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Have you ever wondered how you can get your English or ESL students speaking more?

Well, today’s post is an introduction to an idea I had and tried out a couple weeks ago with my ESL students. To be fair, roleplaying is a technique that’s talked about a bit in ESL methodology classes. It just doesn’t seem to be in use a lot, though!  Actually, the only roleplay experience I can remember in a foreign language class I took was repeatedly doing a restaurant roleplay in French class as a kid.  Other classes seemed to stick to the textbooks (Reading scripts out loud seated at your desk doesn’t count!)

Actually, in high school, we did have lunch at a French restaurant with our class. Unfortunately, the class slipped right back into English and our teacher didn’t do much to stop us…

Sound familiar?

Well, let’s take a look at how roleplaying can help.


What Is Roleplay in Teaching?

5 Grammar Games for Kids and Adults

It’s as simple as it sounds.

I taught a class last week to try this out with my 8-year-old twin students, and roleplay was a major hit. (If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I’ve been testing out quite a few ideas with them, like this vocabulary treasure box idea).

Basically, you have students act. They pretend that they’re in a particular real-life situation, and use the vocabulary and grammar necessary to have an authentic conversation.

Whether you’re teaching kids or adults, working on grammar concepts or new vocabulary ideas, roleplay can be a great addition.

Although I’ve only used roleplays with children so far, I plan to adapt it to adult levels, too.

My students (kids) were having so much fun this week that they asked their mom if they could have 2 hours of English every week from now on, instead of just one!

Another example:

Just last Friday, I was on the way home from a 9-year-old student’s house when her dad texted me. He wanted to let me know that his daughter loved the script I made for the roleplay so much that they continued playing after I left.  Wow. That was beautiful. It’s so amazing to know your students want to keep learning after you leave.


5 Reasons To Use Roleplay In ESL Class


Quite simply, I’d say there are 5 reasons to use roleplays.

1) Authentic Communication

This is a big one!  How many times have you flipped through ESL textbooks or teachers guides and thought bo-ring?  I know it usually takes me a solid 2 to 3 hours in the ESL bookstore every semester to choose textbooks for my students.  Most of them just seem so out of date, and only a few have “fluency phrases”  or similar sections for colloquial language.10 Amazing ESL Textbooks

When you develop scripts for roleplays for your students, you can include terms textbooks don’t have. Better yet, have advanced students create the scripts themselves.  (Note: children will get frustrated creating their own scripts if they don’t have the appropriate level, so be sure to go slowly, help them, and make sure they have the vocabulary before beginning).

2) Water, Laughter, Movement Principle

While I don’t know exactly where this principle came from, I first heard it from a professor of mine at the McGill University Department of Education.  It’s simple but true.

Students work better if they are hydrated, having fun, and moving.  I’m sure it was originally intended to use for kids, but it works for adults, too. Get your students moving!

Speak Up in English Class

3) Get Shy Students Excited

How often is it that the loud, outgoing students overtake a class discussion or even a small group discussion?  If you’re wondering how to get your students to speak up in class, roleplay is definitely on the right track.

(Be sure to read the linked post – just click the image to the right – if you haven’t seen those ideas yet). I do my best to get every student in a large class speaking (even at the university level!).


4) Prepare for Real-Life Situations

Isn’t it so frustrating when we are in a real-life second language situation, and can’t remember the word for something?  Help your students prepare by using roleplays that are authentic and relevant to them. 

For example:

Use a business situation for your Business English students. This works wonders, as a lot of my lunchtime business students are looking to attend interviews or business meetings with native English speakers.

Running through a script of a mock business meeting can be so helpful.   In fact, last year I spent a good 5 sessions with a bank manager going through his role in his weekly meeting.  It helped him raise his confidence levels and feel less nervous in his second language.

Get creative! I’m sure your students can give you great ideas on what they need help with.

5) Students Will Love It

Well, this one is more of a summary point. Students love roleplays.  For kids, it’s like you’re playing a game for the whole class. It also makes it really fun for you, because most kids are so creative.

They’re hilarious, too.  Last night, a couple of my students created a travel agent roleplay where they purchased a 4 day trip to London on a 60 pound budget 😉    (Sometimes, we have to reel in that imagination a little closer towards reality!)

BBC English (a great resource for lesson plans) has an article on why they love using roleplay, too.

Okay, but how can I actually put this together?   Well, I am planning to do a roleplay series in my upcoming Teachers Pay Teachers store so teachers can access full lesson plan packs with awesome no-prep lessons.  For now, though, the May 2018 printables will have a short restaurant roleplay script you can get for free!   The May printables will be out later today!

You have access to my free printables library, right?


Free Printables Library

3 Roleplay Scenario Ideas

In case you’re planning to create your own scripts, here are three scenario ideas I plan to use this week:


As I mentioned above, a restaurant roleplay is kind of a classic. You can easily learn food vocabulary, cutlery, greetings and customer service words using this roleplay. It’s also great for learning to speak politely    Would you like…?    Could I have…?  and learning to make a transaction and use English or American money.

Now, I can see this roleplay being a bit tricky to get adults to do…but next time I have the chance, I will try!

Travel Agent 

So, this one is for all ages!

Almost everyone likes to travel, or to plan a day-trip of some sort.  Planning out a trip, creating (or reading) travel documents in English, and practicing “going to the travel agent” are all ideas you could use.

Of course, roleplaying a tourist office in a foreign city is also helpful.  How can tourists ask for help? What might they need when they arrive? Trust me, the ideas will flow once you have students involved.  They have  so much fun planning the script!


Doctor or Dentist Office

Now, this one is actually extremely useful if you happen to be working with students who live abroad, plan to go abroad, or even those planning to take a trip.

What happens if you get sick when you travel?  We can use roleplays to teach everything from simple travel vocabulary to complicated travel insurance words.

For example:

If your student is an an adult and drives, you could have them plan to rent a car.  There may be cultural and terminology differences in how insurance works in different countries!  Scripting out a dialogue with a car rental, a minor accident, and a trip to the doctor’s office are all relevant, authentic situations your students will be glad they practiced.

What roleplays have you use in any of your foreign language or ESL classes? If this is something new for you, would you give it a try? I’d love to have some interactive discussion in the comments below – I read and respond to every (non-spam) comment! 🙂

Happy Teaching!


P.S.  Photography fans, the photo for today’s post is one I took in Berlin, Germany last month.

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