Role play

Why role play?

“In role playing, students explore human relations problems by enacting problem situations and then discussing the enactments.”
2009, Models of Teaching. 8th edition: Bruce Joyce, Marsha Weil, & Emily Calhoun. Pearson Education Inc. p. 290.

Role playing is not generally effective the first time it is done so pantomimic exercises may be beneficial for inexperienced students. It has been suggested that the role playing activity contain nine steps.


Social System, principles of reaction, and support:

Is moderately structured. The teacher is responsible for initiating the steps and guiding students through the activities within each step. However, the students are responsible for choosing the content of the discussions and the enactments.

Student responses are accepted in a non-evaluative manner. The teacher helps students explore other sides of the problem situation and compare alternative views.

Students increase the awareness of their own views and feelings by reflecting, paraphrasing, and summarizing their responses. Use the concept of role and emphasize that there are different ways to play a role and emphasizing there are multiple ways to resolve a problem.

Role playing is experienced-based and requires minimal support material outside the initial problem situation.

Role playing is designed explicitly to nurture: 1) the examination of personal values and behavior; 2) the development of strategies for solving
interpersonal and personal problems; and 3) the development of empathy towards others. Its nurturants are the acquisition of information about social problems and values, as well as ease in expressing one’s opinions.


Students in a 4 year old preschool classroom have been going to the teacher and stating that another classmate took their toy while they were playing with it during play time. The teacher decides that role-playing the situation to explore feelings and possible solutions would be appropriate.

Procedure: The teacher gathers all students on the rug. The teacher begins by making a mad, sad, surprised, and happy face and asks students to identify her feelings based on the face she makes.

The teacher tells students to show her their mad, sad, surprised, and happy faces. The teacher asks students what might make them happy. She waits for student responses and continues the question for each of the other emotions.

Step 1: The teacher tells the students that friends have been taking toys away from other people while they were playing with them and provides specific examples (Brendan took Albert’s block..). She asks students to state how they think those involved could be feeling and what they think might happen.

Teacher: What did Brendan do?

Students: He took Albert’s block?

Teacher: How do think Albert felt? Why?

Students: Mad – because he was playing with the block.

Step 2: The teacher explains that they are going to take toys away from other children while they are playing with them. The teacher asks for two students to help with the role-playing. One student chooses to play with the toy (car, doll, train, or book) and the other student is the one who takes it away.

Step 3: The teacher explains that Child A will be playing with a toy (car, doll, train, or book – whatever the student chooses) and Child B will take it out of Child A’s hands. Child A chose the train.

Step 4: The teacher tells students that are sitting on the rug to look at Sam and Josh’s faces to determine how they might be feeling.

Step 5: Sam is playing with the train on the rug and Josh walks over and takes it away. Sam hits Josh and pulls the train out of Josh’s hands. Josh begins to cry.

Step 6:

Teacher: What did Sam’s face tell you?

Students: He was mad?

Teacher: Why was he mad?

Students: Because Josh took his train away.

Teacher: What did Josh’s face tell you?

Students: He was sad. He was crying.

Teacher: Why was Josh crying?

Students: Because Sam hit him.

Teacher: Why did Sam hit him?

Students: Because Josh took his train and he wanted it back?

Teacher: If Josh wanted Sam’s train, what could he have done?

Students: Asked if he could have it?

Teacher: Does Sam have to give Josh his train if he is playing with it?

Students: No.

Teacher: What could Sam say to Josh if Josh wants to play with it?

Students: You can play with it after I am finished.

Teacher: You are right. Should Sam hit Josh to get the train back.

Students: No.

Teacher: What could he do?

Students: Tell a teacher, ask for it back, or trade for a different train. (All responses are appropriate according to Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports [PBIS] which we use in our classroom.)

Teacher: You are right.

Step 7: Teacher asks for 2 more students to role play. This time the situation involves a doll that has been left but no one is currently playing with it. Sara was playing with it but left it to go to the art cupboard. Abby picked it up. Sara tells the teacher that Abby took her doll. The teacher tells students that are sitting on the rug to determine if this could really happen – with a doll or some other toy – in their room. (What is the realism that this could really happen?)

Step 8:

Teacher: Has this happened to any of you – have you left a toy and then wanted it when someone else had it?

Students: Yes.

Teacher: Should Sara get the doll back if she went to color a picture?

Students: No.

Teacher: Why?

Students: Because she left it in the house. She didn’t want to play with it any more.

Teacher: But she did want to play with it when Abby had it. What should Sara or Abby

Students: Abby should tell Sara she can have it after she is done playing with the doll. If Sara still wanted to play with the doll, she should be playing with it, not coloring a picture.

Step 9:

Teacher: Have any of you been playing with a toy and someone took it or have you left a toy and someone else picked it up and played with it?

Students: Yes!

Teacher: Before telling a teacher about your problem, what could you do?

Students: (Responses are providing according to Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports [PBIS].) Ask for it back, trade, set a timer, tell a teacher.

Teacher: You are right. Good job.

Expected Outcome: When students are presented with a role-played situation or one similar to it, they will know what they can do to resolve the issue without having to get a teacher first. Pictures from the PBIS Solution Kit will be hung in the room as a reminder to help students determine possible solutions.

By JoAnn Roos