Do you want a simple, interesting activity to get your lower-level or beginner students speaking in English? Then you’ll need to use some ESL role plays in your classes. Keep on reading for all the details you need to know this role play conversation activity.
Role Plays for ESL Students
Time Required: 15-40 minutes
Level: Beginner to Advanced
Materials Required: Nothing
Role Plays are one of my favourite ESL activities for lower-level students. They allow beginners to feel like they’re “having a conversation,” but there’s some structure so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Here’s how it works-give the students a conversation starter to get them going.
ESL Role Playing: Emotions
For example, if you’re talking about emotions in class that day, you can use:
A. Hey _____, how are you doing?
B. I’m great, how are you?
A. I’m _____ (sad, embarrassed, angry, bored, etc.). ***Anything besides, “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” is good.****
B. Oh? What’s wrong?
Role Plays for ESL Students: Injury or Illness
Another context that I often use this activity with is illness or injury. For example:
A. Hey _____, you don’t look good! What’s wrong?
B. Oh yeah, I’m not good. I _____.
A. Really? _____.
Likes/Dislikes Role Play
This is a great activity to consider for the unit on likes and dislikes.
A. Hi _____. Do you want to get some lunch later? I’m thinking Chinese or _____.
B. Oh, I really like _____ but I don’t like ______.
A. Hmmm, okay. How about ______?
B. That sounds _____. Let’s ______.
ESL Role Play Idea: Present Perfect
This activity is ideal for present perfect for and since. For example (phone conversation):
A. Hey _____, what are you doing now?
B. Not much. I’m just _______.
A. Wow! How long have you ______?
B. I’ve been _____ since/for ______.
Roleplay for Beginners: Excuses
One final context that I use this with is of excuses. For example:
A. Hey _____, you’re _____ minutes late!
B. I’m really sorry. I’ve been/I had to _____.
A. Hmmm . . . _____.
Quick tip: if you want to leave up on the organization, have a look here: rolling crates for teachers.
Procedure for Role Plays for ESL Students:
- Prepare a conversation starter based on what you are studying.
- (Optional) Pre-teach some language that students could use, if you haven’t done that already in your lesson.
- Write the conversation starter on the whiteboard, PowerPoint, or on a handout.
- Have students complete the conversation in pairs. Then, they must prepare to speak by memorizing and adding in stress and intonation.
- Have students stand up and “perform” their conversation if you have a smaller class. In larger classes, there are a few other options (see above).
- Reward teams for interesting conversations, good acting (no reading), and correct grammar/vocabulary that you were studying that day.
Role Plays for ESL Students: Tips for Doing this Activity
The best part of this activity? The students are doing all the work, and the teacher is not! After all, you are probably really good at English. It’s your students who need the practice, right?
#1: Give Students some Preparation Time
Give the students about ten minutes to write a conversation with their partner. You can adjust the number of lines and how detailed of a starter you give to suit the ability level of your students.
For lower-level students, it can be helpful to have a word bank on the board relevant to the context so that the writing portion of this activity doesn’t get ridiculously long. Then, the students memorize their conversation (no papers when speaking!), and do a role-play it in front of their classmates if you have a small class of less than ten.
I require students to memorize their lines because it makes the role-plays far more interesting to watch.
#2: Maximize Student Talking Time
Remember that you should try to maximize the amount of time students are talking. If you have a larger class, there are a few different ways to handle this.
You could get pairs to come up to your desk and show you their conversation while the other students are working on something else, you could use it as a speaking test of some kind. Finally, you could have students make a video of themselves and send you the link or put it up on YouTube. Another activity that’s serious on the student talking time is something like these ESL conversation questions.
#3: Role Plays are Perfect for Lower-Level Students
I really like this activity because it’s perfect for lower-level students who want to practice “conversation” but don’t quite have the skills to do this on their own and it’s also a good way to force your advanced students to use some new grammar or vocabulary that you’re studying.
#4: Some Contexts to Use Role Play Conversations
The functions in particular that fit well with partner conversations include agreeing, disagreeing, apologizing, and asking advice. The sub-skills that you can emphasize are things like turn-taking, initiating a conversation, speaking for an appropriate length of time, stress and intonation, responding (really?), and cohesive devices, particularly subject/object pronoun references (A: I saw a movie last night. B: Which one did you see? A. I saw Ironman. It was good).
ESL Role Play Activities for the Classroom
Even more tips and ideas for role-playing for ESL students here:
#5: A Good Activity for Business English Classes
This activity is also ideal for students studying business English. They often have very specific situations in which they need to speak English.
For example, helping a customer on the phone about a certain problem. Or, ordering food at a restaurant when they’re with their clients. Perhaps they feel nervous about going through immigration at the airport or checking into a hotel in a foreign country. Maybe they have to answer questions from customers about a product. These are just a few ideas to get you started.
You could create a role play based on your students’ needs. Just ask them what topics they’d like to practice and you’ll probably get lots of ideas for what you can work on in class. Adult students are quite good at letting you know what’s important to them! Or, just choose some of the most popular situations and that are present in the world of business.
#6: ESL Role Plays: Ideal for Beginners
Role-plays for English learners truly is one of the most useful things you can do in your conversation classes, especially for beginner or intermediate students so make sure you try it out at least once or twice over the course of a semester. It gives your students a chance to have a real conversation which will build a lot of confidence but they won’t have the pressure of coming up with something to say on the spot.
#7: Make Some Role Play Cards
Do you teach from the same textbook for multiple classes, year after year? Then you may consider making some role-play cards and then laminating them. Have 3-4 different scenarios for each context.
Then, when you do this activity, hand out a different card to each group of students. At the end when students are doing presentations to the class, it can make things a little bit more interesting.
As a way to evaluate your students, you could keep all these cards that you’ve used throughout the semester and then give a random one to a random pair of students as a speaking test. Each person in the pair chooses one of the roles. I’ve done this before and had some great results.
#8: Aim for Around Once a Month for an ESL Roleplay
That said, doing a role play gets boring if you do this every class; I generally do it about once a month for a class that meets twice a week over the course of a semester (every 8-10 classes). This strikes a nice balance between getting enough speaking practice through using this quite useful activity, and it not becoming boring.
I’ve seen some teachers who use it every single class, but I can’t really imagine that their students are happy about it! Test it out for yourself and see what your students think. I have a feeling it varies among cultures, ages, and levels of students.
Do you Like these Role Play Conversations?
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- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 147 Pages - 03/09/2016 (Publication Date)
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ESL Role Playing FAQs
There are a number of common questions that people have about using role plays in their TEFL classes. There are the answers to some of the most popular ones.
How do you teach English role play?
There are a number of strategies for teaching English role plays. Here are a few of the steps to consider:
- Decide on the language skills to teach. Be clear on what skills you want students to develop.
- Prepare the students and do any pre-teaching necessary.
- Choose a format for how the role-play will work.
- Have students do role-plays.
- Follow-up activities.
What are role-play activities?
A role-play is a speaking activity where you put yourself into someone else’s shoes like when you pretend to be a waiter to take someone’s order at a restaurant. Or, you can stay in your own shoes and be the person ordering food at the restaurant or any other sort of imaginary situation.
Why use role playing in language classes?
Role playing is a useful activity in TEFL or other language classes because it can give students practice at “real-life” situations such as in a restaurant, at the airport, or going to the doctor. They are interactive, student-centred and can be used for a variety of different situations.
Have your Say about Using Role-Plays in your ESL or EFL Classroom
What are your thoughts about using role-plays in your classes? Love ’em, hate ’em or think they’re just a decent activity. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.
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Last update on 2020-12-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API