The Upgraders Blog: Roleplay

28 March 2018

What’s your role?

So…team Macmillan are just back from a round of events in Indonesia and can I say what an amazing group of teachers? So passionate, dedicated and hungry for ideas! One of the workshops focused in on roleplays and how we can use them creatively and effectively in our classrooms.

In essence we looked at using roleplay as one example of how we can challenge ourselves as teachers to get the most from our lessons through supporting learners, guiding learners, involving learners, personalizing materials and creating enough repetition (in meaningful/motivating contexts).

Definition of roleplay

“an activity in which you pretend to be someone else, especially in order to learn new skills or attitudes” (Macmillan Online Dictionary)

An effective role-play activity is different from “putting on a show,” in which performers are separated from a passive audience. Well-constructed roleplays are an exciting form of modal instruction that engage everyone in the class in all the learning modalities. But what is clear from talking to teachers is that to achieve this, we need a clear, conscious protocol for how to run a roleplay and how to take advantage of each moment.

Common challenges to roleplay

Aren’t roleplays artificial? Roleplays can be seen as artificial. Yes, especially when they are scripted. They are not always as authentic as they could be or not reminiscent of real life situations. However, there are still benefits and we should take the positives from these. Another way to overcome this is to develop more unscripted dialogues for example that relate more to real life/meaningful situations.

Aren’t roleplays just throw-away activities? Roleplays are sometimes considered a ‘throw away” activity i.e. something that we do but with little feedback or follow-up. We throw it on to the lesson, we have fun and then we forget about it and move onto something else. Yes, agreed. We will look in the activity below at how we can get the most out of roleplay especially when it comes to feedback and follow-up.

Can we monitor inaccuracies during roleplays? It’s difficult to monitor all learners, especially in a large class. When our focus is on fluency we may miss lots of inaccuracies that develop into bad habits. With this in mind it’s important we make sure we make time for regular monitoring and feedback throughout the process.

A framework for roleplay

During the workshop we worked with a framework to help guide teachers and students through the roleplay process i.e. to make them as effective as possible. We agreed that roleplays have a lot of worth and if anything is worth doing it is worth doing well.

Step 1: Preparation – I do (teacher-led)

Step 2: Preparation – We do (teacher-student guided)

Step 3: Enactment 1 + feedback– You do (student collaboration)

Step 4: Enactment 2 + feedback – You do (student collaboration)

Step 5: Follow-up (student independence)

Example roleplay using the framework

Scripted: For typical roleplay you would find in a course book

  1. Preparation phase: Introduce the dialogue, reviewing vocabulary and target language as necessary. Model with a strong student. Introduce different emotions on picture cards and elicit the emotions e.g. happy, sad, angry, in love, bored, sleepy etc. Teacher and model student choose one emotion each and model the dialogue using the emotions. The class has to guess what emotion you are.
  2. Enactment 1: In pairs students choose an emotion each and practice the dialogue once.
  3. Feedback: Monitor and give feedback. One tip for feedback here is to create a feedback space in the class. Create pictures which connect to different feedback areas e.g. pronunciation, grammar, body language. Walk around the class as they are enacting and note down some areas that could be improved. Choose the areas you want to focus on and show the picture to the students e.g. pronunciation and give them feedback on a particular area (maybe missing the ‘s’ of the end of words or dropping the last consonant sound).
  4. Enactment 2: In pairs students practice again using different emotions. This time they take on the feedback as they repeat the roleplay.
  5. Feedback and follow-up: Give feedback based on your previous feedback. Follow-up: repeat the dialogue, this time changing the situation e.g. an interrogation scene, or stuck in an elevator. Pairs have to change the way they deliver the dialogue depending on the situation. They could independently come up with a situation using the same roleplay, the others must watch and guess the situation.

The aim is for teachers to have initial control and then gradually release the responsibility over to learners throughout the roleplay. If you are interested, I have adapted the framework from the Gradual Release framework used for Literacy development through guided reading programmes in the US.

Read more here: Fisher and Frey (2008) Better learning through structured teaching: A framework for the gradual release of responsibility

Benefits of roleplay

There are numerous benefits of conducting effective role plays.  If we take the example activity above, if done effectively can:

  • encourage creativity and thinking by using their imaginations
  • provide lots of fun repetition of target language that is memorable
  • develop positive behavioral skills such as teamwork, communication (both verbal and non-verbal)
  • motivate and involve learners, especially if you have large classes
  • lower affective filters and lead to a positive, fun learning environments
  • help learners personalize their learning by giving them choice
  • be very student-centered
  • create meaning for the target language i.e. I do, I understand

John Cruft is the Regional Professional Development Senior Manager for Macmillan Education, Asia and MENA. He has been working in Asia for over 16 years as both a teacher and teacher trainer. John has taught in both the public and private sectors. He has also designed and delivered professional development workshops across the Asian region in many different contexts, including government INSETT projects in Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

John holds a Master’s degree in Education and International Development from the Institute of Education in London, where the focus of his study was on education systems across Asia. He also holds a PGDip TESOL from the University of Nottingham, UK.