Role Play

Tired of just standing up there and talking until your throat hurts? Want to have more fun in your class? How about trying role playing!

Role playing can be a great way to get your students involved in the subject matter. You can have them play all the characters involved in a course related issue (past or present) or you can have them be processes, such as molecules in your body enacting biological functions. Role playing isn’t limited to playing people.

There are a number of positive impacts that role-playing can have on your students and your class.

  • Role playing forces students to become actively involved in the issues brought up in the class.i
  • It fosters empathy and a greater understanding of the people surrounding the role-play. Students can gain a number of new perspectives on a topic.ii It helps students to understand the material better. It takes abstract ideas and concepts and links them to real world people or processes.iii
  • It increases student awareness of the multifacetedness of issues.iv
  • It makes a strong impression on students, which helps them to retain material better.v
  • It improves students’ public speaking abilities.vi
  • It provides a safe place for students to present contrary or unpopular opinions.vii

As with all instructional techniques, role-playing requires planning. But as long as you remember a few little things, you can enhance your classroom experience a great deal.

  • It is important to allow students enough time to prepare for their roles. For large or complicated role-playing situations, students should be researching their roles well in advance.viii
  • Many instructors choose to give the role weeks in advance and have the students prepare a well-researched report on their character, or on the issue that their character is representing.ix
  • Make sure you leave enough time in class to let the role-play run its course effectively. The length each role-play takes will depend on the complexity of the issues and the size of the cast involved.x
  • You should try and involve all of the students in the role-play. Even if they aren’t all characters, as observers they should be able to ask questions and spark discussions amongst the role-players.xi
  • After the role play, spend some time discussing the perspectives or problems that have been raised in the role-play. Make sure that the students understand what they were supposed to get out of the experience.xii

If you wish to learn more about how to use role play in your classes, contact the Centre for Teaching and Learning at ctl@ualberta.ca

Sources

  1. Oberle, A. P. (2004). Understanding Public Land Management Through Role Playing. The Journal of Geography, 103 (5), 199-210.
  2. Joyner, B. And Young, L. (2006). Teaching Medical Students Using Role Plays: Twelve Tips for Successful Role Plays. Medical Teacher, 28(3), 225-229.
  3. Poorman, P.B. (2002). Biography and Role-Playing: Fostering Empathy in Abnormal Psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 29(1), 32-36.
  4. Ross, P. M., Tronson, D. A., and Ritchie, R. J. (2008) Increasing Conceptual Understanding of Glycolysis and the Kreb’s Cycle Using Role Play. The American Biology Teacher, 70(3), 163-168.
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iOberle, 2004, pg 200.
iiPoorman, 2002, pg 34-35.
iiiRoss, Tronson, & Ritchie, 2008, pg 167.
ivOberle, 2004, pg 205.
v (Ross, Tronson, & Ritchie, 2008, 163)
viOberle, 2004, pg 205.
viiOberle, 2004, pg 200.
viiiJoyner & Young, 2006,pg 227.
ixOberle, 2004, pg 204.
xJoyner & Young, 2006, pg 227.
xiJoyner & Young, 2006, pg 227.
xiiRoss, Tronson, & Ritchie, 2008, pg 165.

Role-Play: Q & A

Role playing can be a great way to get your students involved in the subject matter. You can have them play all the characters involved in a course related issue (past or present) or you can have them be processes, such as molecules in your body enacting biological functions. Role playing isn’t limited to playing people.

Here are a few of the more common questions regarding role-play.

Q: Isn’t Role-play just for kids?

A: No. It can be for students of any age. Role Play forces students to become actively involved in the issues brought up in the class, forces them to consider new perspectives, links knowledge to real-world people and situations, and provides a safe environment for students to present unpopular or controversial opinions.

Q: How long should a role-play be?

A: That depends on the size and complexity of the role-play. Often times role-play will require two 50 minute classes for the activity and then a follow-up class where students discuss what they learned from the experience.

Q: How far in advance should I assign students roles?

A: Students should be given their roles several weeks in advance so that they have time to adequately prepare for the role-play.

Q: What if I have too big of a class for everyone to be a character in the role-play?

A: You should try and involve everyone, even if they are not characters. Have the observing students ask questions, or interview role-players. Even if they aren’t characters in a role-play, they should still be interacting in the discussion.

Q: How do I make sure that the students understand what I wanted them to get out of the role play?

A:  Outline your goals for the role-play before the class, and then go over it once the role play is complete. Spend time discussing the issues and perspectives that you wanted the students to consider, and at the end, ask them if they understand what you wanted them to get out of this.

Q: How do I grade a role play?

A: There are a number of ways that you can mark a role play. The easiest way is to mark participation in the role play. However, sometimes you may want to have a more detailed marking scheme if you want to assign a significant percentage of their grade to the role play. In these cases, creating a rubric is the best option. The rubric should include such things as participation, depth of knowledge, accuracy, etc.  
Many people choose to not mark the role play itself, but have the students write a paper on the issue being discussed. Yet others consider it best to take in the students’ preparation sheets where they organized their research knowledge for the role play and mark that.

~ La Trobe University's video on "Interactive Learning through Role Play"

Sources

  1. Kennedy, R. (2007). In Class Debates: Fertile Ground for Active Learning and the Cultivation of Critical Thinking and Oral Communication Skills. International Journal of Teaching and Learning, 19(2), 183-190
  2. Oberle, A. P. (2004). Understanding Public Land Management Through Role Playing. The Journal of Geography, 103 (5), 199-210.
  3. Joyner, B. And Young, L. (2006). Teaching Medical Students Using Role Plays: Twelve Tips for Successful Role Plays. Medical Teacher, 28(3), 225-229.
  4. Poorman, P.B. (2002). Biography and Role-Playing: Fostering Empathy in Abnormal Psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 29(1), 32-36.
  5. Ross, P. M., Tronson, D. A., and Ritchie, R. J. (2008) Increasing Conceptual Understanding of Glycolysis and the Kreb’s Cycle Using Role Play. The American Biology Teacher, 70(3), 163-168.
______________________________________
iOberle, 2004, pg 200.
iiJoyner & Young, 2006,pg  227.
iiiOberle, 2004, pg 204.
ivJoyner & Young, 2006, pg 227.
vRoss, Tronson, & Ritchie, 2008, pg 165.
viKennedy, 2007, 188.
viiKennedy, 2007, pg 186.
 
-Rebecca Schaeffer, June 2011