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25 Roleplay ideas for the ESL Classroom

One of the best ways language teachers can help students practice their speaking skills is through role-playing in the classroom. Role-playing activities and classroom games transition the students from the classroom into real-life situations. It’s a very effective way for teachers to help their students use English outside of the classroom in a natural way. Role-playing should be part of every ESL teacher’s arsenal; it can also be used by regular teachers to reinforce certain ideas and to help students practice certain situations.

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Why is role-playing such a good method?

Why is role-playing such a good teaching method? First students can use natural language; they can learn the grammar and vocabulary by actually practicing it with friends in situations that are real. They are not bound by the classroom. They can start thinking beyond the classroom and how to actually use the language in situations; it prepares them for the world outside. I’ve seen students – who are able to use the language in the classroom – freeze when required to speak English out on a field trip. Suddenly they can’t use it.

Roleplay helps students move to the outside of the classroom in a safe, controlled environment by actually practicing what they’re learning as if it’s the real world. Another great thing is that the teacher can move around and correct mistakes while the students are doing the roleplay, or give them some tips. That way they feel more confident once they go outside, because they’ve already practiced it inside the classroom.

Typically, students remember these roleplay activities more than they would normally. In essence, because they’re actually acting it out and they’re using it with friends. It can be funny and exciting, but that’s also one of the negatives: Sometimes students play around too much and they don’t practice what you want them to learn; you also get students that are too shy and other students that are not interested in doing the activity, so you have to properly motivate them to do that.

Another reason why role-playing activities are so enjoyable is that it gives students a chance to be creative; they can put themselves into the language, with that being said let’s jump into how to teach students roleplay.

How to prepare students for roleplay activity

Especially elementary students should be thoroughly prepared before they start doing the roleplay. They should have the necessary vocabulary or expressions and they should also know exactly what is expected of them. At higher levels, students don’t need that much support, but it can take them some time to get into the role.

You should walk around the classroom and give them some pointers, and help them with the targeted language. Imagine sitting at your desk for hours and hours just studying something. With roleplays, students are able to stand up and talk to their friends and by physically acting roles, they learn to express themselves better.

Make sure to have rules though, because things can get out of hand. We know how students are when they’re free to do what they want. Many students might mess around, so make sure they know what their boundaries are.

“Students learn how to use the language in a more realistic, practical way.” Etacude

Decide on the teaching material. You can use scripts, storybooks, or a movie – anything from real life. Select the situations and talk about the necessary dialogue. Students should create a dialogue with some of the vocabulary you’ve given them, but they should also feel free to use their own creativity. Nothing makes them feel better than to show off what they’ve already learned. I mean, what is the use of language if you’ve got all this knowledge, but you’re not allowed to use it? So, give them creative control, but within reason.  

Students then practice the given dialogue with a partner or in small groups so that everybody can get a chance. Once they’ve gotten used to a certain rule, make them switch so that they can practice different roles. Walk around and evaluate the students; check them for their understanding and use of target dialogue and ask them some questions in between.

How to motivate participation

To have all the students do their roleplays may take too long, so let them work in pairs or in small groups. I let them play rock-scissors-paper, and then the losing group has to do their roleplay for the other students. Students love this and are motivated to practice because they might get chosen, but they don’t have to sit around and watch ten other roleplays at the end of the class.

Make sure students know why you’re doing the roleplay; what its purpose is because if there’s no reason for them to do roleplays, it might get out of hand and you might lose the class. So, make sure they know the value and also that they stay within the boundaries of your classroom rules.

To summarize, make sure to prepare. Know in advance which activities you want the students to use. And always have a Plan B in place, should a role-play activity for some reason not work the way you hoped it would. Here are ten vocabulary games and activities that can also be used.

25 examples on how to improve roleplay

Keep the roleplays relevant to the language, and make them true to real life so that students don’t act too crazy and lose the reason for doing it in the first place. When students struggle, they can be at a loss for words or phrases, so have some go-to words on the board that they can turn to in case they get stuck.

Use realia or props with roleplay , especially with younger learners. Use realia, or props. It’ll make it more fun; students enjoy using things that help them act “in character.” See the following video on how to use props and the importance thereof.

So, let’s look at 25 roleplay examples you can use in your ESL classroom:

1. Roleplay bad behavior, discuss rules  

If there’s some behavior in class that is unwanted; that you don’t want to see, ask students to roleplay the bad behavior and then also the consequences. Every moment is a teachable moment, so use it to teach the students what is acceptable in class and what is unacceptable.

2. How to order food, or do cooking class

How to order food in a restaurant. How to ask the waiter for certain changes with food. An alternative is Cooking Class: Let the students demonstrate a cooking class, or let the students talk about the ingredients and how to cook.

3. Book Accommodation

Roleplay a hotel reception: How to enquire about accommodation, do a booking, find out about facilities, things to do and so on. Younger learners how to ask for some things that they want while on vacation with their parents.

4. Taking a taxi

Roleplay taxi driver and tourist. How to use a taxi service, to give directions and also to pay.

5. Telephone conversations

Nothing can be as nerve-racking as having a conversation in another language on the telephone. Practice telephone conversations or during making requests or talking to someone.

6. Solve arguments with neighbors

Arguments between friends or neighbors. This is great because they can actually learn some interpersonal problem-solving skills.

7. See a doctor or dentist

Talk about going to see the doctor or dentist at the medical clinic or hospital. What are the basic aches, pains, body parts, or some ailments? They can also be the doctor or the nurse giving advice.

8. Be a teacher

Students can take the role of teacher and teach a certain part of the lesson. They can also practice asking questions to the teacher so that they feel more comfortable asking questions to you later. For example, if they don’t understand something, or asking about a test. Many students are so nervous to ask the teacher anything, so this is a great opportunity for them to practice it and in the future, they can use it perhaps. Students can practice making excuses and coming up with better excuses for having late work.  Even something like: “Teacher I forgot my homework; my dog ate my homework.”

9. Sales talk, buying and selling

Roleplay different situations in shops, students must sell a product; they can ask questions about the product they’re buying. Or exchange something they have bought. This is a great skill that everybody needs to have.

10. Make a shopping list

Let students practice by making shopping lists to buy groceries for home; buy stuff for a birthday party; things they need for a picnic; or if they want to go to the beach for a day; or to go camping, and so on.

11. Interviews

Job and university interviews are nerve-wracking. Students can practice and get comfortable in those situations. Younger students can practice TV interviews about topics they can relate to.

12. Speed dating

These quick conversations are fun for senior students. It is a great way for students to meet many people in a very short period of time and they practice their social skills with one another.

13. A Town Hall meeting

If there are problems in town, citizens meet in the town hall where they discuss them and look for some solutions. This encourages students to have a problem-solving mindset. Let them think of possible problems communities sometimes can experience and need to prepare for.

14. Emergencies

All students should practice how to react when an emergency happens; how to call for help and how to react when something bad happens like a car accident; calling the ambulance, or calling the police. Discuss other types of accidents or emergencies.

15. Conduct business or formal meetings

Let students practice how to conduct formal meetings; for example, a business meeting on poor sales reports, worker salaries; or the Christmas party. It can also be the meeting of a sports club, a social club, or any other situation where a meeting is held by following its agenda.

16. Consumer complaints

How to raise complaints: You’ve got a problem with your meal, call the waiter; you’ve got a problem with your hotel; there’s something wrong with an item you’ve bought, you return it for a refund. Students should practice this so that they can do it in real life.

17. Husband and wife requests

This is a great personal skill to learn; sometimes there is conflict between a husband and wife and a relationship. This teaches students to ask for something; a wife can ask a husband: “Honey I want you to mow the lawn;” or the husband can say: “I want us to have a proper dinner once a week.” This way you can practice personal problem-solving skills.

18. How to congratulate and chat at a party

Going to a birthday, a baby shower, or a wedding. How to congratulate, give compliments, or felicitate the person of honor. Then continue and practice making small talk with complete strangers.

Going to the movies, talking about movies and actors that you like; explaining the plot of a movie. Students learn to share ideas about movies.

20. Giving your opinion

You have thoughts and feelings and it’s important to practice giving your opinion in a structured manner.

21. Debate an issue

Students should also be able to understand both sides of an argument and that is why debating is very important. Students should look at both sides of the debate and be able to give a logically structured reason for their beliefs.

22. Giving advice

Everybody needs advice sometime in their life. This is a great roleplay for students to practice, giving advice and also receiving advice from friends. It’ll make them better friends and also better people.

