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Role Playing in the TEFL Classroom

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What are you playing at?

Role Plays or Simulations are an extremely valuable method for learning and practicing the English in your TEFL/TESOL classroom.

Essentially the students are placed in a certain fictitious situation where they must use English. It allows creativity on the part of the student and offers a freer practice than written tests. The role play situation is easily chosen but should be related to the current language level of the students and ideally related thematically to the work they are doing. Of course it should also be related to the reason they are studying English and, ideally, be fun also.

For example, an intermediate group of business people might have a role play involving ordering goods over the telephone; a group of teenagers could do a role play where they interview their favorite film star; a doctor role plays consulting with a patient on a medical problem.

Almost any situation can be turned into a role play.

Preparation

This is very important. You should avoid jumping straight into a role play as it can backfire and prove to be nothing more than a waste of time. With all your students, make sure they are gently introduced to role plays: don’t, for example, call two inexperienced students up to the front of the class to do a role play with no preparation or practice beforehand!

Decide:

  • what key language function‏‎ the role play will practice
  • what the role play situation is (this will depend on your class; it can’t be a situation alien to them or likely to cause embarrassment or distress)

Next you need to decide how the role play is going to take place. This will depend a lot on the level of your class. With good advanced students you might be able to place them in a situation and let them improvise freely:

Enrico, you work at the local tourist office here as a guide. Martha, you are visiting the town and have a few hours to spare; you go and see Enrico to ask him where and what you can do here.

With other classes and levels you might have to arrange things in more detail. This could involve preparing flashcards‏‎ with pertinent details on them for the students to use as reference and help:

Name: Joe Jones, tour guide
The Cathedral Opening Hours 10 – 2; € 10 entrance; women must wear headscarf
The Art Gallery Opening Hours 11 – 6; € 15 entrance; currently a Picasso exhibition
The Museum Opening Hours 11 – 6; free entrance; currently an Ancient Greek exhibition
Name: Sally Smith, tourist
Has only € 10 to spare!

In the example here not only were the students given information to help them with the discussion, but decisions are being forced on them by the limit of € 10.

Pre-Teaching

In the classroom, set the scene. Do not just launch into things but ask questions, set tasks and generally get the students mentally preparing themselves with the right vocabulary‏‎ and grammar‏‎ (whether they realize this or not).

Decide who will participate. If the class is unused to role plays then it is better to have them work all together rather than take a pair of small group to the front to have them “perform” in front of the rest of the class. One option is to have the whole class working on the role play at the same time (with you walking around checking) and then choose a couple of good students to come to the front and perform for the rest of the class.

Further Work

Role plays can also be developed into fully fledged plays. See Plays in the TEFL Classroom‏‎ for more on this.

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