Great Role Plays
for ESL Students

Role Plays for ESL Students Role plays for ESL students are a great way of getting your class to speak.

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses

Even the shy ones will be more likely to speak if they have a role to play and aren't actually giving their own opinions.

I've seen some teachers struggle with role plays, and others use them brilliantly.

What is the best way to use role plays for ESL students?

The first piece of advice I have is, don't be scared of using role plays in class!

Some colleagues told me that they don't use them because they are worried the students won't want to do it. You're the teacher! Make them interesting and relevant and the students will want to do the activity.

Real life situations

Following that, the next piece of advice is, make the role plays relevant.

For example, if you are teaching teenagers, give them situations that they may find themselves in.

Suggestions are:
  • Ordering a meal

  • Shopping

  • Asking directions

  • Deciding what to do/where to go

  • And so forth.

How to make it interesting

Next, it is important to make the role plays interesting.

Asking directions isn't the most exciting activity in the world but try to think of ways you can make it more interesting.

One teacher I know suggested that the students had an argument about the directions, and this apparently worked. Sometimes just using places the students know, and using real examples helps.

Pairing up

It is important to think about how you group or pair your students when they do role plays. I often write the different scenarios to be played in different colors, or on colored paper. The students then have to find the other person/people with that color.

In most situations I try and group students of similar ability but there may be times when I want to pair a stronger with a weaker student. This could be when I have assigned specific roles and I want the weaker, or shyer, student to take the dominant role in the situation.


Bring in props to help with the role plays.

For example, some students find it much easier to talk in a pretend situation if there is something to help them.
  • Set a desk up as a restaurant table

  • Bring in items for them to return to a shop

  • Bring in maps for a role play about asking directions

  • And so forth 
There are lots of things you can do to make the activity more interesting.

Choose the stage

Decide whether you want your students to perform to the rest of the class or just to practice with each other.

If they perform for the rest of the class, give them plenty of time to prepare, and encourage positive feedback from the class as well as peer correction. This will help involve all the students in every performance. Don't forget to get feedback from the 'performers' too.

Role plays for ESL students can be a very useful tool in your class, can build confidence, and improve speaking and listening skills, so don't neglect them!

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