How to design a good role-play activity?

Role plays are one of the most effective ways of practising functional language. Unfortunately, not all students love them as much as teachers do. Let’s have a look at how you can make them more accessible!

Choose the right topic

First of all, the topic. When you think about what scenario to introduce, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it useful?
  • Is it interesting?
  • Does it fit the class type and level?
  • Is it down-to-earth enough for the adult groups?
  • Is it fantastical enough for the kids’ groups?
  • Is it controversial enough for the teenage groups?

If you teach many different students, it’s not a good idea to recycle the same role plays with all of them. What works with adults will probably be too boring for teenagers.

Do they know what to say?

A lot of students don’t like role plays because they don’t know what to say. It’s a good idea to give them a list of points to cover. For example, if a student is supposed to play the role of a customer returning a damaged item, give them some prompts:

  • what they’re returning (a T-shirt)
  • how it is damaged (a hole)

That way they don’t have to think of WHAT to say, but HOW to say it. Or even better – before role-playing, give them some time to think about what they want to say. And if you teach lower levels, this stage should be compulsory!

All clear?

Make sure your students understand everything on their cards. Role plays are not supposed to be an exercise in reading comprehension. They are a communication activity. Make it short and simple. Don’t overdo it with the text and instructions. And always make sure they understand everything before proceeding with the activity.

A conflict

For a good role play, there has to be a conflict or an information gap between the roles of Student A and Student B. It doesn’t have to be controversial, but it has to be clear. 

For example:

  • A knows something that B doesn’t and they have to exchange information. It could be: asking for directions, looking for advice, asking for help from a shop assistant, etc.
  • A has an opposite opinion to B on an issue, but they have to come to some kind of agreement.

Comfortable roles

Some students feel self-conscious about role-playing. Make sure the roles you have prepared for them are adequate and fit these students’ reality. For example, if it’s a Business English class, some students might feel uncomfortable playing a role that would make them look unprofessional. Or in an adult group, some students might not want to play “childish” roles.

DIY

If all fails, you can always ask your students to come up with role-play scenarios themselves. They can create roles that they are comfortable playing in a topic that is interesting to them.

 

Read this article for tips on how to get the most out of EFL role plays.

 

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