„Initially I was very skeptical about this activity. But after experiencing it as a participant myself I am totally convinced!“
Students imagine being someone else and consider inequality as a source of discrimination and exclusion.
- to promote empathy with others who are different
- to raise awareness about the inequality of opportunities in society
- to foster an understanding of possible consequences of belonging to minority groups
- Role cards (see Annex)
- List of situations (see Annex)
- Optional: art materials to make name tags and/or draw pictures
- Adapt the roles and list of situations to the group. Prepare a role card for every child.
- Copy the role cards, cut them out and fold them over.
- Make sure that you have enough space (large classroom or corridor), eventually go to the school courtyard.
Step by step description
1. Introduce the activity by asking the children if they have ever imagined being someone else. Ask for examples. Explain that in this activity they will also imagine that they are someone else, another child who may be quite different from themselves.
2. Explain that everyone will take a slip of paper with their new identity. They should read it silently and not let anyone know who they are. If a child does not understand the meaning of a word in his/her role card, they should silently raise their hand and wait for you to come and explain.
3. Discourage questions at this point. Explain that even if they don’t know much about a person like this, they should just use their imagination. To help children get into their role, ask them to do a few specific things to make the role seem real to them.
- Give yourself a name. Make a name tag with this role name to remind you of who you are imagining yourself to be.
- Draw a picture of yourself.
- Draw a picture of your house, room, or street.
- Walk around the room pretending to be this person.
4. To further enhance the children’s imagination, play some quiet music and ask them to sit down and close their eyes and imagine in silence as you read out a few questions such as these:
- Where were you born? What was it like when you were little? What was your family like when you were little? Is it different now?
- What is your everyday life like now? Where do you live? Where do you go to school?
- What do you do in the morning? In the afternoon? In the evening?
- What kind of games do you like playing? Who do you play with?
- What sort of work do your parents do? How much money do they earn each month? Do you have a good standard of living?
- What do you do in your holidays? Do you have a pet?
- What makes you happy? What are you afraid of?
5. Ask the children to remain absolutely silent (this is very important for the process of the activity!) as they line up beside each other, as if on a starting line. When they have lined up, explain that you are going to describe some things that might happen to a child. If the statement would be true for the person they are imagining themselves to be, then they should take a step forward. Otherwise they should not move.
6. Read out the situations (see Annex) one at a time. Pause between each statement to allow the children time to step forward. Invite them to look around to see where others are.
7. At the end of the activity, invite everyone to sit down in his or her final position. Ask each child in turn to describe their assigned role. After the children have identified themselves, ask them to observe where they are at the end of the activity.
8. Before beginning the debriefing questions, make a clear ending to the role-play. Ask the children to close their eyes and become themselves again. Explain that you will count to three and then they should each shout out their own name. In this way, you conclude the activity and ensure that the children don’t stay caught up in the role. Plan enough time for the debriefing and make sure that every child gets a chance to speak. This activity can call up strong emotions, and the more the children can express themselves and their feelings, the more sense they will get out of it.
Reflection with the students / questions for debriefing
Get all together in a circle. If you were outside for the activity, go back to the classroom. Possible questions for the debriefing:
- How did you feel in your role?
- Was it easy or difficult to play? Why?
- Were you surprised where you finished?
- If you stepped forward often, when did you begin to notice that others were not moving as fast as you were?
- Did the person you were imagining move ahead or not? Why or why not?
- Did you feel that something was unfair?
- Do you know anyone like the person that you played? Is it through personal experience or through other sources of information (e.g. other children, adults, books, media)?
- Is what happened in this activity anything like the real world? How?
- What gives some people in our community more or fewer opportunities than others?
Suggestions for adaptations and variations
- Make your own role cards. Those offered here are meant to serve as samples. The closer your role cards reflect the world in which the children live, the more they will learn from the activity.
- Also adapt the roles to avoid embarrassing any child whose personal situation may too closely mirror that of one of the roles.
- Underline that it is a role-play!
- If you notice that a child gets emotionally caught up in one of the roles, pay particular attention to this child. Try to speak to him/her individually.
Reference / original source of the method
The activity is from the “Manual on human rights education for children – Compasito”. The manual was published by the Council of Europe in 2007 and can be downloaded for free from the website: www.eycb.coe.int/compasito
An adaptation of this activity was used at the aces Kick-Off Meeting 2015 in Sarajevo.
Further tips and resources
There is also a version designed for older students originally published in: COMPASS. A manual on human rights education with young people. Council of Europe, 2002.