One of the major differences between a native student and an ESL student in a classroom is simply one lives and breathes English while the other one struggles to learn it. Therefore, teacher-centered instruction that espouses vocabulary and grammatical rules does not make significant progress with ESL students. In order for a student learning English to begin to use the language, he or she must be forced to speak it in the classroom. Therefore, role-playing is one of the best ways for ESL students to master the English language. It also takes some preparation to set students up for success. Here are some tips to ensuring that your roleplay is appropriate and effective:
1) Provide the Context of the a Real Life Situation Through A Story or Dialogue
Start with a real life situation that the students might encounter. Read a story or a dialogue between two people that deals with the situation. Through the narrative or dialogue, the students will hear how questions are phrased and answered. For example, a story involving getting lost would have questions that ask for directions. This is the piece in which the student will model after during the role-play.
2) Go Over New Vocabulary Relevant to Situation
Vocabulary is an extremely important for ESL learners. This is precisely what they have to build, so introduce new words constantly and give them a context to be used. After the students listen to the story or dialogue, they should be explicitly taught all new words that have been presented. This means that a definition should be first given to the student that is succinct and easy to understand. Then its usage should be demonstrated with a sentence. For example, if one of the new terms is library, a simple definition such as “a place that keeps books” will suffice. You can then proceed with a sentence “I like to read books in the library.” Having students practice using the word after you have given an example is also helpful. Afterwards, the students will be expected to use the new vocabulary during role-play.
3) Leading Role-play Through Prompts
It is often quite difficult for ESL students to initiate conversations in English out of the blue. That is why prompts are very useful in guiding the students. The prompts should first be written clearly and then discussed and practiced with the students. For example, a prompt might look like this: “where is the…?” The students are expected to use the prompt in a complete sentence. Ask different students to try it out so that you can be sure that they understand the meaning and the way it is being used. This will make it easier when they engage in role-play with each other.
4) Develop Dialogues Through Role-play
Once the prompts are practiced as a class, the students are ready to partner up for role-playing. They will then take on different roles and use the model piece, vocabulary and prompts as guide. For example, in the context of being lost, one person can ask for directions while the other answers. This is one of the most effective ways to develop oral skills quickly.