In this article I will outline several reasons for using role-play in the classroom and I will offer some tips for getting the most out of roleplay.

Role-play - speaking article
Jo Budden, British Council, Spain


Incorporating role-play into the classroom adds variety, a change of pace and opportunities for a lot of language production and also a lot of fun! It can be an integral part of the class and not a 'one-off' event. If the teacher believes that the activity will work and the necessary support is provided, it can be very successful. However, if the teacher isn't convinced about the validity of using role-play the activity "will fall flat on its face just as you expected it to" (Gillian Porter Ladousse 1987). Therefore, if you think positive and have a go, you may be pleasantly surprised!

What is role-play?

Role-play is any speaking activity when you either put yourself into somebody else's shoes, or when you stay in your own shoes but put yourself into an imaginary situation!

Imaginary people - The joy of role-play is that students can 'become' anyone they like for a short time! The President, the Queen, a millionaire, a pop star …….. the choice is endless! Students can also take on the opinions of someone else. 'For and Against' debates can be used and the class can be split into those who are expressing views in favour and those who are against the theme.

Imaginary situations - Functional language for a multitude of scenarios can be activated and practised through role-play. 'At the restaurant', 'Checking in at the airport', 'Looking for lost property' are all possible role-plays.

Why use role-play?

It is widely agreed that learning takes place when activities are engaging and memorable. Jeremy Harmer advocates the use of role-play for the following reasons:

  • It's fun and motivating
  • Quieter students get the chance to express themselves in a more forthright way
  • The world of the classroom is broadened to include the outside world - thus offering a much wider range of language opportunities

In addition to these reasons, students who will at some point travel to an English-speaking country are given a chance to rehearse their English in a safe environment. Real situations can be created and students can benefit from the practice. Mistakes can be made with no drastic consequences.

Tips on successful classroom role-play

Prepare for success

Role-play is possible at elementary levels providing the students have been thoroughly prepared. Try to think through the language the students will need and make sure this language has been presented. Students may need the extra support of having the language on the board. I recently did a 'lost property office' role-play with elementary adults and we spent time beforehand drilling the structures the students would need to use. When the role-play began the students felt 'armed' with the appropriate language. At higher levels the students will not need so much support with the language but they will need time to 'get into' the role.

The role of the teacher

Some of the possible teacher roles are:

  • Facilitator - students may need new language to be 'fed' in by the teacher. If rehearsal time is appropriate the feeding in of new language should take place at this stage.
  • Spectator - The teacher watches the role-play and offers comments and advice at the end.
  • Participant - It is sometimes appropriate to get involved and take part in the role-play yourself.

Bring situations to life

Realia and props can really bring a role-play to life. A group of my young learners recently played the roles of pizza chef and customer. A simple cone of white card with CHEF written on it took a minute to make and I believe it made the whole process more fun and memorable for the class. As soon as it was placed on their heads they 'became' the pizza chef and acted accordingly.

Rearranging the furniture can also help. If you are imagining you are at the tourist information office or at the doctor's surgery try to make it as real as you can. Students can even leave the room and make an entrance by knocking on the door.

Keep it real and relevant

Try to keep the roles you ask students to play as real to life as possible. It may be hard for students who have little opportunity to travel to imagine they are in 'Ye Olde Tea Shop' in the heart of the English countryside. However, it may be within their schema to imagine they have been asked to help an English speaker who is visiting their own country. This may involve using some L1 to explain about the local culture or to translate local menus into English for the guest to their country.

Students working in the business world may find it easy to role-play a business meeting with colleagues visiting from abroad. If you are working with young children, try to exploit their natural ability to 'play'. They are used to acting out a visit to the shops or preparing food, as that is how they play with their friends.

Feed-in language

As students practise the role-play they might find that they are stuck for words and phrases. In the practice stage the teacher has a chance to 'feed-in' the appropriate language. This may need the teacher to act as a sort of 'walking dictionary', monitoring the class and offering assistance as and when necessary. If you are not happy doing this and you feel that the process of finding the new language should offer more student autonomy, you could have 'time-out' after the practice stage for students to use dictionaries to look up what they need.

As mentioned in the role of the teacher section, feeding-in the language students need is fundamental. By doing so, they will learn new vocabulary and structure in a natural and memorable environment. It is a chance to use real and natural language.

Error Correction

There are many ways to correct mistakes when using role-play. It is rarely appropriate for the teacher to jump in and correct every mistake. This could be incredibly demotivating! Some students do like to be corrected straight after a role-play activity, while the language is still fresh in their minds. Sentences with errors can be written on the board for the group to correct together.

  • Self-correction - If you have the equipment to record the role-plays either on audiocassette or on video, students can be given the opportunity to listen to the dialogue again and reflect on the language used. They may find it easy to spot their own mistakes.
  • Peer-correction - Fellow students may be able to correct some mistakes made by their peers. Students could be asked to listen out for both great bits of language they'd like to use themselves, and some mistakes they hear. Be careful to keep peer-correction a positive and profitable experience for all involved.
  • Making a note of common mistakes yourself and dealing with them in future classes ensures that the students don't lose motivation by being corrected on the spot or straight after the role-play. Negotiate with students and ask them how they would like to be corrected.

Use your imagination and have fun

The most successful role-play I did last year was with a group of teenagers and was used as a spring board activity after listening to a song. The song was Avril Lavigne´s Skater Boy. The class worked in pairs to act out the scene of Skater Boy finally getting to meet his ex-girlfriend after the concert. The results were humorous and I was surprised that they all really got into the roles they played.

Role-play can be a lot of fun. If you still feel reluctant to use it in the class I suggest you begin to integrate it slowly. Why not extend an appropriate reading or a listening from a course book and turn it into a role-play? You may be pleasantly surprised by the results!


Role Play - Gillian Porte Ladousse (Oxford 1987)
The Practice of English Language Teaching - Jeremy Harmer (Longman 1989)


Submitted by Syeda Faryal M… on Sun, 04/10/2022 - 11:06

Can anyone recommend ESL books for grades 1 and 2 students (foreigners) ?

Submitted by Cath McLellan on Wed, 05/19/2021 - 08:23

In reply to by jucastilloa

Hi Jucastilloa

This article was originally published in January 2004.



TE Team

Submitted by Shishkin Seguey on Mon, 02/22/2021 - 16:46

Many years ago in 1978 I delivered my report “Role play as a type of exercises in the elementary stage of training” at the Coordinating Conference “System of exercises for the training to talking in the foreign language at secondary school” in Lipetsk in the USSR. Then it was published in 1980 in collected articles of scientific studies in Moscow.  Today you may find the file with this article at the website

Submitted by Brian Knox McGugan on Mon, 02/20/2023 - 08:24

In reply to by Shishkin Seguey

Hello there,

I am teacher in Thailand, creating an upcoming lesson involving role play.
I would be delighted to read your article if I may.
Brian Knox McGugan

Submitted by Bruno Levy on Thu, 09/19/2013 - 03:01

As a student, role-plays brought a number of benefits to my learning process for they enabled me and my classmates to practice the target language, interact with one another and explore our imagination in an auntentic way. Nowadays as a teacher, I know how beneficial role-plays are to my students. Using role-plays in my classes has worked really well for my pupils the same way they worked for me when I was a learner of English. By the way, I have used a series of books called "Side by Side" by Steven J Molinsky and Bill Bliss (Longman Pearson). I highly recommend them. This series contains 4 books and is excellent for role-plays. In addition, you can explore the writing and listening activities. However, the CD's and books are sold separately. THANKS a lot for sharing this amazing article with us all. :) Hugs from Brazil.

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