Manual for Conducting Role Play

The MLI utilises a linking and learning approach to facilitate reflection, sharing and new activities in support of a Mekong ‘body of knowledge and practice’ on the social science of natural resource management. The project includes partners from eight universities within the Greater Mekong Subregion, including the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University. Introduction: Why role play? Learning to participate is an important skill for humanities and social sciences students to learn in today’s multi-stakeholder world.

The role play method develops a greater understanding of the complexity of professional practice and enables students to develop skills to engage in multi-stakeholder negotiations within the controlled environment of the classroom. Role play in the classroom can be implemented in a number of ways. It can involve online elements as well as face-toface interactions. The length of the process can also vary according to the aims of the activity. This guide will outline role play techniques found to be most useful for the social science classroom at a tertiary level.

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Role play in the classroom involves students actively in the learning process by enabling them to act as stakeholders in an imagined or real scenario. It is a technique that complements the traditional lecture and assignment format of tertiary level social science learning. In a role play, the teacher selects a particular event or situation that illuminates key theories or may be of importance to the topic of study. Students are given detailed background readings and assigned stakeholder roles as preparation.

The format of interaction between stakeholders can be varied and may depend on time or resources available. The role play is concluded with a debriefing or reflection stage which reinforces the concepts introduced by the role play. According to Brierley, Devonshire and Hillman, the role play technique develops functioning knowledge: “a combination of propositional knowledge (knowing aboutthe academic knowledge base), procedural knowledge (knowing how – having the skills) and conditional knowledge (knowing the circumstances in which to use the skills).

The role play creates a stimulating environment that simulates reality enabling students to intensify their understanding of the situation or event being reenacted. Students gain a deeper insight into key concepts by enacting issues discussed in the classroom. They also develop practical skills for professional practice. Hirsch argues that role play consists of the key elements of experiential learning. David Kolb defined learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.

The role play technique allows students to apply concepts and problems that have been introduced through lectures and readings to a situation that reflects reality. As students are directly active during the role play it is more effective in “embedding concepts” into their long term memory.

Role play is a hands-on approach to learning as opposed to more abstract forms of learning such as lectures or essay writing. In role-play students learn through active involvement and therefore personal experience. They also have the opportunity to reflect on this experience. Role play also introduces concepts that are important in professional practice such as understanding how knowledge is developed and produced, in particular the use of 1 Brierley.

Students learn to communicate knowledge in a meaningful and persuasive manner. Moreover, role play illuminates the divisions and differences between and within groups. Role play in the classroom demonstrates effectively that different stakeholders use different information sources and often hold distinct, if not conflicting views, but that resolutions can be reached. Students learn to work with differing personalities, beliefs, value systems, abilities and background experiences. They develop a greater appreciation of the range of perspectives held on a particular issue and come to recognise the complexity of negotiation and their own role. They realise that they may not have all the answers (and that there may be no easy answer) but see the “critical issues for their professional practice. ”

Overall, role-play is a beneficial teaching tool as it develops practical professional skills as well as academic knowledge. Students generally enjoy this hands-on approach to learning and broaden their understanding of multi-stakeholder negotiations through a process of simulated experience.  Role play how to: A step-by-step guide Role plays can take on many forms. They can involve online elements or be conducted face-to-face. Before designing your role play consider the resources available to you and your students and decide on the amount of time you wish to dedicate to the exercise.

The following section will present the steps for designing and implementing a role play. Determine the learning objectives of the role play. The learning objectives can be theoretical as well as practical:

  • What are the key concepts that are taught in the course?
  • Is there a key event or situation that is the focus of the course?
  • What skills should students develop through the activity?
  • Is it aimed at broadening expertise or developing new skills?
  • Do you want the students to experience a different perspective?
  • How does the role play fit into the rest of your course?
  • Is it being used to reinforce ideas already introduced through lectures or are you utilizing the role-play to present new theories?

Choose a scenario or situation from reality that highlights the key concepts of the course. By re-enacting events from reality students are able to deepen their understanding of real life situations. Additionally readings and context can be provided from newspaper reports, academic articles and documents relating to the event. When selecting your scenario consider what resources may already be available and if students may have some pre-existing knowledge.

This will depend on the scenario you are enacting. It may be pertinent to the learning process to exclude some groups in order to reflect reality. Consider the relationship between roles. Which roles can interact with one another? Which roles are allied? Are their alliances public or private? Do some roles act as representatives for others?

Plan the structure of your role play. The structure of your role play will depend largely on how much time you wish to allocate to the exercise. It may include online elements as well as face to face interactions. The structure outlined below is an example of how a role play could be structured. The four stages: briefing, interaction, forum and debriefing, involve important elements that enable the students to familiarize themselves with the exercise, engage and reflect.

Holding a briefing stage provides an opportunity for students to familiarise themselves with the role play, select or be assigned roles and prepare for their role by conducting research and reading about the situation and the stakeholder they will be representing.  During the interaction stage students are able to act in their roles, networking, and lobbying with other stakeholders to achieve their agendas.

The forum stage is an opportunity for all players to negotiate and try to resolve the issue at hand. It could be a face-to-face conference or public forum. Decide the format of the forum stage. How will the players communicate? Are there any stakeholders that will not participate directly? If so how will you ensure those students participate?

The final stage is a debriefing. Plenty of time should be allocated to this as it is the most important element of the role play. Reconsider the learning objectives and what questions you want students to answer in this session.  Consider how you will assess your students. Students could be asked to submit a written copy of their private and public position. They could be marked on their participation and ability to express themselves in the role play situation. A written paper reflecting on the exercise could be submitted at the end. Set deadlines according to your timetable.

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Manual for Conducting Role Play. (2018, Apr 26). Retrieved from