Role Play with Confidence

I know many teachers who are hesitant about using role play with adult  EFL classes, and some who avoid it altogether. They worry it may be perceived as being too childish, too frivolous, a waste of time. Another issue for some is that it can be hard to control, especially in larger classes where role plays are taking place simultaneously. The teacher has to take a step back, circulate and observe, offering assistance when needed. Mistakes will be made, you won’t catch them all. Additionally, the students may not be practicing the target language or structure as much as you’d like. Keep reminding yourself that they’re practicing a variety of skills, and that the goal is not perfection!

For role play to succeed, the teacher needs to believe that it will. You need to be convinced of its value, and be able to communicate the purpose, relevance and benefits of the task to your students.

Adult learner theory says that activities that allow adults to bring their own life experiences to the learning process are the most successful. In this way, role play is ideal. And it is not just important for low level learners to practice asking directions or buying a ticket. With a bit of tweaking, the same tasks can be used with more advanced levels. Some element of conflict can be easily introduced to make the task more challenging.

Benefits of role plays.

  • ‘Real world’ language practice – Prepares students for meeting situations in real life.
  • Active learning provides a memorable experience.  Consolidate what has been learned while having some fun.
  • Helps students become less inhibited. By playing a character, they are free to be creative and behave in a manner they themselves might not.
  • Mastering simple tasks increases motivation and builds confidence. This shows the students that they can communicate in English.

Key points to consider when planning.

  • Will the students enjoy this role play?  Are the instructions and objectives clear?
  • Does the task suit their abilities? Do they need any additional vocabulary before beginning?
  • Will it give them useful language practice?  Will they see it as relevant and useful?
  • Are they familiar with this type of situation? Is it a situation they can imagine being in?

Role play: Using props. 

A prop gives the student something to focus on, and is very helpful when the class is new to carrying out role plays.    

Students work in pairs. Give one a plaster, the other a strip of gauze. They should wrap or place their prop somewhere on their body, somewhere visible.

What a surprise!

You meet your neighbour at the doctor’s. Find out the following information.

What’s wrong? How did it happen? What did the doctor say?

For more advanced students, add ‘Ask two more questions’.

Alternatively, if there’s space, students walk around the room (the hospital) and have this conversation with the various ‘acquaintances’ they meet. When they return to their seats, they can tell their neighbour the news.

 ‘I met Harry Hall at the hospital. He has a broken arm. He fell off a horse. The doctor said he has to stay at home for a week. I also met Sarah…’


Role play: Real Life.  Take a simple situation – add a twist!

Buying lunch at the bakery / sandwich shop.  (Give the following slips of paper to pairs)

Student a. You order a sandwich, a drink and something for dessert. When it’s time to pay, you discover that you do not have the correct amount of cash in your wallet.

Student b. You are working in a busy sandwich shop. It’s your first day and you want to make a good impression on the boss who is standing nearby. Be polite and friendly.

Role play: Use the materials you have. Keep it simple.

What shall we order?

Give each pair of students a few take away menus. (Find English menus online)

 Four friends are coming over to watch a movie. You and your partner want to order food and drink    for everyone.You have a budget of 30€. One friend is a vegetarian, another hates mushrooms. With your partner, decide what to order.


Tips for Success

  • Demonstrate to help clarify the task and fire up the imagination.
  • Use props. (Bandages, menus etc)
  • Give students time to prepare.
  • Provide key words or phrases if necessary.
  • Keep it simple. (For you and for the students)
  • Use situations your students are familiar with
  • But add a twist!
  • Use a timer. (Keep speaking till the bell rings!)
  • Forget about perfection – the goal is fluency not accuracy.


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