TPR in Role-Playing and Simulations

Here is the second post by guest contributor Dr. Tricia Stapleton, Assistant Teaching Professor of Social Science & Policy Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute:

After using total physical response (TPR) in my French classrooms, I found three benefits to using it in political science courses.

Physical SkeletonFirst, linking concepts to action leads to higher levels of retention in the student. While the actions taken in political science classes aren’t as literally performative as in foreign language ones, political science instructors can develop role-playing and simulation activities that use TPR. In language classrooms, students may act out commands like picking up a book, walking around the room, or greeting a classmate. In the political science classroom, actions occur in a more imaginary realm, such as students acting out diplomatic negotiations.

Second, instructors don’t need to shy away from creating complex activities to help  students build a knowledge base. TPR research shows that more complex verbal commands result in dramatic improvements in student understanding. With this in mind, however, instructors should ensure that complex activities are focused in terms of learning objectives. Activities shouldn’t be complex for complexity’s sake.

Third, TPR’s focus on a singular learning objective allows higher levels of comprehension and retention of the concepts, while also creating a strong foundation for future skills. As the instructor develops role-playing and simulation activities, a clear learning objective for each stage of the game is important, as well as consideration for how the outcomes can be referenced throughout the semester.

When I incorporated TPR strategies into my political science classes, the goal wasn’t to make students move around just for the sake of using TPR. Rather, I looked for a concept or theory that could be enhanced by game-playing. First, I considered the topics that produced the most anxiety or confusion among my students, and then I examined the viability of these topics into a role-playing or simulation situation: Did the topic lend itself to becoming an in-class activity? Finally, I looked at the logistics of playing a game: how much class time could I devote to it? What would my main learning objective be and how would I meet it? How could I assess the outcomes of the game? I eventually settled on the topic of comparative advantage, which I’ll discuss in my next post.

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