Academic journal article Science and Children

Role-Play in the Science Classroom: A Wildlife Game Teaches K-2 Students about the Basic Needs of Animals

Academic journal article Science and Children

Role-Play in the Science Classroom: A Wildlife Game Teaches K-2 Students about the Basic Needs of Animals

Article excerpt

Role-playing, also known as dramatic play, is fun, stimulating, and engaging, making it a marvelous strategy to motivate children to learn. Unfortunately, there persists an erroneous belief that academic content standards cannot be met through play-based activities, which has caused playful methods of learning to virtually disappear from school classrooms (Bergen 2009). However, role-playing can be used to support meaningful content learning through socially and emotionally rewarding experiences. In fact, children who engage in dramatic play develop more and longer-lasting mental constructs than children who did not have the opportunity to learn through dramatic play (Ghiaci and Richardson 1980).


Ladousse (1987) identified a number of advantages of role-play in the classroom, including (1) allowing students to act upon their personal experiences, (2) helping teachers to identify misconceptions, (3) encouraging creativity, and (4) increasing student motivation. Aubusson et al. (1997) found that role-playing in science classrooms developed deeper student understanding, improved student motivation, and facilitated learning across a range of ability levels. Bergen (2009) asserted that play in school enhances the creative and innovative potential of future scientists.

The activity shared here is an animal role-playing lesson developed, field-tested, and refined for Nature's Neighborhood, a newly designed children's education facility at the Toledo Zoo. The activity (Figure 1) is targeted at students in kindergarten through second grade, but it can be adapted for use in grades three and four as well. The basic rules of the game are simple--students role-play a teacher-selected animal, following the animal's tracks and collecting stickers that represent the parts of the environment that fulfill the animal's basic needs (food, shelter, and water) along the way. Through students' interactions with others during the role-play and discussions afterward, the understanding that animals need, among other things, food, water, and shelter to survive is reinforced.


Although some young students may be able to identify the basic needs of animals, many students may not realize that different types of animals acquire their needs in different ways. Several simple preassessment strategies can help determine students' prior knowledge of the learning objectives, such as a KWL chart, anticipation guide, and selective interviews. Parentheses contain answers provided by a six-year-old student to the following interview questions:

* What does an animal need to live? ("Food. Water. Lots and lots of love. Sunlight.")

* Do all animals need these things? ("No, all animals need something different.")

* Do different kinds of animals

eat different kinds of foods? ("Yes, but babies eat the same kind of foods as their parents. Some animals eat yucky stuff on the ground.")

* What kinds of animals are food for other animals? ("Flies eat mosquitoes. Spiders catch mosquitoes and flies and stuff like that.")

* Do all animals have a home? ("Pretty much all of them have a home, except the ones at the pet store.")

* What kinds of homes do different types of animals live in? ("Habitats. They might live in a home like a dog. They might live at the zoo. Or, they might have a cave like bears. They might have a pond like fish live in.")

Follow-up questions can be asked to probe more deeply into the children's thinking. For example, when the student above was asked to elaborate on her answer to the second question, she was unable to do so. When she was asked what a habitat was, she responded, "That's a fancy word for a frog's home."

Game Setup

Choose three animals that are common to your region, taking care to include an omnivore and two animals that could serve as prey. Including an omnivorous animal promotes greater interaction with the physical environment and other students as these individuals search for both plant and animal foods during their role-play. …

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