A scaffolding technique for EFL role-playing activities.

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Scaffolding in ELT

Role plays are a perfect way to practise functional language and communication skills. 

However, not all students like them. Some can role play for hours and they find it very easy to come up with ideas and keep the conversation going. While others could look at a role-play scenario and never come up with anything to say. 

Why do some students have problems with role plays?

There are many reasons why students might find it difficult to role play a scenario, some of them include:

  • lack of confidence
  • limited vocabulary
  • lack of ideas

What can you do in this case? A great way to ease your students into doing a role playing (or any kind of speaking) activity is a scaffolding technique.

What is scaffolding?

Scaffolding is a great technique for building up students’ communication skills. Using scaffolding, students can practise role-playing and communication in stages: from the easiest to the most challenging one. This will give even the least creative and confident students the chance to improve their communication skills.

It works exactly like on a construction site – the builders don’t jump to the tops of the buildings or start building a skyscraper starting with the roof. Instead, they use scaffolding, which helps them accomplish the task safely and in stages.

How does scaffolding work?

Here’s a step-by-step procedure for implementing scaffolding into an EFL role play:

Step 1

Prepare 3 types of the same role play, each one with more details than the other. 

Start with a role play with the most details on it. For example, if you’re role-playing problems with the hotel room, on the role-play card specify exactly what the problem is, how the guest is feeling and what they want to do. This will give students a foundation. Something they can work with even if they can’t come up with any ideas. 

Students work in pairs and role play the scenario.

Step 2 

Now, it’s time to up the difficulty level. The role-play scenario (problems with the hotel room) doesn’t change. But now there are fewer details on the role-play cards. So instead of full phrases, you can provide some keywords that the students have to use when role-playing, for example: no water, repair, change room.

They have already got some ideas of what to say from the previous role play.

Students work in pairs and role play the scenario.

Step 3

After they have finished with role play 2, it’s time to up the difficulty level once again. 

The role play scenario (problems with the hotel room) doesn’t change. But now there are even fewer details on the role-play cards. No extra information, no useful vocabulary, just the scenario: There’s a problem with the hotel room, call the reception. This time the students don’t have any prompts or useful phrases to use. They have to role play from memory, using what they have already practised in the first two stages. 

Take a look at this example of 3 different role play types prepared with a scaffolding technique:

EFL role plays

These role plays come from our resource pack Role Plays 3 Ways. In this pack you get 90 role plays in 30 scenarios, all ready for use with this scaffolding technique. 

And now see what happened:

If you had started with a “regular” role play, a less creative and confident student would just stare at a scenario and never come up with anything to say. Or they would ask one question, get an answer and finish role-playing. But by scaffolding and easing them into a free role play, you are allowing them to build up their confidence and come up with ideas. 

If you’re ready to use role plays in your classroom, read this article and this article for some extra tips.

EFL role plays