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Role Playing

Description of Lesson: Students are presented with a context or situation. Within that context they assume specific roles. The lesson is then conducted whereby the ability of students to attend to their roles and learn from the experience is assessed. Followup activities usually help to link the activity to specific learning concepts.

Appropriate Content Areas: Most. Typical in media studies, political science, literature courses, social sciences, education, business, advertising, nursing, etc.

arrow button Reservation Controversies Then and Now - Example role playing scenarios that would be easy to adapt to online education,
arrow button Voices from the Dust Bowl, 1940-1941 - Series of activities including a role playing idea easy to adapt to online education,

Goals & Objectives:

The goals of a role playing scenario are to expose students to different viewpoints or ways of thinking about a situation, expand their ability to resolve situations, and provide experience within a given context.

Sample objectives include:

After completing a role playing scenario, students will:

  • understand the various roles of stake holders in a given context
  • resolve issues in a given context
  • acquire contextual understanding of a given issue

as determined by successfully attending to 80% of the requirements.


  • None other than adequate Web access and a willingness to role play.

Materials and Resources:

What needs to be prepared in advance by the teacher? The teacher needs to prepare the assignment description including background readings on each role and a division of roles for each student including expectations for each role.

What does the student need to bring to the lesson? Students need to read any prerequisite materials.

Guiding Questions for this Lesson:

Can students acquire understanding of a given contextual issue through accepting and analyzing roles within that given context?

Lesson Outline and Procedure:

  1. Student read, view, or listen to background materials of a given context.
  2. The instructor provides students with roles within that context. The students are either directly assigned a role (useful when an instructor has come to know students and can expand their learning by directing them to roles (for which they are either well suited or need experience within) or allowing students to choose a role.
    1. Synchronous - The roles can be given out ahead of time if the students need to research the given role, or can be impromptu. A set time is allowed for students to act out their roles. The instructor coordinates the students role playing activit
    2. Asynchronous - Students are given a certain amount of time to post to an asynchronous discussion forum concerning their roles part in the discussion. Students are required to post a certain number of times at a minimum and in addition should accommodate the needs of the discussion as outlined in some form of rubric or lesson requirement given out prior to starting the activity. The instructor coordinates the discussion and directs questions at particular roles as appropriate.
  3. Following the active role playing scenario, a debriefing is used to organize and summarize information learned. An additional activity may follow.

Learning Assessments:

The primary assessment involves the quality of the discussion occurring during the role-playing activity. The instructor may ask specific questions of students playing specific roles during the activity. The quality of answers produced can be assessed.

Teaching Strategies and Highlights:

  • The context and roles chosen should be able to be played using the technology at hand, which may be text only.
  • The instructor should have specific questions prepared ahead of time that can be directed at students within each role.
  • Students can also provide summaries of their experience in the role playing scenario.
  • This activity can be linked with the Fishbowl activity.


  • Students need to have the physical ability to actively participate in the role playing scenario. In certain synchronous events, the technology should enable participation and the students with disabilities may need additional time to compose responses.


How much time would a typical online student require to complete such a lesson? Generally, 20 to 30 minutes within a synchronous session may be needed to accommodate a role playing activity. 3 days would be necessary in an asychronous discussion forum. An additional day can be expected for follow up discussion and question answering.

Ideas for Lesson Evaluation and Teacher Reflection:

How did the students like the lesson? End of semester evaluations should ask about the usefulness and learning accomplished through such activities. Difficulties experienced should be addressed for current and future courses and students.

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