Explore Teaching Examples | Provide Feedback

How to Teach Using Interactive Role-Playing Exercises

Initial Publication Date: December 21, 2006

In general, you as the instructor will want to follow all of the steps listed in How to Teach Using Role-Playing. The following comments are intended to help specifically with individual role-playing exercises.

More about Context and Roles

Since you've got a whole group, possibly the whole class, working on a problem, challenge them! Real geologic and environmental problems, especially the important and controversial ones are complex, without a single, simple answer. In a problem-solving exercise, you can break a complex problem into parts and give each part to different students. For a debate, choose a problem that students can really disagree on. Harwood et al., 2002 recommend that a debate problem "be one that can be viewed from at least four different perspectives."

More about Introducing the Exercise

If the students are engaging in a debate in which they need to decide not only their own arguments but must anticipate those of the other characters, they will need a fair bit of detail about the scenario, even if they are doing their own research. Take care to balance the roles; you don't want to strand one developer in a room full of environmentalists, nor do you want to send a lone oil company representative into a room full of global warming experts. If you have distributed information among students that they will need for problem solving, consider making sure that at least two students have each piece in case one student does not fully participate.

More about Student Preparation and Research

For a problem-solving scenario, you can have students research different aspects of a problem. Alternatively, assign general responsibilities to a team and have them meet in advance and parcel out specific responsibilities among the membership. For a more political debate, recommend editorial sources appropriate to the characters' perspective and advise them also to read editorials of an opposing viewpoint so they'll be prepared for the other sides' arguments.

From the instructor's perspective, preliminary research may be the most important part of the exercise, with a subsequent debate as a reward for good work. If there is preparation outside of class, it should be assessed or students who did not prepare will be unable to play their characters effectively, letting down those students who did prepare. A short position paper outlining the character's arguments, due the day of the debate, is often helpful for enforcing preparation and, to a degree, participation. It is also easier to grade a position paper than performance in a debate.

More about the Role-Play

The role-play is where the preparation finally pays off from the students' perspective, and the students actually get to make something happen, even if it is only a simulation.

If there is to be interaction among the students in character, you need to take the issue of safety very seriously. Blatner, 2002 compares role-playing exercises to lessons involving power tools; if students aren't careful and the instructor isn't watchful, students can get hurt. Feelings can run high during debates and some people don't always restrict themselves to constructive criticism. The instructor needs to enforce strict rules about tolerance and cooperation during interactive role-playing exercises. You can either print them out and distribute them before the exercise or have the students work out their own set during a class discussion. On a less worrisome level, shy students may need extra encouragement and opportunities to participate. A time limit on speaking and a requirement that each participant must speak a certain number of times may help. If need be, make a minimum participation limit part of requirements for a good grade.

More about the Concluding Discussion

Discussion is a good place to deal with the more subtle lessons of the exercise. For example, if some characters' goals were achieved and some were not, discuss why, especially if it had nothing to do with how well the student playing the "losing" character had prepared or played that character. For brief role-plays, the students might want to try exchanging roles, especially of opposed characters, and try the scenario once again.