Students work in pairs or small groups to act out a situation. Each student has a role. Students may work from cards or cues, or they may create their own situations. Role plays may be used in conjunction with other strategies and activities such as Working with Scenarios and Reader’s Theatre. Role plays can be simple (You lost your wallet on the bus and need to talk to Lost and Found) or complex (You are a supervisor and need to tell an employee who is always late that she needs to shape up. She has sick kids at home and needs the money.)


Role plays are meant to build communication skills and encourage spontaneous speech. Role plays help students think on their toes because they need to generate language in response to what they hear. and they can’t simply recite a memorized dialogue. By putting themselves in real situations, students learn to think about what they might say and gain practice using real life English.

What to Do

1.Prepare students by practicing some basic dialogs that reflect common situations.

2.Select a situation and create a new dialog together with the students.

3.Use dramatization, chalk talk, or puppets to illustrate or involve a more advanced student as your foil.

4.Write the dialog on the board and have students practice in pairs or small groups.

5.Pick other situations and discuss them with the class to make sure everyone understands the situation. Pair students up and ask them to practice two or three situations.

6.Circulate and observe but do not intervene. Then ask a few of the students to demonstrate their role plays.

Keep in Mind

Beginning level ESL students may need a great deal of language input before they can perform a role play. Allow your role plays to emerge from the themes the students are studying (at the doctor’s, applying for a job; reporting an accident), and have students generate possible language they might use in a situation.

Consider using Role Play Cards to assign roles to students. Allow students to practice the situations in pairs or groups but then mix up partners so that responses can’t be memorized.

Encourage students to use whatever communication skills they can muster, including telegraphic speech (I no can come to work), gestures and props. Don’t correct students while they are talking but keep notes and later on review the language students need to get a point across.