Scaffolding cooperative play: A classroom doctor’s office


Our unit on relationships is already almost finished!  It’s been such a great unit for integrating students’ ideas in the learning. My class has been interested in the doctors kit. During choice time, the students have difficulty organizing collaborative play.  I thought they would have fun and learn about collaboration (the transdisciplinary skill in our unit) if I facilitated organizing roles in a make-believe doctors office.


What we did:

  1. During choice time, I reminded the students that several wanted to create a pediatricians office. One student grabbed the doctors kit and another grabbed a stethoscope. Others complained that they wanted these things. I sat back and watched, wondering how to scaffold the students’ play so they could play together.
  1. The next morning I asked the class if they remembered playing doctor. I asked if they wanted to see if it was more fun if they tried to play this game together. The students seemed excited to play doctor.
  1. I separated the class into two groups, being sure that each group had some members who would be vocal in driving the inquiry.  While one group was busy doing something at the tables with the TA, my group stayed on the carpet.
  1. My group brainstormed jobs or “roles” (lingo from our unit) at a doctor’s office. The students came up with receptionist, cashier, dentist, doctor, and nurse. I asked the students how we could decide who gets which role. Some students were eager for a certain role and others were flexible. It worked well. No one wanted to be the dentist so we eliminated it.
  1. I was trying to interfere as little as possible.  I did, however, organize the space, telling the students which tables to use for reception and for the cashier, as well as which areas of the room to use for the doctors offices.  This was to make sure we were spread out enough.  The receptionists and cashiers set up their telephones and cash registers without my help.
  1. I asked the rest of the kids to help me divide up the stethoscopes, toy thermometers, and toy shot.
  1. As the students set up their workspaces, I went around making nametags with whatever they wanted their names to be. Most of the students came up with imaginary names.
  1. We invited customers (the students in the other group) to grab a doll and bring it to the clinic. They checked in at reception, went to a doctor’s room, and visited the cashier on the way out.
  1. I pretended to be the clinic’s manager so that I could help to direct patients or employees when need be.

The next day…

I showed the children pictures of how they played doctor the first day and how they played it when we took some time to organize the game together. We discussed the differences in the two photographs.  The students said (about our collaborative play day): “We were sharing,” “We were playing together,” and “It was more fun.”


Photo: The receptionists direct a patient. Together the receptionists devised a system of writing a check mark on a piece of paper whenever a client came through.  Then at the end of the “shift,” they showed me how many patients they had had.

Three_playing_doctor_ copy

Photo: Developing collaboration skills: Three students (including 1 just starting to learn English) work together to help a baby.


Photo: Here is a “mom” and a “doctor.” The baby was being seen because of his pink cheeks.


Photo: This baby had a great name — Baby Legomovie.


Photo: Another satisfied customer pays the cashiers!


This was such a fun learning experience, even I had a blast. It was amazing to see 16 four-year-olds all involved in the same play. The English learners seemed to enjoy taking care of the dolls and using the stethoscopes; because of these props, it was easy for them to interact with others.

I supported students as they chose their roles and designed the space (i.e. figured out where the cash register would be, where the receptionist could sit, etc.).  After that the students were generally able to design their own “jobs.”  The cashiers talked on the phone, took random amounts of money from customers, and gave money as change.

This was also an opportunity for the students to explore written language. The “receptionists” had the idea of making check marks on a paper and later told me, “This is how many people we’ve seen today.” The “nurse” asked for a pen and paper and made scribble “notes” after seeing each patient.

My hope is that the students can start to initiate these types of play without my facilitation.  Perhaps I should give them language structures to use in the dramatic play area, like “I’ll be _____.  Who/what do you want to be?” and see if this helps.

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