Strategies for Classrooms-Role Playing

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Props/Prep: Yes
Time: 20-30 min
Audience: Any (team)
Physical: Yes, role play

The first step in this lecture variation is to give a mini-lecture to establish the context and setting for the role playing. Then divide the class into a number of small groups of varying sizes (if you have a large class, you may have to assign duplicate roles). Each group is assigned a clearly defined role and given a specific, concrete task – usually to propose a position and course of action. To bring closure to the topic, a debriefing exercise is necessary to help identify what students learned and make the transition to the next topic.

Role Playing can also be used as a team teaching practice. Each professor takes on a role and demonstrates the characteristics or actions. This should always be followed by a large group discussion and debrief session that draws out the key learning.

Time requirements: 20-30 minutes

Materials needed: Get scenarios and characters for role-plays from news stories, history books, generic business situations, or by writing them yourself from scratch.

Special features: Role-plays can be used to allow students to experiment with different styles of interaction, practice new communication techniques or explore complex issues. They are generally used in classes dealing with social issues (social sciences, management sciences, etc.) or communication strategies (interviewing techniques, conflict management, etc.). If possible, participate in a role-play yourself before trying one in class. Essentially, a role-play is a form of interactive case study where the experience of participating in the role-play is the basis for further discussion.


  • Explain why you are using a role-play to cover course material.
  • Describe the background context or setting to the role-play.
  • Give roles to “players”: hand them a card with a brief description of the character they’re playing, their point of view, characteristics, etc.
  • For groups with more students than possible roles, you can either assign “observer” tasks to non-players (e.g., taking notes on a particular player), or assign identical roles to subgroups of students (e.g., one student can play a city council member, and a sub-group of four or five students can play a homeowners’ coalition).
  • Ask for volunteers for certain roles or observers: you may use this as one way to allot bonus points to students.
  • Allow a few minutes for students to prepare for their roles.
  • After 10-15 minutes, end the role-play.

Function in the class: Debrief and discuss the role-play. Use players’ perceptions and observers’ notes to lead into discussion of course material. Pay special attention to conflicts, ambiguities, etc.

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