Play your role

Debate a hot topic with some helpful, and some less helpful, participants


‘Play your role’ allows you to explore the different roles people take in discussion or debate.  You can recognise yourself or others, and it may help with your participation, and with successfully challenging others and getting your point across in the future.


Choose a few different discussion topics – this could be done by one person in advance, or as a group at the start of the activity.  These can be anything and could range from the very personal to the global.

For example, “If money were no object, where would you choose for your next holiday?” or “What are the three biggest threats to the global environment?”

If you are doing this exercise in person, prepare cards each with one of the roles below. For those working online, whoever is leading the session will need to privately message them to participants,  so it may be helpful to have them ready to cut and paste into the ‘chat’ function of your call.

If you have a big group split into smaller groups of 5-6 people in each. Online you could send these groups into separate breakout rooms, in person simply space them around your room.

Play Your Role – 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.

Give each person a copy of a different ‘unhelpful’ role card, which they read and don’t show anyone else. If you are online send it to them as a private message. Then give the group a discussion topic 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.

Play Your Role – 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.
Mediator – 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?”

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.

Take It Further

If you enjoyed Play Your Role, you might like to try a Balloon Debate or to explore the steps of Mediation.


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