Role-Playing Exercises

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Initial Publication Date: December 21, 2006

Created by Rebecca Teed, SERC, Carleton College

"Walk a mile in my shoes" is good advice. Our children will learn to respect others if they are used to imagining themselves in another's place.

- Neil Kurshan (Raising Your Child to Be a Mensch, ch. 4, 1987)

What is Role-Playing?

In most role-playing exercises, each student takes the role of a person affected by an issue and studies the impacts of the issues on human life and/or the effects of human activities on the world around us from the perspective of that person. More rarely, students take on the roles of some phenomena, such as part of an ecosystem, to demonstrate the lesson in an interesting and immediate manner. Types of Educational Role-Playing (summaries and examples)

Why Use Role-Playing?

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. In particular, role-playing presents the student a valuable opportunity to learn not just the course content, but other perspectives on it. Reasons to Use Role-Playing (motivate students, augment traditional curricula, teach real-world skill)

How to Teach Using Role-Playing

The instructor needs to decide the context for the exercise and the role(s) that the students will play. If the students are taking human roles, the context is generally a specific problem such as global warming or dealing with an active volcano. Lessons need to be carefully explained and supervised in order to involve the students and to enable them to learn as much as possible from the experience. However, a well-done scenario never runs the same way twice, teaches people things they might not ordinarily have learned, and tends to be fun for all involved. Detailed Instructions on Designing and Running Role-Playing Exercises (arbitrating debates, alternative perspective)

Resources for Educational Role-Playing

Browse the collection of role-playing scenarios.


View bibliography of essays and articles dealing with the use of role-playing in education.

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