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Academic literacies
| Developing a digital student | Developing notemaking and reflective learning | IBL & PBL: problems and projects | Promoting dicussion
Promoting reading | Reading List | Resources | Simulations and role plays | Visual and creative strategies
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Simulations and role plays

Learning is active, intellectual and cognitive – learning is also embodied – whole body learning. To facilitate whole body learning, we have devised some generic simulations and role plays that can be inserted into any subject module.  We have resources available for all the activities below – and would love to hear about simulations, role plays and resources that you are currently using.

Simulations and role plays have multiple purposes in your class:

  • Excellent in first sessions with students – gets them speaking with each other – starts to break down isolation and helps students to bond as people
  • Reassures students that they are not alone in fears, misunderstandings and general feelings of being lost
  • Emphasises role of discussion in active learning
  • Improves student behaviour overall when they have bonded as a group of real people
  • Promotes critical and analytical thinking – and the ability to think and form arguments.

1: Simulation#1: The apocalypse is coming: who will you keep into your bunker and why?
This exercise is a great ice breaker – it helps students to speak with each other and to start to realise that the other people on their course are also human beings – just like them! This exercise can take say 30’ of group discussion and 30’+ of de-briefing and further discussions. We follow it up with the post-holocaust scenario – and then a further discussion activity that looks at self-esteem and study success – and we get the students back into groups discussing how they would build self-esteem and self-confidence in their post-holocaust worlds.

The Full Role Play:

World War 3 has just occurred and you and nine other people find yourselves to be alone together in a Nuclear Bunker. You are probably the last people left on earth. There are some resources in the bunker – but not enough for all of you to survive for a long time. If all of you stay, then you will all live only for a maximum of two years. If three of you wish to survive for many years, seven of you will have to leave soon because there are not enough resources for all of you to survive.

In your bunker, you have the following facilities:

  • sewage system
  • water
  • seeds
  • some clothes
  • a few books
  • some medical facilities but no operating material
  • a greenhouse.

In the bunker, the following roles will be played out. Each person in the group of ten will play one of the following roles.

  • Gay scientist
  • Buddhist priest
  • Married couple who are ‘green’ but childless (one person to speak as couple)
  • Single pregnant woman with a five year old girl
  • Army officer who has mental instability of some sort but is useful nonetheless
  • Elderly woman
  • Disabled man
  • Bisexual lawyer
  • Person who has been long term unemployed
  • Atheist doctor.

In your group of ten, each of you has a chance to speak. You must present your case. Explain why you think you should live. Argue for your life unless you really want to sacrifice yourself for others. Listen to others arguments as well.

You have 20-30 minutes as a group, to:

  • allow each person to speak
  • decide whether some will leave and the others stay
  • decide who will leave and who will stay
  • make notes.

Reasons for your group’s decisions


Reasons to save

Reasons to sacrifice
































  • Explain why you feel your choices were made.
  • What influenced your decision?
  • Did anyone emerge as a leader?  Why? Why not? 
  • How did this influence the choices?
  • What does this tell you about your own values and beliefs?
  • How might this affect you as a professional in [your subject]?


Meta-discussion  (all together  or in seminar groups): our values affect our behaviour – how can we be fair and enabling [your subject] professionals?


  • Discussion of leaders and leadership
  • Discussion of values – represented by who was saved and sacrificed
  • Discussion of the role of values for a professional
  • Discussion of point of this activity in re bonding students as a group of people learning together.

2: Simulation#2: The apocalypse is over – you are emerging from your bunkers and have to re-build the world; you are responsible for its civilization, technology, culture; you will need to feed and care for yourselves and other people. What systems would you set up and why?  NB: This also offers the opportunity to bring in discussion of ethics and philosophy more generally.

Set up student groups for:

  • Immediately on emerging from the bunker
  • Five years after emergence
  • Ten years after
  • (More if you wish).

When we did it we made late comers to the class act as a judging panel – and each group had to ‘pitch’ their decisions back to the class as a whole – and he judging panel.
We encouraged much discussion of the different pitches – and had a de-brief that explored the (buried) values that possibly contributed to the decisions made.

De-brief Question:  What does this tell you about possible purposes of society? How did your strategies conform to or differ from the [your subject] system in this country today? What does this tell you about the different purposes of society, education, health, farming and business?

3: Simulation #3: Following a brief whole-lecture on the role of ‘Self efficacy and educational success’ (notes and resources available) –  we got the students back into post-holocaust groups and asked them to consider the following questions.
Bunker#3: Building a confident community
In groups:

  • How would you build self-efficacy in your society?
  • What would you do and why?
  • What art, music, poetry, prose and dance would you save? Why?
  • How would you preserve it and pass it on?
  • Option: each group to perform one song/dance/poem.
  • Follow up thinking: Why did we do this? What role does self-efficacy play in your own development as a professional?

4: Role play and critical thinking: Discussion to resolve Moral dilemmas (resources available).

  • Students in pairs discuss and resolve a moral dilemma. Tip: Get students to draw the issue and the resolution.
  • If time – each pair can lead a discussion on their issue and resolution.
  • Plenary: why did we do this? How far is this a critical thinking exercise and how far does one’s answer depend on one’s values and beliefs?
  • Extension: Continuing the thinking on the purpose of society and of [your subject] and the sort of professional you might want to be:  Class discussion: Who and what is [your subject] for? What sort of professional do you want to be?

5: Role play – students as producers
After engaging in role play and simulation work, require students to design and develop ideas for role plays to tackle key course topics, theoretical issues and/or concepts. Students can devise their ideas, produce supporting resources – and trial their simulations with groups of fellow students…