How 2 simple role-play games can transform students into active learners

By Lucien Vattel and Blaine Vedros
November 17th, 2015

Role-play enhances engagement and subject matter mastery. It’s also a lot of fun

role-play-game-deskStudents learning about the code of Hammurabi by acting as a council trusted with applying it

Maybe you’ve seen them interacting at Comic Con in fantastic costumes or reenacting decisive Civil War battles down to the smallest detail. Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably more familiar with role-playing than you realize. In education, role-play-as-learning is a unique experience which enhances student engagement, social skills, interest, and mastery of subject matter. It’s an approach that can have some major benefits for students.

At its core, role-play involves spontaneous, co-creative, contextualized, personally involved learning, and one of the best ways to introduce the concept to the classroom is though LARPs. Short for Live Action Role-play, LARPs are one part acting, one part historical immersion/interaction, and one part systematic modeling. It conceptualizes major concepts interwoven within human narratives that inspire students to enjoy and retain their knowledge within their experience. It leverages emotion as a mechanism for students to personalize key knowledge, processes, and concepts. And it involves embodiment and situational modeling, guiding students to not only learn the material but to experience it in context.

For educators, LARPing and narrative card games, two role-play types that our organization, GameDesk, has explored, can each offer teachers insight into role-play as an experiential learning tool and approach.

roleplay-gamedeskLearning engineering techniques and history concurrently as students build their own shaduf

First, let’s look at LARPs. In GameDesk’s ‘Time-Larp’ curriculums, students role-play through historical council hearings, agricultural trade, war, and commerce, while building 21st century skills along the way—such as collaboration, politics, and negotiation. In our week long Mesopotamia module for example, students and teachers assume the roles of fictional characters within the context of ancient Mesopotamia during the reign of Hammurabi (1779 BC-1715 BC). Students role-played various classes that existed during that time (merchants, governors, astrologers, and priests) and gained a deeper understanding of social norms and practices of the culture through interacting with one another, while in character, to fulfill in-game objectives.

Next page: Card games that engage every student