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
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
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
Thinking up original Roleplay
Roleplay ideas sometimes come in flashes of inspiration,
othertimes it may be plain obvious; othertimes you may draw a
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
Is the lesson about making enquiries, talking
about likes and dislikes, persuading others, shopping,
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
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
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
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
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
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
Another (often simple) way to improve a roleplay
is to add objectives:
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
We hope that helps your roleplaying in the ESL classroom.
for further roleplay examples: