ROLE PLAYING AS MY ALL-TIME FAVOURITE ACTIVITY
All the world is a stage, and all the people are merely players. We EL teachers play-act at every lesson. Our audience's attention may be captured during the very first seconds of their very first lesson of English if we remember to begin with any greeting in English. Thus, we begin a long play in many acts, role-playing someone who speaks a foreign language. In this, our lessons differ vastly from any other subject taught at school. We can use role play with the pupils, for as long and as short a time as needed. Naturally this activity needs careful orchestrating, depending on the age and level of the participants.
We know the age-old gimmick of assigning English-sounding names to pupils, so that they play a role at every lesson. I confess I never did that: all the children retained their own names, unless they expressed a specific wish to acquire a different one for the lessons. As their vocabulary grows, it is safe to first let them assume the characters and names used in a text, and later act out little sketches. Eventually we may progress to a short play which is traditionally presented at a holiday school show, with the parents happily making home videos. It may be a bit hard to include absolutely every child into this activity, but it is essential that we manage to do that.
The vocabulary is bigger, the desire to use it is stronger. But then we are moving into adolescence. It takes a lot of tact and the ability to understand what is motivating some children and what is hindering others. Still, rehearsing a simple play and performing it at an appropriate time in the school calendar is usually not a problem, though it is time consuming.
We know about the mood swings, the hormones, the sudden loves and hates which sprout up not overnight, but over a minute. Yet this is when we can have true role-playing which both adults and teenagers enjoy. I begin by bringing in plain cards and explaining a few simple rules. Each pupil takes a card. They cannot swap. For instance, if we want to act out a family scene, a boy who got the card which says "Grandmother" is to role-play granny.
This simple gimmick alone helps even the surliest teens relax. When we do it for the first time, they usually need help in thinking out what to say in a given situation. We stay within the topic of the day or week. I encourage them to build up full sentences, especially when answering questions. We have done many open lessons, when teachers from other schools would come and watch this type of lesson. With the graduating classes, I would let them role play for the audience, while I would sit in a corner discreetly taking notes.
Nina MK, Ph.D.