In role play, some of the participants take the roles of other people and act accordingly. Role play is usually a spontaneous or unrehearsed acting out of real-life situations where others watch and learn by seeing and discussing how people might behave in certain situations. Learning takes place through active experience; it is not passive. It uses situations that the members of the group are likely to find themselves in during their lives. You use role playing because it shows real situations. It is a very direct way of learning; participants are given a role or character and have to think and speak immediately without detailed planning, because there is usually no script. In a role playing situation people volunteer to play the parts in a natural way, while other people watch carefully and may offer suggestions to the players. Some of the people watching may decide to join in with the play.
The purpose of role play is that it is acting out real-life situations in order that people can better understand their problems and the behaviour associated with the problem. For example, they can explore ways of improving relationships with other people and gain the support of others as well. They can develop empathy, or sympathy, with the points of view of other people. Role play can give people experiences in communication, planning and decision making. For example it could provide the opportunity to practice a particular activity such as coping with a difficult home situation. Using this method may help people to re-evaluate their values and attitudes, as the examples in Box 10.2 illustrate.
Box 10.2 Examples of role play
- Ask a person to get into a wheelchair and move around a building to develop an understanding of what it feels like to have limited mobility.
- Ask the group to take up the roles of different members of a district health committee. One person acts as the health educator and tries to convince the people to work together and support health education programmes in the community. Problems of implementing health education programmes and overcoming resistance can be explored in the discussion afterwards.
- Ask a man to act out the role of woman, perhaps during pregnancy, to develop an understanding of the difficulties that women face.
Role play is usually undertaken in small groups of 4 to 6 people. Remember role play is a very powerful thing.
- Role play works best when people know each other.
- Don't ask people to take a role that might embarrass them.
- Role play involves some risk of misunderstanding, because people may interpret things differently.
Look at the three examples of role play in Box 10.2. What dilemmas might arise in each situation?
Here are some possible dilemmas. If a person in your group is already in a wheelchair you would need to handle the role play very carefully. If anyone in your group is in a dispute with someone on the health education committee they might take the opportunity to be spiteful. If a man is acting the role of a woman he would need to feel comfortable doing this. If it looks as though he is very embarrassed you would need to ask for another volunteer or change what you are doing.