Role play: Practice what we teach

We, Christians, sometimes fail to do the things Jesus taught us to do. I’m talking about basic teachings like resolving conflict by talking privately to a brother or sister before allowing it to go any further. Remember this passage of scripture?

Matthew 18:15-17

15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. NASU

Failure to do this may be due to a lack of skills, so we do what we habitually have done whether it is right or wrong. We may think terrible things about the person and talk to other people long before we bring the matter to the attention of the person we’re upset with.

As teachers, we should not only impart knowledge, but also work to develop the skills of our learners. Role play is a tool we can use to help our students practice better behaviors. Teachers can write scenarios that simulate a conflict; role play allows your learners to practice, discuss, and analyze situations in the safety of the classroom.

What is role play?

Role play involves asking someone to imagine that they are either themselves or another person in a particular situation. They are then asked to behave exactly as they feel that person would. As a result of doing this they and the rest of the class will learn something about the person and/or the situation.

Typically the teacher creates two or three roles, defines the situation in which the role players will interact, and provides each participant with background information about their role. The learning objective for the role play should be well defined. It could be to practice a skill or procedure, reflect on behavior and its impact, create understanding of the feelings of others, or to describe or demonstrate a situation.

In the above passage from Matthew 18, Jesus outlines a procedure to use when someone has offended you. The teacher could add biblical teaching about how to speak to one another, kindly and respectfully. The teacher must make sure the class knows what the correct procedure involves. Everyone should know exactly what steps are needed to successfully complete the procedure. This understanding will help the role players to know what they should do and it will help the rest of the class to know what to look for as they observe the role play. You may need to run the role play several times so each student can be both an observer and a role player.

Role playing is not acting

The purpose of acting is to move, influence, educate or entertain the audience. Role players are not concerned with the audience. Their aim is to feel, react, and behave as closely as possible as a person in that situation would. They are concerned about themselves and the other role players, not the audience. To gain the benefits of role playing, it is important for the teacher and the students to understand that this teaching tool is not a dramatization. It is not acting.

Debriefing: Examining what happened and establishing the learning.

After concluding each round of role play, the teacher must bring the role players out of their roles, often students will feel the emotions of the person they played and may have trouble releasing those emotions at the conclusion of their round. Be sure to allow time for debriefing the players and the class, this is the most important part of the activity. The teacher must guide the debrief to: clarify factually what happened, correct misunderstandings and mistakes, bring out assumptions, feelings, and changes which occurred, give the class opportunity to develop observational and self-observation skills, analyze why things happened the way they did, draw conclusions about behavior, reinforce correct learning, deduce ways of improving behavior, see application to other situations, link with previous learning, and provide a plan for future learning.

Advantages of role play

1. Positive and safe in dealing with attitudes and feelings.

a. The focus is not on the student, but on the student in the role.

b. Feelings can be expressed and not hidden.

c. Allows students to empathize with others.

2. It relates closely to the outside world.

a. Allows for practice.

b. Allows for quick feedback.

3. Highly motivating.

a. Usually is fun.

b. Stimulates questions.

Disadvantages of role play

1. Can negatively affect the atmosphere and conventions of the classroom.

a. Students control what happens.

b. Students may get caught up in the emotions of the role play. They may need help coming out of their role.

2. Role play can affect the accuracy and relevance of what is learned.

3. Role play can require lots of resources.

a. Time

b. Space

c. People. (Possibly more than one teacher.)

In my eighteen years as a management consultant and trainer, I used role play many times; it can be an excellent learning tool. Participants often realize that they did not really understand what they thought they knew, so they ask more questions, they receive constructive feedback about what they did well, and where they can improve. The Effective Use of Role Play by Morry Van Ments is an excellent reference book to learn more about role play.

Have you used role play in teaching the Bible? Let me know about your experience in the comments.

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