Using Role Playing Effectively in Your Classroom

As a learning methodology, role-playing attempts to help students discover personal meanings within their social worlds and to resolve personal dilemmas with the aid of their social group. Through the risk-taking inherent in improvisation, students typically validate the educational payoff of the activity. In a more intensive and personal way than other teaching-learning methodologies, role playing:

  • allows students to develop an understanding of others' perspectives;
  • encourages students to work with others in analyzing situations and developing workable solutions;
  • provides students an opportunity to apply concepts they have learned in a rich, realistic environment;
  • gives students the chance to gain insights into interpersonal challenges they are likely to face in their careers and private lives;
  • enables students to effectively contrast problem-solving methods by role playing a situation several times from diverse perspectives;
  • offers a constructive channel through which feelings can be expressed and feedback processed;
  • presents students with a forum for building self-esteem and confidence;
  • helps students realize that college courses can be fun.

Whether the scenarios selected are deadly serious or light-hearted, focused on the affective, psychomotor or cognitive learning domains or a combination, role-playing can have a dramatic impact on the traditional approach of an instructor by requiring:

  • the identification and introduction to the class of a sufficiently explicit problem and the exploration of issues which affect it;
  • an effective and thorough explanation of the rules mirroring a social system which will guide the role playing exercise;
  • an appropriate matching and orientation of students to the roles within the activity;
  • appropriate methods of involving especially shy students, perhaps as chief observers/ evaluators;
  • setting the stage for students, including establishment of observation tasks;
  • monitoring of activity to ensure it pursues an appropriate direction;
  • debriefing of activity to ensure accomplishment of desired learning outcomes.

Role-playing is an especially effective teaching-learning tool within the social sciences and occupationally oriented disciplines, contributing to long-term retention of fundamental concepts. What more effective way of promoting an understanding of the judicial system could be found than by having students with assigned roles conduct a mock trial? Or what more valid means of mastering an understanding of the role of entrepreneurship could be utilized than by having students develop a business plan, which is then presented to a group of potential financial backers? How better might one develop conversational foreign language skills than to role-play an everyday situation staged in an appropriate location? Give it a try!

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