23. Relationship advice

Perhaps the students are in elementary school, but even then, they can learn and appreciate what relationships are. So many students don’t get the chance to talk about relationships. All understand how relationships work, this is a safe way for them to practice and also learn some English.

24. Foreign culture

When traveling as a tourist or living in a foreign country, one must adapt to the local culture; students must give advice about cultural norms. This is a fantastic role play for students to understand how someone else might feel when they visit their country.

25. Ask and Give Directions

Students must pretend they are at an airport, in a huge shopping mall, in a strange city and ask for directions to the restrooms, the information kiosk, to a toy shop, the medical station, the sports department, or whatever they can come up with. Let the most original ideas win rewards.

In conclusion – roleplay is a great teaching method

Roleplay is a worthwhile experience for teachers and learners; not only do students get the opportunity to act and interact with their peers, but they also get to practice English. Students learn how to use the language in a more realistic, practical way. Thus, they become more aware of the usefulness and practicality of the English language. I hope you use roleplay in your classroom to help students connect the language to their real lives.  

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Problem solving.

solving problems role play esl

Level: Upper Intermediate - Advanced

Type of English: Business English

Tags: problems at work problems and solutions declaring and diagnosing a problem making suggestions Situation based

In this lesson, students learn useful language for handling and solving problems at work. Vocabulary for describing different types of problems and solutions is studied. Students then listen to several dialogues and study the expressions used by the speakers to declare and diagnose a problem as well as make suggestions and take action. At the end of the lesson, there is a role play activity in which the language from the lesson is put into practice. There are two animated videos which can be played instead of the dialogue or given to the student(s) as material to take away.

solving problems role play esl


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This comprehensive course plan covers the full range of language needs – listening, role play, vocabulary development.

Lesson Plans in English for Work and Life course plan

solving problems role play esl

Type of English: Business English Level: Upper Intermediate - Advanced

solving problems role play esl

Type of English: General English Level: Upper Intermediate - Advanced

solving problems role play esl

Lesson Plans in English for Business course plan

solving problems role play esl

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20 Creative ESL Role Play Ideas for Students of Any Age

From young students to professionals, role play a great way to prepare your ESL students to use English in real world scenarios .

Implementing this activity in the classroom can help students overcome their fear of public speaking  or speaking English in general, use vocabulary in context and clarify any misunderstandings in a safe environment.

Also, it’s fun!

If you don’t know where to start, here are some of the most useful and relevant ESL role play ideas for your students.

1. Time to Eat!

3. is there a doctor in the house, 4. time to teach, 5. let’s go shopping, 6. ace the interview, 7. bizarre job interviews, 8. watch the weather, 9. meet your mate on a date, 10. town hall debate showdown, 11. let’s mail a letter, 12. let’s get down to business, 13. a night out on the town, 14. driving directions improvisation, 15. international space station, 16. lost in the catacombs of paris, 17. eating out at the freaky fast food joint, 18. the interrogation room, 19. surveyed on the street, 20. blind date, how to prepare esl role play activities.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Goal:  Students will master typical vocabulary and phrases used in a restaurant by understanding and responding appropriately to prompts.

Language used:

  • Food-related vocabulary
  • Restaurant vocabulary and phrases (Check, please!)
  • Understanding and answering to a waiter (May I take your order?)

Description: In this role play, students test their knowledge of food vocabulary and common questions/phrases used at restaurants. For beginners, stick with simple questions like “How can I help you?” and “What would you like to drink?” Vocabulary should also be simple, such as  “soup” and “ice cream.” For more advanced classes, you can introduce higher-level vocabulary and vary the questions.

In order for students to be successful, it’s important to pre-teach some of the more common phrases students might encounter.

For the actual role play, divide the class into small groups. Students should take turns being the server or guest. Circulate to make sure students are using the phrases correctly and instruct the students when to switch roles.

You can add an extra element of practice and creativity by letting students design menus before performing the activity.

Goal:  Students will utilize their knowledge of direction words and polite requests to accurately give oral directions.

  • Direction words (go left/right/straight)
  • Giving directions (Take the next right/left)
  • Names of locations and local businesses (bank, restaurant, hotel, etc.)

Description: With this ESL role play topic, students have the opportunity to practice giving and clarifying directions. Be sure to pre-teach vocabulary and phrases like stating an address in the proper order: first the number, then the street name. You may also take time to introduce directions such as “left,” “right” and “straight.”

Once students are comfortable with the language, divide students into small groups. Assign the roles of driver and passengers. Students should use the pre-taught phrases to engage in a short dialogue about directions.

It’s best to give the class a time limit. Once time is up, the students should switch roles so that each student has the chance to be both driver and passenger.

Goal:  Students utilize appropriate medical phrases and vocabulary used at a doctor’s office or hospital.

  • Body part vocabulary
  • Physical ailments
  • Common medical terms
  • Words and phrases for talking to doctors and nurses

Description: Depending on the age of the students, you can design the vocabulary accordingly. For younger students, stick with words like “runny nose” and “cough.” For older students, you might want to include such things as “high blood pressure.”It may also be a good idea to ask the students what medical words they want to know—some of them may have specific words related to their health they want to practice and you can help them find the right translations.

Divide students into small groups. Assign students the different roles and set a time limit for them to perform the dialogue. Make sure you give each student a chance to be the doctor, nurse and patient. If you have time, ask groups to volunteer to present their skit in front of the whole class.

Goal:  Students practice public speaking by instructing or explaining a chosen topic in detail to the class.

Language used: 

  • Vocabulary needed for topic of choice
  • Common phrases used by teachers (Can everyone hear/see me?, Today we are going to learn how to ____.)
  • Giving directions and instructions (first…, then…, finally…)

Description: “Time to Teach” gives you and the students a lot of flexibility. Students prepare a short lesson on a topic of their choosing and get to be the teacher for a few minutes. You can narrow the parameters by giving specific time limits or giving them a set list of topics. Not only does this give the teacher a bit of a break, it also results in lots of interesting new information for everyone involved.

This ESL role play topic allows students to practice instruction and transition words. For example, if a student decides to teach his classmates how to do origami, he might start with “First, fold your piece of paper in half,” followed by “then…” and “finally…”

Goal: Students have the opportunity to utilize common vocabulary and phrases that arise when shopping.

  • Terminology related to grocery stores (aisle, shelf, row, products)
  • Phrases for talking with grocery store employees (excuse me, can you tell me where the ___ is?)
  • Phrases used by grocery store workers (How can I help you?, Did you find everything today?)

Description: This role play topic allows students to utilize their food vocabulary , ask questions and engage in a money-based transaction.

Divide the class into small groups or turn the whole classroom into a supermarket. If you can, set up the desks as aisles and let students bring items from home to use as products in the store. Create a checkout line and use a desk as a cash register.

Employees should circulate and ask customers if they need help. You might encourage the customers to be lost and needy, constantly seeking assistance. The cashier then rings up the items and finalizes the transactions. Assign them different roles and make sure each student has a chance to act as employee, cashier and customer. You might even have fake money so students can practice counting and using money-related vocabulary.

Goal:  Students practice professional English, proper interview etiquette and responding appropriately to common interview questions.

  • Common questions and answers used in interviews (What are your strengths? Why do you want this job?)
  • Talking about yourself
  • Discussing your past, present and future (I graduated from…, In five years, I see myself…)

Description: This particular ESL role play topic may not be suitable for young students . However, it can be extremely beneficial and worthwhile for business English students, as well as high school and university students. And who does not like talking about themselves?

Divide students into pairs and have them take turns being the interviewer and interviewee. The questions can be as detailed as you would like and can be adjusted for different student levels. Be sure to also use this opportunity to teach students about the importance of body language and interview etiquette.

Goal: Students think outside the box in an interview setting and prepare to respond spontaneously to less common interview questions.

  • Asking common interview questions with a twist
  • Answering questions spontaneously


The jobs your students interview for will be those of a more bizarre nature. This will evoke more English thought, and force your students to go off script from the usual interview questions and answers.

Ask your students as a class about a few jobs they may have had, or possibly some bizarre jobs they may have heard about. This promotes imagination, creativity and will serve as a great warm-up activity. You can even share a bizarre job of your own or of a friend. Maybe you or someone you know spent a summer as a kiwi picker in New Zealand, or cleaned cages at the zoo.

You will need to have made a few worksheets for each job interviewer ahead of time. A fun twist is to let the interviewer know which job the interviewee will be interviewing for, but to keep the interviewee in the dark until the activity begins.

