Role Plays for Politics/IR

There is evidence to suggest that neglect of active learning techniques is a significant deficit in teaching of politics (see discussion in Archer and Miller, 2011). The benefits of more holistic pedagogical approaches in Social Science teaching are demonstrated in the finding that ‘students retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they say, and 90% of what they do and say together’ (Boyer, Caprioli, Denemark, Hanson, and Lamy, 2000, p. 4). One key means of introducing active learning into Politics/IR teaching (see, for example, Dougherty, 2003 and Frombgen et al., 2013) is through role play scenarios and simulations (see Shellman, 2001 and Newman and Twigg, 2000).

Role play scenarios and simulations are means of recreating elements of real world political situations in controlled teaching environments. They are intended to enable students imaginatively to adopt, develop and practise the interests, motivations, intentions, powers and traits of particular political actors within particular contexts. As Smith and Boyer note, while some have regarded their use as amounting to little more than ‘playing games’ or have disregarded their potential on account of the difficulty of their development, where they are deployed, they are effective means of 1) giving ‘students a deeper level of insight into the political process’, 2) encouraging ‘students to be more attentive and more active in the learning process’, 3) helping ‘students retain information for longer periods of time’, 4) developing ‘critical thinking and analytical skills through collaborative efforts’, and 5) enabling ‘students to develop speaking and presentation skills, simultaneously building their confidence’ (Smith and Boyer, 1996, pp. 690-691).

To help schools incorporate active learning into teaching of Politics/IR, Lancaster University 3rd year students have produced a series of role play outlines on a range of different topics as part of their assessment for PPR389: Politics Employability and Engagement through Outreach. These outlines have been moderated and vetted by academic practitioners and are provided below for use by teachers and lecturers in schools and colleges. While the scenarios are aimed at KS5 pupils, they may also be used with KS4 students, should teachers deem them appropriate.

Please forward any queries to Matthew Johnson via Katherine Young by email at or by phone on +44 (0)1524 592710.

Role Play Outlines

Influenza Pandemic: Emergency Response Simulation by Eleanor Newton

The Myanmar Conflict by Charlotte Marlor

Slavery in the Modern World by Hannah Johnson

United Nations Climate Change Conference by Evie Plumb

Church of England Same Sex Marriage Debate by Peter Wilson

Archer, C. C. and Miller, M. K. (2011) Prioritizing active learning: An exploration of gateway courses in political science, PS: Political Science & Politics, 44, 429-434.
Boyer, M. A., Caprioli, M., Denemark, R. A., Hanson, E. C. and Lamy, S. L. (2000) Visions of international studies in a new millennium, International Studies Perspectives, 1, 1-10.
Dougherty, B. K. (2003) Byzantine politics: Using simulations to make sense of the Middle East, PS: Political Science & Politics, 239-244.
Frombergen, E., Babola, D., Beye, A., Boyce, S., Flint, T., Mancini, L. and van Eaton, K. (2013) Giving up control in the classroom: Having students create and carry out simulations in IR courses, PS: Political Science & Politics, 46, 395-399.
Newmann, W. W. and Twigg, J. L. (2000) Active engagement of the intro IR student: A simulation approach, PS: Political Science & Politics, 33, 835–842.
Shellman, S. M. (2001) Active learning in comparative politics: A mock German election and coalition-formation simulation, PS: Political Science & Politics, 34, 827–834.
Smith, E. T. and Boyer, M. A. (1996) Designing in-class simulations, PS: Political Science and Politics, 29:4, 690-694.