Role Plays

Role play is a learning activity in which participants play out roles in a simulated situation. Role plays provide a highly motivational climate because participants are actively involved in a realistic situation.

Advantages of role play include:

  • Role play can create a highly motivational climate because participants are actively involved in a realistic situation.

  • Participants can experience a real-life situation without having to take real-life risks.

  • Role play gives participants an understanding of the client’s situation.


  • Make participants aware of the communication skills needed to counsel a client about family planing by asking them to assume the roles of the client seeking contraception and a family planning counselor.

  • Practice a clinical skill by asking two participants to role play the procedure using an anatomic model (e.g., insert an IUD using the pelvic model).

  • Reinforce a session on coaching skills by asking participants to prepare and present a role play demonstrating the coaching process during a minilaparotomy.

To conduct the role play, the clinical trainer should:

  • Share with the participants what they should learn from the role play (i.e., share the objectives).

  • Explain what the participants should do and what the audience should observe

  • Discuss important features of the role play by asking questions of both the players and the observers

  • Summarize the session, what was learned and how it applies to the clinical skill or activity being learned

Note: To be effective, the trainer must make sure that the participants are prepared for their parts.

Developing a Role Play

To develop a role play, the instructional designer must:

  • Select an appropriate situation. It may be drawn from participant or trainer experiences or clinical records. The situation should be relevant and similar to situations that participants will encounter.

  • Ensure that there is a problem or point of conflict in the role play. This conflict is the focus of the role play and the resolution of the conflict is what the participants should gain from participating in or observing the role play.

  • Identify the roles that will be acted out during the role play. In most clinical training courses, there will be a clinician and a client.

  • Determine if the role play will be informal, formal or a clinical demonstration. These are defined as:

    • Informal. The role players are given a general situation and asked to "act it out" with little or no preparation time. For example, if a question regarding a client counseling session comes up in class, the trainer may ask two participants to take a few minutes to plan and present a brief role play which addresses the situation. This type of role play is not prepared in advance and therefore is not developed by the instructional designer.

    • Formal. The role players are given a set of instructions which outlines the scope and sequence of the role play. Using the counseling example, the participants would be given a situation with specific roles they are to act out. One participant would play a client and the other would play a counselor. Both would have specific directions regarding the part each is to play and would be given time to prepare for the role play.

    • Clinical Demonstration. The clinical demonstration role play, which is similar to the formal role play, typically uses an anatomic model and is often done as part of a coaching session. For example, the trainer demonstrates the steps in inserting an IUD using a pelvic model. Following the trainer’s demonstration, two participants are asked to role play the procedure as if the model were a client. One participant assumes the client role by standing by the model and speaking as a client would, asking questions and responding to the clinician. The participant playing the clinician will not only perform the IUD insertion but also will verbally interact with "the client."

Following are hints for successful role plays:

  • Keep the role play brief. Make the point and then move on.

  • If you provide training for more than one method, you may want to consider developing some role plays that can be used in more than course. By keeping the role play as general as possible, it is more easily adapted to different topics.

  • Provide the participants with questions or activities that will help them to focus on the main concept(s) being presented.

  • Determine whether participants will report the results of their discussion of the role play in writing or orally to the entire group.