This is Why Role Playing is Important in ESL

Why Role Playing is Important in ESL
Why Role Playing is Important in ESL

Learning how to teach ESL requires exploring various teaching methods, and one of the most important methods used in teaching ESL is role-playing. Knowing exactly why the method is so important in ESL could help you tremendously with honing your craft.

Role-playing is important in ESL because it prepares students for real-life English conversations. This method also provides students with a fun, judgment-free environment to practice language skills.

If you want to learn more about why role-playing is important in ESL and how to incorporate it into your ESL lessons, then keep on reading!

Also, see: Why is Scaffolding Important in ESL?

Reasons Why Role Playing is Important in ESL

Role-playing is a learning structure that allows students to apply content immediately. It is an excellent tool for engaging students and enabling them to interact with their peers as they try to perform the task assigned to them in their specific role.

In addition, role-playing is also one of the most important techniques to use when teaching English as a second language, and there are many reasons why. The following sections will examine the merits of this teaching method.

1- Preparation for Real-Life Conversations

Learning the different components of language is one thing, but being able to put those components together into meaningful conversations can be much more difficult.

The overall goal of ESL is to prepare your students to be able to communicate with native English speakers in real life. Role-playing gives your students the opportunity to practice it in their learning environment.

Each time they role play with you, or other students in the class, this gets them better prepared for those everyday conversations that they’ll have outside of the classroom. This is the biggest reason why role-playing is important in ESL.

2- The Possibilities are Endless

Role-playing opens you up to endless learning possibilities, meaning that you can role-play about any situation at all. You can always find a role-play activity that targets your chosen language concept.

For instance, if you want to focus on food vocabulary, you can role-play a grocery run or a visit to a fancy restaurant. If you want to focus on work-related language, you can have one student play the manager and another play the employee. You can tailor the role-play situation to your lesson plan.

You can start off with easy role-play situations, like a simple phone call, and slowly increase the difficulty from there. There is a role-play situation for every language concept that you’ll teach in ESL. The only limit is your imagination.

3- It Teaches in a Fun Way

Learning through role-playing gives students a break from the textbook. And since role-play is fun, chances are your students’ brains will be more receptive to learning than they would be if you were reciting a lesson from a textbook.

People who have very little experience speaking English, or are not exactly interested in seeing the language in black and white, will jump at the opportunity to try out their English through role-playing. They may get excited to act out a situation pertaining to traveling or relationships since they likely have real-life experience with those things.

Whether you are teaching ESL to children or grown adults, you can count on your students to be engaged during the activity. This is likely to lead to an increase in their vocabulary a result.

4- You Get to See Your Student’s Skills

When your students are role-playing, you get to see how they would actually speak outside of the classroom. This allows you to get a good idea of your student’s ability to speak English. You can then take that information and use it to tailor your lessons in an effective way.

Why Role Playing is Important in ESL

Tips to Make the Most of Role Playing in ESL

Role-playing can be a great addition to your existing ESL curriculum. Here are some tips that you can use to make the most of your ESL role-playing situations:

  • Make your role-plays as interesting as possible. Students are more likely to get into the role-play situation if they perceive it as interesting. 
  • Don’t interrupt. If a student makes a mistake in the middle of a role-play activity, let it be. Interrupting the role-play environment could not only mess up the flow of the conversation, but it could also discourage shy students from participating. 
  • Take notes. While your students are role-playing, stand to the side, and take notes of any language mistakes or opportunities for improvement. When the role-play activity is done, you can then share your findings with the students.
  • Allow students to prepare. A few minutes before you start a role-play activity, give the students some time to formulate their ideas. You could have them prepare on their own, or you could allow them to do it as a group. 
  • Make the most of your time. If you don’t have much time to devote to role-playing but you want to make sure that everyone gets to participate, be strategic. If only two students are participating in a role-play activity at a time, try allowing other students to chime in when one of the main students is stuck.

Drawbacks of Role Playing in ESL

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s important to let you know that role-playing is not without its drawbacks. In the following list, we will go over the drawbacks:

  • Some will not take role-playing seriously. In some cases, students will not take role-playing activities seriously. Since these activities are fun, some may lose sight of the fact that these activities are supposed to help them learn. 
  • Introverts may not feel comfortable. Role-playing is better suited to extroverts, being that it requires people to speak publicly. Some people, young and old, are just not comfortable speaking in front of others. This is especially true when trying to speak a language that they aren’t familiar with. 
  • Role-playing could take a lot of time. It takes time to inform your students of the role-playing rules, go through the actual role-playing conversation, and debrief afterward. You will need to plan enough time to get all of this done.

Ideas for Role Playing in ESL

The right time to start incorporating role play into your lesson plan is now! To get you started, here are some interesting ideas that you can start with.

Beginner ESL Role Play

Phone Call Role Play

Have two of your students act as if they are on a phone call- one student should be the customer, and another should be an employee of a company.

Have the student play the customer brainstorm and come up with a technical problem and communicate it to the other student. The student who is playing the employee should communicate how the problem should be solved.

You can check this role play website for ideas on how to help you structure the call. I encourage you to watch the video to learn more about Phone Call Role Play.

Advanced ESL Role Play

Airport Role Play

Student 1: Instruct them to act like they are a customer who just landed and can’t find their luggage. Tell them to communicate that they want to know where their bags are. For extra points, they can threaten to call the authorities.

Student 2: Instruct them to act as if they work at an airport in the baggage claim. Indicate that they need to tell the airport employee to wait an hour or two because there has been a delay. Also, instruct them to apologize for the customer’s inconvenience.

There are many more activities online that you can try. All it takes to find them is a quick internet search.

Final Thoughts

Now you know why role-playing is important in ESL, as well as some helpful tips to get you started. I hope that this article is helpful to you in your ESL teaching endeavors!


Hello friends, I am Altiné. I am SO excited you are here! I am the guy behind Project English Mastery. I am from Toronto, Canada. I graduated with a Master in International Economics and Finance from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. After working a few years in the banking industry and completing my 120 TEFL from the University Of Toronto, I decided to teach English in China. Project English Mastery is a blog that provides helpful resources for English Teachers and Learners: vocabulary and grammar, exercises, and class activities ideas and tips.

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