Prince: (As the clock chimes midnight) Wait, please! I don't even know your name.
Cinderella: (Hurrying) It's Cinderella, Your Highness.
Prince: (Desperately) Cinderella, wait! Don't go!
(As Cinderella rushes down the palace stairs, her glass slipper slips off. She continues running, leaving the slipper behind.)
Prince: (Picking up the slipper) Cinderella! I must find you!
Role Play in Education
I’m sure we are all familiar with what “Role Play” is, but mostly in the context of theatre or drama. But role play is also a teaching and learning technique that can be used for the simulation of real-life scenarios, situations, or interactions.
Let’s look at some examples where this technique can be applied:
- Language learning: An essential part of learning languages is practicing by speaking the language. A practical activity like role play enables the students to practice crucial aspects of language learning like voice modulation, usage of common phrases, understanding the accent, etc.
- Engaging with Literature: An essential part of learning English literature is being familiar with plays (like Shakespearean plays) and reading novels. Enacting them in class can be an engaging method to better understand and remember them.
- Counselling & therapy simulations: For psychology students, role play can recreate therapy scenarios, offering students valuable practical experience of the counseling set-up involving the client and the counselor.
- Subject Learning: Learning historical events- like World War II where students can play the role of different countries; exploring geography- for instance, by understanding the distance between Earth and Jupiter by walking that distance; enacting various concepts in science.
How interesting do these classes sound?
There are numerous teachers and schools who are adopting such interactive methodologies in their teaching strategies.
With today’s generation where children actively ask questions and are more interested in understanding the “how” and “why” of things, providing them with hands-on experiences becomes essential to satisfy their hunger for knowledge. An experiential learning activity like Role Playing is a multimodal activity where students process information by seeing, listening, and enacting while actively getting involved in the essence of the concept.
But what can be the advantages of Role Play in the academic setting?
Let’s take an example of an interesting English Literature class, where the teacher uses this technique to teach different Shakespearean plays.
> This acts as an experiential learning strategy as it involves active participation and engagement from the participants where they practically apply themselves by placing themselves in the shoes of the assigned character.
> Students get to practically apply and check their understanding of the desired concept and character from an insider’s perspective and not as a third person which improves their critical thinking. When it comes to understanding stories and their characters, role-playing helps students to build empathy and relate with the characters. This also helps them to understand different perspectives outside of their own, thus expanding their openness to different worldviews and experiences.
> Enacting by means of role-playing helps to refine students’ communication skills as they learn to add an essential emotional touch by placing themselves in the shoes of the character, which is not possible with written communication. This enhances their creativity and imagination, and also builds confidence among the students.
Similarly, using “role play” as an activity in the academic set-up can indeed be advantageous for students not just for improving English, but also in understanding various subjects.
When such a multi-modal approach is used towards learning, it improves students’ relatability with the subject matter which helps to consolidate information better and store information in the long-term memory.
It is said that Gen Z has a lower attention span, and one of the teaching strategies that can be used to tackle this is using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic pedagogies. Role play is a multi-modal approach that involves all three, and a research conducted on American students also concludes that when it comes to teaching English, role-playing is among the few strategies that succeed in holding students’ attention.
With the engaging needs of the current generation, adopting participative and interactive strategies like role play becomes crucial to involve students and evoke their interest in learning while gradually decreasing the sole dependence on traditional chalk and board methods.
As educators, let’s take one step at a time to make education an experience students won’t dread and look forward to with pedagogies like role play!
Much like how the story of Cinderella remains intact in our childhood memories, we should strive to provide an engaging learning experience through the magic of role play and other strategies. These techniques help students remember concepts that don't fade away as quickly as the clock strikes midnight or even after the semester ends.
Gerschler, J. (2012). Classroom strategies for maintaining student focus. In Oaxaca State University System ESL Conference (pp. 1-17).