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Role Play/Simulation

Focus on Effectiveness is a website which brings together research and technology concerning effective teaching practices. In addition, to discussing the importance of using simulations in the classroom, the site is an excellent resource for other instructional strategies.

For example key points concerning simulations include:

Larry Sorenson, a classroom teacher says:
Learning Simulations are all around us. The military uses them. Video games are simulations, with one of the most popular ones called by a shortened version of the word "simulation" itself. Teachers at all levels use them. You may remember one or two from your own school days. Why are they so popular (especially with students)? Because they work!

This site has some great ideas for skits you can try in the classroom. In addition, Mr. Sorenson provides some great tips on developing your own skits all from a teacher's point of view:

Some Helpful Hints:

Start with the end in mind.

Have a specific educational objective.

Simulation/Role Play

Instructional Strategies Online defines simulation as a form of "experiential learning."

In addition, they view simulations and role-play as a way to extend student thinking. Often we associate simulations with active learning, but after the fun of playing the game, we forget to use the experience to foster critical and evaluative thinking.

Simulations promote the use of critical and evaluative thinking. The ambiguous or open-ended nature of a simulation encourages students to contemplate the implications of a scenario. The situation feels real and thus leads to more engaging interaction by learners. They are motivating activities enjoyed by students of all ages.

This site also provides the teacher with:

The site also provides additional resources and websites.

Role Play in Social Studies

The use of role-playing in social studies can help students relate a situation to their own lives. Students learn best when they can connect new learning to prior knowledge. Even though this role-play situation is short it sets the stage for a discussion of rights and responsibilities in relation to the Bill of Rights.

Here are some excellent tips for the use of role-play in the social studies classroom:

Role Playing

Role-Playing: A teaching technique that provides a group problem-solving situation in which students explore the problem, alternatives available to them and the personal and social consequences of the proposals. (Barth, James L. Methods of Instruction in Social Studies Education. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1990.) Role playing is a means of trying out and practicing social skills. It also allows for critical analysis of a dilemma, historical event, or social occurrence.

Three aspects of role playing groups:

  1. Briefing- establishing of the situation
  2. Drama or Role-Play
  3. Debriefing-follow up discussion
  1. Know your students, and what they can handle. Don't allow aspects or characters of the role play to get out of hand or become personal.
  2. Make your students aware of goals, rules, assignments, and expectations of the role-play in advance.
  3. Approximate reality as closely as possible.
  4. Engage in sociodrama, not psychodrama.
  5. Let students know how they will be evaluated in advance.
Types of role playing:
  1. Impromptu Historical Role Playing (teachers and students)
  2. Dramatic Plays Mock Trials *& Mock Presidential Elections
  3. Classroom Problem Resolution & Classroom Constitutional Convention
  4. Social Skills Practice

Role Playing

It is clear that role-playing simulations can be very effective in helping participants gain a richer understanding of multiple perspectives and of the "codependent arising" of interdependent activity. By engaging in well-defined role-playing games participants seem to move beyond both of these common assumptions: the simplistic assumption of a "right/wrong" dichotomy in complex social problems, and the strong relativist position of "anybody's opinion is as good as anyone else's." They come to see also that logical reasoning and factual support do not always win the day, that pathos and ethos also play an important part in decision-making and problem-solving.

Within the framework of the game, participants have the opportunity to exercise creativity and imagination and to be playful in exploring possibilities. Yet there are consequences within the game world, which scaffolds activity and keeps it from becoming random meandering.

As this quote indicates, role-playing and simulations are extremely effective in providing students with a richer understanding and multiple perspectives of a given situation. In addition, the introduction to this site goes on to point out that the connection between role-play and writing is one that is well researched. The use of role-play improves student writing in the social studies classroom.

This site,, provides information on:


Adam Blatner in his article, "Role-Playing in Education" says that:

Role-playing is a methodology derived from sociodrama that may be used to help students understand the more subtle aspects of literature, social studies, and even some aspects of science or mathematics. Further, it can help them become more interested and involved, not only learning about the material, but learning also to integrate the knowledge in action, by addressing problems, exploring alternatives, and seeking novel and creative solutions. Role-playing is the best way to develop the skills of initiative, communication, problem-solving, self-awareness, and working cooperatively in teams, and these are above all--certainly above the learning of mere facts, many if not most of which will be obsolete or irrelevant in a few years--will help these young people be prepared challenges of the 21st Century.

