Role Plays in the ESL Classroom

by Lynne Hand

Instructions to the English teacher

It is not enough merely to provide students with opportunities to speak in English, as teachers we need to encourage students to speak in a variety of different situations, and hence help them to learn to speak with confidence. The ideal would be to travel to different locations and carry out different tasks, the next best thing however is to enact those situations in a classroom.

However, many teachers and students in an ESL class dread the words “role-play”. Even though there is little consensus on the terms used in role-playing literature. Just a few of the terms which are used, often interchangeably, are "simulation," "game," "role-play," "simulation-game," "role-play simulation," and "role-playing game" (Crookall and Oxford, 1990a).

The effective use of role-plays can add variety to the kinds of activities students are asked to perform. It encourages thinking and creativity; lets students develop and practice new language and behavioural skills in a relatively safe setting, and can create the motivation and involvement necessary for real learning to occur.

Effective Role Plays

Unlike skits, role plays shouldn't be scripted out in detail, instead you should give the student a general scenario with different elements and suggested ideas for complications to occur.

Role play cards can be a very useful tool here. For example:-

Student A

You are booking into a hotel.


Book in to the hotel - you have a reservation.


You are on your own.
You want a shower.
You want breakfast in the morning.
You have an early meeting and must not be late.

Student B

You are a hotel receptionist.


Welcome the guest.
Find them a room.


You can't find their reservation.
You only have a double room with bath available.

Before asking them to perform a role play you should prepare the students by reviewing key vocabulary and asking questions. The questions should incorporate the major parts of the role play and the vocabulary/idioms involved. After the question answer session the students should be comfortable with what they need to do.

Allow them a few minutes to study the role cards and work out some key sentences. Give help where needed.

Each role play should be performed at least twice with the students changing roles.

In group situations have the stronger students act out the role play to the whole class.

You as the teacher can take one of the roles if you need to.

Avoid making corrections until the role play is finished. (Keep a note pad to remind yourself of anything that crops up, but be discreet - scribbling away furiously might put the students off.)

Don't let things get out of hand. If the role play decends into a slanging match, it might be entertaining, but you really should intervene.

Recording or videoing role plays can be a very useful tool for giving feedback, but only if the students are comfortable with this. (In some circumstances, parental consent may also be required.)

Other Role Play Scenarios (for Second Life)
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