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Who Will Take the Heat?

Educator Role Play

World in the Balance homepage

Participants will learn about the environmental, economic, and political issues surrounding global climate change policy.

Materials for each team
  • Background (PDF or HTML)
  • Confidential Instructions: People's Republic of China (PDF or HTML)
  • Confidential Instructions: United States (PDF or HTML)
  • Confidential Instructions: Environmental Movement (PDF or HTML)
  • Confidential Instructions: International Business (PDF or HTML)
  • Resources (PDF or HTML)
  • Debriefing Questions (PDF or HTML)

Time Allotted

Session One: Review role-play format, the conflict, and the roles, and assign teams (45 minutes)
Session Two: Negotiate (45 minutes)
Session Three: Debrief role play (45 minutes)

Note: You may decide to extend the negotiation period over two sessions, depending on the involvement of your students. You could also add more time up front to allow students to do additional background research (or you could assign this research as homework). Three sessions is the minimum necessary for this activity, but you should decide what the most appropriate time is given your class period length and students.

Procedure Session 1

Step 1
Explain to students that the United States is the biggest contributor to emissions that cause global warming, but in a few years China is expected to assume that role. To explore global climate change and the options available to tackle this issue, the class will conduct a role play.

Tell students that a role play is different from a debate or persuasive speaking; it is a negotiation exercise. Negotiation is a process in which two or more parties seek to understand one another's interests and create options that will reduce or remove a conflict between them. Each group's goal in negotiation is to fulfill the needs of its group, by crafting an agreement that the other groups can also live with. Negotiation is not simply about making compromises or "being nice" but rather about finding creative options that address everyone's most important needs. Effective negotiation is assisted through the use of specific skills and behaviors to maximize the opportunities for all sides to get what they need in a way that satisfies the primary needs of the other sides as well.

Step 2
Explain to students that in order to effectively negotiate they need to understand what is going on in the conflict. Review the following sources of conflict:

  • Interests: What a group wants and its reasons for wanting them.

  • Beliefs: There are two types of beliefs—values and truths. Values are the group's belief that it has a "right" to something or a belief in the way the world "should" be. Truth is its understanding of how and why things happen and how the world "is."

  • Identities: These are the words a group uses to name itself and encompasses its history, culture, qualities, and characteristics.

  • Emotions: This is how a group feels about something.

Discuss with students that it is important not only to identify their group's own sources of conflict but also those of their negotiating partners. And while it is important that they effectively voice the needs and concerns of their role and do not give in on the interests that are most important to them, they also need to listen to the needs and perspectives of others, and to seek a resolution on which all parties can agree. The goal is not for them to simply demand and argue for what they want, or to give in and concede to any solution, but to develop an agreement that can be good for them and other groups, and persuade the other groups to accept it.

Spend some time constructing ground rules and expectations for the role play. Let students know that they will be expected to behave like delegates to a global climate change conference, to embody the concerns and perspective of their role but to behave with decorum. You may even encourage appropriate professional attire. Brainstorm with students helpful actions and behaviors for the classroom and post them as a reminder. Some examples: no personal attacks; only one person speaks at a time, while others listen; respond to one another's ideas; don't just state what you want, explain why it is important.

Step 3
As a class, review the general instructions, the names of each team, and the issue it is trying to resolve. Explain that the negotiations will take place in two rounds. The first round should be focused on discussing the needs and perspectives of the groups, while the second round should be focused on brainstorming and agreeing upon a resolution.

Assign the students roles. Since there are four roles in this activity, this will leave teams of four to seven students in each role, depending on the size of your class. Note: When you are making up teams, review the skill set of each of your students. Be sure to balance those students who you expect can master the negotiation scenario—understand and "get into" their role and negotiate effectively—with those students who may have difficulty with this.

Tell the students that their team will be given general background about the conflict, a set of confidential instructions, and a list of resources to begin their research. As a team they will:

  • review the sources of conflict listed above (their interests, beliefs, emotions, and identities) to determine their team's perspective on the issues;

  • think about the interests, beliefs, emotions, and identities of the other groups;

  • conduct additional research on the issues (students should start with the list of resources provided);

  • develop options to propose on each issue;

  • decide which members of the group will give the opening statement, negotiate the first round, and negotiate the second round; and

  • develop an opening statement. This should state who they are and a little about what is important to them.

Session 2

Step 1
Begin the negotiation. Set up the room with chairs around a table or with chair-desks in a circle, one for each role. Each seat at the table should have the group's nameplate. Try and seat groups closest to their allies. One representative from each group is seated at the table. Other team members sit behind their representative.

Step 2
Begin with opening statements. (The representative sitting at the table makes the group's opening statement.) Representatives may also ask questions about one another's opening statements. Encourage team members to participate by passing notes to their representative, but remind them that only the representative can speak.

