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March 1998 - Issue No. #29

Experiential Based Roleplays for Social Awareness (cont'd.)

by Tim Newfields

Click here for Experiential Based Roleplays for Social Awareness (Part 1)
Click here to try the Landmine Quiz

Scarcella (1978) outlines ten distinct phases for implementing socio-dramas in the classroom. This activity uses many of her suggested stages, but omits "audience preparation" and an explicit overview of the various roles prior to the simulation. I felt it was better for students to operate in a "black box" and discover what their various roles were as they went along. Although this is requires more role-negoiatation than situations in which roles are clearly expounded prior to the enactment, it is closer to real life.

It is worth noting that not all of the activities in this lesson are roleplays. Instead of immediately jumping into a simulation, a degree of warm up is necessary. Some classes, in fact, need so much warm up that it might be better to carry this activity over two lessons. One warm up option is to have students design the thirty or so "consequence cards" which are placed on the floor. Based on their understanding (and research) of landmines, they can decide which roles to create. Although this would lack the spontaneity of a "black box" approach, using student-generated roles has other advantages.

Student performance seems to vary during experiential roleplays. Salisbury (1970: 331) comments that the gamelike nature of roleplays allow students to try on new behaviors without social penalties. For some, adopting a new persona during a roleplay makes speaking easier. Other students are uncomfortable in their new roles. Discomfort, however, can be an integral part of the learning process. The landmine simulation, for example, was not designed for comfort. Few of the roles people living in a country torn by civil war experience are comfortable. The roleplay was designed to challenge participants out of their complacency.

In addition to the handicap and landmine awareness simulations mentioned in this article, there are numerous other options. Since 1959 OxFam has been sponsoring hunger banquets in which the world's food allocation is reflected in what the participants eat. Basicaly, any sort of situation can provide material for a roleplay. If that situation is relevant to the students, the roleplay has a better chance of seeming meaningful. Instead of merely representing language in novel ways, experiential based roleplays are meant to present novel situations which challange our vistas of life. Roleplay activities may seem foreign at first, but in that foreignness participants often find new dimensions of themselves. Simulations can point out how "identity" itself is contextual and dynamic, rather than passive, monolithic, or rigid.

The relationship between simulation and presentation is an interesting one. When the focus is on heightening the emotional sensitivity to an issue, roleplays are often effective. When the focus is on acquiring background information and detailed facts, other modes of presentation may be more effective. Too often teachers provide detailed information about a subject before securing an adequate interest level.

Conclusion and Further Resources

Kelly (1997) notes experiential learning activities are not widely used in ESOL classes. Experimental pedagogy is at odds with the prevailing educational paradigm which values the memorization of facts and "hard" information. Unlike methodologies which value standardization, experiential learning simulations tend to vary significantly from time to time. For this reason grading is difficult and the insights which arise in one group discussion may not appear in another.

An excellent source for further information about experiential learning is the National Society for Experiential Education out of Raleigh, N.C. Founded in 1971, this organization has over 2,000 members and publishes a quarterly journal, as well as many resource books. They also hold conferences each autumn.

One of the best sources of information about visual handicaps is at The Deaf Linx page of Amy Frasu is widely recognised as the best source of information about auditory handicaps. Good information about various physical handicaps can be found at the Disability Resources and Information Page.

For information about world hunger, I recommend www.htchp.orp/hun.htm. Perhaps the most useful online source of information about landmines is available at

It takes a degree of courage to experiment with experiential based learning activities in class, but the rewards can be remarkable. In an age of apathy and cynicism with education in general, it is exciting to see genuine interest in timely issues.


Boud, David. Keogh, Rosemary. Walker David.(Eds.) (1985). Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. London: Kogan Page. (Nicols Publishing).

Keeton Morris, Tate Pamela. (1978). "The Boom in Experiential Learning" in Keeton M. & Tate P. (eds.) Learning by Experience: What, Why, How. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Keller, Helen. (January 1933). "Three Days to See". Atlantic Monthly.

Kelly, Curtis. (1997) "David Kolb, The Theory of Experiential Learning and ESL". The Internet TESL Journal, 3 (9). [Online]. Available: [1998, Feb. 7].

Kolb, David A. & Fry R. (1975). "Toward an Applied Theory of Experiential Learning". In Cooper, Carey L. Theories of Group Processes. New York, Wiley.

Kohonen, Viljo. (1992). Experiential language learning: Towards second language learning as learner education. In D. Nunan (Ed.), Collaborative language learning and teaching. (pp. 14-39). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Munsell, Julie Ann. (1995). "Powell's Journey: Canyon as Teacher. A Model for Experiential Education". Master's Research Paper, Mankato State University. pp. 8-35. quoted in Coats, Megan. "Experiential Education Homepage." Available: [Dead link]. [1998, Jan. 22].

Newfields, Tim. (1994). "Handicap Awareness Training: A Pilot Project". Tokai University Bulletin, 20, 77 - 82. Available: [1998, Jan. 26].

Salisbury, Lee. (1970). Role Playing: Rehearsal for Language Change. TESOL Quarterly, 4 (4), 331 - 336.

Scarcella Robin C. (1978). "Socio-Drama For Social Interaction" TESOL Quarterly, 12 (1), 41 - 45.

Torbert, William R. (1972). Learning from Experience: Toward Consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press.

Tourunen, Eero. (1992) "Educating Relfective System Designers by Using the Experiential Learning Model" Presentation at IFIP W.G. on Jul 13-17, 1992 in Singapore. [Online]. Available: [1998, Feb. 23].

Click here for Experiential Based Roleplays for Social Awareness (Part 1)
Click here to try the Landmine Quiz


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