For example, let’s say Student A has a list of questions to ask Student B, the interviewee. Student A might read, “How did you hear about the position for tiger tooth cleaner?” Student B will need to spontaneously come up with an answer.

Student B should also have an opportunity to ask the interviewer any questions he or she may have about the job. For example, “How many tigers are there?” This will evoke a quick, spontaneous response from Student A. Your students should switch roles among the different interview tables and bizarre jobs.

Goal: Students practice weather-related terms and phrases, as well as different verb tenses.

  • Weather terms (sunny, cloudy, rain, snow, wind)
  • Temporal words (today, yesterday, last night)

Description:  Talking about the weather is a necessity for accurately describing the current conditions, as well as mastering the art of small talk. This ESL role play topic is great for helping students master these terms and using a variety of verb tenses in context.

Students work in small groups to give a weather report, explaining the past, future or present conditions. Depending on the level of your class, you may also let them talk about traffic or current events. For added interest, you might include a “citizen” in the role play for the anchor or reporter to engage with.

Goal:  Students formulate and appropriately respond to personal questions.

  • Personal questions
  • Describing yourself (My name is…, My hobbies are…)
  • Introduction words and phrases (Nice to meet you)

Description: Students can ask any number of questions on their “date.” They can be themselves or you can assign them different professions. Set up the desks or tables so that students can sit across from one another. The dates should be short and students should rotate several times so they have a chance to speak with several classmates.

They should start with simple introductions, but following that, the questions they ask will be determined by the level and whatever it is that they have studied recently. For example, if the class has been studying words for family members, the questions may relate to family. If you have been talking about hobbies, the “date” could start with the question “What do you like doing?”

Goal: Students engage in debate and persuasive speeches to convince their audience of their assigned viewpoint.

  • Vocabulary related to the topic at hand
  • Persuasive words and phrases (I agree/disagree because…)
  • Expressing your thoughts and beliefs (I believe…, I think…)
  • Ordered speech (First of all…)

Description: Debating can be a fun and exciting way to practice speaking persuasively and learning how to effectively agree or disagree with someone. This activity can be done in a one-on-one setting or in teams of two or three students against another team.

While the other ESL role play topics can be adapted for any age group or English level, this role play topic is best saved for more advanced speakers.

You should prepare several topics that the students can debate. Make sure the topics have two clear sides to argue. You might pick something current or political for older students. For younger students, something like the school start time or wearing uniforms would be more appropriate.

In any case, you’ll need to give students a chance to prepare their arguments, including opening statements and well-formulated supporting facts and examples.

Goal: Students use words and phrases to successfully make inquiries and/or mail a card or package.

  • Post office vocabulary (I’d like to buy stamps, please. What’s the fastest way to send it?)
  • Common clerk questions (How can I help you? How would you like to send this?)

Description: A post office might not be the most exciting place in the world, but it’s a pretty important place if you want to get that package to your mom for Christmas!

Give students the opportunity to practice buying stamps, clarifying an address or sending a package in this role play. This is best done in groups of two. You should monitor the students, making sure they are using appropriate phrases and checking pronunciation.

Goal: Students practice going over an agenda, running a meeting or giving a business presentation.

  • Business-related terms (agenda, email, meeting, etc.)
  • Sequence words and phrases (It’s time to get started. Who would like to go first?)
  • Asking questions in a professional setting (I have a question concerning ___. What is our timeline for ___?)

Description: This role play is directed towards older students and gives them the chance to practice their business English. Encourage the “boss” to open the meeting with a greeting and a purpose for the meeting. The “employees” should be encouraged to ask questions and offer thoughts and opinions related to the topic of the “meeting.”

In general, this role play works best with small groups of students. Ask the students to take turns playing the different roles for optimal practice.

What’s great about this role play is that you can adapt it to any type of situation; you could assign groups of students to different types of business meetings. For example, one meeting might be an advertising meeting while another might be a downsizing meeting.

Goal: Students will learn how to strike up casual conversations in a very informal setting, from a variety of points of view.

  • Explaining one’s self
  • Conversational, casual language
  • Asking and answering improvised questions

Description: This role play activity gives students a chance to practice sparking up a conversation in an informal way with new people in English. Before you dim the lights and turn up the music, talk about your past experiences socializing in casual settings like bars and concerts. Some of your students may have already had a night out in an English-speaking country, and their anecdotes may be helpful for their classmates moving forward. You could even share a story of your own.

Assign students roles, like bartenders, servers and patrons, even the DJ. You and the class can take it a step further and give each character a brief backstory, like the businessman who’s visiting for just one night, or the artist who’s working at the bar to make ends meet.

You’ll also be a patron during this activity, floating and sparking up a conversation with your students’ characters. Roles will be switched and everyone in the class will get an opportunity to be someone new. You could even add a theme to your role play activity, such as New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day or another English-speaking holiday or a big event like the World Series or the Superbowl.

Goal: Students will learn how to make and follow driving directions.

Key words/phrases:

  • Direction words (follow this road, turn right)
  • Names for vehicles and people (driver, passenger, pedestrian)

Description: In this role play activity, you’ll employ a few antagonists to throw a wrench in the otherwise traditional ESL lesson for directions. 

Divide your students into groups of four and assign a role to each: driver, front-seat passenger, pedestrian and backseat antagonist. Hand the pedestrian a slip of paper with pre-written directions.

The front-seat passenger asks the pedestrian for directions. Once received, the backseat passenger will try to mix up the driving directions by disagreeing and providing the wrong instructions.

The driver will try to keep things straight in this confusion. After a few minutes go by, the driver must show you how they would navigate to the destination in the correct way. Focusing on the correct directions gives the driver a chance to really practice their listening skills!

Goal: Students practice identifying, discussing and resolving problems and conflicts using various methods and language skills.

  • Critical language (Who brings a bag of seeds into space anyway?)
  • Descriptive language (It’s long and green, it’s got three eyes, it looks like…)
  • Instructional language (Try turning it to the left, you need to open the lid like this…)
  • Questions (Did you look under the control panel? When was the last time you saw it?)

Description: In this activity, students pretend to be visiting or working on the International Space Station. Assign roles to students, like astronauts and wealthy space tourists, but also more outside-the-box options like a school teacher invited to give science lessons from space or a common man who has won the visit in a lottery.

Each type of person would think and speak differently! Encourage students to have fun with it. Being enclosed in a vehicle that travels at thousands of miles an hour at zero gravity can lead to some pretty odd situations. Here are a few ideas to get students talking:

  • Someone brought sunflower seeds to munch on and they’re floating everywhere.
  • A piece of disgusting space garbage is floating outside the window.
  • Someone sees an extraterrestrial outside the window.
  • Cabin pressure drops and everyone has to find ways to fix the problem.

Set some ground rules by ensuring that students go through each scenario by identifying the problem or issue, discussing the issue and resolving it. It’s a fun way to practice conflict resolution in English.

You can get fun with this by adding props. For instance, an old TV remote can act as a communication device, your ESL textbook can double as a handbook for fixing something on the station, etc.

Goal:  Students will use their English skills to find their way around an unfamiliar and potentially scary situation.

  • Directional language (Turn left here! We should retrace our steps…)
  • Hypothetical language (It could be rats. That might be sewer water. We might find a way out…)
  • Emotional language (I’m really scared! Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. Be brave!)

Description: Your students have strayed from the guided tour of the Catacombs of Paris into uncharted tunnels, full of humidity, bones, rats and spiderwebs. Turn out the lights, hand out flashlights, and have your students talk among themselves as they navigate the catacombs.

Students can come up with roles themselves since there’s a lot of freedom for those who might visit the catacombs. You can provide them with some ideas, like tourists, tour guides, ghost hunters, sanitation workers and even a runaway criminal and the police in search of them.

You could make this a full-class activity by preparing a map and guiding your students through encounters and situations. For instance, your students could make a wrong turn and hear some strange noises (then decide whether to investigate or get out of there quickly!). After a certain amount of time, the water can begin to rise to add to the urgency.

Goal: Students will learn how to discuss unfamiliar food and cuisine, and learn how to talk about potentially unappealing.

  • Descriptive language (Describing foods that are disgusting in an attractive manner)
  • Persuasive language (Convincing clients to try something that might seem unappealing at first)
  • Expression of surprise/disgust language (Oh my gosh, that’s really nasty! What on earth is that supposed to be? You don’t expect me to eat that, do you?)
  • restaurant language (ordering, paying, complaining)

Description: This role play activity places students in a fast food restaurant that happens to serve truly unusual and disgusting food. Students can assume pretty normal roles, like a couple of friends on vacation, a local who’s trying to get some tourists to try their cuisine or owners of a neighborhood restaurant who are checking out the competition.