In this article he also describes:


Role Play

The Western Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (1991) suggests that role playing, Socratic instruction, and small group work are effective teaching strategies for curriculum infusion.

Instructions for Role Play:

Role-playing is an activity in which students assume the role of another person and act it out. In a role play, students are usually given an open-ended situation in which they must make a decision, resolve a conflict, or act out the conclusion to an unfinished story. Role-playing is designed to promote student empathy and understanding of others. By acting out the role of another individual it is easier to see others' points of view, including how other people think and feel. Role-playing can give students the opportunity to learn behavior appropriate for various situations. Role-playing is also useful for developing critical thinking, decision making, and assertiveness skills.


  1. Selection of the Role Play Situation: There are a number of situations which lend themselves to the use of role play. These situations include individual dilemmas (e.g., dealing with a pushy salesperson, observing a crime, or testifying in court) and conflict-resolution situations (e.g., a tenant negotiating with a landlord over the terms of a lease or a police officer confronting a suspected shoplifter). Role-playing can be used to deal with a specific issue or problem; for example, role-playing could be used to discuss whether or not adopted persons should be given access to records that reveal the name and whereabouts of their natural parents. Finally, role plays are useful for developing student skills as an interviewer, negotiator, assertive consumer, investigator, or decision maker.
  2. Preparation and Warm-Up: Students should be told the situation or problem and instructed as to the various roles. If role-playing is new to the class, "warm-up" or introductory activities may be helpful. For example, students might be asked to role play greeting a long-lost friend, or to role-play the way someone who had just won a large sum of money would act.
  3. Select Participants: Students can either be assigned roles or the teacher can ask for volunteers. Role plays may be conducted in front of the entire class or a number of simultaneous role plays could be conducted by dividing the class into small groups. Students who do not participate in the role play should act as observers.
  4. Conduct the Role Play: Direct students to act out the role the way they think someone faced with the same situation would act in real life. The teacher should not interrupt the role play; however, if the students need some help in getting started the teacher should assist the students. After conducting the role-play it is sometimes useful to have students reverse roles or to conduct the same role play using different participants. For example, two students might role play a confrontation between a youth and a police officer. After conducting the role play once, the student who acted as the youth could assume the role of the police officer and vice versa.
  5. Debrief: The role-play activity should be debriefed and evaluated. This is an opportunity for both the participants and the observers to analyze the role play and to discuss what happened and why. Typical debriefing questions include the following:
    • How did you feel about the role play and each of the various roles?
    • Was the role play realistic? How was it similar to or different from real life? Was the problem solved? If so, how? If not, why not?
    • What, if anything, could have been done differently? What other outcomes were possible?
    • What did you learn from the experience?


The research on the use of simulations and role-play in education is extensive. For example:

Often simulations are not used in the classroom because the effort to set them up is time consuming, putting demands on both students and teachers. In addition, care must be taken to assure that the objectives of the activity are not lost in the fun of playing the game.

Simulations and role-plays are demanding not only on the students, but also on the teacher. Brookfield (1990) notes that considerable effort is required in setting up a simulation scenario, ensuring that students are briefed on their roles, and in de-briefing them afterwards to ensure that they take the intended points away from the simulation experience. This last point is particularly important, since simulations require the teacher to relinquish control of the learning environment, and thus allow the process to move in possibly unexpected directions. Brookfield (1990) mentions this as another reason why simulations are demanding on teachers; they require that teachers, who are used to being in control of the learning environment, step back and "let things run". Teachers also need to be ready to handle unexpected situations that may arise during the course of a simulation.


Simulations are learning experiences that enable students to participate in a simplified representation of the social world.

Simulations differ from classroom games. Games often involve activities in which there is a competition to get correct answers. Examples of games include spelling bees and competitive drill activities.

Simulations, on the other hand, allow students to understand a process through participation in that process. In most simulations, students take on roles and have specific objectives to accomplish. In order to accomplish their goals, students use resources provided and make decisions about how those resources should be used.

Simulations are complex learning activities. Most research suggests that simulations are about as effective as conventional classroom techniques in teaching subject matter.

Simulations are more effective in helping students retain knowledge learned as part of the simulated experience.

Research suggests that simulations are more effective than traditional methods in developing positive attitudes toward academic goals.

Simulations are also motivating for students. Frequently students express satisfaction with participation in simulations and are excited about the learning that took place. Students connect with simulations because the simulations deal with real questions and issues.

Journal articles and other information about simulations can be found at: