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Roleplay as an interactive tool to learn a language

When working remotely with a big number of students, listening, writing, and reading skills are employed most. Fear of speaking has to be eliminated. In order to spark an interest in language and motivate my students to encourage them to speak, I often use a roleplay.

Whenever I have to teach someone a new language, my agenda behind it has been the following: fear of speaking has to be eliminated; that’s goal number one. So one can feel free to express himself as much as he wishes. In recent times, when I have been working remotely with a large number of students, I’ve noticed that most employed are listening, writing, and reading skills. So the risk that these capabilities will be far more developed than others has increased as well. As such, I have decided to pay extra attention to my students’ spontaneous speech when planning my classes. 

To spark an interest in language and motivate my students to learn and speak too (which is quite a complex task by itself, as I only see them on-screen), I often use roleplay (see what roleplay means: - role-play). Roleplay carries a vital task — help students overcome their insecurities when speaking in another language. It aids to improve thinking and creativity while simultaneously developing all four language skills, and you could say, seemingly without any extra effort. During distance learning, roleplay helps to boost motivation and engagement, which is crucial for successful studying. I believe roleplay is the most interesting tool to show what language students have learned and how creative and original they are willing to be. 

For me, as a tutor, remote teaching crystallized how important are methods that help adults from different countries with different educational backgrounds not only perform the necessary tasks but also bring numerous other benefits to the table. Such as decreasing feeling fake when speaking a foreign language, creating a flexible atmosphere in virtual space, granting new ideas for conversations, and initiating meaningful chats among group members. 




Roleplay as a discourse 

When I begin teaching a language, I adopt various stimulating tasks that all have one common trait — “possibility to freely choose, what one will be saying, using such vocabulary, as one currently has.” Here will one of the tasks:


Example 1.“In the book store.”

A. I would like to buy a book about ___________.B. We only have books about _______________ .A. No, I am not interested in books about ________________ .B. Perhaps you would like to have a book about ___________?A. No, I would not be interested in such a book / Yes, I would be interested in such a book.

The dialogue offers room for improvisation, and the speaker can come up with an impossible answer, with something funny or extraordinary. If there is a chance to express oneself freely, there is also room for experiments, which continuously creates an illusion of real-life situations and thus helps to forget about any fear from speaking. 


Example 2.

The next step in my tutoring is to employ the game of cards, which offers much bigger chances for improvisation. In the game of cards card student’s role is already set — for example, he is an IT specialist who is in the conversation with a friend, colleague, boss, pizza delivery guy, etc. As follows, in the particular roleplay directed by a game of cards, social situations and settings are already arranged. Free choice is given to construct dialogue; a moment of surprise is created by two completely different students' interaction (their roles interacting, to be exact) and spontaneity of conversation. Furthermore, here I will propose few possible situations, where based on students’ skills, content and amount of text can be adapted. 


To everyone. Greet the person, start the dialogue. Situation A: Please borrow something from your friend!Situation B: Please ask for your boss to lend you something indicating the reason why.Situation C: Please ask the pizza delivery guy about the ingredients/recipe!To everyone. Say goodbye, end the conversation.


Example 3.

When students already have a decent vocabulary and adapted to remote learning, another roleplay can be introduced, the so-called “When I…” A specific situation can be introduced, or only a theme can be given. Some examples: career opportunities and development, acquiring new friends, excursions, free time activities. All have one main task when creating conversation, to respond to the question: “What will you do when language classes end?”

While students discuss the topic, the language tutor can register their dialogues in a group chat, which will help weaker ones catch-up. It will also eliminate mistakes made by the other members of the game. 


My conclusions

Roleplay is an activity that helps develop students’ oral abilities, as it strengthens improvisation skills by illustrating real everyday conversations. It is a fun, educational, and entertaining activity. It is a chance to put oneself in “other shoes,” so to say, practice language skills, and also get to know different country’s traditions and practices (for instance, usage of the form “You” plural/singular). During lockdown and distance learning, roleplay brings life, fun, and enthusiasm to the language classes. 


Dr.paed. Ērika Pičukāne

Translated from Latvian by Daniela Diure.

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