Beau Golwitzer

Faculty, General Education

Our Stance

Role-play is an active learning strategy in which students either put themselves in other people's shoes or play themselves in imaginary scenarios. Role-play activities can be a very effective teaching tool, as they provide variety, a change of pace and often can be very fun. At Kendall, role-plays provide another very direct way of engaging students.  

Incorporating Role-play

There is a power in having to put oneself in another person's shoes. We often ask our students to consider what people different from them think in order to make their own thinking more nuanced. Role-plays are a great (and fun) way to do this. Role-plays have the advantage of potentially appealing to students both affectively and intellectually. Having to consider situations from another person's point of view encourages a student to consider emotions and values in a way he or she might not normally and also encourages them to analyze a situation for potential advantages and disadvantages.  In most role-plays, due to the limited number of roles, some students will participate, while others observe. However, the role-play can be done more than once in order to give all students a chance to participate.      

Preparation

Role plays often entail students solving some kind of imaginary problem, either as themselves or as characters. So, the teacher will need to develop whatever problem it is she wishes for the students to solve. The teacher doesn't always have to develop this problem all on her own, however, as many such scenarios exist on the web and some of them can be found in the resources below. In developing the scenario, it will be important that the teacher determine not only the problem to be solved, but what happens if the problem is solved and what happens if the problem is not solved. If the students are to play fictional characters, the teacher will also want to spend some time thinking about who these characters are and perhaps even prepare written biographies for the characters.   

Relevancy

The teacher putting together a role-play will want the roles students will play to be relevant to their lives. This is not to say that students cannot be pushed to take on personas from different time periods, for instance, only that the teacher might need to provide more direction in this case. In other words, relevancy is more a matter establishing connections between the students and the personas they will be taking on. 

The Instructor's Role

The teacher will want to be very clear on the purpose of the role-play. Being clear on the purpose will drive what rules need to be set for the role-play and its execution. Secondly, the teacher will want to be encouraging. Many students are afraid to speak in front of each other, much less act in front of each other, so you probably want to avoid referring to the role-play as an opportunity to try out one's acting chops. Probably the best way to approach a role-play is to pitch it to students in the spirit of experimentation, of trying on someone else's ideas, point of view, or opinion. The teacher is also a facilitator during the role-play, making students keep on track. After the role-play has been done once, the teacher might switch the roles so that students who have been observing will have a chance to role-play and vice versa.

Reflection

Reflection might be the most important part of the role-play. During the period of reflection, students are called upon to expand upon their learning. The teacher might think of the period of reflection as lasting some period longer than the original role-play. 

Written Role-plays

Not all role-plays have to be done orally. You might think of having students do a written role-play. For instance, in a literature class, you might have a student take on the persona of one of the characters in a story and write a letter as that persona to another character in the story. This kind of activity can help students study more closely the motivations and actions of a particular character.  As another example, in a culinary class, the teacher might have a student write a journal entry as a famous chef after that famous chef has discovered her signature dish. Really, there is no limit to the number of scenarios you might come up with here. 

Resources

Articles 

This academic article emphasizes role-playing around conflicts to demonstrate strategies for conflict resolution:
Active Learning in the Classroom: The Use of Group Role Plays

This essay relates using role-playing activities in class to the movement for empathetic teaching:
Empathetic Teaching Strategies for the College Classroom

This article provides some ideas for how to set-up specific workplace-related role-plays:
Enhanced Learning Through Role-Playing

Blog Posts

This blog post includes several role-play scenarios: 
Role-Playing Exercises

Videos

This USA Today article includes a short video showing students participating in a history role-play:
Role-Playing History Game Gets Students Jazzed