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A Look at the Possibilities of Role-Play and Drama for ESL

Many ESL teachers fear making role-plays a part of their curriculum. Yet children love the chance to indulge in pretend play, which motivates them more than reading textbooks!
Views: 1.749 Created 11/19/2009

ESL role plays and skits are real and fun

Many ESL teachers fear making plays and skits a part of their curriculum.  Yet children absolutely love being given the chance to make-believe and indulge in pretend play, which motivates them a good deal more than reading textbooks!

A fun and effective way to teach ESL children is to emphasize communication skills in the context of everyday life. Acting out real life or make believe scenarios has an immense benefit over simple textbook translation, and encourages the children to connect the words they are learning to meanings, objects and actions in a natural way.

Children naturally love pretending and make believe

Children have a natural inclination towards drama – from an early age many children will pretend to be 'mother', 'father', 'baby' or an assortment of animals. Their imagination is fertile, and pretending to eat, drink and otherwise act out daily activities in a pretend world is something teachers can take advantage of. Working the English language into such scenarios is natural, easy and fun, and yields excellent results.

But teachers have excuses as to why they cannot tap into this motivating learning process

Sadly, many teachers never recognize the power of using ESL role-plays in classrooms, preferring traditional methods such as rote recitation, repetition, and reading text from books to instill English in ESL students. They fear losing control of their class, they consider ESL skits to be simply playing and not a real teaching opportunity, or they feel inadequate to teach drama. The most used excuse, however, is lack of time. With the rigidly controlled classroom schedules common today, finding an hour to devote to teaching English through role-play seems impossible to some. The main objective in this case is to demonstrate that ESL role plays aren't simply an addition to the current curriculum, but can be used as a stand alone method of teaching that can show amazing results in a relatively short period of time.

ESL skits and role-play are easy and natural for a child

ESL skits build on the natural role playing games all children play. The links between exploring the world around them, engaging in pretend play that mimics that world, and translating that play into acquired knowledge forms a solid chain of education that starts in the child himself and can be nurtured by a teacher.

Conversational skills are built on the child's need to communicate. Children engage in acting games all the time, talking to their toys and making up scenarios. In a group they take on roles – parent and child, husband and wife, veterinarian and pet, cop and robber, cowboy and indian. They are fluid, with some characteristic particular to each child shining through in the role they choose to play, and assignments are frequently switched as they take turns assigning parts.

Encouraging this behavior and channeling it into teaching ESL through role-play is simple. Allow creative expression in the classroom by designating an area and time for acting out short plays, and let the children use language naturally, in the framework of pretend play. This way of learning follows the natural inclinations of the child – something that cannot be said for textbook work. They will learn faster and have little resistance to this method since each class will be fun and feel normal to them.

Using drama for ESL instruction showcases the power of language. Children will quickly learn to communicate in full sentences in real life scenarios, instead of dully plodding through translated text and reading comprehensions, or watching while the teacher writes vocabulary up on the board. The natural activity of pretending will imprint the words in their minds in a natural context, so that remembering them and using them over and over will be easy. Action boosts the memory, making it easier for children to retain information and use it again later in similar situations.

And you don't need an oscar!

One last objection reluctant teachers raise against implementing ESL skits in the classroom is; "I don't know anything about drama! I can't act!" This objection is actually one of the easiest to lay to rest, as it is not an issue at all.  You don't have to act – the children will be doing all of the performing – and you don't need to teach them a thing, because every single one of them is a born natural.

For a free easy skit for beginners by the author please check out the web page below.  You'll see some great photos of children in the middle of acting out a little skit in front of parents, and you'll see from their body language just how much they are loving it.  Take the plunge!  Go and grab your free funny ESL role-play here:

Once you start teaching English through role-play, you will be amazed at the enthusiasm this activity generates. The key is letting them act out realistic or funny scenarios in which objects can be handled and used, action verbs can be rehearsed in real life and feelings can be expressed in appropriate context. ESL skits are the perfect vehicle for language absorption, and using drama for ESL students should become a standard part of any teacher's curriculum.

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