Today, we look at Role Play as part of the Teachers’ Toolkit for Engagement.

By now, you should have a number of tools within your toolkit. To encourage active learning, why not try a few of the following suggestions from previous blog posts?

For now, let’s have a look at role play.

What is Role Play?

Role plays are structured activities. Learners undertake different roles within the simulated activity. The activity allows learners to interact with other learners in a realistic setting. This is under controlled conditions. It’s a safe learning environment. It’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them.

Why role play?

Many organisations use role play activities offering real-life practice of techniques for their job roles. This looks at a number of scenarios that can occur. Employees gain experience from role plays. This would include routine and possible scenarios. Role plays test learners knowledge and understanding.

Role plays allows employees or learners to obtain experience and test different approaches in a supportive and safe environment. For example, this might involve customer service processes, decision making or allocation of resources.

Frequent us of role play builds up learner experience of different situations. These can later reflected upon, adapted and used in future real-life scenarios.

Credit: Perry Grone
Credit: Perry Grone Hands in Team

In academia, learners engaging in role play gain experience and understanding of different situations, for example, social issues, human rights and legal issues. Role play can be a simulation where learners undertake roles to fight for or against a controversial matter, i.e., homelessness, climate change, etc.

Role plays can be long or short in duration. Some role plays can last weeks. Learners continue acting out their roles during that time period. This allows learners to consider the scenario, make decisions and view results from previously made decisions.

When should role play be used?

Sometimes students disengage with content. They may fail to see the relevance and how learning could be used. It’s all fair and well telling business study students the aim of business is to increase profit. But, how do you make better business decisions to increase profits? Role play can help.

As an example, several students might be involved in a ‘Business Game’ and create a fictitious company. This role play activity can last several weeks. The set up includes several students working together, undertaking different business roles, i.e., sales, procurement, project management, etc.

Information is viewed and discussed. Decisions are made weekly. This could be cash flow, ordering goods, sale prices, etc. Results of this week’s decisions follow in the next session. The aim of the ‘Business Game’ is to help students gain experience in decision making, forecasting and leadership skills with the goal of increasing business profit.

Assessment might follow role play. Toward the end of the course, this could be a presentation of the Business Game results. This assessment allows for student reflection. What went well and what needed more attention. Role play allows for good and bad decisions to be made. The outcome of those decisions can be reflected upon, leading to new decisions.  It’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them.

Another role play example are interviews. These are quick role play activities which help prepare learners for real-life interviews. This may encourage learners to research companies, ask questions and build confidence.

Learners can employ and perfect the STAR method when being interviewed. This calls for the interviewee to be:

  • Be Specific
  • Recall a Task
  • Describe the Action they used
  • The Result of the action

Practicing the STAR technique through role play prepares learners to become more structured in behavioural-based interviews.

Learners can also benefit from videoing these interview role plays. They can view their body language, mannerisms and facial expression. This provides insight into how other people may perceive them. Learners can improve interview techniques and reduce negative body language, tone and expression.

This can be done by playing the role of a more positive person. Consciously thinking about mannerisms and reducing negative aspects. Play the role until it’s second nature.

Credit: CoWomen
Credit: CoWomen
Pros and cons of role play

Role play activities provide valuable skills. Many learners can participate. They are great for higher order learning, i.e., analyzing data, appraising, problem-solving, etc.

Advantages include:

  • Students can reflect upon their current subject knowledge.
  • Role plays are low cost.
  • Learner-centred.
  • Active and engaging learning.
  • Role plays can present complex and controversial issues in a controlled space.
  • They boost students’ confidence levels whilst gaining experience.

Disadvantages include:

  • Role plays can be time consuming to create and act out.
  • Some students may be too shy to benefit.
  • Role plays require expert guidance.
Engage students more!

Why not challenge students to write up and act out their own role plays?

In medicine, this might be diagnosing and/or managing different patient conditions. It could be simulated OSCE stations. Or perhaps, the role play could be the first time you, as a junior doctor, meet a profoundly deaf person without a translator, what do you do?

In business, it might be making greener decisions to combat climate and environmental change. It could be looking at and testing business processes for smarter working.

Getting students to think about the future roles they are undertaking is the aim here.

Credit: Antenna Cw
Credit: Antenna Cw
To conclude

Role play, as an active learning activity, is versatile. They can be low cost or no cost. However, actors can be used to bring an air or authenticity to the role play and to encourage learners to engage more.

Role play is about delving into real-world scenarios and unpicking them. Understanding peripheral issues. Making tough decisions, reiterating them and reflecting from decisions made.

Next time

On Monday, we look at Student Presentations as another tool for the Teachers Toolkit of Engagement. Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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