There are two ways a role play can go: scripted and non-scripted. With a scripted role play, the teacher might use an example in a text book. This is a good idea for a warm up exercise, by getting everyone to split up into pairs and allow them to speak to their partner, taking on different roles. Non-scripted ones are when students are given a role each and must use whatever knowledge they have in order to speak with that partner. Below is a list of ideas for a general English class. This can be adapted to suit a situation.
Speaking on the phone is different to a face-to-face conversation because one relies solely on language to communicate. Get the students who are practicing to sit back to back in order for this to work properly. There is a whole range of ideas which one can use to act this out. Examples include: phoning to make a complaint, speaking to a friend or inquiring about a job position.
Going to the Shop
A great one for younger learners as it will teach them the basics of interacting with people. Children generally rely on their parents to buy things for them, therefore this will boost their overall general confidence in buying. It can be as simple or as complex as one wishes, depending on the situation. Key phrases are often important here, such as “I would like…” “How much are…” “Good morning…” and so forth.
Booking a Hotel
This will allow students to practise a specific type of language. Usually this will be formal language as it is a business conversation. This can also be done in the format of a telephone conversation, or it could be someone approaching a text. There is a wide range of opportunity here for the students to learn new forms of vocabulary.
Choose a topic that everyone appears to be interested in. Get the students to pair up and give them a list of questions to follow (for example, see our ‘130 Topics for Discussion (more than 2000 questions) For Any Level’). This will allow them to come up with their own phrases and use language in a much more practical way.
Work is usually a good topic to begin with when teaching adults. Many are learning English in order to improve their career prospects. As a result, a job interview role play is an excellent way to get the class learning that all important material. Again, this can be scripted or non-scripted. A good idea would be to have the interviewer have a list of set questions, and the students can take it from there.
Getting Everyone to Speak
A traditional method is to ask the class to pair off. Of course, one cannot monitor every student particularly if the class is quite large. Therefore, it is important to make sure everyone is speaking and getting the most out of the language they know. If one has time, have each individual group come up to the top of the class and speak in front of everyone else. This will allow people to use their language more creatively.
Argument Between Neighbours
Again, this is a new opportunity for learning different types of vocabulary. This could be between two neighbours who are having an argument. Perhaps one plays music too loudly in the middle of the night and is disturbing the rest of the apartment block. This can be as absurd or ridiculous as the students’ want, as long as they are speaking and using the language correctly. Some of the situations thought up can be quite amusing. See some suggested situations here: “Neighbour Problems Role Play”.
Body language is just as important as spoken language, so in their role plays try and let the students get into the role. Of course, one does not have to be an expert at acting but it is important for them to get a feel of the flow of the conversation. Using body language effectively will allow them to become a lot more in tune with the language they are using.
Debates are a brilliant way of encouraging language use. This is because they can become somewhat heated, and many new words can come up. It is important to choose a topic which might not be too controversial to some students. Remember to be sensitive to their age group and the general attitude of the particular country. Divide the class into two sides and give them each a side of an argument to defend.
When it comes to role plays, it is all about the creative use of language. The student must put what they know to the test. This doesn’t mean they have to list off a boring dialogue. Allow them to be as creative as they can. Put them into challenging situations, and this will allow them to think of new ways of saying things.
Always remember to be sensitive to any particular issues at the time, however, and be wary of the students’ age. Usually, the likes of filing a complaint will not really be of interest to children. Once the students are having fun and speaking English, there are no limits to their own learning!
As it turns out, role play is not just for Comic-Con.
Dressing up and playing pretend can actually be a powerful tool in the hands of the ESL teacher. From young students to professionals, role play a great way to prepare 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! Role play breaks up the monotony of book work and is a great way to practice or review skills. What better way to see if students really understand how to use those new vocabulary words, verb tenses and sentence structures?
If you don’t know where to start, here are some of the most useful and relevant role play topics for ESL students. Enjoy!
