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!
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, why not check out the FluentU program.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
1. Time to Eat!
Goal: Students will master typical vocabulary and phrases used in a restaurant by understanding and responding appropriately to prompts.
- Food-related vocabulary
- May I take your order?
- I would like…
- Check, please?
- 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.)
- Go left/right/straight
- Where to?
- 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.
- Body parts
- Physical ailments
- How are you feeling?
- Where does it hurt?
- I have a _____.
- What do you recommend?
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 ____.
- Any questions?
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)
- How can I help you?
- 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
- Where did you study?
- I graduated from ____ in ____.
- What are your strengths?
- 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.
- Weather terms
- 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.
- My name is ____.
- Nice to meet you.
- How are 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?”
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 believe…
- I think…
- I agree/disagree because…
- That’s why…
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.
- How can I help you?
- 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!