Create the menu before the activity begins by asking your class to come up with some bizarre food types or combinations, like raspberry jam on cheesy fries. Yum! This might even lead to a discussion of foods from different cultures that might be considered disgusting or unusual by someone who hasn’t tried it, like chicken feet, cow tongue or solidified chicken broth (all of which, by the way, are absolutely delicious!).

During the role play, students can work in groups to peruse the menu, discuss the meals between themselves and talking to the waiter. Encourage students to use many adjectives to describe the look, feel, smell and taste of their pretend bizarre meals. 

Goal: Students will spontaneously respond to questions in the past tense under potentially stressful situations.

  • Leading questions (Why did you do it? Where were you at the time of the crime?)
  • Answering questions / avoiding answering
  • Denial language (I didn’t do it! I wasn’t there! I don’t know what you’re talking about!)
  • Past tense (I was in another place. I was doing something else at the time.)

Description: This role play is intended for an older audience, and will be especially enjoyed by students who are fans of thrillers or procedural crime shows. Begin by showing your students short videos of interrogations from crime films. Discuss with the class the different roles of the cops and suspects, paying close attention to body language, in particular.

Assign students roles like a detective, good cop, bad cop, witness, innocent suspect and guilty suspect. You can do this as a whole class and call up different witnesses and suspects to the front to be interrogated by the cops and detective(s). Students should all receive brief descriptions of their roles and some facts they need to know (but others might not). For instance, one suspect might be innocent of the crime but guilty of another, which may lead to then lying during the interrogation.

You can make the crime as gruesome or as innocent as you want, depending on your students. For example, you can have an elderly, wealthy man be murdered and his suspects are the family who are set to inherit his riches. You might have a person who’s been stopped by border police for trying to enter the country with a very unusual story. You could even be looking for the thief in a bank heist! 

Goal: Students will learn how to answer information questions and how to politely end a conversation quickly.

  • Questions / Answers (More information questions than simple yes/no questions)
  • Avoidance language (I’m sorry, I’m in a hurry. I don’t have time right now. I’ve got to pick up my daughter at her dance class.)
  • Cold presentation (Cold greeting, quick presentation, participant capture)

Description: Imagine the situation: You’re walking down the street, and someone comes at you with a clipboard and a smile and asks you if you have a few minutes to take a “quick” survey. Students will be paired off, with one person very determined to give the survey, and the other trying to get on with their day.

Have a variety of survey ideas on hand, and encourage the person giving the survey to come up with suitable questions. Some survey topic ideas include political surveys, a basic survey of the neighborhood’s demographics a survey meant to canvass for a particular product (e.g. “Try our new chocolate bar and give your opinion”) and any other interesting topics you and your students might come up with.

Meanwhile, the survey takers can be given personality cards, to encourage them to respond in different ways. They might be in a hurry (give very short answers), they might hate surveys (refuse to answer or give incorrect answers) or they might be the opposite and be extremely talkative (give the survey taker winding answers that keep getting distracted from the main point). Have fun with it!

Goal: Students will use their English conversational skills to get to know someone new. 

  • Polite greetings
  • “Getting to know you” questions/answers (Where are you from? What do you like to do in your free time? What do your think of current event / famous person  ? Who’s your favorite singer?)
  • Making excuses (Well, it’s been nice, but…; I’ve really had a good time, but I’ve got to go now; It’s getting late, I should be on my way…)

Description:  Participants in this ESL role play activity are having blind date in a nice restaurant—a date which was arranged by a computer matchmaking service that purports to hook up perfect couples for eternal love and relationships. What your students won’t know (but will begin to suspect!) is that the computer program couples people with opposing personalities.

Here are some examples:

  • A loud, obnoxious person with a timid person
  • An elderly person with a teenager
  • Two strong-willed people who never agree with anyone else

The situations in this role play will emerge from the conflict of two opposing personalities assuming they’ve been perfectly matched and finding out that that’s not the case. As they “get to know each other,” they should gradually discover that the computer has made a huge mistake.

While you can use your standard personality cards, you may want to prepare additional cards that add a conflict:

  • You are very bossy
  • You are always right and everyone else is always wrong
  • You are really loud and obnoxious
  • You are a calm, timid person
  • You are 102 / 21 years old

Remember the best idea or activity can go south very quickly if it’s not adapted to meet the needs of your students . So, be sure to pre-teach any necessary vocabulary and allow them to practice their dialogues, if needed. You can always add more elements of fun by allowing students to dress up and allowing lots of improv!

A great way to get started is by modeling some language and action with video content. By representing interactions and native forms of English you’ll perfectly showcase a role play situation.

For this, you can use a program like FluentU . This language-learning program teaches English through authentic video clips like movie trailers, music videos, funny vlog clips and other media your students will enjoy learning with. 

You can use FluentU in the classroom and watch a video together to get into character. Or, you can send students home with homework to do on their own time. Students will have the benefit of interactive subtitles to help ensure they never get lost (no matter what their level is). They’ll also be able to practice new vocabulary selected by them right from the videos, or provided by you through custom flashcard lists.

Practice takes the form of multimedia quizzes that adapt to each student’s needs, ensuring that everyone gets targeted learning for their specific strengths and weaknesses. You can find out more about pricing and features and set FluentU up for your classroom through this link .

These ESL role play topics can be adapted in so many different ways. Get creative and be flexible!

Happy acting!

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solving problems role play esl

Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in the ESL Classroom

teaching critical thinking skills in fluency vs accuracy

Critical thinking has become a central concept in today’s educational landscape, regardless of the subject taught. Critical thinking is not a new idea. It has been present since the time of Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates’ famous quote, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel,” underscores the nature of learning (students are not blank slates to be filled with content by their teachers) and the significance of inquisitiveness in a true learning process, both in the ESL classroom and in the wider world of education. Teaching critical thinking skills in the ESL classroom will benefit your students throughout their language-learning journey.

In more recent times, philosopher John Dewey made critical thinking one of the cornerstones of his educational philosophy. Nowadays, educators often quote critical thinking as the most important tool to sort out the barrage of information students are exposed to in our media-dominated world , to analyze situations and elaborate solutions. Teaching critical thinking skills is an integral part of teaching 21st-century skills .

Teaching Adults English

Table of Contents

What is critical thinking?

There are many definitions of critical thinking. They are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary. Some of the main ones are outlined below.

Dewey’s definition

In John Dewey’s educational theory, critical thinking examines the beliefs and preexisting knowledge that individuals use to assess situations and make decisions. If such beliefs and knowledge are faulty or unsupported, they will lead to faulty assessments and decision-making. In essence, Dewey advocated for a scientific mindset in approaching problem-solving .

Goal-directed thinking

Critical thinking is goal-directed. We question the underlying premises of our reflection process to ensure we arrive at the proper conclusions and decisions.

Critical thinking as a metacognitive process

According to Matthew Lipman, in Thinking in Education, “Reflective thinking is thinking that is aware of its own assumptions and implications as well as being conscious of the reasons and evidence that support this or that conclusion. (…) Reflective thinking is prepared to recognize the factors that make for bias, prejudice, and self-deception . It involves thinking about its procedures at the same time as it involves thinking about its subject matter” (Lipman, 2003).

Awareness of context

This is an important aspect of critical thinking. As stated by Diane Halpern in Thought and Knowledge: An Introduction to Critical Thinking , “[The critical] thinker is using skills that are thoughtful and effective for the particular context and type of thinking task” (Halpern, 1996)

What are the elements of critical thinking?

Several elements go into the process of critical thinking.

  • Identifying the problem. If critical thinking is viewed mainly as a goal-oriented activity, the first element is to identify the issue or problem one wants to solve. However, the critical thinking process can be triggered simply by observation of a phenomenon that attracts our attention and warrants an explanation.
  • Researching and gathering of information that is relevant to the object of inquiry. One should gather diverse information and examine contrasting points of view to achieve comprehensive knowledge on the given topic.
  • Evaluation of biases. What biases can we identify in the information that has been gathered in the research phase? But also, what biases do we, as learners, bring to the information-gathering process?
  • Inference. What conclusions can be derived by an examination of the information? Can we use our preexisting knowledge to help us draw conclusions?
  • Assessment of contrasting arguments on an issue. One looks at a wide range of opinions and evaluates their merits.
  • Decision-making. Decisions should be based on the above.

adult ESL students in person classroom

Why is critical thinking important in ESL teaching?

