Serious but playful simulations

Finding realistic and doable simulations in teacher training is not so easy. Here I will tell you about a teaching activity involving an element of playful role-play on a very difficult theme during a course on special education needs. The topic was children in grief.

The students need a chance to practice hndling difficult situations they probably, and unfortunately, will encounter in their future jobs as teachers. However, some of these situations are not easily to simulate, at least not with the time and resources I have available.

o At the beginning of the course, I tell the students that some topics may be difficult or very emotional.
o Before this specific learning activity, I repeat this.
o If they so wish students are allowed to leave the classroom at any time, opt to only observe from a distance or not to participate at all.
o The students are divided into groups of three.
o One is assigned the role of the teacher, one the pupil/or parent and one is observing.
o We have three different cases so the students take turns doing each role.
o The “pupil” is given a short “case”, and is then role playing as the pupil who, for example recently lost his/her parent. The other group members do not read the case so they have to act on what the “pupil” is telling.
o The pupil starts the conversation, and the aim is for the “teacher” to practice encountering and supporting a pupil in grief.
o After the lesson and in combination with a written assignment on related topics the students are then required to discuss further online (using Moodle).

Emotions and time. After the role play activity is completed there needs to be enough time to discuss and debrief on the emotions and thoughts the activity may lead to. Otherwise, according to my pedagogical approach, it’s not responsible to raise such emotional topics that deeply touch many students.

Online discussions as a complement 
As there rarely is enough time during class and because some students may find it difficult to discuss such as emotional topic in a larger group I give the students a chance to return to this topic online. Both as a student-student interaction or private student-teacher online discussion. The students comment on how such a “simple” activity was an eye-opener for them.

Encouraged by the material provided on the course website I will in the future try to implement more simulations or “near real-life” learning activities.




  1. I faced the same challenge. It is hard to develop playful simulations for teaching. In social science disciplines and the humanities, I struggle to find many simulations that are feasible. In this blog entry, it is interesting to read about difficult situations during teaching and ways to overcome them.

  2. To put a button at the end of the slides for reminding the homework is a great idea! In this semester some of my student didn’t submit their work for evaluation just because they forgot to do it.

  3. At first, I’m sorry for my previous comment, it was not for this post. But if we talk about the playful role-play… It is very difficult and very emotional not only for your students, I think. Organizing and managing this exercise is not easy. Here the simulator will not cope …

  4. It’s good that you point out the challenges concerning emotions and time. One possibility is to put students in pairs so that they can reflect along the simulation game. In that way they have the support all the time. I agree that it’s very important to have time for cool-down activities as well in order to continue with a new simulation.

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