Role Play

Role-play is a teaching strategy derived from a family of social learning models which emphasize the social nature of learning, and view cooperative behavior as stimulating students both socially and intellectually [1]. It can be employed in both virtual and in-class environments. Research has demonstrated that role-play has been successful in helping individuals learn a variety of skills including communication and active listening skills [2, 3], empathy [4, 5], team building skills [6, 7], problem-solving skills [8, 9, 10], and conceptual understanding [11, 12]. Role-play has diverse applications in a variety of disciplines, including mathematics, science, the social sciences and medical and counselor education. Rao and Stupans (2012) have developed a typology for classifying role-playing learning opportunities according to their type and educational outcomes [13]. Research has shown role-play works most effectively when instructors are prepared, students are given background information, there is clarity in task goals and ground rules, and there is adequate time for debrief and group reflection [14, 15,16].



J. Bergeron, Harvard University



[1] Joyce, B. & Weil, M. (Eds.). (2000). Models of teaching. Boston. Allyn and Bacon.
[2] Aspegren, K. (1999). BEME Guide No.2: Teaching and learning communication skills in medicine – a review. Medical Teacher,  21(6), 563.
[3] O’Brien, M.A., Freemantle, N., Oxman, A.D., Wolf, F., Davis, D.A., & Herrin, J. (2007).Continuing education meetings and workshops: Effects on professional practice and health care outcomes (Review). The Cochrane Library, 2007(4).
[4] McGregor, J. (1993). Effectiveness of role-playing and anti-racist teaching in reducing student prejudice. Journal of Educational Research, 86(4), 215-226.
[5] Poorman, P. B. (2002. Biography and role-playing: fostering empathy in abnormal
psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 29(1), 32-36.
[6] Beard, R.L., Salas, E., & Prince, C. (1995). Enhancing transfer of training: Using role-play to foster teamwork in the cockpit. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 5(2), 131–143.
[7] Luca, J., & Heal, D. (2006). Using Role-play to Promote Effective Teamwork. Ed-Media. World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications, Orlando, Florida.
[8] Ross, P.M., Tronson, D.A., & Ritchie, R.J. (2008). Increasing conceptual understanding of glycolysis & the Krebs cycle using role-play. The American Biology Teacher, 70, 163–168.
[9] Sturges, D., Maurer, T.W., & Cole, O. (2009). Understanding protein synthesis: A role-play approach in large undergraduate human anatomy and physiology classes. Advances in Physiology Education, 33(2), 103–110.
[10] Perry, E. (2007). Using role-play to model a mass spectrometer. School Science Review, 88 (324), 18.
[11] Koichu, B. & Zazkis, R. (2013). A dialogic method of presenting proofs: Focus on Fermat’s little theorem. Proceedings of the Conference for Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, Denver, CO.
[12] Tyson, R.H., & Janine, L. (2006). Exploring the Potential of Role Play in Higher Education: development of a typology and teaching guidelines, 49(4), 427–436.
[13] Rao, D., Stupens, I. (2012). Understanding protein synthesis: A role-play approach in large undergraduate human anatomy and physiology classes. Advances in Physiology Education, 33(2), 103–110.
[14] Freeman, M.A., & Capper, J.M. (1998). An anonymous asynchronous web-based role play. Paper presented at ASCILITE Wollongong, Australia.
[15] Joyner, B., & Young, L. (2006). Teaching medical students using role play: Twelve tips for successful role plays. Medical Teacher, 28(3), 225–229.
[16] Pescuric, A., & Byham, W.C. (1996). The new look of behavior modeling. Training and Development, 50(7), 24–30.