The teaching of critical thinking skills plays a pivotal role in language instruction. Consider the following:

Language is the primary vehicle for the expression of thought, and how we organize our thoughts is closely connected with the structure of our native language. Thus, critical thinking begins with reflecting on language. To help students understand how to effectively structure and express their thinking processes in English, ESL teachers need to incorporate critical thinking in English Language Teaching (ELT) in an inclusive and interesting way .

For ESL students to reach their personal, academic, or career goals, they need to become proficient in English and be able to think critically about issues that are important to them. Acquiring literacy in English goes hand in hand with developing the thinking skills necessary for students to progress in their personal and professional lives. Thus, teachers need to prioritize the teaching of critical thinking skills.

How do ESL students develop critical thinking skills?

IELTS teaching materials

Establishing an effective environment

The first step in assisting the development of critical thinking in language learning is to provide an environment in which students feel supported and willing to take risks. To express one’s thoughts in another language can be a considerable source of anxiety. Students often feel exposed and judged if they are not yet able to communicate effectively in English. Thus, the teacher should strive to minimize the “affective filter.” This concept, first introduced by Stephen Krashen, posits that students’ learning outcomes are strongly influenced by their state of mind. Students who feel nervous or anxious will be less open to learning. They will also be less willing to take the risks involved in actively participating in class activities for fear that this may expose their weaknesses.

One way to create such an environment and facilitate students’ expression is to scaffold language so students can concentrate more on the message/content and less on grammar/accuracy.

Applying context

As mentioned above, an important aspect of critical thinking is context. The information doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is always received and interpreted in a specific situational and cultural environment. Because English learners (ELs) come from diverse cultural and language backgrounds and don’t necessarily share the same background as their classmates and teacher, it is crucial for the teacher to provide a context for the information transmitted. Contextualization helps students to understand the message properly.

Asking questions

One of the best ways to stimulate critical thinking is to ask questions. According to Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy ( Taxonomy of Educational Objectives , 1956), thinking skills are divided into lower-order and higher-order skills. Lower-order skills include knowledge, comprehension, and application; higher-order skills include analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. To stimulate critical thinking in ELT, teachers need to ask questions that address both levels of thinking processes. For additional information, read this article by the TESL Association of Ontario on developing critical thinking skills in the ESL classroom .

Watch the following clip from a BridgeUniverse Expert Series webinar to learn how to set measurable objectives based on Bloom’s Taxonomy ( watch the full webinar – and others! – here ):

How can we implement critical thinking skills in the ESL classroom?

Several activities can be used in the ESL classroom to foster critical thinking skills. Teaching critical thinking examples include:

Activities that scaffold language and facilitate students’ expression

These can be as basic as posting lists of important English function words like conjunctions, personal and demonstrative pronouns, question words, etc., in the classroom. Students can refer to these tables when they need help to express their thoughts in a less simplistic way or make explicit the logical relation between sentences (because… therefore; if… then; although… however, etc.). There are a variety of methods to introduce new vocabulary based on student age, proficiency level, and classroom experience.

Activities that encourage students to make connections between their preexisting knowledge of an issue and the new information presented

One such exercise consists of asking students to make predictions about what will happen in a story, a video, or any other context. Predictions activate the students’ preexisting knowledge and encourage them to link it with the new data, make inferences, and build hypotheses.

Critical thinking is only one of the 21st-century skills English students need to succeed. Explore all of Bridge’s 21st-Century Teaching Skills Micro-credential courses to modernize your classroom!

Change of perspective and contextualization activities.

Asking students to put themselves in someone else’s shoes is a challenging but fruitful practice that encourages them to understand and empathize with other perspectives. It creates a different cultural and emotional context or vantage point from which to consider an issue. It helps assess the merit of contrasting arguments and reach a more balanced conclusion.

One way of accomplishing this is to use a written text and ask students to rewrite it from another person’s perspective. This automatically leads students to adopt a different point of view and reflect on the context of the communication. Another is to use roleplay . This is possibly an even more effective activity. In role-play, actors tend to identify more intimately with their characters than in a written piece. There are other elements that go into acting, like body language, voice inflection, etc., and they all need to reflect the perspective of the other.

Collaborative activities

Activities that require students to collaborate also allow them to share and contrast their opinions with their peers and cooperate in problem-solving (which, after all, is one of the goals of critical thinking). Think/write-pair-share is one such activity. Students are asked to work out a problem by themselves and then share their conclusions with their peers. A collaborative approach to learning engages a variety of language skill sets, including conversational skills, problem-solving, and conflict resolution, as well as critical thinking.

In today’s educational and societal context, critical thinking has become an important tool for sorting out information, making decisions, and solving problems. Critical thinking in language learning and the ESL classroom helps students to structure and express their thoughts effectively. It is an essential skill to ensure students’ personal and professional success.

Take an in-depth look at incorporating critical thinking skills into the ESL classroom with the Bridge Micro-credential course in Promoting Critical Thinking Skills.

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Post by Linda D'Argenio

Linda D'Argenio is a native of Naples, Italy. She is a world language teacher (English, Italian, and Mandarin Chinese,) translator, and writer. She has studied and worked in Italy, Germany, China, and the U.S. In 2003, Linda earned her doctoral degree in Classical Chinese Literature from Columbia University. She has taught students at both the school and college levels. Linda lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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How to use roleplays in ESL

George and Daisy Stocker

  • Written by George and Daisy Stocker
  • Last updated on 1 May, 2023

How to Use Roleplay in ESL

Roleplaying in ESL L earning a language is a complex and long process as anyone who has tried will agree. One of the most difficult and frustrating things is making the transition from the classroom to the ‘real’ world. In the classroom, everyone knows you are a student and mistakes are allowed, and the environment is contained and safe. Speaking another language outside the classroom is completely different and often students are lost at sea as soon as they step outside the door. Lists of memorized vocabulary are suddenly useless when ordering in a restaurant.

Role-plays, or simulations are one of the ways ESL instructors can ease students’ transition into using English in real world situations. A simulation is where students act out a real-life situation, for example checking into at a hotel, but do not act out a different personality. Role-plays are where students take on different personalities. In a role-play, for example, one student may be asked to take on the role of “an angry neighbour” which is out of character for the student.

Role-plays require more imagination by students and teacher and can be difficult to manage because they are unpredictable. The initial scenario develops from the students interacting with each other and can literally go in any direction. This gives students practice in a non-threatening environment, and gives the motivation and involvement where they have to think in English. Role-plays are interesting, memorable and engaging, and students retain the material they have learned. In their assumed role, students drop their shyness and other personality and cultural inhibitions, making them one of the best tools available for teaching a second language.

Here are a few pointers and suggestions to assist ESL teachers using and managing role-plays:

  • The more engaging the better. The value of role-plays come from students immersing themselves in the material.
  • Choose a ‘hot’ topic and stage a debate. Assign students positions on the topic (for/against). This will get students out of their personality and into the role where they do not have the same inhibitions.
  • Preparation is very important to success. Give students ‘personality cards’ which sketch out their personal characteristics or scenario. Divide students into groups and give them time to sketch out various scenarios, and go over extra or special vocabulary ask them to discuss how they will act, think about the character and plan what they will say. For example, what are possible responses/replies for the angry neighbor?
  • The teacher, as facilitator of the role-play must support students in their role, i.e. they ‘are’ in the backyard arguing over the fence. Don’t do anything to interrupt the pretend environment. Leave grammar correction to the end. Correcting students in the middle of an argument interrupts the pretend environment. Make notes and do a debriefing after.
  • Exaggeration is good! Encourage students to exaggerate their actions, opinions and movements. Exaggeration helps students immerse themselves in the role.
  • Stage a rehearsal first. Have students practice their role in small groups with coaching from the other students.
  • While the role-play or debate is in progress, have other students suggest vocabulary first, and act as backup if they do not know.

Role-plays are unpredictable which makes them both a valuable learning tool and at the same time difficult to manage. Sketch out the various routes the role-play can take from the initial scenario. This will give you some idea what to expect and avoid any surprises.

Suggested topics for role-plays

  • Lovers’ problems (he has to move away to get a new and better job)
  • Spending money (Government, UN etc. spending money, who gets what)
  • Traveling (where would you go? what would you do?)
  • Debates on current affairs/politics Extreme opinions or opinions at the opposite ends of the spectrum work well (i.e. left wing/right wing etc.)

