How to Teach English Using Role-Plays, and When (Not) to Use Them
Role-plays give students the opportunity to demonstrate how to use English in real life situations and make them focus more on communication than on grammar. Role-play activities can be a lot of fun however a class full of shy students may be reluctant to participate so it is important to know your students.
How To Proceed
Regardless of what type of role-play you intend to do, it is imperative that students feel comfortable with the necessary structures and vocabulary. This makes role-plays ideal for the final lesson on a particular topic. If students perform well, move on to the next chapter and if students struggle, address any mistakes in the following lesson. The feedback given in any role-play lesson should be primarily positive and focus on pronunciation, acting, and creativity. Role-plays are about encouraging your students and building their self confidence.
Mini-role plays can be done in any lesson as a practice activity. Rather than just practice the model dialogue in pairs or groups, encourage students to be creative and use props to better reflect a real life situation. Students should have some space to move about the classroom and be given extra time to practice. If the model dialogue is four to six sentences total, a practice activity in pairs may take five minutes with only two or three demonstrations while a mini-role play of the same length may take ten to fifteen minutes to prepare with about ten minutes for performances. This activity can even be done in the same lesson as the introduction and drilling of a new topic if your students have a good understanding of the new material.
Role-plays can also take an entire lesson especially if students are put in groups instead of in pairs. A lesson such as this would be ideal after several lessons on the same topic. A directions themed role play might be best in groups of three or four where each student must say a minimum of three or four lines. Structuring the activity in this way will give your students some easy guidelines to follow. You can prepare your students by explaining the activity at the end of a class, placing them in their groups, and asking them to think about what they would like to do. Suggest that they bring in any props they would like to use and try to provide some if possible. In the next class, quickly review the target material before splitting the class into groups and dedicate half of the time to practice with the remaining half being for performances. If your students are really eager to perform, ensure that every group gets an opportunity to present their role-play to the class even if it means performing during the next lesson as well. If students are reluctant, then have only the groups that volunteer present.
Role-plays can be used as end of term projects for intermediate and advanced students. At this stage in their studies, they have sufficient knowledge to draw upon to enact real life situations and can get really creative. It is important to decide how you plan to grade your students so that you can explain it to them before they get started. If the project is worth one hundred points, you can break it into sections such as creativity, pronunciation, acting, attitude/enthusiasm, script, etc and assign a point value to each section. Four sections are probably enough. Perhaps each group of students can be assigned a different chapter of your textbook or a different theme. This project would take many lessons. There would be one class where you introduce the project, split the class into groups, and let students brainstorm followed by classes for script development, practice sessions, and final performances. A good method of checking the progress of each group is to have script submissions once or twice before the final performance. The first submission can be to correct grammar and the second submission should be the final script. This will ensure that students can take chances and push their abilities, prevent them from practicing incorrect material, and verify that they are making progress on the project.
Role-plays can be immensely time consuming and require some real planning and structure but are generally easy to conduct once started. Students who struggle with English exams may finally get their opportunity to shine while students who generally perform well on exams will be challenged to prove their abilities in another way. Role-plays are less stressful than preparing for exams and enjoyable for both teachers and students.
What's your favorite role-play activity that's always a great success with your learners? Please share with us in the comments below!
Tara has worked with English Language Learners of all ages for many years and has taught in Japan, Cambodia, and China as well as online. When she is not teaching, she enjoys cooking, traveling around the world, and scuba diving. She is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California.
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