Monday, June 16, 2014

Role Play in the ESL class? ... It's a must!

Let's pretend to be ...

Incorporating role-play into the classroom adds variety, a change of pace and opportunities for a lot of language production and also a lot of fun! 

At a restaurant role play
Role-play is any speaking activity when you either put yourself into somebody else's shoes, or when you stay in your own shoes but put yourself into an imaginary situation!

Imaginary people - The joy of role-play is that students can 'become' anyone they like for a short time! A pop star, a customer in a restaurant, a shop assistant …….. the choice is endless! Students can also take on the opinions of someone else. 'For and Against' debates can be used and the class can be split into those who are expressing views in favour and those who are against the theme.

Imaginary situations - Functional language for a multitude of scenarios can be activated and practised through role-play. 'At the restaurant', 'Checking in at the airport', 'Looking for lost property' are all possible role-plays.

Why use role-play? 

It is widely agreed that learning takes place when activities are engaging and memorable. Jeremy Harmer advocates the use of role-play for the following reasons:
Let's pretend to be doctors!
  • It's fun and motivating
  • Quieter students get the chance to express themselves in a more forthright way
  • The world of the classroom is broadened to include the outside world - thus offering a much wider range of language opportunities
Role-play is possible at elementary levels providing the students have been thoroughly prepared. Try to think through the language the students will need and make sure this language has been presented. Students may need the extra support of having the language on the board. I recently did a 'back yard sale' role-play with primary learners and we spent time beforehand drilling the structures the students would need to use. When the role-play began the students felt 'armed' with the appropriate language. At higher levels the students will not need so much support with the language but they will need time to 'get into' the role.

The role of the teacher

Some of the possible teacher roles are:
  • Facilitator - students may need new language to be 'fed' in by the teacher. If rehearsal time is appropriate the feeding in of new language should take place at this stage.
  • Spectator - The teacher watches the role-play and offers comments and advice at the end.
  • Participant - It is sometimes appropriate to get involved and take part in the role-play yourself.
Bring situations to life

A simple prop may help a lot!
Realia and props can really bring a role-play to life. A group of my young learners recently played the roles of customers and the waiter in a restaurant. A simple menu made with photos, a notebook and a cloth on the left arm made the whole process more fun and memorable for the class. As soon as it was placed on their heads they 'became' customers and waiters and acted accordingly.

Rearranging the furniture can also help. If you are imagining you are at the hairdresser or at the doctor's try to make it as real as you can. Students can even leave the room and make an entrance by knocking on the door.
Try to keep the roles you ask students to play as real to life as possible. This may involve using some L1 to explain about the local culture or to translate local menus into English for the guest to their country. 
Some scaffolding is always welcomed!

Feed-in language

As mentioned in the role of the teacher section, feeding-in the language students need is fundamental. By doing so, they will learn new vocabulary and structure in a natural and memorable environment. It is a chance to use real and natural language.

Error Correction

There are many ways to correct mistakes when using role-play. It is rarely appropriate for the teacher to jump in and correct every mistake. This could be incredibly demotivating! Some students do like to be corrected straight after a role-play activity, while the language is still fresh in their minds. Sentences with errors can be written on the board for the group to correct together.
  • Self-correction - If you have the equipment to record the role-plays on video, students can be given the opportunity to listen to the dialogue again and reflect on the language used. They may find it easy to spot their own mistakes.
  • Peer-correction - Fellow students may be able to correct some mistakes made by their peers. Students could be asked to listen out for both great bits of language they'd like to use themselves, and some mistakes they hear. Be careful to keep peer-correction a positive and profitable experience for all involved.
  • Making a note of common mistakes yourself and dealing with them in future classes ensures that the students don't lose motivation by being corrected on the spot or straight after the role-play. Negotiate with students and ask them how they would like to be corrected.


Use your imagination and have fun

Role-play can be a lot of fun. If you still feel reluctant to use it in the class I suggest you begin to integrate it slowly. Why not extend an appropriate reading or a listening from a course book and turn it into a role-play? You may be pleasantly surprised by the results! 


Bibliography
Role Play - Gillian Porte Ladousse (Oxford 1987)
The Practice of English Language Teaching - Jeremy Harmer (Longman 1989)

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