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Using role play to learn facilitation skills

Using theatre or role play to encourage learning about facilitation skills can be very powerful. It allows all kinds of difficult situations to be covered in a relaxed, often very funny way

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Photo: Isabel Carter/Tearfund

From: Facilitation skills – Footsteps 60

How to facilitate participatory learning effectively

by Isabel Carter.

Some people are naturally good at facilitation. However, most of us have to work hard to become good facilitators. Learning facilitation skills through day-to-day work can take a long time. Meetings or workshops can help people to improve their skills in a short time. They can learn helpful tips and lessons that will remain with them.

Using theatre or role play to encourage learning about facilitation skills can be very powerful. It allows all kinds of difficult situations to be covered in a relaxed, often very funny way. This encourages people to discuss the problems raised, to consider how best to handle them and to retain this learning. Trainers can work together performing role play on a different aspect of facilitation at the beginning of each session.

Alternatively, during training meetings or a workshop, try placing people into small groups to work together on producing a short role play demonstrating one aspect of facilitation. Reassure them they do not have to be wonderful actors! Meet separately with each group to explain the situation they will demonstrate. Let them decide on whether simply to show the problem with the facilitator unable to cope, or to show the facilitator handling the problem well.

Some suggestions for role plays 

  • Act out a group meeting where the facilitator is actually doing one-way teaching and not using facilitation skills at all.
  • Act out a group meeting where two individuals with existing tensions keep arguing with each other and disrupting the discussion.
  • Act out a group meeting with a number of very shy people who will not speak.
  • Act out a group meeting with one dominant, knowledgeable member who wants to provide all the answers and interrupts anyone else who wants to speak.
  • Show a facilitator who is obviously very nervous, reads everything out and is unable to handle pauses, rushing in to give most of the answers. They are unable to listen properly when people start to make useful points and immediately move onto their next point.

Allow people a short time to prepare. Don’t introduce the point of the role play to those watching. Instead, after each role play, take time to draw out what those watching have observed and what they have learned.

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