Role Play Strategies to Increase Student Connections & Content Relevance

Whether you enjoy armchair quarterbacking, backseat driving, second-guessing, reproducing art, being a devil’s advocate, cover singing, or acting out parodies of public figures, using role play strategies can breathe new life into your teaching. Not only can role playing strategies engage students (Vizeshfar, F., Zare, M., & Keshtkaran, Z., 2019), they can connect students and increase your content relevance in ways no textbook reading or research paper can (Hidayati, L. & Pardjono, P., 2018). Bonus–role play strategies can be used in any modality!

Here are some traditional assignment makeover ideas including role-play strategies:

  1. Post once, reply twice based on this week’s chapters is one of the easiest ways to get started incorporating role play. Consider adding a “What would _____ do?” twist on your prompt to help students understand nuances they might miss otherwise responding from their own perspective. For example, conducting a learner analysis is a traditional instructional design task. Students often describe learners using theoretical language, lacking dynamic aspects of these characteristics they’ll need to consider for learning designs. Or, they ignore the text, and describe future learners based on their limited experience. They also resist critiquing each other’s work.

Makeover assignment: Conduct a learner and class analysis of a tv character from a 90’s show. Include a link to information on the character including grade level, and use specific language from your course readings in your analysis in your initial post. In your reply, respond as if you were a teacher sharing an educational plan addressing specific strengths and weaknesses of the character.

In a different twist on that assignment, my students shared their learner analysis in their teaching blog, such as this one on Cory Matthews. Students connected informally as well with laughter and good memories as they shared in synchronous class discussion about their character selections! It also allowed us to tease out perceptions about socio-economic descriptors such as, “middle-class.”

2. The research paper is another great candidate for a role play remake. Consider why you want students to research a particular topic and how they would use this skill in a current job. Policy and/or budget recommendations are easy adaptations of a research paper where research skills are used in current practices across many disciplines. Depending on your students’ skills and context, you can have them make formal, researched recommendations “as if” they were presenting them or share them in a real context. Lisa Eshbach and Jennifer Hegenauer use variations of this strategy to teach LEAN business strategies. An in-depth resource is, “How to conduct simulations & role-play in online-transitioned courses.

Add complexity to this type of assignment by grouping students by different perspectives (i.e., pro/con) or to complete their assignment from the position of different stakeholders on an issue.

3. The group project remade through role playing can address common pitfalls of groupwork. Using video to allow students to “become” characters in the content they are studying makes students’ thinking about a problem of practice more easily visible, increasing your ability to provide feedback and scaffold concept mastery. Students can easily use Zoom and other tools to create their own recordings of themselves acting out a scenario they wrote to demonstrate course concepts and practice soft skills (Druckman, D. & Ebner, N., 2008; Russell, C. & Shepherd, J., 2010). There are also numerous games and simulations already created online you can use–Contact if you are interested in learning more about technological options!

Role plays requiring students to act as a different person are effective mechanisms for developing perspectives and building empathy. For example, through role-playing different police arrest scenarios structured so students rotate characters played (including playing the victim), Steve Hundersmarck helps students develop their ability to effectively communicate in future potentially high stress and complex settings.

Not only is using role-play an effective tool to teach skills and concepts for situations where there is limited access to a “real world” option or safety and ethical reasons make it preferable to practice in a controlled setting, role play can be a fun way to engage students in topics they may not have interest in. For example, Nate Garrelts created Professor Frazzled to help teach concepts such as how to be a successful student (above) and Zoom etiquette.

Allowing students the creativity to create their own scenarios and responses to criteria you provide also supports students by providing them with multiple means of representation, action and expression–important to ensure all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities


In the above example on how technology can change communities as well as at the links below, you can see the wide variety of creativity students used to demonstrate key parts of their technology-integrated lesson plan. Some students used powerful visuals, some dramatic music, others acted as if they were young children–all in response to the same assignment.

Sample 1  The Refugee Crisis; Sample 2 The Great Gatsby; Sample 3;  World Community

Whether you are looking for serious role play and scenario ideas or ones to bring some lightheartedness into the classroom, we encourage you to reach out to for help!

Druckman, D., & Ebner, N. (2008). Onstage or behind the scenes? Relative learning benefits of simulation role-play and design. Simulation & Gaming, 39(4), 465–497.

Hidayati, L., & Pardjono, P. (2018). The implementation of role play in education of pre-service vocational teacher. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 296, 012016.

Russell, C., & Shepherd, J. (2010). Online role-play environments for higher education: Online role-play environments. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(6), 992–1002.

Stanford. (n.d.). Scenario Based Learning [Institutional]. Designing Education Lab. Retrieved February 16, 2020, from

Vizeshfar, F., Zare, M., & Keshtkaran, Z. (2019). Role-play versus lecture methods in community health volunteers. Nurse Education Today, 79, 175–179.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s