Role-plays can range from 30 minutes or one hour to a year-long corporate simulation for business English. Staging role-plays can be challenging for an instructor, but is also great fun. After you have done a few, you will know what to expect and feel more confident.

My experience is students love them, retain what they learn, and often leave the classroom laughing and still arguing all the way out of the building!

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I agree with this. It’s fun and exciting and it gives everyone a chance to participate.

What is a good way to make students role-play or come up with their own role-playing ideas? I’m afraid if I come up with role-playing ideas the students might be confused. I would like them to use their own imagination on how to act or role-play. Are there any good websites for role-playing ideas?

Role-playing and dramatization is a good way of motivating ESL students to learn and engage in conversations. It also boosts their confidence. It encourages them to read loudly which improves their pronunciation and a lot of them find it enjoyable.

Great post. Thanks for sharing this with everyone. I will try this next week in my ESL class.

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Creative Resources for ESL/EFL Teachers

role-play English resource

More Role-play Ideas for English Classroom

Welcome to Role-play English Resources!

Want to make learning English more fun? Try role-playing! It’s a great way for ESL students to practice their conversation, grammar, listening, reading, and writing skills. We’ve got a ton of cool role-play activities, games, scripts, and ideas for you to use in the classroom. Whether you’re a teacher or a student, our resources will help you bring role-playing into your English language class and improve your language skills.

Role-playing in the ESL classroom is a game-changer! As an ESL teacher, I’ve found that these activities are a fun and effective way to help my students improve their language skills in a natural way. It also gets my students excited and engaged in their English studies.

By putting students in realistic scenarios, role-playing allows them to practice using the language in a communicative context. It helps them develop their communication and problem-solving abilities, and it builds confidence and fluency in using the language.

There are so many role-play activities ESL teachers can use in the classroom! And, the best part is that you can always customize them to fit the needs and interests of your students. This way, they can practice language specific to all sorts of topics and scenarios.

I highly recommend incorporating role-play English scenarios in your lessons. Travel is one of my favorite topics to use, it’s always a hit with the students. Also, a restaurant role-play is a great way to bring some fun to the classroom.

Yo, there are so many role-playing activities English teachers can use in the classroom! And, the best part is that you can always customize them to fit the needs and interests of your students. This way, they can practice language specific to all sorts of topics and scenarios.

You will find more new engaging roleplays on different topics below. Give them a shot, and let me know how they go. I’m always curious to hear how they worked out for you and your students.

Roleplay 1 : Family

Student A: You and your sibling are arguing over your shared bedroom. You are the older sibling, and you are very interested in fashion and design. You have recently started following some interior design blogs and Instagram accounts, and you have been inspired to redecorate your bedroom. You want to add some bright colors, modern furniture, and trendy wall art to the room.

Student B: You and your sibling are arguing over your shared bedroom. You are the younger sibling, and you are more practical and comfortable in your tastes. You have always enjoyed the traditional and cozy feel of the shared bedroom, and you don’t want to change it too much. You like the current furniture and decor, and you don’t see the need for a major overhaul.

role plays english

Roleplay 2 : Housing, Education, Relationships

Student A: You are a first-year student, and you are very excited to be living in the dorms. You have made many new friends and you want to spend as much time as possible with them. You want to have people over every weekend to hang out, watch movies, and play games. Talk to your roommate.

Student B: You are a first-year student focused on your studies. You want to do well in college and you need a quiet and peaceful environment to study in. You are worried that having people over every weekend will be too distracting and disruptive. Talk to your roommate.

Roleplay 3 : Education

Student A: You are a teenager who believes that the government should have a minimal role in education and that schools should be run independently. You believe that this would lead to more innovation and better outcomes for students.

Student B: You are a parent who believes that the government should have a strong role in education in order to ensure that all students have access to quality education. You also believe that government oversight is necessary to hold schools accountable for their performance.

Roleplay 4 : Housing, Finances

Student A: You are the older sibling who is currently living in the family home. You have just graduated from college and are planning to move out soon. You believe that it is important to sell the family home so that the money can be split among all the siblings.

Student B: You are the younger sibling who is still living at home with your parents. You feel that the family home is an important part of your childhood and you would like to keep it in the family. You are feeling frustrated because Student A seems to only be thinking about their own financial gain, rather than the sentimental value of the family home.

Roleplay 5 : Housing, Relationships

Student A: You are a resident of a suburban neighborhood. You are very proud of your lawn and garden and take great care to maintain them. You believe that the shared driveway should be maintained equally by all of the neighbors.

Student B: You are also a resident of a suburban neighborhood. You have just moved in and have not had time to work on your lawn and garden yet. You feel that Student A is putting too much pressure on you to keep the shared driveway looking perfect. You are feeling frustrated because you believe that Student A should be more understanding of your situation.

Roleplay 6 : Health

Student A: You are a high school student who is an advocate for mental health awareness and de-stigmatization. You believe that mental health is just as important as physical health and should be treated with the same importance. You have personal experience with mental health issues and have seen the impact of a lack of access to resources and support.

Student B: You are a school counselor who works with high school students. You believe that mental health is important and support the use of therapy and medication in treatment. However, you believe that some students may be overdiagnosed and overmedicated and that other forms of support and intervention should also be considered.

Roleplay 7 : Travel

Student A: You are a high school student who has always wanted to go on a trip to Europe. You have saved up enough money to finally make it happen, and you have planned out all of the destinations you want to visit. However, your best friend, Student B, has a different idea for where the two of you should go. Your role in this argument is to convince Student B that Europe is the perfect destination for your trip and to explain why you have been dreaming of going there for so long.

Student B: You are a high school student and the best friend of Student A. You have always wanted to go on a trip to Asia, and you think that it would be a more exciting and unique destination than Europe. Your role in this argument is to convince Student A that Asia is the better choice for your trip and to explain why you think it would be a more memorable experience.

Download the role-plays: Role plays Ideas for English Classroom

Try also our other resources:.

Business English Role-play Activity: Annoying Coworkers

ESL Communication Activity: Science Role-Plays

ESL Role-play Worksheet: Food

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Games + Activities to Try Out Today!

in Activities for Adults · Activities for Kids

Role Plays for ESL Students | ESL Role Playing Scenarios, Tips & Ideas

Do you want a simple, interesting activity to get your lower-level or beginner students speaking in English? Then you’ll need to use some ESL role plays in your classes. Keep on reading for all the details you need to know this role play conversation activity.


ESL Role Playing Activity

Let’s get into the best ideas for ESL role playing. Keep on reading for everything role play ESL.

Role Plays for ESL Students Top 30 ESL Classroom Games and Acti... Please enable JavaScript Please enable JavaScript Top 30 ESL Classroom Games and Activities | Teaching ESL to English Learners

Skills : Writing/speaking Time Required : 15-40 minutes Level: Beginner to Advanced Materials Required : Nothing

Role Plays are one of my favourite ESL activities for lower-level students. They allow beginners to feel like they’re “having a conversation,” but there’s some structure so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Here’s how it works-give the students a conversation starter to get them going.

ESL Role Playing: Emotions

For example, if you’re talking about emotions in class that day, you can use:

A. Hey _____, how are you doing? B. I’m great, how are you? A. I’m _____ (sad, embarrassed, angry, bored, etc.). ***Anything besides, “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” is good.**** B. Oh? What’s wrong? A._____. B._____.

This is a nice role play for beginners.

Role Plays for ESL Students: Injury or Illness

Another context that I often use this activity with is illness or injury. It’s another ideal role play for beginners. For example:

A. Hey _____, you don’t look good! What’s wrong? B. Oh yeah, I’m not good. I _____. A. Really? _____. B. _____. A. _____.

Likes/Dislikes Role Play

This is a great activity to consider for the unit on likes and dislikes .

A. Hi _____. Do you want to get some lunch later? I’m thinking Chinese or _____.

B. Oh, I really like _____ but I don’t like ______.

A. Hmmm, okay. How about ______?

B. That sounds _____. Let’s ______.

ESL Role Play Idea: Present Perfect

This activity is ideal for present perfect for and since . For example (phone conversation):

A. Hey _____, what are you doing now?

B. Not much. I’m just _______.

A. Wow! How long have you ______?

B. I’ve been _____ since/for ______.

Roleplay for Beginners: Excuses

One final context that I use this with is of excuses. For example:

A. Hey _____, you’re _____ minutes late! B. I’m really sorry. I’ve been/I had to _____. A. Hmmm . . . _____.

Quick tip: if you want to leave up on the organization, have a look here: rolling crates for teachers.

