There are two different kinds of role play. One kind involves having students act as if they were components of a physical or biological system. For example, you might have three students act as Oxygen and Magnesium. First, two students hold hands. They are an oxygen molecule. Then a spark comes along, to ignite the student who is acting as magnesium. Magnesium then takes one of the oxygen atoms, and the other oxygen atom is alone. You have had your students demonstrate a chemical reaction. A biology example would be to have some students act as blood cells, and to move to different locations in the classroom, where students acting as different body organs give or take from the blood. The blood would attach to oxygen in the lungs, attach to food in the intestines (etc.) and trade oxygen for carbon dioxide at the cells, etc. I hope from this simple description, you can invent your own situations of when and how to use this kind of role play.
The other kind of role play involves an ethical issue. Students act as humans in a situation where a decision must be made. Different students are given brief descriptions of who they are and maybe a description of their feelings about the issue. Then the students act out their roles and make a decision about the issue. This kind of role play is the one I will describe in great detail below. Remember that a Science-Technology-Society-Environment approach to science teaching should involve the students in discussing the impact of science and technology on society and the environment, and the impact of society and the environment on science and technology. Thus, there are many, many issues you can create role plays for.
This second kind of role play is designed to foster the analysis of personal values. It should help students to develop strategies for solving personal and interpersonal problems. Hopefully, the students will also develop some empathy for others. Students should become more comfortable with expressing their opinions. You want to watch to ensure that other students do not judge the players harshly. The students are, after all, playing roles. Every role should be sympathetically presented, but we might not like what the particular character stands for.
You would choose role plays to help your students engage with STSE issues. Although you will have a limited number of students performing in each role play, the most effective role plays are ones in which all students are involved in some way. I will suggest two ways in which you can get all students involved. You can probably think of other ways. Whatever way you choose to have all the students involved at the end, you should inform the whole class in the beginning of how they will all be involved.
The role play should be pertinent to the unit your students are studying. The role play should not feel like something you have added on, just to address STSE issues. These lessons can specifically target STSE, but your other lessons in the unit should also address STSE issues.
Creating the role play:
- Brainstorm for yourself several issues to do with the unit. Choose one which you think would make an effective role play. Then choose six to eight roles for students to act out. These roles should be of people who will have different interests in the result of the discussion. For example, if the role play is to discuss whether the local chemical plant should clean up its land, then there will probably be people who will lose their jobs if the plant is forced to spend all its money on clean up, and there will probably be local business people who rely on the plant workers for income, and there might be neighbours of the chemical plant who will be, or have been, affected adversely by the plant, etc.
- Each role should be described clearly and succinctly. Your students should be able to read over the character descriptions in a few minutes
- Choose a line of action for these role players to take. The line of action might be having a town council meeting to decide if the chemical plant should clean up its dump site now. Simplicity is the key. If your students need background information to be able to carry out the role play, this should already have been addressed in class.
Preparing the students for roles:
- There are two ways for preparing the students.- One way is to give the students a week or so to prepare themselves for the role. This can be very effective, especially if you have a motivated and inspired class. You will be pleasantly surprised, usually, about the amount of preparation some of your students do for their roles. This gives students who are not strong in science a chance to be good in a different aspect of science. Not all your students will take on the opportunity, but, as I mentioned, you will probably be surprised by which students do.- Another way is to give the selected students five minutes before the performance to read over their roles, and discuss their roles with the other members of the role play. While these students are discussing their roles (usually they will do this in the hall), you work with the rest of the class. Perhaps the rest of the class will set the stage. Perhaps the rest of the class will be learning some background information.
- Regardless of which way you prepare your students for their roles, you should pick who will perform which role. There are two reasons for you choosing.- One reason is that you will have pedagogical reasons for choosing certain students. You might want to choose a child who likes to be in charge to be the chairperson of a meeting. You might want to choose a child who is antagonistic to another child to act as that child=s friend. You might want to choose a child who is struggling with a particular concept to act a role where the student must research that concept to prepare for the role.- The other reason for you choosing is that you will have many different role plays throughout the term. You will want to balance the groups who act so that every student has a chance to act. The first role play will involve one or two of the more extroverted students, so that the more shy students will see how easy role plays are before they are forced to act.
- Just before the role play begins, you will introduce the role play. You will explain what role playing is about (for the first role play the students engage in. This will be less important as your students become familiar with how role plays work.)- You will make the problem explicit to your class. Whatever the line of action is, the actors must make a decision about an issue. The issue will be one where the right choice is not clear cut. In other words, your students should be facing a dilemma.- You might or might not set a time limit for the action. If you are going to set a time limit, you will notify your students of the time limit in advance, and you will also remind them at the point where they must stop action and make their decision.- You now step back and let the actors take over. Ideally, there would be one student who will be the chair of the role play - either officially (the chairperson of the town council meeting, or the person who must make the final decision, etc.) If you want one student to act as the chair of the role play as well as the playing a role, you will have to tell that student that this is part of his/her role. This student will then take charge of advising the players that they must stop action and make a decision.- While your students act, you will make anecdotal records, or fill in checklists, or enjoy the role play.
Whole class involvement:
As I mentioned, I know of two ways in which the whole class can be involved.
- If the role play involves a town council meeting, you can have the whole class get involved in the discussion after the players have had their say. Then the whole class can cast their votes, as well as the role players. If you are going to conduct the role play so that all students can be involved in the discussion at the end, you will have to inform the whole class at the beginning that they will all be involved. Even if the role play is not a town council meeting, you might have the whole class involved at the end. For example, if a family had to make a decision on something, students could be asked to act as neighbours and to make suggestions to different family members. Then the family would make their decision.
A very different way of getting the whole class involved is to have the players make their decision. Then the whole class discusses whether they think the actor played the role as the particular character would have played it. For example, in the case of the chemical plant clean-up, is an employee of the plant, one who has just purchased a house, likely to vote that the plant will just have to clean up, even if it goes bankrupt? Students in the audience consider whether the character would have been likely to make that decision. Then those students who think an actor should have played the role differently will have an opportunity to act as that player, to see how things might have played out differently.