Telephone role-plays are a great activity to do in your ESL class.
Most of the time, they take little to no time to prepare, and they challenge both your students’ listening and speaking skills. Because telephone conversations do not happen face to face, the lack of visual clues can make these conversations a challenge for any nonnative speaker, and that’s a big reason why you should include them in class. Give your students a chance to practice their long distance conversation skills so they will be better prepared when the phone rings at home. Each of these role-plays focuses on a different skill. Choose the one or ones that best meet your students’ needs and get the conversation started in class.
Get Your Class Talking over the Phone in No Time
Can I Take a Message?
Role-playing a telephone conversation is a great way to give your students practice in writing reported speech. To do the activity, all you need is two students, one with paper and pencil for taking a message. Have your students sit back to back so they cannot use nonverbal cues to understand what their partner is saying. That way the role-play will be more like a real telephone conversation. Have person A pretend to call person B. After person B answers, person A should ask for someone by name who is not a member of the class. They can ask for a celebrity if they like to make the activity more entertaining or just make up a name for a fictional person. Person B should say, “I’m sorry. __________ isn’t here. Can I take a message?” Person A should then give their message to person B. For example, the conversation might go like this.
- Person A: Hi, can I speak to Harrison Ford?
- Person B: I’m sorry. Harrison Ford isn’t here. Can I take a message.
- Person A: Sure. Tell him I found a light saber and was wondering if it was his.
- Person B: Okay, I’ll give him the message.
Now that the conversation is over, person B will have to write down person A’s message using reported speech. The message might read something like this: Jorge called for you. He said he found a light saber. He was wondering if it was yours. After person B writes down the message, the two students should switch roles, and this time person A takes the message from person B. Switch partners as many times as you like. You might even have some students perform their role-play in front of the class and then write their message on the board so everyone can see.
Name the Time and Place
Often when we make phone calls, it is to set up an appointment or reschedule an appointment we have already made. These conversations are great for practicing numbers, time phrases, and dates, all of which can be challenging for ESL students since they involve the use of numbers. For this role-play, again have students sit back to back. One student will play the receptionist or scheduler at a doctor’s office, and the other student will play the patient. The patient should call the doctor’s office to schedule or reschedule their appointment. They should tell the scheduler when they have an appointment scheduled and that they would like to change it. The scheduler should give the patient two or three options for a new appointment, and the patient should choose one. The scheduler should then confirm the new appointment time. The conversation might go something like this.
- Patient: Hi, I have an appointment scheduled with Dr. Teeth for 3:00 on Friday, and I need to change it.
- Scheduler: Okay, let me check the schedule. I see your appointment for Friday, and I will cancel it. When did you want to come in? I have an opening next Tuesday at 4:30 or Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.
- Patient: I think Tuesday at 4:30 would be best.
- Scheduler: Okay, I’ll put you on the schedule for Tuesday at 4 p.m. We’ll see you then.
- Patient: Thank you.
If you like, put your students in groups of four or five and have one person play the scheduler in all the conversations. That person will then have to keep list of appointment times in front of them as they talk to their group mates and schedule appointments for each of them.
With so many businesses working over long distances these days, conference calls have become the norm rather than the exception. But conference calls aren’t like just another business meeting. There are protocols to follow for conference calls. You can give your business minded students a chance to practice these protocols by creating a role-play conference call. Start by reviewing conference call etiquette. Here are some general guidelines to follow during conference calls.
- State your name and your position when you enter the conference call.
- When you make a comment or offer a suggestion, address the person by name and state your own name before giving your suggestion.
- When you ask a question, address each participant by name and get their response rather than asking the group in general and waiting for people to volunteer answers.
- When answering a question, only respond when your name is called. Keep your answer short.
- If you have to leave the call, wait for a break in the conversation and announce that you are leaving.
When it is time to role-play the conference call, have students get in groups of four or five. Assign one person to be the facilitator or leader of the call. Have each person pretend to be from a different company. Give each group a reason for the call. You might want to use topics such as the following.
- One company is purchasing the others. You must decide what will happen with the employees from the smaller companies during your conference call.
- One company is building new headquarters. The other companies are competing to build the new building and must convince them during this cal.
- One company is trying to persuade several retailers to carry their produce in their stores.
Whether your students are just beginning their language studies or are ready to take on the English speaking world, telephone role-plays will be beneficial to their English education. The more practice ESL students get with telephone conversations, the better they will be at communicating over the telephone lines.