Steve Mynard explores a process to enrich your children’s language and literacy experiences.

In the world of the theatre, ‘hotseating’ is a well known technique used to deepen an actor’s understanding of a role; the actor sits in the hotseat and is asked questions by other members of the cast. Questions might cover their feelings about certain aspects of the storyline in the play or what their relationship is with other characters. The actor answers as the character they are playing. It is a powerful technique that really helps actors immerse themselves in a role.

Hotseating became popular in primary schools during the 1990s and is now used extensively in literacy work as a way of exploring characters’ feelings.

In early years, hotseating is a valuable tool that will aid your delivery of the Early Learning Goals, as set out in the Foundation Stage Guidance. This is most immediately apparent in communication, language and literacy:

  • Use language to imagine and recreate roles and experiences.
  • Use talk to organise, sequence and clarify thinking, ideas, feelings and events.
  • Sustain attentive listening, responding to what they have heard by relevant comments, questions or actions.

Hotseating will also help with the personal and social development of your children:

  • Be confident to try new activities, initiate ideas and speak in a familiar group.
  • Maintain attention, concentrate, and sit quietly when appropriate.

Getting started

Hotseating is a great technique to start off with if you are not familiar with drama. Hotseating in the classroom simply involves sitting in a chair in front of the class adopting a character and answering the children’s questions. Have the children on the carpet in front of you – a circle works particularly well, as this means everyone can see each other. This approach, where you model the technique for the children first, is an appropriate way to start.

Sometimes young children ask irrelevant questions or their questions are too literal. It is a good idea to have a controlling technique that allows you to come out of role to deal with this. Wear a hat when you are in role as the character and tell the children that when you are wearing the hat you are in role and when you take it off you are the teacher again. Alternatively, you can sit in the ‘hotseat’ when in character and stand up when you want to come out of character.

Another approach to this technique is to use another adult as the character and put them in the hotseat. A teaching assistant or other helper or a parent can come into the classroom in costume and sit in the hotseat – this is very exciting for the children. You and the other adult can then show the children how to ask questions in the hotseat and how to answer them.

Questioning is a difficult concept for your pupils to grasp, so do this activity regularly to really help your children practise. Talk about questioning with your children: What is a question? Why do we ask questions? The children will be keen to take over and have a go in the hotseat themselves. Confidence will grow quickly and you will soon find your most restrained children wanting a go.

Children in the hotseat

Let’s envisage giving children a go in the hotseat. You have just read or told the story of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Ask the children, ‘Who wants to come and sit in the Hotseat and be Little Red Riding Hood?’ It is important that they answer as the character rather than in the third person. Young children are literal and they will get more out of this if they really take on the character.

Ask the other children, ‘What shall we ask Little Red Riding Hood?’ At first you may need to ask some questions yourself to get them started. Encourage a variety of questions. There is a tendency for children to ask a lot of ‘How did you feel when …?’ questions. Encourage questions like, ‘What did the wolf look like?’ or ‘What do you like best about your granny?’ Discourage closed questions that can only be answered yes or no. An example would be, ‘Did the wolf have sharp teeth?’

One good way into hotseating is to put children in pairs after reading or telling a story and ask one of them to be a character and one to ask questions. This paired hotseating helps them to try out questions with a friend before going in front of the whole class. It is a less scary way for them to start.

Another thing to bear in mind is that you can have more than one hotseat. If you were working with the story of ‘The Three Little Pigs’, then put three children in three hotseats in front of the class. This can be fun as the children in the hotseat begin to answer questions together. They sometimes disagree or they may add extra details to something that another character has said.

The importance of hotseating

The essence of hotseating in the early years is the encouragement it gives children to move away from an egocentric view of the world and towards an understanding that we all see things differently. Adopting the character of another person or asking a character questions about the place they live, what their family is like or what they had for lunch, all help to broaden a child’s horizons. This paves the way for a greater development of social skills.

And finally

Hotseating is great fun and children love it. Starting with this simple drama technique in the early years setting gets children off to a flying start and really builds their confidence. Give it a go; make it a regular feature of your setting.

Former primary headteacher, Steve Mynard, now runs Metaphor Learning, a company dedicated to promoting creativity and imaginative approaches to reintegrating the curriculum.