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How to Teach Using Role-Playing

Role-playing exercises can be hard work for the instructor, both in preparation and in execution, but the work tends to pay off in terms of student motivation and accomplishment. As with any big project, it's best to take it one step at a time:

  1. Define Objectives
  2. Choose Context & Roles
  3. Introducing the Exercise
  4. Student Preparation/Research
  5. The Role-Play
  6. Concluding Discussion
  7. Assessment
Fortunately, much of the work of preparation, once done, can be distributed to other educators. Many well-developed role-playing exercises are available on the scenario pages, organized by topic or by type.

Define Objectives

The details of what you need to do depend entirely on why you want to include role-playing exercises in your course.

Choose Context & Roles

In order to prepare for the exercise:

Introducing the Exercise

Engage the students in the scenario by describing the setting and the problem.

Student Preparation/Research

Even if there is no advance research assigned, students will need a few moments to look over their characters and get into their roles for the exercise. There may also be additional questions:

The Role-Play

Depending on the assignment, students could be writing papers or participating in a Model-UN-style summit. For a presentation or interaction, props can liven up the event, but are not worth a lot of effort as they are usually not important to the educational goals of the project.

Concluding Discussion

Like any inquiry-based exercise, role-playing needs to be followed by a debriefing for the students to define what they have learned and to reinforce it. This can be handled in reflective essays, or a concluding paragraph at the end of an individual written assignment, or in a class discussion. The instructor can take this opportunity to ask the students if they learned the lessons defined before the role-play began.


Generally, grades are given for written projects associated with the role-play, but presentations and even involvement in interactive exercises can be graded. Special considerations for grading in role-playing exercises include:

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