Role-playing Method in Education and the Technique of Role-playing Method in the Classroom

In a role-playing situation, students may pretend to be decision-makers who must make a decision about a policy, resource allocation, or some other outcome; or to be a salesperson at a bookshop who sells books, etc.

In education, the method of role-playing allows students to immediately apply what they have learned in a specific lesson in a classroom. This method is a great way to keep students interested and give them the chance to interact with one another while working to finish the task that has been assigned to them in their particular role. Cooperative groups can complete this work, or students can act out their roles throughout the entire class period. As they attempt to respond to the material from the perspective of their character, students become more involved. The role-playing method and the technique of role-playing in classroom teaching is discussed here.

Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.
Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.

What is role-playing?

Role-playing means pretending to be someone else or to be in a particular situation. Role-playing is pretending to be someone else or pretending to be in a specific situation that you are not actually in at the time. According to The Britannica Dictionary, “Role-playing is an activity in which people do and say things while pretending to be someone else or while pretending to be in a particular situation.”

According to Collins Dictionary, “Role-play is the act of imitating the character and behavior of someone who is different from yourself, for example as a training exercise.”

The role-playing method in teaching-learning in education

In education, role-playing is a teaching-learning method in the classroom that allows students to apply content immediately by putting them in some roles. In a role-playing situation, students may pretend to be decision-makers who must make a decision about a policy, resource allocation, or some other outcome; or to be a salesperson at a bookshop who sells books, etc.

According to Chesler and Fox (1966), “Role playing is a method of instruction that meets these needs; individuals take on the roles of other people and act out the others’ feelings, thoughts, and behavior.”

Acting out specific behaviors of individuals who can distinguish between their respective roles within a community or organization is known as role-playing. Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and view situations from various angles.

Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.
Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles. |Image: Global Indian International School

The technique of role-playing method in the classroom

In a booklet by Chesler and Fox, the technique of role-playing method is divided into three stages; and each of the three steps has its own steps. The three parts of the role-playing are—

  1. Preparation and Instruction

  2. Dramatic action and Discussion

  3. Evaluation

Preparation and Instruction

The first stage of role-playing in the classroom is, “Preparation and Instruction’. The following specific steps occur in this first stage:

  1. Selecting the role-playing problem

  2. Warm-up

  3. Explaining the general situation

  4. Explaining participant roles

  5. Explaining audience roles

Selecting the Role-Playing Problem

Teachers’ first decision involves the selection of the issue or problem to be dealt with in class. The teachers must consider their own teaching goals and the needs and limitations of their students. An important obligation of the teachers in selecting situations is to ensure the personal security and privacy of each individual involved, especially when reenacting real-life problems. The focus should be on issues of a general nature involving role behavior, not on individual and personal failings or deficiencies. In general, the teacher strives to confront the group with a balance of relevant issues, selecting neither meaningless topics nor situations that are too threatening. The problem situations selected for role-playing may vary considerably in their appropriateness according to the developmental stages and cultural backgrounds of the students.

Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.
Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.

Warm-up

This second step is ‘warm-up’ which is particularly important in classrooms where role playing is being tried for the first time and with younger children. The purpose of a warm-up is to relax all the students and to give them practice and security in public performance and expression. For instance, the teachers might ask the students to smile, chew, or laugh. They might start with a game of charades, which gives both actor and audience practice in communicative skills. In warm up the class, the teacher should begin simply and may gradually proceed to those exercises requiring greater physical activity or imagination.

Explaining the general situation

Once the problem has been selected and the students are sufficiently relaxed and quiet, the teacher should explain the general problem situation to the entire class. The entire class needs to know the site, general characterizations, and broad courses of action within the problem situation. This explanation enables all students-actors, observers, and bystanders to share a common reference and begin from the same understanding of the situation. It also helps involve all the students and lessens problems of wandering attention and boredom. The explanation to the audience can be relatively brief.

Explaining participant roles

The teacher must be careful in selecting students to play specific roles to create realistic situations and players. It may be a good idea to begin casting with socially competent and respected peer leaders, then progress to involving children in greater need of assistance. The teacher gains student acceptance of role-playing in this manner, and both the teacher and the class can experiment with the more skilled students first. The teacher may ask the class to assist in the selection of participants, just as they did in the identification of the problem.

Explaining audience roles

As the final step in the preparation and instruction stage, the roles of the audience need to be delineated. The essential problem here is to involve the audience in some educationally fruitful and active manner. This can be done in three activities—

  1. by giving members of the audience specific points to look for, 

  2. by suggesting that each of them identify with or try to experience the feelings of one or another of the actors, or

  3. by assigning some other task that makes each of them responsible for observing some aspect of the action and reporting on it during the subsequent discussion of the drama.

The students who are not acting out dramatic roles can in some cases observe the general interaction of actors, or they can be charged to watch for specific things.

Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.
Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.

Dramatic action and discussion

The second stage of the role-playing method is “dramatic action and discussion”. Before beginning the playing roles, the actors may find it helpful to briefly rehearse. Rehearsals should not duplicate the role-play scene but each actor may pretend to be his character at a different point in time or space. The dramatic action and discussion stage has three steps—

  1. The role-playing

  2. Discussion

  3. Reenactment

The role-playing

The main step in the role-playing method is role-playing. Although the students should be well prepared to play their roles after the teacher and students worked together to complete the previous tasks properly, sometimes no amount of briefing or rehearsal allows actors to “carry off” the drama. Although it is expected that the action will begin quickly, it cannot be denied that the action may progress slowly in some cases. The teacher may even need to step in at the beginning to get the play started.

