Role-plays can be built into a teaching plan with pre-assigned roles and advance student preparation, or they can be used spontaneously in response to a specific comment or class discussion. In either case, role-plays typically require a set-up, action, and debrief. 

Here are some Zoom features and teaching processes you might use to carry out these three components of a role-play in a virtual environment.

Setup: Help students prepare their roles

For role-plays that are planned in advance, distribute any instructions and role documents via Canvas. You can share these before class, or you can upload them to Canvas and wait to publish them until class time. You can send messages and files to specific students if you need to keep the documents or details private to certain students for purposes of the role-play.

For spontaneous role-plays, you can give instructions to the whole class over Zoom, or use Breakout Rooms and/or private in-meeting chat messages to role-specific instructions privately.

Action: Conduct the role-play

Consider one of the following approaches for conducting the role-play:

Spotlight the students in the role-play while the rest of the class observes

You can put the students in the role-play “on stage” using Zoom’s Spotlight Video video feature. Spotlight Video allows you to choose up to 9 participants as primary speakers so that their  video feeds will be visible to all participants. This feature is often used to spotlight a keynote speaker or presenter. This article describes how to turn the spotlight on and off.

Note that Pin Video also allows you to designate a primary active speaker, but it only customizes your own display – not the students’ displays.

Students conduct the role-plays in Breakout Rooms and then the class debriefs together

In this approach, pairs or groups of students conduct the role-play while in Breakout Rooms. You can assign students to groups manually or randomly (aka “automatically” in Zoom). Be sure to provide clear instructions and time frames to students before you put them into Breakout Rooms.  Learn more about our recommendations for using Breakout Rooms here.

Ask students to conduct and record role-plays outside of class

You might have students conduct a role-play outside of class as a form of pre-work and/or to reduce the amount of time they need to spend on Zoom in one sitting. To do this, students would schedule a Zoom meeting with their role-play partner/group and record the meeting while they conduct the role-play. They can then upload the recording to Canvas as an assignment (if only the instructor should see the recordings) or to a Canvas discussion forum (if you’d like students to watch each other’s recordings). You might watch the recordings and lead a follow-up discussion during class time and/or select a recording to share back with the class in order to highlight certain concepts.

Debrief: Discuss the role-play

You might debrief the role-play as a whole class in Zoom, using discussion prompts like “How realistic was the interaction?”, “What was surprising?”, “Why did you say/do ____?”, “What would you have done differently?”, “What makes this kind of interaction so hard?”

If you’re teaching a large class, you might also use the Zoom chat and polling features to solicit input broadly and quickly. Learn more about these Zoom engagement features here.