Using ROLE Play to Develop Self-Regulation for Learning Strategies

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Using ROLE Play to Develop Self-Regulation for Learning StrategiesSelf-regulation for learning is the ability to balance affect (how you feel), behavior (what you do), and cognition (what you think about yourself) to be successful in learning. I call these the ABCs of learning. A fun way to help kids build their self-regulation for learning skills is through an activity I developed for my classroom called ROLE.

ROLE is a structure for helping kids role play. Role playing is taking on the persona of someone else (either real or fictional) to act out a situation or solve a problem. Role playing is used in many situations to develop acting skills, work through difficult situations, or build self-confidence by “practicing by doing.” In the classroom, you can use role playing to help kids develop their self-regulation for learning skills by working through different situations.

I developed ROLE out of my work as a children’s theater actor, writer, teacher, and director. ROLE stands for:

This activity develops creative thinking, critical reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making. It also is powerful for helping kids acquire planning, listening, speaking, and collaboration skills where every idea has value and all ideas are considered.

Using index cards in four different colors, create four categories of cards, so each category is always on the same color card.

Using ROLE Play to Develop Self-Regulation for Learning Strategies

On each index card, write one word that corresponds to that card’s category. For example:

  • Role: mechanic, florist, patrol officer
  • Occasion: birthday, wedding, graduation
  • Location: at a lake, on a boat, in a park
  • Emotion: happy, sad, crabby, delighted

Divide the students into small groups. Each group randomly selects one card from each category. The students in the group must then create a scene or develop a story that incorporates all four categories. Each group presents their scene or story to the other groups. Other groups can guess which four cards the performing group drew.

As an example, let’s say a group pulls

  • Role: student
  • Occasion: taking a test
  • Location: on the playground
  • Emotion: frustrated

Give the group about 10–15 minutes to collaborate on their scene. They must discuss what will take place using the ROLE cards and how the situation may evolve. After each group acts out its scene, you can ask the other students make recommendations for how to resolve the situation.

Consider extending this activity into a writing project, or create ROLE cards from works of literature for groups to create a prequel or a new ending for the story.

There are many ways to use ROLE to make curriculum connections:

  • Language arts
    • Create new and creative stories or poems.
    • Use vocabulary from literature for the four category words.
    • Use the ROLE cards to write a descriptive essay or personal narrative.
  • Math
    • Have students create math word problems using the ROLE cards.
    • Have all the cards in the “Role” category be geometric shapes. Then, using all four categories, write a creative story about the shape. (For example, Role: triangle, Occasion: fundraiser, Location: in a grocery store, Emotion: excited.)
  • Social studies
    • Change the cards in the “Role,” “Occasion,” and/or “Location” categories to fit a period in history or a topic you’re studying and have students create journal entries, letters, or correspondence between individuals from that time period or topic.
  • Science
    • Change the ROLE cards to ROBE cards: Reaction, Outcome, Bond, Element.
  • Other considerations
    • Have students create their own set of ROLE cards, which they can swap with other teams’ cards.
    • Use content vocabulary or words that may be unfamiliar to the students—they will need to investigate the words and then use them within multiple contexts.

Another way to use ROLE play in the classroom to develop self-regulation or social and emotional strength is to use the content to solve problems. Let’s take a social studies lesson on the Boston Tea Party. After the lessons on the content (why it happened, when it happened, who were the influential people involved, the outcomes of the protest, and so on), have students create ROLE cards (either real or imagined) for this event and use them to act out how the people involved in the situations felt about the action or how it affected them personally. A great follow-up would be to have students write about their experience portraying a historical figure and how that personalizes history.

To deepen ROLE playing in this context, use the overall concept of the lessons but apply it to students’ real lives. For example, with the Boston Tea Party event, a major concept is “taxation without representation.” Put that into the world of adolescents, and ask students to think of a time when they experienced “taxation without representation,” such as when they were forced to do something and had little to no input about it. Maybe they even defied the imposition. Have them discuss how it impacted their lives.

Have students construct the situation (changing names and getting rid of personal information) and then share it through ROLE play with the class. The class can debate or discuss the ways the situation could have developed or other ways to solve the problem.

Using the creative dramatics tool of role playing can have a significant effect on helping students develop self-regulation. Role playing can be a safe way to deal with problems and consider solutions from many different perspectives. It also develops self-esteem, self-awareness, and even deeper levels of content knowledge. Working through different situations helps students understand there are different ways to solve problems.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

Differentiation For Gifted Learners

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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