Role-Play as a Teaching Strategy at the MG20
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By Rachel Lund

Rachel Lund is a Learning Designer at Knovva Academy where she spends her time researching and writing lesson content. She previously managed professional development courses at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from HGSE in 2011 with an Ed.M in Human Development and Psychology.

The MG20 Leadership Summit puts the student in the role of negotiator, researcher, collaborator, and leader. Over the course of a few days, students from around the world are immersed in a learning experience that challenges them to learn and act on information. They practice these skills in an engaging learning environment. 

When students arrive at the MG20 Leadership Summit they are surrounded by a group of international peers. They participate in workshop training that allows them to explore international trade, global economic policy, and diplomacy from world-renowned educators. This training has a practical application: Once each student is assigned a country and a role, they will assume that role for the rest of the summit as they communicate with their peers. They will use their newfound knowledge to inform decisions they make, as if at a real G20 Summit. 

Students role-play in this simulation. Role-play is a teaching strategy for all ages, which can instill curiosity and ownership within students.1 Students can try on different perspectives in a safe environment, which can help them branch away from any self-imposed limitations. 

For example, a student may feel some nerves when giving a public presentation. However, if they role-play as a Head of State, they may more easily assume the manner of the person in that position. A public presentation may feel more natural, as they remember that they are acting like a person who has given dozens of speeches. 

In this simulation, students negotiate, lead, and collaborate with peers. In all ways, they are the decision makers in this simulation. Their decisions have far-reaching implications that will impact their country. 

This learning environment also gives students the freedom to explore differing viewpoints. It is sometimes easier to represent a situation more accurately or act in a role if you know you are not expressing your own views.2

Role-play has been shown to help students learn more information more quickly and more deeply.3 As they put their knowledge to practical use, they can more easily understand government systems, current issues, and how to use diplomacy in situations. Students can examine the complexities within a scenario that make negotiation difficult and time-consuming.

Students at the MG20 Summit learn to collaborate effectively. They work together to research, develop questions, and make persuasive arguments to advance their position. These actions require students to challenge each other. Students ask difficult questions, find evidence-based sources, and question assumptions. Collaborative learning can improve students’ self-esteem, retention, and self-management skills.4

In this way, role-play also has the benefit of furthering social and emotional learning competencies for students. Skills such as communication, perspective-taking, and identifying emotions are all put into practice in role-play. 

Giving students the power to make decisions gives them a sense of autonomy. Not only are they making the calls, but they can also evaluate their performance and their peers’ performance. A reflective student can evaluate their own skills and choose to practice a particular skill. Teachers can also provide feedback in real time by clarifying concepts or offering constructive criticism as students go. 

Being in an international peer group also allows students to practice cross-cultural communication skills. Cross-cultural competency is one of the essential skills for a future workforce,5 and it’s particularly crucial in an international working environment. 

At an MG20 Leadership Summit, young leaders have the ability to look at perspectives from diverse angles, to learn how to listen carefully, to network, and to learn new depths of collaboration. 

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