After the opening statements, the formal negotiations begin. Begin by discussing the needs and perspectives of the groups. As they negotiate, they should aim to learn what is important to the other groups and test this against their team's perceptions. They also need to make sure that the other groups understand what is important to their team, instead of just making assumptions. Make sure each group gets a chance to speak and that groups can ask clarifying questions about why things are important and how they prioritize the things that are important. They might then try to identify points of commonality and points of difference.

Step 3
The second round is focused on brainstorming and agreeing upon a resolution. Once the students understand one another's needs, they can begin to brainstorm options—"what ifs"—that might meet those needs. Remind them not to immediately judge these ideas: the more creative the students are, the more opportunities there are for acceptable solutions. Tell them to think about their priorities and identify the things they are willing to give up in order to get things that are more important. To move toward resolution, the group will need to establish objective criteria to help decide what is "fair." In situations where it is impossible to fully satisfy the interests and needs of all groups on an issue, they will need to think of reasons why the group should select one solution rather than another, finding criteria of fairness (precedent, expert advice, cultural norms) agreeable to all groups.

At the end of the allotted time, have the students write down any agreements they have reached and any points of disagreement that remain. They may also record any next steps that they agree the participants should take. This will be the final outcome from the negotiations. Remind them that (theoretically) they will need to defend this document to their constituents.

Step 4
At the end of each class, ask students to reflect on the day's negotiations.

  • What issues were discussed?

  • What were the main points offered by your group?

  • How did the other groups respond? What were their main points?

  • What was the outcome?

  • What was one thing someone at the table did that escalated the conflict? What was one thing someone at the table did that helped de-escalate the conflict and advance the negotiations?

  • Are you satisfied with today's negotiation? What one thing could your representative have done differently to improve the outcome? What one thing could another group's representative have done better?

  • What do you think will happen next?

Session 3

Debriefing is a critical step in the role play. During debriefing students can reflect on and analyze the experiences they had during the negotiation process, share different perspectives, and integrate new learning into their larger conceptual framework. Print out the Debriefing Questions and use them as a guide for classroom discussion on the experience of the role play, the conflict, and the resolution.


There is a wide range of options for assessing role play. What follows is a menu of potential components. We recommend that you inform students at the beginning how this unit will be graded, so that they have a clear understanding of your expectations.

Participation assessment
Role play requires active participation, which provides many opportunities for assessment of student performance of skills and behaviors. These include:

  • Preparation (demonstration of content understanding)

  • Oral skills (talking clearly, slowly, loudly; not reading from a paper)

  • Group work skills (listening to others, support for peers, providing input/feedback)

  • Performance in role (emotional commitment, demonstrated knowledge of role's interests, beliefs, and identity)

  • Debriefing (ability to examine self and group's learning and performance)

  • Overall participation (attitude, motivation, commitment/engagement, development)

Follow-up assignments and final projects
You could also use these role plays to lead to additional essays or projects to assess student knowledge of the content, understanding of the process, and reflection on the experience of the role play and debriefing. You can use the Debriefing Questions to shape your assignment, or you can build from the following suggestions of essay topics and other projects.

Analytic essay: Have students analyze the issues at stake in the role play and discuss: What are the most important issues? Where are the primary areas of agreement? Where are the major areas of disagreement? How can/should this conflict be resolved? Is negotiation a viable strategy for reaching a solution—why or why not?

Reflective essay: Assign an essay in which students reflect on and evaluate their learning experience doing the role play. Ask students to examine the lessons they learned and the process they used to learn them. Use some of the Individual and Community Application questions from the Debriefing Questions.

Position paper: Have students write their perspective on what the "proper" resolution to the conflict should be, supported with evidence from their readings and experiences. Or have them write a position paper from an assigned perspective—as their role or as an opposite role.

Research paper: Ask students to conduct further research into a specific area.


The "Who Will Take the Heat" role play aligns with the following NCSS National Standards for Social Studies Teachers.

Grades 9-12

III People, Places, and Environments

  • provide learners with opportunities to observe and analyze social and economic effects of environmental changes and crises;

  • challenge learners to consider, compare, and evaluate existing alternative uses of resources and land in communities, regions, nations, and the world.

VII Production, Distribution, and Consumption

  • provide opportunities for learners to assess how values and beliefs influence economic decisions in different societies.

IX Global Connections

  • challenge learners to analyze the causes, consequences, and possible solutions to persistent, contemporary, and emerging global issues, such as health care, security, resource allocation, economic development, and environmental quality;

  • guide learner analysis of the relationships and tensions between national sovereignty and global interests in such matters as territorial disputes, economic development, nuclear and other weapons.

X Civic Ideals and Practices

  • facilitate learner efforts to locate, access, analyze, organize, synthesize, evaluate, and apply information about selected public issues—identifying, describing, and evaluating multiple points of view;

  • provide opportunities for learners to practice forms of civic discussion and participation consistent with the ideals of citizens in a democratic republic.

Classroom Activity Author

These role plays were developed by Workable Peace. Visit for more role plays where students can explore history and current events as they develop conflict-management skills.

Educator Role Plays: Who Will Take the Heat? | The Growing of America

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