith, were more excited about discussing and analyzing their video footage than the actual role play performance. This shows some promise for digital media to be utilized as an effective social skills instructional tool, given that digital video provides visual evidence of a realistic and relevant environment that is so crucial to social skills generalization success (Criste & Neal-White, 2005). Additionally, the two students interested in discussing their videos made comments about seeing themselves engaging in positive behaviors, which seemed to boost confidence about appearing in subsequent role play videos. I was not prepared for the impact that the video performance would have, I simply viewed it as a visualization tool.

            Additionally, this study has helped me to see that, as a teacher, social skills instruction should be highly differentiated. While one student may be extremely shy and apprehensive about completing a role play performance, as in the case of Kay, another may see attention from the class as a motivating factor, as in the case of Jon. Each student’s needs should be taken into account and role play activities should be designed to meet the needs of that particular child. Emotional and intellectual maturity also is a factor. In the case of Jon, the digital video may not have been developmentally appropriate for him; the task of self analysis using a video proved too difficult because he only saw his presence on the video as a novelty, whereas the other two students were able to critique their own performance using teacher guidance and support. Conversely, Kay seemed to be able to overcome her anxiety by gradually performing role plays that more closely resembled a classroom environment. In essence, the role play experiences needed to be highly individualized and in-depth, perhaps more so than I was able to do in a few weeks’ time. 

            Based on the data collected, a few questions are raised. In analyzing the percent frequency of target skill performance, each child gained almost ten percentage points between one and two weeks after the study. Does this imply that learning from the role plays was applied in a delayed fashion, or that the role plays were ineffective and/or a stressful event that hindered the use of the children’s target skills? The obstacles each child dealt with are obstacles that are ever present in a typical classroom. Some students were more able to reconcile their unique obstacles with the role plays, including the digital video viewing and reflection. Kay and Keith both were able to show improvement in role play performance as observed by myself. With encouragement, Kay gradually became more comfortable completing role plays in the classroom with peers present. Keith demonstrated a more in-depth understanding of what remaining on task looks like and means. Although real-life situations requiring the use of these social skills did not show drastic improvement in any of the three participants, perhaps an increase in knowledge of the skill and motivation to practice the skill will translate to future success. For Jon, his constant need to gain positive or negative attention may have hindered his ability to gain or construct meaning from the role plays that would help him address his obstacle of attention-seeking behavior and needs.

 For future research, more time should be devoted to this experience, allowing for each child’s needs to be more fully examined and addressed in terms of social skills ability. Additional efforts in researching the effects of role play are warranted, and would ideally include a larger group of participants over a longer period of time. Overall, I think that the increased use of individually tailored and relevant role play, and well as visualization tools such as digital video, could prove effective in promoting generalization of positive social skills behavior.



Consent Form

I, ____________________________, agree to allow my child,__________________________, to take part in a research study titled, “Social Skills Role Play for Children with Emotional and Behavior Disorders ”, which is being conducted by Mrs. Leigh Davis, from the Instructional Technology Department at the University of Georgia (706-549-3030) under the direction of Dr. Michael Orey, Department of Instructional Technology, University of Georgia, (706-542-4028). I do not have to allow my child to be in this study if I do not want to. My child can stop taking part at any time without giving any reason, and without penalty. I can ask to have the information related to my child’s participation returned to me, removed from the research records, or destroyed.

The reason for the study is to find out if an increased amount of practice (role play) in performing social skills correctly can improve a child’s social skills abilities in real-life situations.

• The research is not expected to cause any harm or discomfort. I can quit at any time. My child’s grade will not be affected if my I decide to stop taking part in the research.
• The study will be conducted for 2-3 weeks during the first half of the fall semester. The participating students will practice correct social skills behavior more frequently, and the researcher (Mrs. Leigh Davis) will videotape students participating in the study to assist in observations. All videotapes will be destroyed at the close of the study.
• Any information collected about my child will be kept confidential, and no names of children will be used in the study

• The researcher will answer any questions about the research, now or during the course of the project, and can be reached by telephone or by email. (706-549-3030, or Leighed1@yahoo.com).  I may also contact the professor supervising the research, Dr. Michael Orey, Instructional Technology Department, at (706) 542-4028.

Additional questions or problems regarding your rights as a research participant should be addressed to Chris A. Joseph, Ph.D. Human Subjects Office, University of Georgia, 612 Boyd Graduate Studies Research Center, Athens, Georgia 30602-7411; Telephone (706) 542-3199; E-Mail Address: IRB@uga.edu

I understand the study procedures described above. My questions have been answered to my satisfaction, and I agree to allow my child to take part in this study. I have been given a copy of this form to keep.

__I DO give permission to you to reproduce results of my child’s participation in this study. No names will appear on any materials submitted by the teacher, and no names will be published with the results.

__I DO NOT give permission to reproduce the results of my child’s participation in this study.

Mrs. Leigh Davis_____________________________________ ______
Name of Researcher                            Signature                                          Date

Telephone : 706-549-3030                               Email: Leighed1@yahoo.com

_________________________ _______________________ ______
Name of Participant                            Signature                                          Date

Please sign both copies, keep one and return one to the researcher.


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