A big thank you to Heidi Peacock in the School of Dentistry & Health Sciences for developing this sample.

Aim of this learning activity

This learning activity is a role play where the students need to negotiate a hypothetical workplace conflict between a Dental Assistant (DA) and an Oral Health Therapist (OHT). The aim is to give the students opportunity to develop their professional practice skills of communication and team work in a safe and low stress environment. The use of a hypothetical role play will assist the students to transform knowledge of expected professional behaviour into a demonstrated skill.



Oral Health Therapy students are required to work as part of a clinical team. Being able to effectively negotiate conflicts in the workplace is essential in professional practice. The workplace learning activity can be a highly stressful and challenging learning environment with the students needing to master multiple clinical skills with the support of DA’s. This role play is designed to assist in the development of effective communication techniques between DA’s and OHT’s if conflicts arise. The opportunity to develop communication skills in a safe and supportive environment can assist with minimising stress during the workplace learning placement.


Working in small groups of 10, the students are required to brainstorm a list of hypothetical conflicts which could occur in the workplace between OHT’s and DA’s. The students will be asked to reflect on their experiences in the clinic thus far and encouraged to present hypothetical scenarios.


The group will then vote on the top 5 scenarios that they wish to use for the role plays.

Students will be allocated a role, either the DA or OHT. The group will be split into two groups, all the DA’s together, all the OHT’s together. In these smaller groups they are encouraged to work together to consider the scenarios and formulate responses to the following questions

  • Using unemotional, factual language detail the behaviour you may have observed by other party.
  • List the possible reasons behind this observed behaviour.
  • What questions would you ask the other party to gather more information?
  • How did the observed behaviour make you feel?
  • What would you like to change in future?
  • Consider the impact of the relationship if you only achieve your goals
  • Apply the THINK acronym to your responses

(Is what you are about to say Thoughtful, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind?)

  • Write a short script to prepare for a 5 minute role play

The 5 groups will present their short 5-minute role plays to the larger group. Following the completion of each role play the group has an opportunity to discuss what worked well, what they would have done differently and what techniques each student would consider using in the future.

Each student will be asked to choose their top 5 strategies observed that they are likely to utilise in their future professional practice. At the conclusion of the tutorial the students are asked to share one of these strategies with the class.

What if?  Risks or limitations and proposed solutions.

  • Lack of Participation – start with an icebreaker, have some examples ready to start the brainstorming sessions, remain positive, encourage even the smallest contribution
  • Nerves / Shyness – reassure students, encourage active involvement, allow confident students to volunteer to go first,
  • Emotive language – Set ground rules about expected behaviours, provide example scripts for students to use including ‘I’ statements
  • Personal involvement – ensure all examples are hypothetical


The role play learning activity is expected to run for 90 minutes.

  1. Introduction / Ice Breaker / Setting the scene – 5 mins
  2. Brainstorming and Voting – 10 mins
  3. Split into two groups, DA’s and OHT’s to plan role plays – 20 mins
  4. Role play implementation x 5 – 5 mins each – total 25 mins
  5. Group discussion and feedback following each play – 5 mins each – total 25 mins
  6. Summary / Conclusion – 5 mins


There is an expectation that students demonstrate a professional standard of behaviour ‘including observing and practising the principles of ethical conduct.  Students must conduct themselves professionally at all times’ (DOH200 Subject Outline). The standard of behaviour is defined in the Dental Board of Australia’s Code of Conduct for Registered Health Practitioners and students.

Is Role Play a Valid Teaching and Assessment Practice?

Yes.  Role play is an effective pedagogical approach for the acquisition of knowledge and skills and useful for the development of interpersonal and communication skills often utilised in conflict management. (Agboola Sogunro,2003).  It has been chosen for these students as it is an active learning method which facilitates understanding of an issue whilst encouraging independence. (Westrup and Planander, 2013)

This activity is also supportive of the constructionist approach to learning. Constructionism is based on the principle that learning takes place when a student is actively involved. It is more effective when the activity is relevant and meaningful (Khoo, 2011).


Agboola Sogunro, O. (2004), “Efficacy of role‐playing pedagogy in training leaders: some reflections”, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 355-371.

Khoo, B.K.S. (2001), “User Interface Design Pedagogy: A Constructionist Approach”, International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education, Vol 7. No.1, pp.1-10

Shapiro, S. and Leopold, L. (2012), “A Critical Role for Role-Playing Pedagogy”, TESL Canada Journal/Revue TESL Du Canada, Vol 29. No2, pp.120-129

Westrup, U. and Planander, A. (2013), “Role-play as a pedagogical method to prepare students for practice: the students´ voice”, Högre utbildning, Vol 3. No.3, pp.199-220