Role Plays for Small Group Teaching in City’s New Learning Spaces

Role play is a great way of encouraging students to explore their own behaviours and those of others in a simulated way. It allows a safe and secure environment in which students can practice their attitudes and behaviours to simulations and receive feedback from their tutors and their fellow students. Take a look at the group work suggestions in our series of blog posts for more suggested activities We recommend booking City’s new Learning Spaces to run these activities.


Role play is a really powerful way of encouraging students to explore their own behaviours and those of others in a simulated way. In its most basic form, it is between two people, pretending to be a situation, either with or without a script. It usually takes place in front of the rest of the group, using a Fishbowl Technique. The learning experience for both the participants and observer(s) can be a useful and engaging experience, which can be reinforced and extended by the tutor at the end of the teaching session.

Running a role play exercise can be hard work in both the preparation and in the execution. The following technique is a brief overview of what could be possible with two people. See the references below for further guidance.

Theatre Masks
Students can put on a mask of a character and explore topics via this technique.

Role plays are usually done with people in groups of two or more. Examples of role play interactions include:

Doctor – Patient

Lawyer – Defendant

Manager – Employee

Tutor – Tutee

Social Worker – Client

Why? Role play in a classroom setting it allows a safe and secure environment in which students can practice their attitudes and behaviours to simulations and receive feedback from their tutors and their fellow students. It also bring learning to life, developing students’ deeper understanding of the topic.

Castor Chairs in Threes
Flexible Spaces such as A214, College Building above make activities such as Role Plays easier


  • Split the class into groups of three. The two role players and one observer. Describe a scenario on a piece of paper or card around a topic or subject explaining what each person in the scenario has to act out.
  • Give the observer a set of points to observe during the interaction.
  • Define each character’s background information.
  • Ask the role players to spend up to 10 minutes reading this information and getting into character. Ask the observer to note down the points you want them to.
  • Keep an eye on the time and encourage students to participant.
  • Once the role play(s) are over, it is important to have a debrief, where the main points to come out of the role play(s) can be discussed by the group.

Advanced Variations to the technique

Once you are comfortable with running a standard role play activity, you might want to try some variations below:

  • Role reversal – students switch their roles, so they experience playing the other role, which is really useful as it aids a deeper understanding of a situation.
  • Role rotation – everyone in the group as a chance to play the main role (e.g. a manager) and experience it.
  • Alter-ego – the alter-ego stands behind the main role player and is their inner voice. They voice their thoughts and feelings and also act as a prompt if the main role player is stuck about what to say.
  • Replay – this is when a tutor can ask the role players to do a specific part of the scenario again. This would also be when others observing could make comments or notes.
  • Fast Forward – if time is running out or the tutor feels an issue has been dealt with by the role play they can ask the role players to move on.

Tips and Suggestions

Think of realistic interactions in your subject area or discipline. The more realistic the better from a learning point of view.

Involving more people, will lead to complex and rich situations of interaction.

Remember to explain to the students why they are conducting this role play and how it fits in with the overall session or topic.

Some student may find it embarrassing or see the exercise as a waste of time, explaining to them the overall reason for the exercise and encouraging them to participant will ensure the maximum possible engagement with this activity.

Why not take an appropriate reading from a course book and turn it into a role-play?

City Academic in Accounting, CASS Business School discussing a role play activity in a traditional lecture theatre, think how easier this would be in a new flexible learning space!

Other things that I do is I like to split the class in sections.  I say, “The four rows in the back, you are pretending to be the supplier.  First four rows, you’re the…you know, the company and then you’re the journalist and…”  I create role-playing activities which you have to have clear sections to be able to do that. … I could say the first four rows, that creates a section but if they are separated by a corridor, it’s easier.  And then you can have them debating.  And you’d have a physical division between them to turn into teams.

Where can this activity be done?

Details of recommended learning spaces for these activities are below:

Room type





Movable tables and chairs





















25 – 50

25 exam room style, 50 lecture style

Social Sciences


30 – 60

30 exam room style, 60 lecture style



30 – 60

30 exam room style, 60 lecture style

Node chairs






SHS only

Social Sciences



For more ideas on group work activities in flexible learning spaces visit


British Council, n.d. (2004) Role-play [online] Available from: [Accessed: 17th September 2014]

Carleton University, n.d (2013). How to Teach Using Role-Playing. Available: [Accessed: 17th September 2014]

Exley, K and Dennick, R (2004). Small Group Teaching: Tutorials, Seminars and Beyond (Key Guides for Effective Teaching in Higher Education). London: RoutledgeFalmer. 66-69.

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