Drama is a Powerful Tool to Address Bullying

Some of you requested more help with addressing bullying behaviors in your classrooms and wondered what choices you might make in selecting and devising drama work. 

Drama is a powerful tool in addressing bullying.  It must be used consistently and over time to be effective.  A onetime experience is not enough to provide the outcome we all desire.  This is another in a series of articles that explains steps you might take, safely, to move your classroom, school, community group, or program to a bully free zone through the experiences of dramatic play.

Here are some ideas for classroom practice.  Please, as always, share with me any of your ideas, activities, and questions!

Why Drama?

Research shows that young people need:

  •   - A way to practice anti-bullying behaviors.
  •   - Ways to step out of themselves, in a safe environment, and look at the problem from a distance.
  •   - To develop a common vocabulary and language among peers to discuss and create an anti-bullying culture.

In the first article on Anti-bullying, I mentioned that the simple act of taking on a role sets a young person outside of themselves and provides a safe distance to explore proper language and actions that might be used in a bullying situation. Let’s delve a bit deeper into this aspect of dramatic work. I want to take a closer look at those who stand by and watch: the observers – the bystanders. 


Bystanders can remain innocent by not getting involved in the bullying event.


Most bullying is public, done in front of others. Bystanders are “assistants” to bullies. If a bystander does not report the bully, move to protect the victim, or attempt to deter the bully in any way, he is, in fact, a contributor to the bullying. Bystanders only support the bullying victim in some way in 25% of reported cases.

I didn’t do anything.

This is a familiar refrain when addressing young people who witnessed someone else being bullied.  How do we flip this concept so that students might support the target of the bully’s aggressive behaviors in a safe and productive manner? We want to begin by having the students be able to understand bullying roles through distancing – nothing accusatory or laying blame. Drama is perfect for accomplishing this. We want to give students the knowledge of how to diffuse a bullying action when they witness it or know about it. We also want them to have the confidence of when and how to seek help.

Activity Idea #1 “Role on the Wall.”

Have someone lie down on a long sheet of white paper and trace an outline of that person using a washable marker. (I find that this is best to be done before class as the figure should be anonymous.) Hang this figure of a human, the ROLE, up on the wall.

  1. First label the Role on the Wall as: SCHOOL BULLY (you might have that label written on a strip of paper that you hang over the bully’s head).
  2. Have the students find a space facing the Bully. Ask them to think how close or far away they might stand to show their personal feelings about people who bully others. Tap students and have them tell you why they chose the space they did.
  3. Next, have each student make a shape with their body that indicates how they feel looking at this Bully: are they scared, determined, shy, angry, empowered, etc.? Again, tap some of them to tell you the emotion they are communicating.
  4. Have them think of something the Bully might have done…what is it she did? What would they say to the Bully? What would the words be? How loud would they say it? Give them time to think. As you move about the room and tap some of them on the shoulder, have them speak their words/lines in character to the Bully. You might also choose to have them all speak simultaneously or half the room at a time.

Partner the students and have them share their statues, their lines, and their vocal choices with each other. Have them decide how they can work together to create a moment where these two friends speak to the Bully. They can choose to become one statue, two identical statues, or keep their original shaped statues. Have them decide how they will speak and what they will say to this Bully. Let partners share their ideas. Have some or all partners share their moment. Have them think what words might make a situation worse and what words might help diffuse the situation or cause it to stop.

Activity idea #2 The Bystander

Change the label of the Role on the Wall from BULLY to BYSTANDER.

  1. Ask the partners to come up with a bullying event this Bystander observed. Explain that their job is now going to be as an assistant to the Bystander in aiding the target and getting the bullying to stop.
  2. Give each set of partners three sticky notes of different colors.
    1. The first color: Students write the bullying event that is happening and describe how close the Bystander stands to the event.
    2. The second color: Students write words the Bystander could say to the Bully or to the Target to help the situation.
    3. The third color: Students write what the Bystander should do next.
  3. The partners come forward and stick the notes onto the body of the ROLE.
  4. Have three students come forward, with each reading all of the notes of one of the colors.
  5. Conduct a discussion (not a lecture…and keep your ideas to a minimum) about what they heard and how a Bystander can be a Hero or can be part of the Bullying event if they do nothing. Hear what the students think about this. Again, discuss which lines escalate and which can calm a situation.
  6. Have one partner become the Bully and the other the Bystander. Have them create a scene where the Bystander (either during or after a bullying event) comes forward and speaks to the Bully. The Bully might also speak to the Bystander. As they plan ask the following:
    • How close is the Bystander standing to the Bully?
    • How is the Bully feeling? The Bystander?
    • What is the event that is taking place?
    • What are the words the Bystander speaks?
    • How do they want to end their scene?
    • Use ideas from our Bystander on the Wall!
  1. (An alternate idea to use: Give each pair of partners three random sticky notes on which to base their scene.)
  2. Have the partners switch roles and plan a second scene. If time permits, have the students share their scenes.
  3. Continue the class discussion about the role and responsibility of the Bystander.

The above activities give students distance and a framework in which to express their ideas. You, as the teacher, will learn about their thoughts on Bullies and Bystanders. This also provides material to move deeper into longer scenes regarding bullying incidents and how Bystanders can become Heroes.

by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

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