How Role Play Can Enhance Learning & Behavior Change


Object role play fun

How Role Play Can Enhance Learning & Behavior Change
Friday, March 18, 2016
American Red Cross


Language to use as the role play facilitator:

  • “Don’t think- just do” to encourage students to act instead of getting stuck in the “I can’t…” zone
  • “How did that feel?” Great question to ask after an activity but namely after students experience the “yes, and….” And then the “no…” (denial) Also, “did x or y make you feel better?”
  • “I loved…. Let’s try….” Validate your students’ work during feedback, but give them new direction
  • “Freeze!” is obviously a way to stop what happened in the scene but give you a chance to also “rewind” to do the same scene a little differently, perhaps by adding in a specific emotion for everyone to evoke.
  • “There is no wrong” This is important to reiterate to help create your safe space. Model what that looks like too
  • “I’m giving you a gift” by providing clarifying language, direction, an emotion. Your students give you gifts also in the form of information and ideas to incorporate into role play scenes
  • “Lights up” as a way to start the role play


Ideas to keep in mind when facilitating role play:

  • “Yes and”, “Yes but”, and “no”. “Yes and” moves the role play forward, “yes, but” can also do this. “No” is the denial and will cut the scene off. Try the same scene utilizing all three of these for comparison. Yes and moves the scene forward in the direction initially intended. Yes but moves the scene forward but takes things in a potentially new direction. No basically ends the idea.
  • You can manipulate the who, what and where in a role play activity. Consider setting up two of these and let the third be the manipulated variable.
  • Meet your students where they are. Students comfort level can be used in your role play i.e. if a student is uncomfortable with the idea of going on a job interview, design a role play around being uncomfortable at a job interview
  • If you know something about your students (perhaps something learned during a warm up or mini role play), let them be an experte. if a student plays guitar, ask them to help us “hold” a guitar, what does it look like when you hold a bass instead and have the class mirror this or use it directly in a role play. If a student plays guitar outside of class, maybe they are the guitar player in the role play
  • An improvised scene can only move forward with agreement. Experimenting with the “yes, and…” “yes, but…” and “No…” will help students come to this conclusion organically as well. If your role play is designed to help students practicing saying “no” to harmful situations, then moving forward is not the goal!
  • Keep scenes short. 2-3 minutes.
  • Give students permission to be uncomfortable. Asking people to step out of their comfort zone and/or share about themselves isn’t always comfortable so acknowledge this with your students and work with your class to create a safe space
  • Pay attention to the audience– if there is a natural emotion, it is a cue to move on to a new scene
  • Give students an action– something to do- in the role play. This could be as simple as talking on the phone, or drinking water or listening to music
  • In an effort to get all students participating– include them in the scene. For example, all students could be present at a town hall or also be animals in the kennel. Additionally, students could suggest an emotion for the role play participants to embody or help paint the scene by sharing what items may be in the room or what the weather is like.
  • A possible tool to use when you want students to quickly grasp the important concept(s) of your content is to facilitate a role play for 1 minutes, then 30 seconds, then 10 seconds


Scenes workshopped at the training:

  • Approaching a dog
  • Applying for a job (what to do, what not to do)
  • Town hall where students share issues
  • Drinking at a party
  • Playing the artist at a museum


Mini role play and warm up activities:  

These activities are a great way to get things going in your class, to get to know your students, to allow them to get to know each other and to potentially prep for a more in depth role play ahead. When activities like these are planned out and executed well, that can be an invaluable part of your overall lesson.

Role Play Lesson Plan Organizer is HERE

Click HERE to view the activities and their applications in an excel!

Click HERE to view the activities and their applications in a PDF!


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