How role plays and group discussions can be effective in social science courses

Making a point clear or even making a concept clear is quite easily possible through role plays and group discussions in most social science courses. This would mean that the students do a lot more home work than what is normally considered okay in educational settings. This article is an attempt to discuss some possibilities of making role plays and group discussions work in social science courses.


Psycology is a social science that seeks to understand why people behave the way they do. Sociology is another major social science and this is a scientific study of study and the various events that happen in it. Psycology and Sociology are inter-related. For example,the psycology of crowds is now a subject of study and the same is also now a research subject in sociology as well. Social sciences are thus major subjects of study about individuals, organization's and entire societies.

Many of the topics or subjects that are taught in social science disciplines are inter-related to the fundamentals of other major disciplines. To give a simple example, if urban sociology is discussed at the post-graduate level, the entire discussion will also turn towards economic issues and the topic will become interdisciplinary. Hence, there should be coordination and cooperation between teachers of both economics and sociology to have a common platform where group discussions take place. In other words, there can a deep exchange of ideas between students and these interactions should be monitored by teachers.There is no need to even have any major evaluation of such initiatives except providing proper feedback and guidance.

In the main, making role plays and group discussions relevant in such contexts would obviously mean that certain basics are followed. These basics will include a) Never having a fixed syllabus b) Bringing in external experts to talk on current topics c) Making students appreciate different teaching methodologies d) Enabling inter-disciplinary interactions at least thrice a week and e) Encouraging learning as a means to noble ends.

Never having a fixed syllabus

Imagine this situation. The YouTube lectures of the noted historian, Prod Ramachandra Guha, on Mahatma Gandhi are shown on the big screen in a famous college and all sociology, psychology, public administration, and economics students of all local colleges are invited to participate in large numbers. Let us say, some six hundred post-graduate students participate and listen to Prof. Ramachandra Guha. Obviously, the books written by him on Mahatma Gandhi are based on solid research and anecdotal evidence. None can argue with his reasoning and logic. Though some of his views might throw up fresh controversies, many of his ideas on say, trusteeship, as preached by Mahatma Gandhi, for example, are increasingly relevant in this COVID phase and post-COVID phase as well. Hence, when the college's open in September 2020, in an auditorium where two thousand can comfortably participate in normal times, six hundred participants of students and teachers can conveniently participate after practicing social distancing in a big way.

Imagine how many new topics for group discussion will emerge. A group of fifteen economics and sociology post-graduate students can take over and discuss the relationship of trusteeship with Corporate Social Responsibility and so on. The students will obviously do some homework on some useful done during these few months by Corporate organizations and then relate it to the present needs of the society. A portion of this might as well go into social media as well. This is just one example of how new teaching methodologies could take shape.

The trick is to have the prescribed syllabus as just the basic template and expand on it. The scope is extremely wide in social sciences.

Bringing in external experts to talk on current topics

Take the example of how the Chennai Corporation was able to combat COVID-19 and keep the death rate under control, even when one thousand of new cases emerged every day. Imagine a guest lecture by the Corporation Commissioner in the month of October. In fact, this is exactly what should be talked across India. When the students get a deep insight into what went right and what went wrong, obviously, many new perspectives will emerge. The students will possibly discuss the experiences over a period of time. Fresh solutions to the then-current problems might as well emerge. For example, some students would share the experience of his relative in Kerala who received an integrated treatment and was fine within ten days. This is exactly the positive by-product of the guest lectures by experts, and these should always be on current topics. For example, the Mumbai dabbawallahs were even able to visit the prestigious campus of Harvard University in the USA, to understand how they practice supply chain management so successfully. Every social science student should learn this case-study, now available in many videos as well.

It is not without reason that the highly memorable "Stay hungry, stay foolish" lecture to management students is now one of the most-watched management videos, again and again, by thousands of students. Imagine a group discussion on one of the basic points of Steeve Jobs in that speech on connecting the dots. Get the PG students to discuss the great Indian migrant crisis. This burning issue will throw up hundreds of "dots" and joining them will even lead to totally new and fresh perspectives on the issue. Guest lectures by experts open up thousands of possibilities for group discussion anywhere in academic settings in all social science subjects and disciplines.

Making students appreciate different teaching methodologies

Any change process is difficult, more so, when the traditional methods of teaching had been in existence for several years. What is required is constant communication and interaction with students and faculty members of different colleges that have already been using the different teaching methodologies for a long time. It does take quite a bit of convincing, but the efforts will positively bear fruit when the students start experiencing the good effects of different methodologies. For example, in many schools of social work, with HR as a specialization, there are role plays where one student acts as the Chief of HR, four students as trade union leaders, and a couple of students as the Management. The entire exercise is practiced for some time with the help of experts from the industry and the faculty members. The simulated exercise will positively result in a far better understanding of the ground realities of collective bargaining. At the Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai, and the XLRI Jamshedpur, such role plays are done as a routine. Perhaps even video recordings of such role plays can help a great deal in other students of other colleges understanding the process; this will result in a better appreciation of the need for new teaching methods as well.

Enabling inter-disciplinary at least thrice a week

The innovative teaching methods discussed above, particularly group discussions, have the greatest potential for real personality development. In the years to come, the inter-disciplinary methods must compulsorily happen at least thrice a week; there is no choice. Such initiatives are absolutely essential in all institutions teaching economics subjects.

Encouraging learning as a means to noble ends

When learning becomes an exercise in opening up minds to reach new frontiers of knowledge without any limits, it is obvious that the learning will build citizens who will have a lot more social awareness. This is exactly how the products of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi have been able to become game-changers in many ways in their social roles. Such a valuable contribution has also been reported from the likes of St. Stephen's College New Delhi, the Lady Shri Ram College for Women New Delhi, among several others.

The leading colleges in South India, like the Madras Christian College Chennai, also have group discussions and role-plays in all social science courses as a matter of routine. This is exactly how knowledge should be encouraged; as a means to noble ends and not to merely complete syllabus requirements. The day is not far off when we will be forced to adopt the different teaching methods as a matter of routine.


Some possibilities of making improvements in terms of using the role plays and group discussions, in the social science disciplines and courses, have been discussed above. It is not that these methods are a choice anymore; they have already become imperatives in social science courses in India. The best colleges where these are used extensively can serve as benchmarks for more effective implementation.


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