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The new student role play

Emma Pathare

This is a role-play activity in which your students practice asking for and giving personal details and directions.

Level: Elementary and above

Role-play is a great way for students to try out their English. Most of my students love having the chance to use their language in a realistic way, and often take the role-play much further than I would have thought possible! The quieter students also come out of themselves, their 'new identities' giving them the confidence to speak.

In this role-play, one student is the receptionist of a language school in London and the other is a new student. Each student has a 'role card' which details the information they need to find out from their partner and also the answers that they will give to their partner.

The 'receptionist' needs to find out the name, age, telephone number etc. of the new student. The 'new student' needs to find out the address and directions to the school from the nearest train stop. The receptionist's role card has a simple map which they must describe to the new student. Registration cards and blank maps are provided for students to complete with the information they find out. (If photocopying is an issue, ask your students to use their own notepads to jot down their answers rather than making these additional cards for them.)

Role cards >> 117k


Set the context for the role-play. You can do this by describing the situation, by telling an anecdote, showing a picture or posing some discussion questions.

    • Once the context is clear, I ask my students to brainstorm the type of information the language school will need from the new student and what the new student will need to know before she/he goes to the school. With lower levels, I extend this section by getting the students to prepare the questions they will need to ask to find out this information. I get the students to work on question form and pronunciation, with a focus on sentence stress and intonation.

Put the students in pairs. Explain the role cards. Do a quick demonstration with one or two stronger students. Give out the cards.

    • When doing this type of activity, I find it helps if you can photocopy the cards onto different colour paper: for example, red for the receptionist and yellow for the students. This helps me to quickly see who has which role, and to smoothly reorganise pairings if I need to.
    • Highlight to the students that this is a telephone conversation. I often extend this section by getting my students to brainstorm the way we start and finish telephone calls in English. This may sound too obvious, but, for example, in some languages people introduce themselves with "I am _____", rather than "This is _____". You could also introduce the idea of 'register' - the degree of politeness that would be used in this conversation. For example, which of the following do you think is more appropriate?
      "Give me directions."
      "Could you tell me how to get to the school, please?"
    • Put the students in pairs. For this role-play, I ask them to sit back-to-back. Why? So they can't see each other (or read each other's role cards) - this is a telephone call, after all! If they have trouble hearing their partner, rather than turning round, the students should ask their partner to repeat and/or speak up, as they would if they were really talking on the telephone.
    • All role-plays work better with props. Even simple props like cardboard phones will help students 'get into role', and when they do get into role, they invariably try harder, perform better and have more fun.

Set a time limit. As the students do the role-play, walk around and listen. If I want to do some specific language work, I note down some of the problems with language they have and use these for a 'correction slot' afterwards.

When most of the students have finished, call time. Your students can then compare the information they have written down with that on their partner's role card to see how well they did.

If there is time, ask your students to swap roles. They could also swap partners for more variety. The 'new student' card from the first role-play can be used again. Give the receptionists the 'receptionist role card, version 2' so that they have new information to give about the school.

As a language follow up, I get students to self-correct the errors I noted down while they were doing the role-play. This can be done in pairs, groups or as a whole class. Don't only focus on language use though. Get your students to think about what it was like 'talking on the telephone' and any difficulties this posed e.g. not being able to use gestures to help explain what they were saying. I also try to encourage my students to talk about themselves as much as possible; for example, their experiences of different language courses or if they would like to go to London to study English.