Individual Role-Playing Exercises

Students can write a paper or give a presentation from the perspective of another person or even from an object within the process being studied. This exercise can be a simple brainstorming exercise or a full-blown research project. The process is similar to those of other research projects, but the writer needs to know not only about the subject, but also the character from whose perspective the project is being done and the audience for whom it is theoretically being done. This could be a stand-alone project or it could be part of the preparation for an interactive exercise.

Typical Individual Role-Playing Exercises

  • Stories: much more fun than a typical research paper, especially when they deal with such topics as the Calvin cycle.
    In an introductory environmental studies class, Rosemary Tong (now at UNCC) taught the water cycle by having the students write a brief paper about a water molecule and its voyage from the ocean, to land, and back to the ocean again. It was less dull than memorizing the diagram! There are many possible variants to this project: in a biology class, ask the students to tell the story of the water molecule and one of its hydrogen components as it goes through a chloroplast and a mitochondrion. Alternatively, require it to make part of its return trip to the ocean as groundwater or through transpiration.
  • Letters: simply learning the format is a valuable experience.
    Is it time for another manned expedition to the moon? Have the students write letters to their representatives in Congress (or the appropriate national legislature) about funding another expedition to the moon. What data do we want and how should we go about getting it? Could an unmanned expedition do the same job?
  • Problem statement: includes a summary of the problem, and a plan of action for dealing with it. These are often appropriate substitutes for term papers, especially in environmental science class.
    NASA's ESSEA Online Courses: 9-12 Earth System Science Course for high-school teachers is written around a series of team problem statement assignments. For each problem: on coral bleaching, tropical deforestation, ozone depletion, and global change, the students, acting as a team of scientific experts employed by an affected community, determine:
    • What is known about the problem?
    • What is the evidence?
    • What is the argument that interprets the evidence?
    • Are there alternative explanations or better ways of explaining the situation or solving the problem?
  • Political position papers: should combine social, economic, and scientific research.
    Have the students read about restrictions on mining on public lands in the U.S., particularly about the disposal of tailings. Have some write papers in favor of lighter restrictions and some in favor of stricter ones, then have each student turn their paper over to an opponent to read and critique before turning them in to be graded. There should be a final paragraph about what the student (out-of-character) thinks about the issue.
  • Speeches: can later be followed with a debate.
    Have each student take the role of an interested party and speak for 5 minutes about whether they support or oppose exploratory oil drilling in Alaska. Roles could include: an Alaskan university student who survives on his annual check (state residents get a small percentage of oil revenues), an environmentalist concerned about preserving the tundra, a pacifist concerned about U.S. involvement in the Middle East, an Alaskan salmon fisherman, an oil-company geologist, a representative from the Saudi Arabian government, etc.
  • Report on findings: usually scientific, but often focused on a political or economic objective.
    Pack your students off to Pangaea! Well, give them some time to get ready first. Explain that they are preparing for a time-traveling expedition to the Late Permian. Before they go, they'll need a map, so give them some markers and send them to the library and the computer room and have them bring back a colored map of Pangaea, including locations of mountains, deserts, ice sheets, known plant and animal distributions (especially of dangerous animals), the contemporary positions of modern continents, and other features of interest, with sources noted. Once your students find out about the end-Permian mass extinction, they may not be willing to actually make the trip...
Many more scenarios (most more detailed than the above) are available in: