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Why You Should Incorporate Role-Play as a Teacher

6 Min Read
Classcraft Why You Should Use Role-Playing in the Classroom

Memorable classroom experiences are valuable for several reasons. If something from your school days sticks with you for years to come, it’s likely reflective of an engaging, unique learning experience. As teachers, we want students to not only gain the knowledge they need but also to have fun and be comfortable in the process.

Speaking from personal experience, I was not a fan of presentations as a student. Presentations equaled unnerving anticipation, sweaty palms, shaky hands, and a red face. At one point, I went so far as to willingly take a lower grade in a class rather than do the required presentation. We don’t want this happening with students, and I carried those memories with me into my own teaching. I did not want any of my awesome students feeling absolute terror at the prospect of a presentation.

But what can you do? Public speaking is important. Presentation skills are also important. Instilling confidence in students is really important. So, is it possible to get kids to hone those skills, reach the needed comfort level, and maybe even strengthen conceptual learning . . . without shaky hands and blushing that can be seen from outer space?

Luckily, the answer is yes. Whew! There are ways to make this sort of practice much less intimidating, and one of those ways is through role-playing in the classroom.

Role-Play in the Classroom Reduces the Pressure of Public Speaking

One of my all-time favorite teachers converted some of our English language arts time into a drama unit. He had an actor friend, and together, they would facilitate drama exercises in the class. Those times produced some of my best school memories. While pretending to be someone else and having a specific role to play, I found a major sense of confidence. I was not afraid to speak in front of the class in those times. Quite the opposite, actually—I looked forward to it! I was even involved in drama as an extra-curricular in my later school years.

That might seem like a big leap—to go from a public-speaking phobia to embracing the stage, but it makes sense if you think about it. Role-playing allows you to wear a mask. There is less pressure because you aren’t just “you”—you have a specific persona and goal to focus on. This can eventually make public speaking a breeze and make it easier to give presentations.

Assuming a Character’s Role During Novel Study Gets Everyone Involved 

A form of role-playing that I experienced as a student and carried with me and even used as a teacher is assuming a character’s role when reading a novel as a group. I loved this as a kid—again because it’s basically a no-pressure situation where you can still be involved in what’s happening in the class. I had a fabulously eccentric teacher in high school who would assign the dialogue (“speaking parts”) of whatever novel the class was reading. It would get everyone involved and interested in the story. I tried this out with my own middle-school students, and the results were wonderful!

On the board, I would list the characters who had dialogue in the chapter that we were about to read. I would serve as narrator, and as students volunteered for the speaking parts, I’d write their names next to the character they would be playing.

All the students, even the quietest ones, would volunteer for the speaking parts. They could do it from their desks; no one was looking at them, and it was a great way to accomplish several classroom goals at once: improving speaking skills, increasing student engagement, and raising the comfort level for all students. In fact, it was the shyest student in my class who busted out the truly impressive accents in his speaking roles. It was amazing to see him, of all students, flourish—that’s the beauty of classroom role-playing.

Benefits of Role-Play in the Classroom

Develop new skills and concepts

Beyond actual speaking skills, role-playing can develop conflict resolution skills, heighten reading comprehension, and strengthen communication abilities. Role-playing also works in science and math as well, so don’t feel limited to only using it in English language arts.

For example, in science, students may role-play to demonstrate a scientific process, such as macromolecules in the food digestion cycle, an environmental process, such as the steps in a weather event, the life cycle of a plant or animal, or electrons in an electric circuit.

In math, role-playing can demonstrate problem-solving, allowing students to approach concepts in unique ways. Students can act out a problem, breaking away from the pen-and-paper approach. One use would be for younger elementary-level students beginning to learn problem-solving and arithmetic: You could have three students acting as flowers in a garden, and another student comes along and ‘picks’ one of the flowers to put in their basket—how many flowers remain in the garden? Visual learners, in particular, would benefit greatly from this.

Role-play in the classroom provides an enriching shift in perspective regardless of the class subject. Students can approach concepts from the character’s point of view in a novel or that of a food molecule making its way through the digestive tract. These activities create a memorable learning experience that students won’t forget anytime soon.

Inject fun and creativity

Creativity and role-playing go hand in hand. Not only are students actively engaged during role-play activities—and learning skills beyond the subject matter explored during the activity—but they are also likely to have a great time and put their creative talents to good use.

Role-playing provides more room for interpretation. Whether it’s choosing a particular way to act out a character’s role or acting out exactly how an electron would “behave” in their minds, students get to flex their creativity and out-of-the-box thinking by putting an individual flair on what they’re doing.

As students become increasingly comfortable with the process, their own unique takes on subjects, concepts, and literature will develop even more elaborately.

Classroom Role-Playing is a Golden Opportunity!

These are just a few solid reasons to embrace role-play as a teacher, and your students will be glad that you did. Take it from a former “I would rather have a root canal than do a presentation” student—finding non-threatening ways to help kids discover their voice will benefit them for the rest of their lives. And with the extra perk of solidifying concepts in a memorable way, role-playing is one of those rare, dependable strategies that you should consider.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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