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Play your role


To prepare for this activity, write a few cards with different discussion topics on. Choose the topics yourself, choosing things you think would interest the group – for example, ‘if money were no object, where would you choose for your next camp?’ or ‘what are the three most important threats to the global environment?’ You’ll also need copies of the roles (below) to hand out to members of the group.


Unhelpful roles:

  • Criticiser – you criticise everything anyone says e.g. “that’s a silly idea”, “that won’t work” etc.
  • Intolerant – you think you know best and are right. You won’t accept anyone else’s point of view e.g. “This is how it is…”, “you don’t know what you’re talking about” etc.
  • Stubborn – you refuse to participate or agree with any decisions the group makes e.g. “I’m not doing that”, “it’s against my principles” etc.
  • Chatterer – you monopolise the discussion and won’t shut up. Keep talking even if you repeat yourself.
  • Clown – you fool around making jokes. You want to liven things up and distract others, particularly the one who is speaking.
  • Fidget – you don’t take part in the discussion but have annoying fidgeting habits such as clicking your fingers, rocking your chair, getting up to look out of the window etc.
  • Helpful roles:
  • Organiser – you try to make sure everyone is comfortable and has a chance to speak. You try to keep the discussion running smoothly. E.g. “David hasn’t spoken yet. Do you want to say something?”, “can we come to a decision?” etc.
  • Problem solver – you try to help people who disagree to see each other’s point of view and try to find solutions to problems e.g. “maybe it’s not fair to expect everyone to eat a vegan diet for a whole week at camp if they’re not used to it. How about having a choice on the menu?”
  • Supporter – you try to me constructive and say when you support someone’s idea, but you don’t put them down if you don’t e.g. “I don’t see it that way, you’ll still have to convince me”.
  • Questioner – you want everyone to clearly understand the situation e.g. “can you give me an example?”, “can you explain that a little more?” etc.
  • Good listener – you are always attentive to what others are saying and when you want to contribute you don’t say things that are irrelevant e.g. “I agree with that because…”
  • Provoker – you don’t allow the conversation to get stuck in a rut and try to stir things up so that the issue gets examined from different points of view e.g. “we all agree the No Ball Games rule is unfair, but what might senior citizens think?”

Either write these out on cards or slips of paper, or print the page and cut them out. Get into smaller groups and give each person a copy of a different ‘unhelpful’ role card, which they read and don’t show anyone else. Then give them a discussion topic card and ask them to discuss the question, in role.

After 5-10 minutes stop the discussion and ask the groups if they can identify the role each person was playing. In the same groups, try another discussion with a different topic and playing ‘helpful’ roles. When all the groups have finished, gather everyone together to discuss:

  • How did you feel about playing the different roles?
  • Were you aware of what the different roles in the group were?
  • Did you learn anything about yourself?
  • Do you recognise yourself in any of the roles?
  • What effect did the different roles have on others in the group?
  • What other roles could you have played?

You could also try this exercise in one big group, with helpful and unhelpful roles in play at the same time to see what happens.

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