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4 Tricks to Designing Role Plays That Everyone Will Like

Posted by Langevin Team on 2/4/13 3:00 AM
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 "Role Play" Ever notice how those two words can send a chill through an entire training room? And the reactions can be something like these:

“Yuck!”  “Do we have to?”  “This is silly.”  “I’ve done this before…why do I need to do this again?”

 Learners more often than not shy away from participating in role play activities and, to be honest, I would, too, based on some of the role plays I endured years ago when I was in the corporate world.

ut the truth is, role plays are an extremely powerful tool in your bag of instructional techniques—so long as they’re properly designed. With that in mind, I’d like to share four tricks that can help you design role plays that everyone will like!


1.  One of the most common reasons adult learners don’t like role playing is because too often the exercise is set up so that the two or three learners playing the scenario are the only people engaged in the role play; everyone else is in the audience. Adult learners don’t like audiences, as it is still true that many people are quite uncomfortable speaking or acting in front of a crowd. The way to avoid this is to design the role play activity so that triads (or small groups) are formed where everyone has a role to play and nobody really gets an audience. When everyone is engaged in the activity, there are less distractions and the group is easier to manage.


2.  Another common complaint that training facilitators often face is that one or two learners feel that they are simply “too grown up” to role play, or they feel the activity just isn’t “their style.” While we never want to force anyone to participate in any given activity, everyone must be engaged in the application part of the session, as it is a key element of learning. Anyone who is reluctant to role play can float around from triad to triad as a process observer with a performance checklist, annotating the various applications of the behaviors previously modeled by the instructor. While these individuals walk around and make notes of their observations, they are also learning without being pushed into a learning pattern that may conflict with their style. They can later get involved in providing feedback, after the activity.


3.  One of the biggest culprits for role playing’s bad reputation is the “script format.” When learners are handed a script to read, the participation often turns from realistic to comedic. The entire idea of the role play method is to present the learner with a realistic situation that provides the opportunity to practice how to incorporate desired best practices from the workplace into their own style of communication. But how do we accomplish this? Each role play character should be given an information sheet designed to be read only by the learner playing that part. Each player, therefore, receives information about their character’s position, perspective, preferences, previous history with the company and with other characters, values they are driven by, etc. This information allows the learner to be realistic in his/her portrayal of the character.


4.  But if you want to know what most Langevin clients tell me is their number one trick to having great role plays, I’ll tell you—it’s this: DON’T call it a role play. Yep. Name it something else: skill practice, skill assessment, real-life scenario—call it whatever you want…but don’t call it a role play! I know, it may sound silly, but if people have been programmed to have an adverse reaction to the words “role play,” just call it something else.


I’d like to hear some of the ways in which you design your role plays in order to make them a more attractive application method for your learners. Share with our readers what spins and twists you’ve come up with to spice up learner enthusiasm and participation during role plays. I look forward to hearing from you.

Instructional Designer Starter Kit

Topics: instructional techniques, instructor-led training, instructional design

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