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The use of role-play to motivate students to speak: a classrom experience

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PROSPECTS, Jurnal Humaniora, Sains. Pendidikan dan Pengajaran, Volume 1, Nomor 1, November 2012:1-8

ISSN 2302-6278



Speaking Lecturer, STIBA Satya Widya Surabaya

English is very important language in this world. With English everybody can communicate with other people in other countries. To make them communicate each other, speaking is indispensable. However, teaching speaking is very challenging for English teachers in non English speaking countries. It is because : (a) their native languages do not support to speak English, (b) the students feel shy and awkward , (c) their environment discourages them to speak, and (d) the method of teaching can be monotonous so that the students do not have motivation to speak. One method of teaching speaking that can motivate students to speak is role-play.

This article explains the use of role-play to motivate students to speak. It covers what is teaching speaking, how to teach speaking, teaching techniques and the use of role-play in our speaking class. This role-play consists of three major steps – before, during and after the session. The implementation of role-play shows that the students are very happy and enthusiastic to speak even the quieter ones. They are not only motivated to speak, but they can also learn from this lesson.

Key words: role-play, teaching speaking, motivate students.


As an international language , English plays a very important role in human’s life. With English every body can communicate with other people in other countries. Every body can share their usefull ideas about the world for other people in this earth. The importance of English is described by Kitao (1996). He said: ...”English is the most widespread language in the world. It is difficult to estimate exactly how many English speakers there are, but according to one estimate there are more than 350,000,000 native English speakers and more than 400,000,000 speakers of English as a second language (a language used in everyday life, even though it is not the native language) or foreign language (a language studied but not used much in everyday life)...The importance of English is not just in how many people speak it but in what it is used for. English is the major language of news and information in the world. It is the language of business and government even in some countries where it is a minority language”.

Therefore to be able to communicate with other people, speaking skills is indispensable. However teaching speaking is very challenging for English teachers in non English speaking countries. It is because: (a) their native languages do not support to speak English, (b) the students feel shy and awkward , (c) their environment discourages them to speak, and (d) the method of teaching can be monotonous so that the students are not motivated to speak.

One method of teaching English that can be used to motivate students to speak is role-play. This article explains the use of role-play to motivate students to speak. It is based o the writer’s experience when teaching speaking in the classroom.


  1. Speaking

Speaking according to Hornby (1995) is “ to express or communicate opinions, feelings, ideas, etc. by or as talking and it involves the activities in the part of the speaker as psychological, physiological (articulator) and physical (accoustic) stage”. Kayi (2006) stated: “speaking is a crucial part of second language learning and teaching”. Speaking is key to communication (Florez, 1999). Brown as quoted by Florez (1999) said: “ speaking is an interactive process of constructing meaning that involves producing and receiving and processing information. Whereas Shumin (1997) stated: “speaking is one of the central elements of communication”.

The language experts above believe that speaking is a way to communicate with others. As social human being, communication plays important role to get response from the others.

  1. Teaching speaking

Teaching speaking is an important part of second language learning. The ability to communicate in a second language clearly and efficiently contributes to the success of the learner in school and success later in every phase of life ( Kayi, 2006).

  1. What is teaching speaking?

According to Nunan as quoted by Kayi (2006) teaching speaking is to teach English learners to:

. produce the English speech sounds and sound patterns.

. use word and sentence stress, intonation pattern and the rhythm of the second

language .

. select appropriate words and sentences according to the proper social setting,

audience, situational subject matter.

. organise their thoughts in a meaningful and logical sequence.

. use language as a means of expressing values and judgments.

. use the language quickly and confidently with few unneutral pauses, which is called fluency.
The above statements show that teaching speaking needs great effort as speaking English explores the learners’ skills. These skills cover grammar, pronunciation, choice of words, and organising their thoughts to use the language. In addition, teaching speaking needs strategies to motivate students to speak. Harmer (1998) said: “...good speaking activities can and should be highly motivating. If all the students are participating fully- and if the teacher has set up the activity properly and can then give sympathetic and useful feedback – they will get tremendous satisfaction from it. Many speaking tasks (role-playing, discussion, problem-solving etc.) are intrinsically enjoyable in themselves”.

  1. How to teach speaking

Now many linguistics and EFL teachers agree on that students learn to speak in the second language by “interacting”. Communicative language teaching and collaborative learning serve best for this aim. Communicative language teaching is based on real-life situation that require communication. By using this method in ESL classes, students will have the opportunity of communicating with each other in the target language. In brief, ESL teachers should create a classroom environment where students have real-life communication, authentic activities, and meaningful tasks that promote oral language. This can occur when students collaborate in group to achieve a goal or to complete a task (Kayi, 2006).

The above statements emphasize on using communicative approach to teach speaking. He also stresses on having real-life communication and group collaboration among the students. To conclude, teaching speaking needs powerful strategies or techniques to encourage students to speak.

  1. Teaching Techniques

Kayi (2006) further gave activities to promote speaking. There are thirteen techniques that can be fruitfull to improve speaking activites. They are :
. Discussions

After a content-based lesson, a discussion can be held for various reasons. The students may aim to arrive at a conclusion, share ideas about an event, or find solutions in their discussion groups. Before the discussion, it is essential that the purpose of the discussion activity is set by the teacher. In this way, the discussion points are relevant to this purpose, so that students do not spend their time chatting with each other about irrelevant things. For example, students can become involved in agree/disagree discussions. In this type of discussions, the teacher can form groups of students, preferably 4 or 5 in each group, and provide controversial sentences like “people learn best when they read vs. people learn best when they travel”. Then each group works on their topic for a given time period, and presents their opinions to the class. It is essential that the speaking should be equally divided among group members. At the end, the class decides on the winning group who defended the idea in the best way. This activity fosters critical thinking and quick decision making, and students learn how to express and justify themselves in polite ways while disagreeing with the others. For efficient group discussions, it is always better not to form large groups, because quiet students may avoid contributing in large groups. The group members can be either assigned by the teacher or the students may determine it by themselves, but groups should be rearranged in every discussion activity so that students can work with various people and learn to be open to different ideas. Lastly, in class or group discussions, whatever the aim is, the students should always be encouraged to ask questions, paraphrase ideas, express support, check for clarification, and so on.

. Role-Play

He quoted Harmer: “One other way of getting students to speak is role-playing. Students pretend they are in various social contexts and have a variety of social roles. In role-play activities, the teacher gives information to the learners such as who they are and what they think or feel. Thus, the teacher can tell the student that "You are David, you go to the doctor and tell him what happened last night, and…" .

. Simulations

Simulations are very similar to role-plays but what makes simulations different than role- plays is that they are more elaborate. In simulations, students can bring items to the class to create a realistic environment. For instance, if a student is acting as a singer, she brings a microphone to sing and so on. Role-plays and simulations have many advantages. First, since they are entertaining, they motivate the students. Second, as Harmer suggests, they increase the self-confidence of hesitant students, because in role-play and simulation activities, they will have a different role and do not have to speak for themselves, which means they do not have to take the same responsibility.

. Information Gap

In this activity, students are supposed to be working in pairs. One student will have the information that other partner does not have and the partners will share their information. Information gap activities serve many purposes such as solving a problem or collecting information. Also, each partner plays an important role because the task cannot be completed if the partners do not provide the information the others need. These activities are effective because everybody has the opportunity to talk extensively in the target language.

. Brainstorming

On a given topic, students can produce ideas in a limited time. Depending on the context, either individual or group brainstorming is effective and learners generate ideas quickly and freely. The good characteristics of brainstorming is that the students are not criticized for their ideas so students will be open to sharing new ideas.

. Storytelling

Students can briefly summarize a tale or story they heard from somebody beforehand, or they may create their own stories to tell their classmates. Story telling fosters creative thinking. It also helps students express ideas in the format of beginning, development, and ending, including the characters and setting a story has to have. Students also can tell riddles or jokes. For instance, at the very beginning of each class session, the teacher may call a few students to tell short riddles or jokes as an opening. In this way, not only will the teacher address students’ speaking ability, but also get the attention of the class.

. Interviews

Students can conduct interviews on selected topics with various people. It is a good idea that the teacher provides a rubric to students so that they know what type of questions they can ask or what path to follow, but students should prepare their own interview questions. Conducting interviews with people gives students a chance to practice their speaking ability not only in class but also outside and helps them becoming socialized. After interviews, each student can present his or her study to the class. Moreover, students can interview each other and "introduce" his or her partner to the class.

. Story Completion

This is a very enjoyable, whole-class, free-speaking activity for which students sit in a circle. For this activity, a teacher starts to tell a story, but after a few sentences he or she stops narrating. Then, each student starts to narrate from the point where the previous one stopped. Each student is supposed to add from four to ten sentences. Students can add new characters, events, descriptions and so on.

. Reporting

Before coming to class, students are asked to read a newspaper or magazine and, in class, they report to their friends what they find as the most interesting news. Students can also talk about whether they have experienced anything worth telling their friends in their daily lives before class.

. Playing Cards

In this game, students should form groups of four. Each suit will represent a topic. For instance:

Diamonds: Earning money

Hearts: Love and relationships

Spades: An unforgettable memory

Clubs: Best teacher

Each student in a group will choose a card. Then, each student will write 4-5 questions about that topic to ask the other people in the group. For example:

If the topic "Diamonds: Earning Money" is selected, here are some possible questions:

Is money important in your life? Why?

What is the easiest way of earning money?

What do you think about lottery? Etc.

However, the teacher should state at the very beginning of the activity that students are not allowed to prepare yes-no questions, because by saying yes or no students get little practice in spoken language production. Rather, students ask open-ended questions to each other so that they reply in complete sentences.
. Picture Narrating

This activity is based on several sequential pictures. Students are asked to tell the story taking place in the sequential pictures by paying attention to the criteria provided by the teacher as a rubric. Rubrics can include the vocabulary or structures they need to use while narrating.

. Picture Describing

Another way to make use of pictures in a speaking activity is to give students just one picture and having them describe what it is in the picture. For this activity students can form groups and each group is given a different picture. Students discuss the picture with their groups, then a spokesperson for each group describes the picture to the whole class. This activity fosters the creativity and imagination of the learners as well as their public speaking skills.

. Find the Difference

For this activity students can work in pairs and each couple is given two different pictures, for example, picture of boys playing football and another picture of girls playing tennis. Students in pairs discuss the similarities and/or differences in the pictures.

Based on his experience Kayi (2006) gave usefull suggestions. Here are some suggestions for English language teachers while teaching oral language:

  • Provide maximum opportunity to students to speak the target language by providing a rich environment that contains collaborative work, authentic materials and tasks, and shared knowledge.

  • Try to involve each student in every speaking activity; for this aim, practice different ways of student participation.

  • Reduce teacher speaking time in class while increasing student speaking time. Step back and observe students.

  • Indicate positive signs when commenting on a student's response.

  • Ask eliciting questions such as "What do you mean? How did you reach that conclusion?" in order to prompt students to speak more.

  • Provide written feedback like "Your presentation was really great. It was a good job. I really appreciated your efforts in preparing the materials and efficient use of your voice…"

  • Do not correct students' pronunciation mistakes very often while they are speaking. Correction should not distract student from his or her speech.

  • Involve speaking activities not only in class but also out of class; contact parents and other people who can help.

  • Circulate around classroom to ensure that students are on the right track and see whether they need your help while they work in groups or pairs.

  • Provide the vocabulary beforehand that students need in speaking activities.

  • Diagnose problems faced by students who have difficulty in expressing themselves in the target language and provide more opportunities to practice the spoken language.

Sasson (2007) gave additional tips for improving speaking skills. They are :

  • Allot a time limit for each and every speaking activity. Take into consideration those activities that involve either group or pair work.

  • Keep the activity fun and simple. Make sure the instructions are also crystal clear.

  • Don’t overdo speaking activities in one lesson.

  • Make sure you aim for a balance between speaking and listening.

  • Have a back-up plan for the entire class and for individual students who are withdrawn.

  • Always reflect on what can you do as a teacher to help students improve their speaking skills.

  1. Role-play

Role-play or role-playing is an activity in which people act a situation. It is used especially in training people to develop communication skills...(Hornby, 1995). According to Brown as quoted by Huang (2008) said that role-play minimally involves (a) giving a role to one or more members of a group and (b) assigning an objective or purpose that participants must accomplish . Brown suggested role-play can be conducted with a single person, in pairs or in groups, with each person assigned a role to accomplish an objective. Budden (2004) described : “Role-play in any speaking activity when you either put yourself into somebody else’s shoes, or when you stay in your own shoes but put yourself into an imaginary situation”. Kumar (2001) said that role-play is a valuable teaching and training tool that delivers immense amount of imprinted learning. This learning is retained and recalled better through the role-play experience.

Aforementioned statements describe that role-play is a powerful teaching technique to actively involve the language learners to take part in teaching-learning process. Role-play emotionally forces the learners to speak as it can touch their deep feelings. They are so enthusiastic as it can encourage them to express their ideas. Kumar (2011) further said: “role-play is a simulation exercise where persons take on assumed roles in order to act out a scenario in contrieved setting. The learners or participants can act out the assigned roles in order to explore the scenario, apply skills (maybe communication, negotiation, debate etc.), experience the scenario from another view point, evoke and understand emotions that maybe alien to them. It helps to make sense of theory and gathers together the concepts into a practical experience”.

Role-play is practicing doing their knowledge to interact with others. They express their ideas to get response from others. They are not only speak to get across their opinions, but they are also explore their body languages such as mimics, gestures, eye-contact etc. According to learning pyramid, learning by practicing allows the learners to get 75% of the teaching-learning process, and teaching others have greater impact of 90% of it. 75% is a great quantity of getting information from what the learners learn. Therefore role-play is a good teaching method to be applied. Below is the learning pyramid as quoted by Kumar ( 2011).

Kumar (2011) gave advantages of role-play in teaching-learning process : (a) energising activity and fun to do, (b) allows participants to contribute actively ( even the quieter ones), (c) It is time efficient , (d) experiential learning is more powerful than instructions, (e) It delivers complex concepts in a simple manner and, (b) needs little preparation for the teacher/facilitator (unless you want to print out role descriptors). Harmer as quoted by Budden (2004) advicated the use of role-play for the following reasons :

  • It is fun and motivating.

  • Quieter students get the chance to express themselves in a more forthright way.

  • The world of the classroom is broadened to include the outside world – thus offering a much wider range of language opportunity.

Having realised the advantages, the usefulness, the power of role-play to motivate students to speak, the writer is trying to apply this technique in his teaching speaking.


There are three major steps of role-play in our classrom, namely before, during and after the role-play is conducted in teaching-learning process.

  1. Before the session, giving unscripted text

The text is given a week before the role-play takes place. The text is :

You are a manager of a big shoes factory. As the price of nine basic commodities has been soaring up, your 2000 employees are asking for salary increase. Unfortunately, your factory is in a finacial problem and you do not take any response quickly. Therefore, one day they

hold strike and production stops consequently. So, hold an office meeting with your staff to accomplish the problem and convey the result to all of your employees as they refuse to give their representatives”.

Instructions :

  1. Divide your class into 4 groups consists of 3-5 students ( Group A, B, C, and D)

  2. Choose your manager.

  3. The manager should give the result of the meeting to the employees.

  4. If group A becomes manager and staff, groups B, C, and D become employees who hold a strike. If group B becomes manager and staff, the other groups become employees, and so on.

  1. During the session

  1. We divide the class into 4 groups. We usually make the clever students stay in different groups. We must make the group in balance so that the role-play can run in a good condition.

  2. We write some new vocabularies in the white board such as : labour union, work dismissal, low demand, hunger strike, corrupt, bangkrupt, fake data, step down, undermine, demonstration, decent life, irresponsible person, to afford the family, bread winner, monetary crisis etc.

  3. We give 5 minutes to make a meeting to decide what information must be given to the employees.

  4. Then we can start randomly from group B or D that has been really prepared for the session.

  5. We give each group 15 minutes to deliver the result of the meeting and manage the strike.

  6. During the role-play;

The manager delivers a speech and is directly responded by the employees. Debate occurs automatically between the manager and staff and employees. Sometimes the employees are shouting (like real demonstrators whose rights are lost). They never believe what the manager is saying. The employees also make a small banner stating : “We are hungry”, “We need money”, We are starving”, “Step down the manager”, “The Management is corrupt”, etc.

The employees are speaking emotionally, and sometimes in bahasa Indonesia. In this case we give proper English words.

As most of the employees are shouting emotionally, this session can disturb the other classes.

We, the lecturer must watch attentively and must be able to control the situation. We sometimes make correction for their pronunciation, and suggest them to clarify their ideas if the other part do not understand. We also encourage the quieters to speak so that every body is speaking during the session.

  1. After the role-play

After the role-play, we usually ask some questions to the students :

  1. Do you like this session?

  • Most of them like it and are happy with role-play.

  1. What lesson can you learn from this session?

  • Their answers are :

. It is challenging to be a manager.

. It is challenging to manage the angry crowd.

. It is easy to be employees as they can shout and even threaten the manager.

. It is challenging to build a good image. (When the employees know the manager is corrupt, they never believe what he says. Image building needs a great struggle).

. The employees in fact have unlucky position. If the manager finally closes the factory, they will loose their jobs. They become unemployments.

  1. How to manage the employees?

  • The manager must be wise. He must care and be honest.


Role-play is very interesting to be applied. It can encourage the students to speak even the quieter ones. They can feel as they are manager and staff or employees. When they become manager and staff, they feel so challenging to handle the angry employees who launch strike. They feel sometimes powerless and hopeless as what they say never succeed. They are so nervous and do not know what to do. On the other hand, they are happy to be employees. They are able to emotionally express their demand for the salary increase. They are shouting and screaming while showing the banners. They point their forefinger to the manager as they never trust to their boss.

This role-play can be usefull to encourage the quieters. If they still do not want to speak, the lecturer can assign promptly or ask them to raise questions to the manager and staff. The role of lecturer can be so motivating too, as the students are so happy and enthusiastic to conduct role-play.

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Florez, Mary Ann Cunningham. 1999. Improving adult English language learners’ speaking skills. Retrieved from imprvg%20Ellsphg. Florez .pdf on July 2, 2011.
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Hornby, AS. 1995. Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary of current English. Oxford : Oxford University Press.
Huang, Irene H. 2008. Role-play for ESL/EFL children in the English classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol.XIV, No. 2, February. Retrieved from on July 2, 2011.
Kayi, Hayriye. 2006. Teaching speaking: activities to promote speaking in a second language. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol.XII, No.11, November. Retrieved from http://iteslj. org/ Articles/Kayi-TeachingSpeaking.html on July 1, 2011.
Kitao, Kenji. 1996. Why do we teach English? The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. II, No. 4, April. Retrieved from on July 1, 2011.
Kumar, Muhan. 2011. How to use role-play in the teaching and training. Retrieved from on July 2, 2011.
Sasson, Dorit. 2007. Improve speaking skills : tips and techniques for speaking and presentation skills. Retrieved from on July 1, 2011.
Shumin, Kang. 1997. Factors to consider: developing adult EFL students’ speaking abilities. English Teaching Forum, Volume 35, Number  3. July – September. Retrieved from http://eca.s forum /vols/vol35/no3/p8.htm on July 2, 2011.

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