11 ESL Role Play Topics for Any ESL Classroom
Remember the best idea or activity can go south very quickly if it is 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!
1. Time to Eat!
Goal: Students will master typical vocabulary and phrases used in a restaurant by understanding and responding appropriately to prompts.
- Will you be paying by cash or credit?
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 is 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.
Tip: 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.
- Names of locations and local businesses (bank, restaurant, hotel, etc.)
- Take the next right/left.
Description: Most people will find themselves in a taxi at some point in their lives. Hopefully, the driver will be much better than the one they’re going to get in this activity! He or she is new and the passenger has to tell them how to get to their desired location!
With this ESL role play topic, students have the opportunity to practice giving and clarifying directions. Again, it can be adapted for different ages and learning levels.
Be sure to pre-teach vocabulary and phrases like stating an address in the proper order: first the number, then 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 is 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.
3. Is There a Doctor in the House?
Goal: Students utilize appropriate medical phrases and vocabulary used at a doctor’s office or hospital.
Description: No one knows when an emergency will arise and they’re in need of medical attention. Let’s make sure students are prepared to express their aches and pains in English.
Depending on the age of the students, you can design the pre-taught 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.
For a successful role play, 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. Tell them to be super dramatic!
4. Time to Teach
Goal: Students practice public speaking by instructing or explaining a chosen topic in detail to the class.
- Vocabulary needed for topic of choice
- Can everyone hear/see me?
- Today we are going to learn how to ____.
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.
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…”
Not only does this give the teacher a bit of a break, it also results in lots of interesting new information for everyone involved.
5. Let’s Go Shopping!
Goal: Students have the opportunity to utilize common vocabulary and phrases that arise when shopping.
- Terminology related to grocery stores (aisle, shelf, row, products)
- Excuse me, can you tell me where the ___ is?
- Did you find everything today?
- Would you like the receipt in the bag?
Description: It is imperative that students feel comfortable and confident enough to shop in English. 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. (I recommend setting up the whole classroom.) 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.
6. Ace the Interview
Goal: Students practice professional English, proper interview etiquette and responding appropriately to common interview questions
- I graduated from ____ in ____.
- One of my strengths is ____.
- Why do you want this job?
- I want this job because ____.
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!
7. Watch the Weather
Goal: Students practice weather-related terms and phrases, as well as different verb tenses.
- Temporal words (today, yesterday, last night, etc.)
- Today we expect sunny/cloudy skies.
- Tomorrow there will be rain/snow/wind.
Description: Talking about weather is a necessity for accurately describing the current conditions, as well as mastering the art of small talk (It sure is hot outside, right?).
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.
8. Meet Your Mate on a Date
Goal: Students formulate and appropriately respond to personal questions.
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?”
9. Town Hall Debate Showdown
Goal: Students engage in debate and persuasive speech to convince their audience of their assigned viewpoint.
- Vocabulary related to the topic
- I agree/disagree because…
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 will need to give students a chance to prepare their arguments, including opening statements and well-formulated supporting facts and examples.
10. Let’s Mail a Letter!
Goal: Students use words and phrases to successfully make inquiries and/or mail a card or package.
- I’d like to buy stamps, please.
- What’s the fastest way to send it?
- How would you like to send this?
Description: A post office might not be the most exciting place in the world, but it is 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.
11. Let’s Get Down to Business
Goal: Students practice going over an agenda, running a meeting or giving a business presentation
- Business-related terms (agenda, email, meeting, etc.)
- It is time to get started.
- Who would like to go first?
- I have a question concerning _____.
- What is our time line for ____?
Description: This role play is again 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 is great about this role play is that you can adapt it to any type of situation; you could assign groups of students different types of business meetings. For example, one meeting might be an advertising meeting while another might be a downsizing meeting.
These ESL role play topics can be adapted in so many different ways. Get creative and be flexible!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.
Bring English immersion to your classroom!