Procedure for Role Plays for ESL Students

  • Prepare a conversation starter based on what you are studying.
  • (Optional) Pre-teach some language that students could use if you haven’t done that already in your lesson.
  • Write the conversation starter on the whiteboard, PowerPoint, or on a handout.
  • Have students complete the conversation in pairs. Then, they must prepare to speak by memorizing and adding in stress and intonation.
  • Have students stand up and “perform” their conversation if you have a smaller class. In larger classes, there are a few other options (see above).
  • Reward teams for interesting conversations, good acting (no reading), and correct grammar/vocabulary that you were studying that day.


Role plays for ESL students

Role Plays for ESL Students: Tips for Doing this Activity

The best part of this activity? The students are doing all the work, and the teacher is not! After all, you are probably really good at English. It’s your students who need the practice, right?

#1: Give Students some Preparation Time for ESL Role Plays

Give the students about ten minutes to write a conversation with their partner. You can adjust the number of lines and how detailed of a starter you give to suit the ability level of your students.

For lower-level students, it can be helpful to have a word bank on the board relevant to the context so that the writing portion of this activity doesn’t get ridiculously long. Then, the students memorize their conversation (no papers when speaking!), and do a role-play it in front of their classmates if you have a small class of less than ten.

I require students to memorize their lines because it makes the role-plays far more interesting to watch.

#2: Maximize Student Talking Time

Remember that you should try to maximize the amount of time students are talking. If you have a larger class, there are a few different ways to handle this.

You could get pairs to come up to your desk and show you their conversation while the other students are working on something else, you could use it as a speaking test of some kind. Finally, you could have students make a video of themselves and send you the link or put it up on YouTube. Another activity that’s serious on the student talking time is something like these ESL conversation questions. 

67 ESL Conversation Topics with Questions, Vocabulary, Writing Prompts & More: For English Teachers...

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#3: Role Plays are Perfect for Lower-Level Students

I really like this activity because it’s perfect for lower-level students who want to practice “ conversation ” but don’t quite have the skills to do this on their own and it’s also a good way to force your advanced students to use some new grammar or vocabulary that you’re studying.

You may also consider using this activity for classroom language.

#4: Some Contexts to Use Role Play Conversations

The functions in particular that fit well with partner conversations include agreeing, disagreeing, apologizing, and asking advice . The sub-skills that you can emphasize are things like turn-taking, initiating a conversation, speaking for an appropriate length of time, stress and intonation, responding (really?), and cohesive devices, particularly subject/object pronoun references (A: I saw a movie last night. B: Which one did you see? A. I saw Ironman. It was good).

#5: ESL Roleplays are a Good Activity for Business English Classes

This activity is also ideal for students studying business English. They often have very specific situations in which they need to speak English.

For example, helping a customer on the phone about a certain problem. Or, ordering food at a restaurant when they’re with their clients. Perhaps they feel nervous about going through immigration at the airport or checking into a hotel in a foreign country . Maybe they have to answer questions from customers about a product. These are just a few ideas to get you started.

You could create a role play based on your students’ needs. Just ask them what topics they’d like to practice and you’ll probably get lots of ideas for what you can work on in class. Adult students are quite good at letting you know what’s important to them! Or, just choose some of the most popular situations and that are present in the world of business.


ESL Conversation Starters

#6: ESL Role Plays: Ideal for Beginners

Role-plays for English learners truly is one of the most useful things you can do in your conversation classes, especially for beginner or intermediate students so make sure you try it out at least once or twice over the course of a semester. It gives your students a chance to have a real conversation which will build a lot of confidence but they won’t have the pressure of coming up with something to say on the spot.

There are plenty of ESL role plays for beginners to try out with your students.

Advanced English Conversation Dialogues: Speak English Like a Native Speaker with Common Idioms and...

  • 68 Pages - 11/07/2020 (Publication Date)

#7: Make Some Role Play Cards

Do you teach from the same textbook for multiple classes, year after year? Then you may consider making some role-play cards and then laminating them. Have 3-4 different scenarios for each context.

Then, when you do this activity, hand out a different card to each group of students. At the end when students are doing presentations to the class, it can make things a little bit more interesting.

As a way to evaluate your students, you could keep all these cards that you’ve used throughout the semester and then give a random one to a random pair of students as a speaking test. Each person in the pair chooses one of the roles. I’ve done this before and had some great results.

#8: Aim for Around Once a Month for an ESL Roleplay

That said, doing a role play gets boring if you do this every class; I generally do it about once a month for a class that meets twice a week over the course of a semester (every 8-10 classes). This strikes a nice balance between getting enough speaking practice through using this quite useful activity, and it not becoming boring.

I’ve seen some teachers who use it every single class, but I can’t really imagine that their students are happy about it! Test it out for yourself and see what your students think. I have a feeling it varies among cultures, ages, and levels of students.

Do you Like these Role Play Conversations?

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If you like this ESL role play speaking activity idea, then you’re going to love this book, 101 ESL Activities: For Teenagers and Adults. There are more than 100 ESL activities and games that are perfect for teenagers and adults. They cover a wide range of skills, from speaking to writing, listening to reading. There are warm-ups and fillers, as well as ESL activities that cover all 4 skills at once. Sounds awesome? You can get the book on Amazon.

101 ESL Activities is available in both electronic and print formats. The cheaper e-version can be read on any device by downloading the free Kindle reading app. Top-quality ESL activities at your fingertips wherever you go? Love it!

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ESL Role Playing FAQs

There are a number of common questions that people have about using role plays in their TEFL classes. There are the answers to some of the most popular ones.

How do you teach English role play?

There are a number of strategies for teaching English role plays. Here are a few of the steps to consider:

  • Decide on the language skills to teach. Be clear on what skills you want students to develop.
  • Prepare the students and do any pre-teaching necessary.
  • Choose a format for how the role-play will work.
  • Have students do role-plays.
  • Follow-up activities.

What are role-play activities?

A role-play is a speaking activity where you put yourself into someone else’s shoes like when you pretend to be a waiter to take someone’s order at a restaurant. Or, you can stay in your own shoes and be the person ordering food at the restaurant or any other sort of imaginary situation.

Why use role playing in language classes?

Role playing is a useful activity in TEFL or other language classes because it can give students practice at “real-life” situations such as in a restaurant, at the airport, or going to the doctor. They are interactive, student-centred and can be used for a variety of different situations.

How do role plays benefit ESL learners?

Role plays improve speaking, listening, and communication skills by providing real-life context for language use.

Are role plays suitable for different language proficiency levels?

Yes, role plays can be tailored to suit beginners, intermediate learners, and advanced speakers.

What’s the purpose of assigning roles in role plays?

Assigning roles makes students step into different characters, encouraging them to use language as that character would.

How do role plays encourage creative thinking?

Role plays require students to think on their feet, adapting their responses to the conversation’s flow.

Can role plays improve confidence in speaking?

Absolutely, role plays help learners overcome shyness and fear of speaking, boosting confidence.

How can technology enhance role plays?

Students can record their role plays for self-assessment or use digital tools for online role-play activities.

What’s the teacher’s role during a role play activity?

The teacher can provide guidance, prompts, and feedback, facilitating effective role play interactions.

What if students are hesitant to participate in role plays?

Create a supportive environment, start with simple scenarios, and gradually build confidence through practice.

How can role plays integrate grammar and vocabulary practice?

Design role plays that require using specific tenses, vocabulary, or sentence structures relevant to your lesson.

Have your Say about Using Role-Plays in your ESL or EFL Classroom

What are your thoughts about using role-plays in your classes? Love ’em, hate ’em or think they’re just a decent activity. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.

Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. It’ll help other busy teachers, like yourself who are looking for an ESL role play for their classes.


ESL role play

Last update on 2022-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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About Jackie

Jackie Bolen has been teaching English for more than 15 years to students in South Korea and Canada. She's taught all ages, levels and kinds of TEFL classes. She holds an MA degree, along with the Celta and Delta English teaching certifications.

Jackie is the author of more than 100 books for English teachers and English learners, including 101 ESL Activities for Teenagers and Adults and 1001 English Expressions and Phrases . She loves to share her ESL games, activities, teaching tips, and more with other teachers throughout the world.

You can find her on social media at: YouTube Facebook TikTok Pinterest Instagram

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Ending a Phone Call

Esl ending a phone call activity - reading: matching - speaking game: forming sentences from prompts, freer practice - pair work - pre-intermediate (a2) - 30 minutes.

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Who's calling, please?

