Mini Simulation Guidelines

CFR Education simulations are based on various hypothetical, historical, and current event scenarios that put students in the shoes of policymakers facing the most pressing issues in international relations. When planning to conduct a simulation, instructors should consider both their goals for the discussion as well as any time constraints. Instructors that  cannot run the simulation synchronously may consider a short writing assignment or using an online discussion board (see some excellent tips here and here). For those that are planning to run the simulation synchronously and are looking for some inspiration, here are a few ideas:

Gauge Reaction

If you want to show what students are thinking before diving into the discussion, here are two easy ways to do it. In one, often called “four corners,” assign each policy option to a corner of the room, and then ask students to stand in the corner associated with the policy option they support. In the other, if you want your students to think along a spectrum instead (e.g., interventionist-isolationist, unilateral-multilateral, more urgent–less urgent), put the ends of your spectrum at either end of your blackboard and have students stand along the board to indicate where along the spectrum they fall. Use this knowledge to shape discussion—eliciting less popular opinions, challenging more popular ones, encouraging like-minded students to further develop their ideas, or having students who disagree discuss in groups.


This exercise is particularly useful for groups where some students are hesitant. Ask everyone to spend a few minutes quietly gathering their thoughts and articulating them in a notebook (“think”), then have them turn to the person sitting next to them to compare notes (“pair”), and then have students report out to the whole group (“share”), knowing that everyone will have had time to think through something to say.


Ask students to briefly share their position one after the other without responding to each other. Typically, everyone speaks in the order they are sitting. This can be a way to see where everyone stands before launching into a discussion. If you expect a topic to be particularly contentious, you could have students listen to each other and then reflect in writing.


  • Simple Simulation: If you would like to simulate a simplified version of a more realistic policy debate, you can appoint yourself (or a randomly chosen student) president. Ask students to debate the policy options (or come up with new ones) and try to reach consensus on a recommendation to the president.
  • Simulation with Assigned Opinions: While assigning individual roles for a brief case study is complicated, you could assign opinions. For example, assign one-third of the class to be isolationist, one-third to favor a military response, and one-third to favor a diplomatic response. Let the groups caucus for a few minutes, then present their policy options and debate them, leaving the final decision up to you (or a student) as president.

Additional Notes on Simulations: 

  • For modern cases, you might have students pretend to be the National Security Council. For cases set prior to 1947, they could pretend to be the cabinet or other group of advisors.
  • In our experience, simulations are often most productive if students imagine they are advising a generic president rather than a specific one.