Engaging the Whole Class Through Strategic Role Assignment

When a simulation or role play requires the direct involvement of only a small subset of students, the rest of the class may find themselves disconnected from the action. Even students within the subset of chief participants can become disengaged if their individual role is ill-defined. In this video, Richard Schwartzstein and Jeffrey William discuss how strategic role assignments can maintain engagement and “involve the crowd.” In this simulation specifically, the main actors in the simulation fulfill roles that mirror those on a hospital floor, while other students in the class act as medical consultants and family members of the patient. Not only does this strategic role assignment boost class-wide engagement, but it also creates a more dynamic learning experience and ensures that all students feel the urgency of the simulation.


Richard Schwartzstein, Ellen and Melvin Gordon Professor of Medicine and Medical Education

Student Group



Harvard Medical School


Homeostasis I

Group Size

40 students

Additional Details

First-year prerequisite

  • Assign or have students choose specific roles in simulations. This can make simulations more realistic, reflecting the specific roles real-world practitioners might have. 
  • Devise other creative roles for students in the “audience” to play to sustain their engagement, and create opportunities for other class members to contribute their expertise to the case. These roles can additionally be used to complicate cases, explore relevant tangents, and raise the stakes for student participants even further.
  • Researchers suggest utilizing well-defined, multidisciplinary, simulation-based team training that allows for the assessment of both technical and non-technical skills (Undre et al., 2007).