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ESL Roleplays In Class:

Building a conversational English lesson towards a roleplay at the end is a powerful way to get students to work on their communicative skills and tie the contents of a lesson together.

A well set up roleplay allows students to test drive and practice the new grammar points and vocabulary they've been working on, providing a dynamic setting to practice English in. It also allows a teacher to informally test and ascertain students strengths and weaknesses.

Though the benefits of roleplays for students are clear, creating and setting up good roleplays is not easy. Even thinking up a good roleplay relevant to the lesson can be tough, especially at first.  There's also a real art to implementing the roleplay, so that it has every chance of success. With this in mind, here are a few tips which we hope will help you.


Preparing for a roleplay:

The roleplay typically occurs at the end of an ESL lesson, providing a simulated environment for students to practice the new words and expressions they have learned earlier in the lesson. Thus more than anything a roleplay should be relevant to the lesson and the student's learning needs.

An important part of planning a roleplay is allowing enough time to set up the roleplay, enact it (perhaps several times), give feedback and pointers. Think ten - fifteen minutes, rather than five.

Setting the scene:

A good way to set up and introduce a role play is with story telling, or using a few simple props. Perhaps show students a newspaper article, or refer to a picture from the text book, or a magazine. A good way is to type in some keywords to google images, and print out some apt ones, or even just ask a few good lead in questions.

Brief students about the scene and the characters, their personalities and motivations. Write down a few notes that you can refer the students to in the course of the roleplay.

Are the characters bossy, hungry, grumpy, ecstatic, or broke? Perhaps they frugal, cunning, or desperate? What is their intended outcome? Providing character traits adds interest

Discuss and write down a few useful phrases and language they may need (aim for language that has been studied  earlier in the lesson).

Does a good roleplay idea come to mind? If not, try one of these examples, or read on to learn about creating your own roleplays:


Thinking up original Roleplay situations:

Roleplay ideas sometimes come in flashes of inspiration, othertimes it may be plain obvious; othertimes you may draw a blank.

If you're stuck, and looking for ways to get the creative juices flowing, a good place to start is by analysing the Situational and Functional language used in the lesson.

Identify the lessons target language.

Skip through your lesson plan, or the textbook. Note down several useful language structures relevant to the language to be practiced in the lesson. What function does the language have? What is the lesson's topic? When is this language used in conversation?

Is the lesson about making enquiries, talking about likes and dislikes, persuading others, shopping, travelling? etc.

Once you've identified the target language, try taking a step backwards and think of other situations where this grammar and language is also used. There you go! Each of these situations is a possible new scene for a roleplay!

Also try looking at the situation or theme that the lesson is centered around. For example, if the lesson topic is holidays, write down as many different situations to do with holidays - choosing and planning a holiday, making reservations, best and worst holiday experiences, dream holidays, problems etc. Each of these also presents a possible roleplay opportunity. 

Implementing the ESL Roleplay:

1: Sometimes simple is best:

Especially with beginner students, fluency, accuracy, vocabulary and speaking confidence can really affect a roleplay's chances of success (looking on the bright side, roleplaying presents a great opportunity for low level students to work on these language areas).

If this is the case, several simple roleplays may be the best bet. Keep the roleplays heavily structured, and focus on getting students to use the target grammar structures and new vocabulary correctly.

If repeating a similar roleplay several times, try to set up the situation slightly differently each time, and get students to switch between characters. Consider changing the objectives, moods and motivations of the characters each time. You can also add a little bit of extra difficulty and complexity each time you run through.

Simple roleplays example:

A good way to round off a lesson on making reservations is to spend the last ten minutes of the lesson roleplaying various scenarios where this type of language may be needed, such as at a ticket counter, a travel agency, a train station, booking a restaurant over the phone etc.


2: Adding spice and conflict to keep roleplays interesting and memorable:

The above roleplay example is perhaps a little bland, and the dialogues would reach their natural conclusions before too long. A good way to make roleplays last longer, funnier and stick in students' minds is by adding conflict, problems and objectives.

An example of a problem and conflict:

Student A is a junk shop salesman that is desperate to make a BIG sale (or else they will be fired). (provide them with, or brainstorm as a class some of the junk up for sale - Perhaps one of these 'useless Japanese inventions' will do the trick?)

Student B needs to buy a gift for their anniversary tonight, but is a cheapskate.


Student A just bought a TV from Student B's shop. However when they got it home, and tried to turn it on, it didn't work and had a bullet hole in it.

Student B is works in an extremely dodgy electronics shop, and is under strict instructions by their 'Boss' not to give refunds.

Other possibly characters in this roleplay include the customers spouse or friend (perhaps a feisty lady, or a tough guy), the shop boss, a lawyer, or the police.


Another (often simple) way to improve a roleplay is to add objectives:

For example:

Student A is showing Student B around their house. They must show Student B around at least 5 rooms, and answer all Student B's questions.

Student B must comment about the house, and ask at least 5 questions.

Of course you can make this more interesting by adding conflict and zany conflicting characters and objectives as desired.


We hope that helps your roleplaying in the ESL classroom. Good luck! 

 Click here for further roleplay examples: