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The ultimate goal of foreign language teaching is to enable the students to use the foreign language in work or life when necessary. Thus we should teach that part of the language that will be used in the real world. However, this is not always the case in the present day foreign language teaching practice. “The primary goal of most foreign language learning is to develop the ability to use real and appropriate language to communicate and interact with others and the goal of foreign language teaching is to extend the range of communicative situation in which the learners can perform with focus on meaning without being hindered by the attention he must pay to linguistic form”. But the present practice in the ELT classroom in China could not provide satisfactory conditions for both teachers and students to achieve the goals. How to let English learners feel the real language situation and context when learning English? Role-play is an effective way.
Role-play models human interactions to provide a chance for students to exercise, creating effective and memorable experiences for learners. It places learners in a situation where they are asked to take on different roles and to accomplish their specific tasks, including problem solving. They offer an opportunity for learners to practice using the language in the right place, at the right time. The strength of role-play is that it presents an opportunity for authentic and spontaneous communication because learners are placed in realistic situations and they can “have the opportunity to use and practice the sort of language, particularly the vocabulary related to that situation, so that learners are rehearsed for real life”. In addition, they can express what they want to say whenever the situation calls for it. In addition, role-playing is of great significance as it develops students’ both receptive and productive skills:
2.1 It develops students’ listening: while role-playing, students practice listening when trying to get information from their partners.
2.2 It develops students’ speaking: answering the questions according to what is heard, producing responses based on given cues, it is clear that this activity can practise speaking skills.
2.3 Promoting knowledge acquisition: “Students in role-playing were found to use search and retrieval strategies more frequently than students in traditional learning situations. During the process of exchanging, there will be the information transferring from one peer to the other”. Individual students are able to increase their mastery during this process: During the entire process, students are motivated to search language in their vocabulary storage and select the proper language to use. For example, teaching a reading about a writer’s biography is usually bored and the events that the writer experienced are uneasy for students to master. In this case, after the students read and understand the article, the teacher can let a student pretend the writer and stand in front of the class to relate “his ” or “her” whole life. Thus promote the students to acquire the knowledge of the writer with strong motivation.
2.4 Enhancing language proficiency: There is another significant benefit of doing role-playing. Language is the main tool for human communication. Role-play largely provides more opportunities for the students to practice their oral English. It is an ideal method of reviewing what we have learned by using it in real situation. It stimulates all the students’ integrated skills and thus consolidates all the language knowledge in their mind while trying to express themselves out. While others who do not involved in that activity can be easy to grasp more content knowledge even just sitting silently and listening to the performance in the classroom.
2.5 Stimulate students’ interests and activate classroom climate to keep students engaged in class: With role play, students act out certain situations. Teachers generally try to make these situations fun and interesting. “Asking your boss for a day off”, or “Meeting people at a party”, etc. The teacher prepares the roles so that learners always have a lot to talk about. This motivates students in learning and creates a real communication situation and offers learners plenty of opportunities to practice.
2.6 Improving social competence: the true mastery of a language involves communicative competence. While role-playing, individuals work together, they must interact with each other to promote each other’s success, thus increase students’ social skills, conflict-management and compromise. It also develops students’ communicative skills: while act out the dialogue, students’ get the chance to learn to get information from partners’ facial expressions, gestures and other body language thus develop students’ communicative skills.
2.7 Promoting interpersonal relationships: Role-play has also keen accepted to improve interpersonal relationship among students. Role-play pairs or groups help students establish and maintain friendships with peers. Students who are isolated or alienated from their peers and who do not have friends are more likely to be at risk for violent or destructive behavior in society than those who experience social support and a sense of belonging. “To some extent, this interpersonal relationship also promote their academic achievements. In addition, skills of improving interpersonal relationship with other peers are the foundation for the success in their social career in future.” Role-playing also has been linked to increases in self-esteem, attendance, time on task, enjoyment of school and classes, as well as a decrease in dependence on the teacher.
Role-play is virtually the way we can give students chances to practice improvising a range of real-life spoken language in the classroom, and it is extremely effective if the students are confident and cooperative, but it still exists some problems when processing it specifically.
l The uneasiness caused by talking in front of the class would inhibit the students to some degree. Instructors must do something to lower the inhibition first, for example, a preliminary demonstration or rehearsal before the class. Practice time can be prolonged.
l “From students’ perspective, because students are used to sitting in lecture where they are not required to talk, students may resist an activity that appears challenging and difficult and that forces them to use integrated skills, rather than being a passive learners”. So teachers should stimulate their students’ enthusiasm by keeping encouragement, coaxing them to think and open their mouth.
l It will be uncontrolled and time-consuming if students fail to prepare enough. In preparation, if certain roles did not allotted, too diffuse in responsibility will also spoil the performance.
l In China, time is limited in every period class and all the classes are large sized. So it is impossible to provide a chance for all students to perform. Only a couple of students could display their performance. Others just sit in a classroom to hear and with no pressure, so they may mot pay attention to learning.
l Because of the characteristics, some introvert students may feel hard to perform in front of the whole class thus influence the simulated communication. But teachers could help them to overcome step by step.
Ur points out that the factors that affect the success of role-play are: “the teacher’s enthusiasm; careful instructions; clear situations and roles; and making sure that the language they will need to carry out the role-play”.
4.Guiding principles for role-playing
4.1Communication purpose[: The activity must involve the students in performing a real communicative purpose rather than just practicing language for its own sake. In order for this to occur there must be some kinds of “information gap” that students seek to bridge when they are role-playing.
4.2 Communicative desire: The activity must create a desire to communicate in the students .That is even if communication is forced on the students, they must feel a real need to communicate.
4.3 Prepare before performing: Rushing into a role play-activity often leads to confusion and dissatisfaction. Have students practice the task in pairs before selecting a couple of pairs to perform in front of the whole class. If acting out a short play, before students display their performance, they should be given the script or the story they are going to work on. They can choose their favorite roles or they will be allotted certain roles.
4.4 Acceptable level language requirement: “The language required in performance should be lower than that used in intensive language learning activity in the same class. It should be easily recalled and produced by the participants, so that they can speak fluently”. It is a good idea to teach or review essential vocabulary before the activities start. If the task is too frustrating, the students are likely to give up or revert back to the native language.
4.5 Be sensitive when correcting the students: The basic principles of error correction is to remind students of their big errors that prevent from communicating and ignore the trivial one. As to when and how to give feedback, there is no definite answer, it largely depends on the teachers’ long time spent in teaching and a consideration in affective and cognitive factors. Nevertheless, “the instructors should put it in mind that they should do their best to avoid stifling students’ attempt at speaking in the target language by providing correct feedback.”
4.6 Clear in responsibility: Allot the roles and set up goals so as to make students clear in responsibility. Students interact in small groups, and they have less pressure but they should have clear responsibility.
4.7 Praise the actors: The students need lots of support & assistance to practice English. Praise them frequently and they will be competitive and active.
4.8 Choose some proper texts: not all texts to involve role-play activity while teaching. Not all texts suit for role-play activity
4.9 Choose proper students: The first few times when the teacher organizes role-play, it is a good idea to choose some more outgoing students who will not feel inhibited while performing in public, which is also setting up demonstrations at the same time.
In the student-centered learning process , students are given more opportunities to practice the target language and develop their communicative ability. Role-play is one of the most effective forms of English training because it puts people into the situation where they have to rely entirely on English to do their task/reach the goal that the teacher sets for them. It’s also a chance to be really creative and develop interesting conversations.
In general, role-play is an effective tool for students, especially in teaching some introvert students. It enables students to learn by using the target language in meaningful interactive situations. Role-play is not easy to manoeuvre, but it helps to lead to social and academic success for all students.
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