ESL Activity of the month: Role Plays

Need an ESL activity with virtually no preparation, easy to set up, creates tons of speaking and listening practise, and also revises grammar and vocabulary? Then doing role plays is a great solution.

esl activity role plays speaking

Best esl activity for speaking practise… Photo by broookenovak

I often find that course books are great for following a syllabus and knowing the order in which to teach grammar and vocabulary, but they often lack stimulating and creative activities in which students produce the language you are teaching. That’s why setting up a role play is the perfect lesson for motivating a class to actually put what they have learnt into practise, and heighten their learning experience by giving them something funny and entertaining to do. 

In this post I’m going to show you how to set up a role play, how to monitor it, and different ways of assessing it.

How to set up a role play

There are various ways depending on what you want to obtain from your students. If you just want speaking practise and for them to have some creative fun, then you can simply elicit famous people’s names on the board (you need the same number of names as there are students), along with 3 or 4 exotic places, depending on how many groups you have.

Number the famous people on the board and allocate one to each student. I find the best way is to give each person a piece of paper with a number on, then call out the famous person for each number, that way there will be no arguing about who plays which person. You can then split the class up into groups of three or four groups and allocate each a location.

If you are doing the simple version, then give each group between twenty and forty minutes to come up with a dialogue with those characters in those places. I’d recommend everyone writing, so that when they come to performing they know their lines, and also stop lazy students getting away with doing sod all.

Another way of allocating the famous people is to have it set up. You can easily copy images from google of famous people and then cover the faces with coloured squares using technology like ebeam. Students come up to the board and choose a coloured square to reveal their character. Alternatively you can reveal each face using power point.

For a more specific type of role play, if you want your students to practise a specific grammar point, for example, to be + going to + verb, then you can have a mini competition to see how many times they can get the tense into the dialogue, with extra points for questions and negatives. You can also make it more difficult by saying they have to use vocabulary from the current or previous unit. For example, imagine you have just done a topic on clothes, well maybe the famous people could go shopping and they have to try on the different types of clothes and invent some sort of story or dialogue.

How to monitor

I generally use this time to check my What’sApp messages or plan my next class, but you could try the following:

  • Make sure they are communicating in English. If not then draw a line on the board for each time they are speaking in their native language and if the class get to 5 or 10 lines then stop the activity and get them to copy from the course book (make sure they know this punishment beforehand).
  • Go around answering questions. Making yourself available by hovering around each group is probably best.
  • Check everyone is participating and all writing something.
  • Try to give ideas if the group is struggling.
  • Listen to them practise once they have finished and help with pronunciation before they speak in front of the class.
  • Check the grammar, and errors, and make sure they have stuck to the task.
  • Keep a time check as this can get out of hand when one group finishes before the others, so keep a countdown.
  • Break up any fights.

How to assess the role play

You can keep it simple and just let them perform and that’s it, sometimes there’s no need for competition or a grade, just a round of applause at the end to make each group feel good can be effective, as long as it’s not just you clapping.

The problem with this is that most of the other students will either not be listening, be checking their own ones, or packing away to go home. So to keep the other groups listening you can do some of the following.

  • Make each group count the vocabulary used, or grammar tense to decide the winner.
  • Write a sentence on which role play was better and why.
  • Choose the best actor and say why.
  • Listen for the best pronunciation.
  • Spot the grammar mistakes, but this is a bit harsh and better to keep it positive.
  • Decide which is the best overall performance based on acting, story, and entertainment.

I used to do this a lot, but then I did the DELTA and it blocked my mind with terminology and too detailed lesson plans, but now I’m going back to old school stuff that really works.

You can do this with any level, the thing to remember is it’s for fun, and a valuable way of revising and producing whatever you have taught in class. Plus it’s quite an easy lesson to do, apart from the million and one questions about ‘how you say’ certain words and phrases.

How often do you do role plays? Do you have a special way of setting them up or assessing?

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