This is a report of a session conducted at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate in April 2006

The (role) play’s the thing: A Straightforward talk about roleplays.
Lindsay Clandfield 

1 What is roleplay?
2 Why use roleplay? Why not?
3 How to set up and run a roleplay
4 Using simple props and realia
5 Instant roleplay 

We tried out a couple of roleplays linked to our being at the conference. Definitions arrived at: Roleplay = learners take on a role: themselves in a different situation, or someone else Brainstorm: Roleplays are ……………… 

  • Spoken 
  • Have roles with different/conflicting real life objectives 
  • Language skill not language practice 
  •  Call on real-life situations 
  • Usually involve role cards 
  • Usually mean learners are pretending to be someone else 
  •  Usually involve some preparation
    BUT….. roleplays can be ……….. 
  • Written (e.g. by email –teenagers like it on paper; organizing a meeting for business people) 
  • Don’t always need cards 
  •  Learners can be themselves in a different situation (realplay/simulation) 
  • Can be instant roleplays
    If conflict can be worked into it, the roleplays last longer.  

Why roleplay? 

  • There are limits to what practice you can do in class 
  • Makes learners have to think on their feet 
  • Makes learners work together to make communication ‘work’ and is therefore learner-centred 
  • Encourages learner responsibility 
  • It’s fun – good for classroom dynamics 

Other tips for roleplays: brainstorm 

  • 3rd learner as observer 
  • Give preparation time 
  • Elicit/revise key words and phrases
  • Competition: beginning of year 30 seconds minimum, then 45 seconds, then a minute etc Clear aims: make these explicit 
  • Develop the role 
  • Rehearsal (including ‘shadowing’ it in their own language first in a monolingual class – harnessing L1) 
  • Recycle and repeat 
  •  Provide support 
  • Give feedback to the task: show learners that the time hasn’t been wasted 
  • Feedback should be on how they developed it as well as on language (mis)used 
  • Build in a role for less confident/weaker/quieter learner e.g. a 3rd role 
  • Do roleplay again – with a different partner. They often say more, and more complex language is used 

Providing support 

  • Input useful language before the roleplay: language which would also be useful in other situations e.g Í’m sorry but I’m afraid…. 
  • Props: they often like to hold on to something e.g. a newspaper/mobile phones / hats and sunglasses 9another layer of the ‘mask’)/ OHP of the café/room etc plus appropriate music 

A macmillan publication Straightforward: A Guide to Roleplays was handed out as a summary of the session.

© Malta Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language