Teaching for Historical Understanding through Role-Play, pp. 3 of 14

In addition, as with all topics, the issue of student engagement is also crucial. For the Normal (Academic) classes especially, sustaining their interest had to be deliberate and part of the lesson design.

The approach: Role-play and character cards

Lower Secondary History Networked Learning Community (NLC) and was relieved to find that I was not the only teacher who found teaching the events and developments in the 1950s challenging. In one of our meetings, we came to a decision to tackle this issue together and agreed to use role-play as the main instructional tool. Our aim was to develop historical empathy among students by creating opportunities for students to make important connections between one’s background and one’s aspirations for Singapore.

According to Tumblety (2004), a role-play strategy allows students to realize that the outcomes of historical crises and processes are not inevitable. As Gorvine (1970) argued, “people who live through the actual happenings have difficulty in perceiving a pattern; rather, they often experience a sense of disorder, turbulence, and groping.” Role-play techniques, therefore, offer students the opportunity to understand the complexity of human motivations in past events (Beidatsch and Broomhall, 2010). The use of role-play as the main pedagogical tool to teach post-war Singapore history will likely help students to not only navigate the myriad events experienced by the people during that time but also allow them to develop a deeper understanding of people’s actions in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Role-play can be engaging and can come in various forms in the classroom, from debates to skits and hot-seating. However, for students to take on the roles well, prior preparation is needed such that students understand the perspectives that they are playing. Teachers can consider the use of character cards as stimuli for students to launch themselves into the topic and examine how each event affects or changes the characters. As Tarr (2016) explained, “providing each student with a character card as a part of a historical study provides a great way of engaging the class with the role and motives of individuals and the nature and impact of change and continuity.” It would seem appropriate then for teachers to augment their use of role-play lesson strategy with character cards to strengthen its affordances.

In demonstrating the use of role-play in the classroom (for the purpose of this article), five groups of people whose aspirations played a significant role in the years leading up to independence were identified, namely, the Singapore Progressive Party (SPP), the Labour Front (LF), the People’s Action Party (PAP), Chinese Middle School Students and the Trade Unions. Previous lessons may have been organized chronologically, focusing on the key events and introducing the people involved only when their involvement became apparent in the respective elections or in the occurrence of the riots. For this role-play lesson, the focus was instead placed on the goals of each historical group/player, and how they influenced and were influenced by the different events in the 1950s.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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