The Disadvantages of Role Play in Students

Written by dr. samuel helms
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Role play is a great way to simulate complex contexts for education. While there are some precautions to take when using role play as an educational tool, it is a powerful learning mechanism. Role play is a great way to teach intangible ideas, such as social intelligence or culture, to students in a way they are likely to internalise the lesson.

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The Role

As an educator, you should be careful about what roles you assign to students. Students should be comfortable with the role they are supposed to take on. Shyness or concern about the role may reflect a greater underlying problem with the student. For example, assigning a role of "rape victim" may be too stressful for a student of any age. Roles should not negatively affect the student emotionally or cognitively.

Immersion

As some classic studies have shown, students can become too immersed in their roles and take them to excess. For example, the people assigned the role of "prison guard" in the Stanford Prison Experiment, became so immersed in their roles that they started abusing the people with the roles of "prisoner." It is important, therefore, for a supervising role to be established, typically the teacher, that can intervene if the role-playing students become excessive.

Personal Issues

Role playing can sometimes reveal personal issues with students. For example, it may become apparent that a student assigned a specific role has problems being assertive. Others may be too assertive. Sometimes the role the student plays may make these personal issues worse or cause emotional instability. For example, a shy student asked to play a very assertive role, such as law enforcement officer, may become scared, unsure or humiliated, and lash out in anger or break down crying.

Frustration with the Role

Students will become frustrated with their assigned role if it is too restrictive or too vague. Simply telling a student, "You are a police officer" may not be enough information for the student to engage the role. Conversely, a student with too much information may not know how to use the information for the role. These situations can lead to frustration and negative outcomes. Therefore, it is important to give the student the right amount of information about the role. One way of doing this is to give students some information, then add to the role as they become more experienced with it.

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