This strategy will help students to:

  • work collaboratively in small groups

  • develop an awareness of empathy

  • practice implementing specific language and skills.


Before the role-play

  1. To ensure effective role-plays, a supportive classroom environment must exist. Establish rules for role playing including:

  • one person speaks at a time

  • everyone's responses and feelings are to be treated with respect 

  • everyone is entitled to express their opinion or have the option to pass.

  1. Ensure that students have a clear understanding of the purpose of the role-play (e.g. to demonstrate assertive communication and to practise negotiating when there is conflict). 

  2. If there is an audience, prepare and encourage their active involvement in the role-play by giving them a specific role. For example, audience members can identify the feelings of the role-play characters, comment on appropriateness of actions and provide relevant feedback.

  3. Set the scene by choosing a scenario relevant to students or alternatively have students select their own. 

  4. Use character names rather than student names. Some students may become more engaged in the role-play if given a small prop (e.g. bag, hat or mask).

  5. Avoid using extreme stereotypes or allowing the issues to become exaggerated.

During the role-play

  1. Give students enough time to practice the role-play especially if it is to be performed to an audience. Performing in front of others is not always necessary as it is the processing rather than the performance that is important. 

  2. Facilitate the role-play by allowing students to direct the action. Wait until the end before making any comments. Do not judge the actions of a student in any given scenario as right or wrong. Instead focus attention on alternatives and/or consequences of actions.

  3. Start the role-play by reminding students to keep the action brief (i.e. a few minutes are usually sufficient). If the role-play starts to deteriorate, stop it quickly, discuss what is happening and re-focus the action. 

  4. If students become angry, switch roles so they have to argue the opposing view. This may help students to develop understanding and empathy for the views of others. Make a point of taking students out of their role (i.e. by removing props, costumes or character name tags) or just by stating their role has finished.

After the role-play

  1. Use open-ended questions that focus on the feelings of the role-play characters, attitudes expressed, consequences of actions, alternatives to decisions/actions, and what students have learned about the characters portrayed, to debrief the role-play. Remember to include the observers in the debrief time. Allow plenty of time for de-briefing and provide positive feedback for effort and participation.

  2. As a result of the role-play, ask students to personalise the content by considering what they would do in a similar real-life situation.  Ensure they reflect on their learning and consider its application to future experiences. The role-play can be re-enacted by switching roles to demonstrate other courses of action.

  3. Remember it is not the role-play that is of prime importance but the examination, discussion or reworking of the situation that takes place following the role-play.  Its effectiveness rests on the knowledge, skill and sensitivity of the facilitator.


Create appropriate scenarios so that students can adopt different roles in order to build empathy and experience a variety of perspectives for simulating real life situations.

Example: Being assertive

Discuss rights and responsibilities in relationships.

Students can then work together in small groups to answer scenario questions about how to be assertive in relationships.

Students role-play the scenarios to practice being assertive.



Make a class set of prompt cards by photocopying the fishbowl prompt cards below. Have a small group of students perform a role-play on a selected topic at the front or centre of the classroom. Other students sit in front of, or around the small group to observe their discussions and actions. The observers are allocated one of the following responsibilities and given a prompt card to remind them of their task.

  • Focus on one of the characters and give them advice at the end of the role-play. 

  • Focus on one of the characters and identify how this person may be feeling. 

  • Focus on alternative outcomes relevant to the role-play. 

  • To conclude the fishbowl, observers report on their findings depending on the assigned task.

Team role-play

Distribute a student generated scenario to each group of six students. Explain that each group needs to form two teams. One team will represent the person trying to influence someone to act in an unsafe or unhealthy manner. The other team will represent the person being influenced by someone else or by themselves if the influence is internal.

Each team spends several minutes making up ideas that will help their team to win the argument. If the scenario focuses on an internal influence the two teams may have to represent two sides of a conscience. 

A student from each team commences the role-play using the ideas that their respective teams identified. If either of the students is unsure of how to respond during the role-play, a ‘time out' can be called. This time can be used by the students to regroup with their team for further ideas or suggestions, or request that someone else in their team carry on the role-play.

Process the role-play by using the following questions.

  • How did it feel to be the influencer?

  • How did it feel to be the person being influenced?

  • What responses seemed to be the most effective?

  • Was it useful to have the support of your friends during the role-play?

  • How could you get support from your friends in a similar real-life situation?

Hidden thoughts role-play

Several students play out a role-play to the whole class or a small group. The teacher then assigns a student to represent the ‘brain' of each character in the role-play. The ‘brain' should stand behind their character and when asked by the teacher, reveal the hidden thoughts or feelings that may not be expressed by their character.

Questions that will elicit deeper thinking from the ‘brain' include:

  • What is this character afraid of?

  • What is this character hoping will happen?

  • What is stopping your character from doing what is right or necessary?

  • What would help your character get on and do this?

  • What would it take for your character to get to stand up to the other person in this scene?

At the completion of the hidden thoughts role-play, ask the rest of the class to offer advice to the characters in the scene and have them ‘try out' two or three of these pieces of advice. Discuss which would be the easiest, most realistic, most effective, etc. The ‘brains' could respond with hidden thoughts and fears for each.

Adapted from REDI for Parents: Strengthening family-school partnerships, Commonwealth of Australia, 2006.

Interview role-play

Students interview a role-play character who is experiencing, or is affected by, a problem. Students ask questions about what it is like to be in this situation and suggest what they think would be helpful for the character to do.