Once the action has begun, students should be given sufficient time to become thoroughly immersed in the problem situation and to fully capitalize on the situation’s promise of creating and learning alternative ways of behaving. The teacher’s role at this stage is difficult to define. He must carefully manage time so that the drama does not drag on too long, but it must last long enough to effectively present the problem. As the episode’s main action unfolds, the teacher must keep an eye out for members who fall out of character and assist them in regaining it.

Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.
Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles. | Image: Arun Nursery School, India

Discussion

Following the conclusion of the dramatic action, the teacher must lead a class discussion to review the action, collect and organize the data gathered by the observers, analyze cause-and-effect relationships, and speculate on alternative behavioral patterns. New behaviors can be discussed in this section, with full consideration given to their benefits and drawbacks. In the classroom, creative insights and systematic observations can be brought together and shared.

The post-role-playing discussion can take many different forms and involve a variety of students or groups of students. A critical analysis of the dramatic session can be contributed by the actors, the audience, or both.

If the students in the audience were divided into groups as observers or identifiers for the drama, they could write reports about the drama and lessons.

Discussion procedures should always include audience participation. The audience may contribute insightful and analytical comments about either the actors’ work or the content of the problem itself.

Another critical aspect of the discussion process is the need to minimize negative judgment because students are more likely to share their genuine feelings and ideas when they know their responses will be accepted without destructive criticism. In this supportive environment, the most effective work on interpersonal relationships and learning can be accomplished. In some cases, it may be preferable to focus on positive suggestions rather than negative criticism.

Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.
Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.

Reenactment

In the role-playing method, reenactment refers to replaying the action in order to fully exploit the situation’s behavioral advantages. Following the discussion, the teacher may decide to use new insights and alternative role behavior suggestions by asking students to replay the problem situation. The teacher could exploit such suggestions by immediately replaying the situation, with the characters attempting to act on these new suggestions. This procedure may include role reversals, in which the protagonists switch roles, allowing one participant to learn about the emotions of the other. Reenactments may also involve the audience and the actor switching roles.

The significance of reenactment is that it provides students with an immediate opportunity to experiment with new and alternative behaviors. Thus, it fully utilizes the processes of role playing and group discussion of interpersonal relationships to promote behavioral change. Reenactment is the final step in this process, but it may also kick off a new round of discussions and evaluations. In some cases, the reenactment and evaluation phases can be reversed, and in others, evaluations can be delayed until the class has completed several reenactments.

Evaluation

The final stage of role-playing, like all other teaching methods, is evaluation. It is really important for the teacher to develop objective measures for assessing the success or failure of the action rather than relying solely on observation and intuition.

Process of evaluation

  • Attention might also be given to how well actors stayed within their roles, how perceptive the observers were in seeing what was happening, how smoothly the action proceeded, and how much the actors felt they better understood another person’s feelings by playing his role.

  • Students can suggest, verbally or in writing, ideas for new or modified role-playing situations and characterizations.

  • The teacher can ask some questions to ascertain the extent to which the objectives of the role-playing session were achieved.

  • Students can be asked to evaluate their experience of role-playing.

  • Behavioral changes can also be evaluated by keeping brief records of significant incidents in the classroom.

Evaluation should aim toward improving the use of the role-playing technique itself. Most importantly, securing evidence of actual behavioral changes in students is an important link in the overall teaching-learning cycle and can provide guidance for future teaching efforts.

Continuing Action

The best actors in role-playing are not always the most socially competent students, and vice versa, but the ability to understand, feel, and play the role of someone else is an indicator of social maturity and skill. This social skill development is an important aspect of role-playing and should be evaluated as well.

Discussion and evaluation of role-playing can result in not only the consolidation of insights and experiences but also the planning of new learnings, whether through role playing or other techniques. The class discussion frequently generates new areas of concern and problems to consider.

Like the original diagnosis, the evaluation can clarify new class needs and suggest new instructional goals. If the original goals of a role-playing series are not met, a different type of situation or use of participants may be more successful. If the original goals have been met, the teacher’s task shifts to identifying new goals and devising strategies to achieve them. Following the establishment of these new directions, the class can be prepared and instructed, and a new teaching-learning cycle can begin.

Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles.
Role-playing activities help students think more critically about difficult and debatable issues and to view situations from various angles. | Image: Mandalay International Kindergarten

Conclusion

In education, role playing is a learning structure that puts students in the roles of some specific human beings of different professions or identities, and students try to portray their assigned roles. This method of teaching is excellent for engaging students and allowing them to interact with their peers while attempting to complete the task assigned to them in their specific role. This work can be done in collaborative groups, and/or students can act out their roles throughout the class period. Students become more involved as they attempt to respond to the material through the eyes of their character.

Bibliography

  1. Chesler, M., & Fox, R. (1966). Role-playing methods in the Classroom. Science Research Associates, Inc.
  2. Collins Dictionary. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/role-play

  3. Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. Washington, DC: The George Washington University.

  4. Carleton College. Role playing. Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience. https://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/interactive/roleplay.html

  5. Northern Illinois University. Role Playing. Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide/role-playing.shtml

  6. Sheffield Hallam University. Role-Play: An Approach To Teaching And Learning. Blog. https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/shutel/2014/07/04/role-play-an-approach-to-teaching-and-learning/

  7. The Britannica Dictionary. https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/role%E2%80%93play

Disclaimer: The technique of role-playing method mentioned in the article can be considered a summarized and modified copy of technique presented by Chesler and Fox in their Role-playing methods in the Classroom (1966) booklet. If you need that booklet you may search it on Google or feel free to ask me to send it to your email address.

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