Role Playing

Asking your students to take on characters and act out situations is a great way to explore attitudes and practice basic skills and behaviors. Role playing is also quite versatile. It can be used as an on-the-fly in-class activity, or it can be a semester-long project where students immerse themselves in a role and produce a detailed account of the experience.

Regardless of the scope, here are some options for setting them up and conducting them.

Setting Up

  • Free form - Give participants the general situation and let them figure out the details.
  • Prescribed - Give participants detailed instructions about the roles they will be playing and how they should behave.
  • Partially prescribed - Give participants details about the roles but not how they should react in the situation
  • Replay life - Ask participants to reenact actual scenes from their own lives.
  • Dramatic reading - Give participants a script to act out.


  • Simultaneous - Have all groups role play at the same time.
  • Stage Front - Participants perform the role play in front of the entire group who then provide feedback.
  • Rotational - Start the role play as you would for Stage Front, but then interrupt and substitute one or more new participants.
  • Repeated - After reflection, ask participants to act out the role play a second time.
  • Different Actors - After the initial Stage Front role play, ask another group of participants to recreate the same role play.
  • Role Switch - Ask participants to run through the scene one time and then have them switch characters before running the same scene again.

Adapted from Silberman, Mel. (1995). 101 ways to make training active. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Role Playing in Health Care Education

Whether you want your students to fully immerse themselves in the professional role they will assume in the clinic, to begin to understand or empathize with potential clients/patients, or to practice health care team communication, role playing can be a powerful tool.

Here are some ways you might incorporate role playing into your class:

  • Exploring health care choices in the midst of poverty (Patterson & Hutton, 2012)
  • Communicating with parents at the bedside (Fisher, Taylor, & High, 2012)
  • Using Second Life for online role playing (Wood & McPhee, 2011)
  • Practicing communication skills to reduce medical errors (Kesten, 2011)
  • Getting ready for rapid response in acute care (Hill, Dickter, Van Daalen, 2010)

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