Hot Seat

Hot seat is a role-playing activity that builds students’ comprehension. Students assume the persona of a character from a story, the featured person from a biography they’re reading, or an author whose books they’ve read, and they sit in a chair designated as the “hot seat” to be interviewed by classmates. It’s called hot seat because students have to think quickly and respond to their classmates’ questions and comments. Wilhelm (2002) explains that through the hot seat activity, students explore the characters, analyze story events, draw inferences, and try out different interpretations. Students aren’t intimidated by performing for classmates; in fact, in most classrooms, the activity is very popular. Students are usually eager for their turn to sit in the hot seat. They often wear a costume they’ve created when they assume the character’s persona and share objects they’ve collected and artifacts they’ve made.

Here are the steps in the hot seat activity:

  1. Learn about the character. Students prepare for the hot seat activity by reading a story or a biography to learn about the character they will impersonate.
  2. Create a costume. Students design a costume appropriate for their character. In addition, they often collect objects or create artifacts to use in their presentations.
  3. Prepare opening remarks. Students think about the most important things they’d like to share about the character and plan what they’ll say at the beginning of the activity.
  4. Introduce the character. One student sits in front of classmates in a chair designated as the “hot seat,” tells a little about the character he or she is role-playing using a first-person viewpoint (e.g., “I was the first person to step onto the moon’s surface”), and shares artifacts.
  5. Ask questions and make comments. Classmates ask thoughtful questions to learn more about the character and offer advice, and the student remains in the role to respond to them.
  6. Summarize the ideas. The student doing the role-play selects a classmate to summarize the important ideas that were presented about the character. The student in the hot seat clarifies any misunderstandings and adds any big ideas that classmates don’t mention.

During literature focus units, students take turns role-playing characters and being interviewed. Students representing different characters can also come together for a conversation—a group hot seat activity. For example, during a literature focus unit on The View From Saturday (Kongisburg, 1998), the story of a championship sixth-grade Academic Bowl team that’s told from the perspectives of the team members, students representing Noah, Nadia, Ethan, Julian, and their teacher, Mrs. Olinski, take turns sitting on the hot seat, or they come together to talk about the story. Similarily, when students are participating in literature circles, they can take turns role-playing characters from the story they’re reading, or each student in the group can assume the persona of a different character at the same time for a group hot seat activity.