Short of hopping on a plane and going abroad, there is no better way to prepare your students for communicating in English while abroad than using role plays.
As a teacher, you should understand that your classroom is an artificial world – your job as a teacher is to bring as much reality into your lessons as possible. Because of this, role plays are a critical component of the English for tourism classroom: students will still experience the safety of speaking English in a controlled environment, but they will also find themselves operating in unpredictable, real-world situations.
Not only are role plays useful linguistically, but there is nothing better than a well executed drama exercise to bring excitement and creativity into your classroom. Here are six tips to ensure each role play you use in the classroom will be a hit:
How to Deal with Role Plays Successfully
Get Ready: Preparation
The most basic rule of creating an effective role play lesson is simple: if the teacher is well prepared to lead, the students will be well prepared to learn. There is nothing worse than watching a lesson where the teacher fumbles through materials, explains instructions poorly, and basically expects the students to read his mind. To ensure a useful experience, confidence and preparation is a must.
There are several important aspects to consider while preparing for a role play lesson. First, you should plan a basic layout of the lesson. Do the students need to revise any target language? What needs to be pre-taught? What is the overall target of the role play – fluency or accuracy with specific language? Once you've decided the outline of the lesson, it is time to gather materials. Dialogue sheets, role cards, paper, markers – whatever it is you need for the lesson, make sure you have it before the lesson starts. Nothing derails a speaking lesson like the teacher running out of the room to grab something.
Finally, it should be noted that it is always recommended to incorporate a piece of realia whenever possible. Realia, or objects from the real world, serve to once again bring your lesson closer to the real world. If your role play focuses on booking a hotel room, print off rates from the websites of real hotels. If your students are choosing a holiday, provide brochures for them to look at. By moving away from ESL-specific materials, students will become even more engaged with the activity as they see its value in the real world.
Keep it Simple, Stupid: Focus on Simplicity
While it's tempting to create an elaborate role play, it is best to keep the exercise as simple as possible both for the student's understanding and the teacher's sanity. By keeping it simple, I mean that there should be one overarching focus to each role play lesson. During the preparation period it should become quite clear what topics are important when performing a specific role play.
To ensure a successful role play, first choose a theme. This is the easy part. Themes might include checking in at the hotel, getting directions, or small talk with new people. Beyond the main topic, it is best to choose only one new language aspect to focus on. Typically, you would choose some new target phrases or an aspect of grammar. Target language might include phrases for talking about money, complaining, or expressing opinions. An aspect of grammar would be focusing on question forms or a new tense.
By choosing a very narrow range of language to practice, it is much easier for students to express themselves more freely. If you add too many new aspects of vocabulary or grammar, students get bogged down in trying to remember everything, rather than communicating with fellow students in a natural way.
Don't Sweat the Silence
No matter what the class's level, confidence in spoken English, or your preparation attempts, it is almost inevitable that there will be a period of awkward silence at the beginning of any role play. Don't worry! It takes some time for students to feel comfortable enough to slip into a new character and manipulate the target language into a new dialogue. Let your students stare at each other, giggle uncomfortably, and stumble over their words at first – it's all part of the process.
It can be difficult as a teacher to listen to a fumbling class. However, don't compensate for the silence by guiding your students word for word. The whole point of role plays is for students to manipulate the target language themselves. Remind students before each role play that there is no script in real life and they must be prepared to adapt their language as situations change. Students familiar with role plays should become more confident even when they don't know what to say, but it does take time to reach that level. Just be patient, encourage them to use stalling tactics, and be amazed when they really begin to interact!
If, however, students continue to be quiet and hesitant during a dialogue, it may be time to consider other reasons. Be sure that there is not too much new information in the role play, the level is appropriate for the students, and, most importantly, you have taken the time to thoroughly explain what the targets of the activity are.
Practice Makes Perfect: Role Plays are Made for Repitition
I once sat in on a lesson where the teacher introduced a role play, had the students run through it once, gave corrections, and then simply moved on. I was surprised – why bother planning and setting up a role play if the speaking portion lasts only a few minutes? This teacher clearly thought that students were not interested in repeating role plays multiple times. I argue that the opposite is in fact true: the first time students create a dialogue it is awkward and stilted. By running through a dialogue multiple times, the teacher allows students to become more and more comfortable with the material.
To keep students engaged, try several things. First, it is important to switch roles. If you're doing a taxi ride role play, make sure students act as both the passenger and the driver. Second, make slight adjustments to a situation (for example, changing personal information or destination details). This allows students to repeat the target language while ensuring that they're always engaged and listening to their partner to get that new information.
Be Flexible: Adjust By Level
There is nothing worse than conducting a role play with confused students. Not only does it put a dent in the class' confidence, but it can derail a well-planned lesson. To avoid this disaster, make sure that your role plays are appropriately introduced and conducted according to skill level.
For beginning levels, it is obviously necessary to introduce each step of the process and provide a clear outline for students to follow. One of the best ways to ensure lower level students feel comfortable is to give students a completed dialogue. Make sure that the class reads through the text several times to practice pronunciation and intonation. For total beginners, it may be enough to simply read the dialogue in pairs with no changes. For pre-intermediate or intermediate students, you may underline or leave blank the parts you want them to insert their own information. This method is very successful: weaker students have a safety net and higher level students have a chance to be more creative if they want.
For upper-intermediate or advanced students (or confident intermediate students), the role play process will be much freer. You should provide students with a clear goal for the conversation (for example, purchase a ticket to Mexico City or buy as many souvenirs as they can for $20) and any key phrases you want them to use. Beyond that, it should be up to the students to create their own dialogues. You should expect some dead air at the beginning but, as mentioned before, resist the urge to intervene.
An Excited Teacher = An Exciting Lesson
What do you remember most vividly from school: a lesson where you listened to your sleepy teacher lecture unenthusiastically about something? Or that one lesson where your teacher laughed, joked, and played games with you? I feel confident that everyone chose the second option. Unsurprisingly, your students feel the same way you do!
In my experience, the number one mood killer in an ESL classroom is a teacher's poor mood. Maybe you're tired, sick, or simply in a bad mood, but once you're teaching you need to “fake it 'til you make it”. If you're not interested in a lesson, your students quickly pick up on that and mirror your apathy. When leading a role play lesson, this is especially important. Happy students are more willing to be enthusiastic and creative while speaking; harness that positive energy and make the lesson totally memorable.
The goal of an English for tourism course is to give students the confidence to use English freely while traveling abroad or working with English speakers. Because it's usually impossible to get students face to face with native speakers in the real world, role plays are the next best way to expose students to language and boost confidence in their spoken language. Next time you lead a role play lesson, try these tips and watch your students speak with ease!
Have you ever taught a role play in one of your lessons?
How was your role play experience – what was successful and what wasn't?