Esl telephone conversation activity - speaking: ordering a dialogue, creating and presenting a dialogue, controlled and freer practice - pair work - pre-intermediate (a2) - 30 minutes.

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Are You Following Me?

Esl confirming activity - vocabulary: unscrambling, dialogue completion - speaking activity: role-play, asking and answering questions, communicative practice - pair work - intermediate (b1) - 30 minutes.

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Arranging a Delivery

Esl arranging a delivery activity - vocabulary exercise: gap-fill - speaking activity: role-play, asking and answering questions, communicative practice - group work - intermediate (b1) - 30 minutes.

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ESL Polite Telephone Language Worksheet - Writing and Speaking Activity: Rewriting and Role-Playing a Dialogue - Pair Work - Intermediate (B1) - 20 minutes

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Esl telephone bookings worksheet - reading and vocabulary: gap-fill, matching, unscrambling - writing and speaking: writing a dialogue, role-play - pair work - intermediate (b1) - 35 minutes.

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Esl rescheduling appointments worksheet - reading and vocabulary: answering questions, identifying, matching, sentence completion - speaking activity: role-play - pair work - intermediate (b1) - 40 minutes.

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Esl telephone role-plays - speaking activity: communicative practice - pair work - intermediate (b1) - 25 minutes.

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Esl telephone phrasal verbs game - vocabulary: matching, forming and writing sentences - pair work - upper-intermediate (b2) - 25 minutes.

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Esl telephone language worksheet - vocabulary exercises: matching, categorising, multiple choice, gap-fill, role-play - upper-intermediate (b2) - 35 minutes.

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Secret Spies

Can’t see the video? click here ESL Secret Spies is a simple game for Kids. Its a great game to revise vocabulary and practice spelling in a fun and interactive way. Ciphers are always great fun and loved by young learners. Activity Time: 10 mins + Materials required: Scissors, paper, pens/pencils Skills practiced: Vocabulary and spelling. Level: Young learners […]

Riddles can be a great way to practice speaking with ESL students. Riddles are a fantastic way to practice vocabulary and also engage students to think outside the box. This weeks’ game is a simple “What am I?” set of riddles. These riddles are made for young learners. These can also be used with other […]

Grass Skirts

Grass skirts is a great activity to get the class up and out of their seats while still learning and revising their vocabulary. This activity is easy to set up and a great way to make revision fun. This game can be used with all levels. I have used this  game with FCE exam classes […]

Enigma Enigma is a quick and simple ESL game you can put together in no time. It’s a great ESL game for teens and adults of all levels but can be easily adapted for younger learners. It’s a great activity to practice question forming and practising vocabulary from previous lessons etc. It’s also an enjoyable way of […]

How many things…

This warmer is always a fun way to get your students thinking and practicing their vocabulary. I first came across this activity in this book, which has some great ideas for mini-brain workouts for quiet or tired students. This activity is extremely easy to do and requires no pre-class preparation or materials. Activity Time:  5 – 10 […]

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Preparing for difficult conversations and situations.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

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Think back to the last time you prepared for an important meeting.

Perhaps you needed to convince a prospective client to do business with your organization. Or maybe you had to present to executive board members, and you knew that they would be peppering you with questions about your proposal.

Whatever the situation, chances are that you were nervous about the meeting; and practicing in front of a mirror may not have helped you overcome your anxiety, especially with respect to answering difficult questions.

This is where role-playing can be useful. In this article, we'll look at what it is, and we'll see how you and your team can use this technique to prepare for a variety of challenging and difficult situations.

Uses and Benefits

Role-playing takes place between two or more people, who act out roles to explore a particular scenario.

It's most useful to help you or your team prepare for unfamiliar or difficult situations. For example, you can use it to practice sales meetings, interviews, presentations , or emotionally difficult conversations, such as when you're resolving conflict .

By acting scenarios like these out, you can explore how other people are likely to respond to different approaches; and you can get a feel for approaches that are likely to work, and for those that might be counter-productive. You can also get a sense of what other people are likely to be thinking and feeling in the situation.

Also, by preparing for a situation using role-play, you build up experience and self-confidence with handling the situation in real life, and you can develop quick and instinctively correct reactions to situations. This means that you'll react effectively as situations evolve, rather than making mistakes or becoming overwhelmed by events.

You can also use role-play to spark brainstorming sessions, to improve communication between team members, and to see problems or situations from different perspectives.

How to Use Role Play

It is easy to set up and run a role-playing session. It will help to follow the five steps below.

Step 1: Identify the Situation

To start the process, gather people together, introduce the problem, and encourage an open discussion to uncover all of the relevant issues. This will help people to start thinking about the problem before the role-play begins.

If you're in a group and people are unfamiliar with each other, consider doing some icebreaker exercises beforehand.

Step 2: Add Details

Next, set up a scenario in enough detail for it to feel "real." Make sure that everyone is clear about the problem that you're trying to work through, and that they know what you want to achieve by the end of the session.

Step 3: Assign Roles

Once you've set the scene, identify the various fictional characters involved in the scenario. Some of these may be people who have to deal with the situation when it actually happens (for example, salespeople). Others will represent people who are supportive or hostile, depending on the scenario (for example, an angry client).

Once you've identified these roles, allocate them to the people involved in your exercise; they should use their imagination to put themselves inside the minds of the people that they're representing. This involves trying to understand their perspectives, goals, motivations, and feelings when they enter the situation. (You may find the Perceptual Positions technique useful here.)

Step 4: Act Out the Scenario

Each person can then assume their role, and act out the situation, trying different approaches where necessary.

It can be useful if the scenarios build up in intensity. For instance, if the aim of your role-play is to practice a sales meeting, the person playing the role of the potential client could start as an ideal client, and, through a series of scenarios, could become increasingly hostile and difficult. You could then test and practice different approaches for handling situations, so that you can give participants experience in handling them.

Step 5: Discuss What You Have Learned

When you finish the role-play, discuss what you've learned, so that you or the people involved can learn from the experience.

For example, if you're using it as part of a training exercise, you could lead a discussion on the scenarios you have explored, and ask for written summaries of observations and conclusions from everyone who was involved.

Further Tips

Some people feel threatened or nervous when asked to role-play, because it involves acting. This can make them feel silly, or that they've been put on the spot.

To make role-playing less threatening, start with a demonstration. Hand two "actors" a prepared script, give them a few minutes to prepare, and have them act out the role-play in front of the rest of the group. This approach is more likely to succeed if you choose two outgoing people, or if you're one of the actors in the demonstration.

Another technique for helping people feel more comfortable is to allow them to coach you during the demonstration. For instance, if you're playing the role of a customer service representative who's dealing with an angry customer, people could suggest what you should do to make things right.

Role-Play Example

In an effort to improve customer support, John, Customer Service Manager for Mythco Technologies, sets up a team role-playing session. Acting as the leader/trainer, John brings together a group of software developers and customer support representatives.

He divides the 12 people into two groups: Group A represents the customer support representatives; Group B represents the customer.

John tells Group A that the customer in this situation is one of Mythco's longest-standing customers. This customer accounts for nearly 15 percent of the company's overall annual revenue. In short, the company cannot afford to lose her business!

John tells Group B that the customer has recently received a software product that did not live up to expectations. While the customer has a long-standing relationship with Mythco, this time she's growing weary because Mythco has previously sold her faulty software on two separate occasions. Clearly, her relationship with Mythco is in jeopardy.

John now allows the groups to brainstorm for a few minutes.

Next – with this particular approach to role-play – each group sends forth an "actor" to take part in the role-play. The actor receives support and coaching from members of the team throughout the role-playing process. Each team is able to take time-outs and regroup quickly as needed.

John runs through the scenario several times, starting with the "customer" behaving gently and ending with the customer behaving aggressively. Each time, a best solution is found. Of course, John can always ask for additional role-playing and suggestions if he feels that the process needs to continue, or that the team has yet to uncover the very best solutions.

Once it's clear that they cannot identify any more solutions, John brings the two groups together and discusses the session. During this, they discuss the strategies and the solutions that the actors implemented, and how they could apply them to a real-life situation.

John also asks each team to write a short summary of what they learned from the exercise. He then combines the summaries and provides a copy of everything learned to all participants.

Role-playing happens when two or more people act out roles in a particular scenario. It's most useful for helping you prepare for unfamiliar or difficult situations.

You can also use it to spark brainstorming sessions, improve communication between team members, and see problems or situations from different perspectives.

To role-play:

  • Identify the situation.
  • Add details.
  • Assign roles.
  • Act out the scenario.
  • Discuss what you have learned.

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