A Role-Play Activity

Created by Jen Millner, Geoscience Education Web Development Team, Montana State University

Role-playing is simultaneously interesting and useful to students because it emphasizes the "real-world" side of science. It challenges them to deal with complex problems with no single "right" answer and to use a variety of skills beyond those employed in a typical research project. For further information about teaching with the Role Playing Technique, see the Starting Point collection.


The current Winter Use Plan remains in effect through the 2006-2007 season. As the end of this interim period draws near, the controversy between environmentalists and snowmobilers heats up once again with both sides lobbying for their cause. A summit is called to attempt to find an agreeable solution for all interested parties.


Use a role-playing approach to explore the different sides to this complex story. Depending on the amount of students, divide up to six groups representing

  1. consulting scientists (geologists, biologists, chemists, atmospheric scientists)
  2. members of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association
  3. local business owners from border communities such as West Yellowstone, Montana, and Cody, Wyoming
  4. a regional environmental organization
  5. Yellowstone National Park Rangers
  6. an out-of-state family taking a winter vacation

After students have been assigned to groups, they will spend 1-2 days (class time or homework) investigating their position and citing references to what they've found. They will find information using the resources provided above, as well as the internet at large or any other credible sources. They should do research both independently and with their group, if possible.

Once students have compiled evidence, groups will spend 30 minutes in class developing their position. Each group will decide on the essential evidence that supports their point of view, making sure to address the questions posed in the above tutorial. Groups should also work to develop potential solutions that address the issues they feel are most important. Furthermore, each group should comment on how their position complies with the legal mandates of the National Park Service and Yellowstone National Park by answering the following question:

  • The EPA has cited Executive Order 11644, which allows off-road vehicles (including snowmobiles) in national parks only if "that off-road vehicle use will not adversely affect natural, aesthetic or scenic values." After reviewing the facts, figures and opinions, do you think that allowing snowmobiles in Yellowstone violates this order?

For the next 30 minutes groups will engage in an active debate, defending their positions based solely on the supporting evidence. Time permitting, the activity will end with a round table discussion about the overall issue and what might be the best solution to finally resolve the controversy over snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park.


There is no right or wrong answer to this complicated, controversial question. Students should be assessed on their ability to discover relevant facts and evidence, mastery of facts, ability to use facts to further their argument, citation of credible sources, and evidence of making logical arguments. Each person should hand in an outline showing the key points of their group's position and the evidence used to support it. Using the evidence they have found, students should also identify and contest the major points made by the other groups.