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Role play and drama in geography

‘Some of the best lessons I have observed have been public meeting role play lessons. What distinguished these lessons was the high degree of student engagement with geographical subject matter throughout the lesson.’

Margaret Roberts, 2023, p. 174

Topics on this page:

  • Why use role play and drama?
  • Planning and managing a role play
  • Drama strategies
  • Reading

Why use role play and drama?

As with the other experiential learning activities, geography teaching topics for role play and drama have to be selected carefully and prepared thoroughly. Role play helps students understand different viewpoints in the context of a particular issue and provides opportunities for students to develop and rehearse reasoned argument. Often these are set in the context of a meeting, where roles are allocated to represent different interests.

Planning and managing a role play

The success or otherwise of a role play activity depends on how well students participate in the discussion. This depends on how effectively they engage with their ‘role’ and prepare and present their arguments. 

For the role play to contribute to geographical learning it is important that students have sufficient prior understanding to take on the role convincingly. The teacher must determine what prior learning is essential for this to happen. Consider the topic carefully; it needs to be stimulating and engaging for students.

Some things to consider are:

  • What understanding do the students have already? How much preparation will they need for the contextual geography before they begin the role play?
  • Will role cards be provided by the teacher, or will students do research themselves for information about their role and the views to represent?
  • How will the roles be assigned? How long will the students need to prepare for their roles? Will any students need special support?
  • What resources will be needed? How much do you want students to get ‘into role’? Do you need props?
  • How will the classroom be arranged?
  • How much time will you allocate for the role play discussion and debriefing?
  • What interventions will the teacher make during the role play?
  • How will the debriefing be organised? How long will be needed?
  • What follow-up work will there be?

If you carry out substantial, detailed planning and preparation for a role play, it should be reflected in a substantial allocation of class and homework time for the activity. The students need to prepare well if the role play is to result in worthwhile learning.

Consider where and when you should intervene during the preparation for the role play; you may have to focus students on their arguments and support quieter students who are in danger of not having their opinions heard. Make sure the debriefing is given sufficient time. It should focus on the contrasting viewpoints and the evidence that supported these, so the geographical issues are explored in depth.

  • See Roberts, M. (2023), which provides a detailed explanation of how to plan and carry out a public meeting role play, stressing the importance of careful planning, the thoughtful allocations of roles and a thorough debriefing to make the most of the geographical learning potential in the activity.
  • See Biddulph et al (2021), which illustrates a different style of role play using an activity that simulates a year in the life of a Puca Pampa textiles group on the Altiplano in Bolivia.
  • See Saddington and McConnell (2023) for role-play resources designed for key stage 5 to engage students with geopolitics to foster a deeper understanding of the geographical dynamics that underpin global governance.

Drama strategies

  • Read about two drama strategies outlined in Biddulph et al (2021). They are:
    • Freeze frame, where students create still images of a scenario
    • Interviews, which is an extension of the ‘hot seating’ activity using role play.
  • For further information see Biddulph and Clarke (2006) ‘Theatrical geography’.

Reading

  • Biddulph, M. and Bright, G. (2000) Dramatically good geography, Sheffield: Geographical Association. (available for GA members only to download).
  • Biddulph, M. and Clarke, J. (2006) ‘Theatrical geography’, in Balderstone, D. (ed) Secondary Geography Handbook. Sheffield: Geographical Association.
  • Biddulph, M., Lambert, D. and Balderstone, D. (2021) Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience, 4th edition. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 82-5.
  • Bolton, P. (2008) ‘Should I stay or should I go? An enquiry investigating Polish migration to the UK’, Teaching Geography, Autumn. This gives a detailed description and pupil evaluation of a drama activity.
  • Collett, D. (2002) ‘Chat show geography’, Teaching Geography, October. A role play of a TV chat show in the context of Brazil.
  • Palôt. I. (2006) ‘Drought of ideas for that introductory lesson?’, Teaching Geography, Summer. This includes role play, discussion and written work.
  • Roberts, M. (2023) Geography Through Enquiry: Approaches to teaching and learning in the secondary school, Second edition, Sheffield: Geographical Association, chapter 21, ‘Public meeting role play’.
  • Saddington, L. and McConnell, F. (2023) ‘Debating global governance: resources to engage A level students with geopolitics’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Sweat shirts: a role play game from Juicy Geography. Based in Indonesia, this game explores the garment industry of Bandung, and is suitable for ages 14 and upwards.