Executing The One Day Role-Play

Social Studies has often been synonymous with the thought of lectures, PowerPoint slides, note taking, taking multiple choice tests and writing essays. With the push to shift away from primarily direct instruction and focus on engagement and the 4 C’s, social studies teachers need to find new and innovative ways to make their class stand out from others and keep students on the edge of their seats.

Many of us got in to teaching history because we have a passion for it. Some of us can communicate that passion and instill it in our students just through lecture alone, but that isn’t enough and that isn’t the social studies class of today— hopefully. So what can social studies teachers do instead to communicate this passion and get students to “do history”? The One Day Role-Play!

What is the One Day Role-Play?

It is a single class period of exciting, non-stop engagement! For one class period students are given a role (for advanced level– have them create roles of their own!) and they must plan and prepare and then execute the role play. This activity engages students in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity! Hitting all 4 C’s! Students must work together to achieve a goal, whether it is to debate whether to declare war against Great Britain in 1812, to argue the injustices of the Jim Crow South in front of a Mississippi judge, or being the founders of a new colony on Mars. These activities will engage students in a broad spectrum of tasks and allow students to practice skills of leadership within their teams or groups.

Why role-play?

Role-plays are essentially a single day of applying your knowledge and skills to an activity related to your current topic. It is an opportunity to provide a more student-centered classroom that is fun and engaging, and that involves taking risks. Students will remember these activities more than they will your lessons, if done properly! “But, aren’t you worried they won’t remember the content?!” No, I am not. These role-plays should force students to take their content knowledge and apply it in a situation in which they become a participant in. When you want to learn how to hang new cabinets in your kitchen you might watch a couple youtube videos and read an article, but then its the actual immersion into the task itself that will help you to learn and reinforce your ability to apply that knowledge.Now, in the event the role-play flops (which they can and will do!) students may not remember much of the content that you expected them to recall during it. And that is ok! If the role-play is set up properly, the role-play will still reinforce those oh-so important skills that are necessary to being successful in career, college and civic life!

FAQs about the One Day Role-Play

How do I set the role-play up?

There is no single way to create a role-play. Start with your essential question and build from there. What do you want students to learn? What do you want them to experience? What would be the most engaging or exciting task you could put in front of them from this time period or topic? Then build from there. If you are on the Spanish-American War, try having them run a Yellow Journalism Newspaper company with events from today! For the Cold War, have them divide into two debate teams and host the ¨Cold War Clash!” and have them debate the merits of each sides political and economic system!

What if my one day role play runs into two or more class periods?

Ideally, try to complete the activity in one class period if at all possible. I sometimes use two days and designate the first day a “planning day” where I will begin to explain and hype up the role-play, and then give them time to plan their strategies for the next day. However, if it takes two days to execute the actual role-play, that’s fine! Just remember, the longer it runs, the more its going to start to feel like work for some, instead of it being a fun activity that can break up your daily routines of class.

What are the biggest obstacles?

Poor planning. Lack of participation. Uninspiring topics. All three of these things are deadly to the one-day role play. Planning on the teacher’s part is critical to the success of the lesson. However, do not over plan! Some of the best role-plays run on a lot of improvisation. Participation is key. Often times you will have students who do not like to speak in front of class, and unless you find some meaningful way for these students to still contribute and be excited, then you can slowly lose them and those around them.

Where or from whom can I learn more?

Follow and direct message the following individuals on Twitter to seek out more information on the one-day role play.



Additionally, there are other resources out there. I will share more of those resources at a later date!


Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts, comments and suggestions with me below! I look forward to discussing the merits and pitfalls of the one-day role-play!


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