Teaching and learning communication skills in social work education

Practice example 13: Community role play, Staffordshire University

Community role play is a mix of drama, role play, observation, reflection and assessment conducted over the course of about six weeks as part of a first year module entitled 'Core skills for social workers’. This role play was developed in the late 1990s by a tutor who had trained as a family mediator. The rationale behind the development of this role play was that social work training can often appear to be geared to the gathering of information, but that communication skills are intrinsic to this process and can be learnt through the experience of 'trying out’ the tasks and skills involved in it.

The tutor sets up a role play based on the story of two families that are designed to involve as wide a range of social work situations and settings as possible. Scenarios not only involve family and childcare issues, but also relationships between partners, friends, colleagues and agencies.

Students are cast within the role play as social workers, users (both adults and children), carers, family and friends, colleagues and other professionals. Although individual students do not necessarily sustain the same role throughout the six weeks, the same characters continue throughout and their choices, dilemmas, problems and challenges are followed for the duration. Students are encouraged to play as many roles as possible and it is their actions within the role play that form the basis of students’ reflection and discussion which focuses on aspects of communication as well as on other social work skills.

While the story rolls over from session to session, the tutor will stop the role play at various points in order to encourage students to reflect on key issues which arise. The specific benefits of this extended role play include:

The feedback on the role play is very positive and students are encouraged to take risks. They feel they get a lot from it.

An important aspect of supporting this work is the tutor’s creation of a safe environment in which students can work. This is aided by the fact that the tutor may take on roles in order to 'model’ them. Students report that seeing a tutor taking risks makes them feel more comfortable doing so themselves. The whole process, while having a clear teaching and learning focus, is conducted in a relaxed atmosphere of enjoyment, as the tutor feels that students get more out of their experience in such an atmosphere.

User participation in planning, delivery and evaluation

At present, none. However, with the new social work degree plans are being made to involve service users and carers in some aspects of the role play to help sharpen the service user and carer perspective.

Learning aims and outcomes

The module aims to help students make links between theoretical underpinning knowledge and simulated practice, in order to help them be better prepared for practice learning. By encouraging them to enter into the roles they are playing, the staff team hope that students will have greater insight into the issues being explored.

Assessment of learning

There is no formal assessment of the community role play. Informal feedback on how students are engaging with the exercise is given by the module tutor. When out on practice, students are encouraged to discuss with their practice assessor some of the issues which were raised in the role play.

Integration between university and practice curricula

Students are encouraged to discuss their experiences of this role play with their practice assessor when out on placement.


The feedback on the role play is very positive and students are encouraged to take risks. They feel they get a lot from it. Reference Moss, B. (2000) 'The use of large group role play techniques in social work education’, Social Work Education, vol 19, no 5, pp 471-83.

Further information available from Bernard Moss, Staffordshire University (www.staffs.ac.uk).