Explore Teaching Examples | Provide Feedback

Role-Playing Scenarios by Type

Initial Publication Date: December 21, 2006

Only a few of the following examples are actually ready-to-run in an undergraduate classroom, but they will provide inspiration and materials for your own role-playing exercises. Many of the scenarios, characters, and assignments need a few added details, which will enable you to tailor them to your course.

Introductory Exercises

These activities involve little preparation on the part of students and can be highly scripted. Often, they involve getting the students out of their seats and simulating their characters through movement (active learning). They are often a great way to introduce a difficult concept.

  • An Activity to Introduce the Geoscience Perspective: This role-playing exercise introduces students to geology by having them examine rocks from the perspective of a child, a sculptor, a geologist or someone from another walk of life.
  • Changing With the Tide: This lesson plan is written around a brief role-play in which students learn about and act out plants and animals in a salt marsh habitat as the tides change.
  • The Forecast Factory: This is a highly scripted role-playing exercise in which students act out the elements of the weather-forecasting process, from TV announcers to the continuity equation.
  • Being P-Waves and S-Waves: Teach students about P-waves and S-waves by having them model them with their own bodies.

Individual Exercises

These projects can be done by individual students working apart and often conclude in a paper or a presentation done from a character's perspective

  • The Living Edens: Virtual Yellowstone Tour: Students take the role of park rangers during this lesson and make use of a virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, particularly its spectacular geologic features.
  • Distribution of Active Volcanoes Exercise: In this series of inquiry-based exercises about volcanoes and plate tectonics, students will collect, plot, and interpret data and finish with a role-playing activity and a virtual field trip.

Interactive: Collaborative Problem-Solving

Students assemble in teams to work on a task set by the professor. Often, these tasks are open-ended: i.e. determine whether we should open the Glen Canyon dam and periodically flood the Grand Canyon. Debates (especially over strategy and "correct" answers) can occur spontaneously within a group.

  • Ideas for Resources: Geology Lab Manual: This site offers an overview of role-playing activities and contains a partially-fleshed-out list of questions and situations dealing with water, minerals, and public policy.
  • Yellowstone Fires: This module enables students to take a problem-based learning approach to wildfires, in particular whether a "let-it-burn" policy makes sense in Yellowstone National Park.
  • Eruption! is a volcanic crisis simulation model in which students role-play villagers, the governor, volcanologists, and the press, working to preserve their lives and homes from an active volcano.
  • Collaborative Decision Making: NASA's Deep Impact Mission: This is collaborative problem solving using data in which students role-play NASA and other personnel determining a good strategy for launching a probe to study a comet.
  • Role-Playing and Problem-Based Exercises for Teaching Undergraduate Astronomy: This site has a collection of role-playing exercises that provide the students with equations and data to use in collaborative problem solving.

Interactive: Debate

Perhaps the most popular among students and faculty, these exercises involve the students taking roles of people whose interests in some scientific issue conflict. The pursuit of a compromise often gives these exercises collaborative problem-solving elements.

  • A Golden Opportunity for Science: This site is a collection of resources used to teach about gold through history, folklore and geology. It also includes classroom activities, including a debate on modern gold mining.
  • The High Plains: Land of Extremes: This lesson plan includes a debate about whether the black-footed ferret should be reintroduced onto public lands and a study of the High Plains habitat.
  • Coral Bleaching: Making Our Oceans Whiter: This lesson plan deals with coral reefs and the recent crisis of coral bleaching. It suggests that students engage in a role-playing debate about modifying human activity to protect reefs.
  • The Great Energy Debate: This lesson plan explores energy issues in the U.S. Students will hold a mock congressional committee meeting and make decisions about public lands and energy resources.
  • The Use of a Piece of Land: In this role-playing exercise, students represent groups interested in buying the same piece of land and will need to consult land-use laws.
  • The Global Warming Project: In this exercise, students role-play advisors to various heads of state on the subject of global warming. The web site also has free modeling and GIS software and lesson and lab plans.
  • What Should We Do About Global Warming?: This module contains an 8-lesson curriculum to study greenhouse gases and global warming using data and visualizations. The students will summarize the issue in a mock debate or a presentation.
  • The Sleeping Mountain: In this role-playing scenario, students represent townspeople whose lives and livelihoods are endangered by an active volcano that may or may not erupt in the near future.
  • Science in the Courtroom: The Woburn Toxic Trial: In this exercise, hydrology students role-play expert witnesses in a mock trial dealing with contamination of groundwater.
  • Mock Environmental Summit: At the end of a six-week class or unit on global warming, students role-play representatives from various countries and organizations at an international summit on global warming.