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Course Activities: Role Playing, Scenarios, and Simulations

Teachers identifying reading problems in emergent readers.
Emergency responders practicing disaster plans.
History students re-enacting famous events.

Through role playing, scenarios, and simulations, learners can apply course content to authentic situations.

Role Playing

Participants in role playing assignments adopt and act out the role of characters in particular situations. They may take on the personalities, motivation, backgrounds, mannerisms, and behaviors of people different from themselves.

Role-Playing Activities

Conversations and Interviews. Role-playing conversations is a wonderful way to practice foreign language skills, try out parent/child interactions, or conduct mock interviews. Ask students to take the perspective of a member of an organization (i.e., company, school, non-profit).

Debate. Students might be asked to take one of two positions or perspectives in a debate situation. In an online environment, the debate could take place live through chat, audio, or video conference. Working in pairs, students could create a collaborative presentation following the debate format. Each student would create every other slide.

Explore an example at Writing and Humanistic Studies: Rhetoric.

Demonstrations. Students might audio or videotape themselves performing a task.

Improvisation. In an improvised situation, students play the role of their character in a free-flow environment. For instance, individuals might take on the role of a past President sitting at a take of other past Presidents. What might they say to each other?

Historical Re-enactments. Using an avatar in Second Life or describing their character in text, learners can design a virtual environment for historical re-enactments.

Mock Trial. Students take on a role related to a trial situation. The trial is acted out through an online discussion.

Response Preparation. Students might take on the role of a first responder and act out the steps they would take in a particular situation.

Outside Evaluator. Students may be asked to act as an "outside evaluator" or "consultant" on a particular topic. For instance, after watching a video called Self-Examination: How Accessible Is Your Campus? students might conduct their own investigation of a campus or other public place to explore the topic.

Creating Role-Playing Assignments

The instructor would set up the role-playing situation by:

The students would be responsible for:


Many role-playing situations involve a scenario. A scenario is simply a situation used to establish a context for learning. From a simple description of a setting to a full-blown case study, students are presented with information necessary to take on a role or solve a problem.

Explore examples:

Creating Scenarios

Ask students to imagine a set of circumstances:

Then, ask students to take action:

Rather than simply providing text-based scenarios, begin with images, audio, or video. For instance, when teaching a course related to law and intercollegiate athletics, you might incorporate short videos with background information for the scenario such as Recognizing Sports Concussions: Keeping Youth Athletes Safe along with an article on health reporting..

Examples of Scenarios

If you plan to include lots of scenarios, consider a standard format for presentations such as

You are a blank. Your job is to blank. Provide questions to address: What would you do? What is your plan? Who would be involved? What strategies will be used? What resources are needed? What additional questions would you ask? What information do you need?

Here are a few examples of scenarios:


Simulations help students apply their skills to "real life" situations by providing an environment to manipulate variables, examine relationships, and make decisions. This type of assignment is generally used after initial instruction as part of application, review, or remediation.

Simulations can be used to prepare students for a field trip or real experiment. For example, a frog dissection simulation can be used to prepare students for the face-to-face lab situation.

While some simulations have a specific “mission” to accomplish, others are intended to help students explore a particular situation or environment.

In most cases, simulations should be used as a culminating activity after students have basic skills in the concepts being addressed in the software. Otherwise it is difficult for them to make informed decisions during the program. Without background skills, the simulation may become an unproductive game rather than a meaningful learning experience.

When selecting or creating simulations, consider activities that are difficult to duplicate in the classroom other ways. For example, activities that involve dangerous situations, time consuming processes, spending money, or "impossible" projects like an interstellar flight are good applications of the technology.

Types of Simulations

There are many types of simulations.

Explore examples of simulations:

Adapting Simulations

When selecting simulations consider the amount of time you have to dedicate to the program. Some simulations can be time-consuming if done well. Also consider the grouping of students. Ask yourself:

Creating Simulations

Explore the following ideas for creating simulations:

In an online course, use a series of discussions to play out your simulation.


To find more examples, do a Google search for your topic and add the word "role playing", "scenario", or "simulation".

Involve your students in creating a simulation. Go to Holocaust Wiki Project to explore an example.

In role playing assignments, students take on the role of a character in a particular situation.
In scenario assignments, students react to a situation poses by the instructor.
In simulation assignments, students are immersed in "real world" environments where they manipulate variables, examine relationships, and make decisions.

apply itApply It!
Explore examples of role playing, scenarios, and simulations.

List the pros and cons of using this approach with your content.

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