Giana Maria Gandini Giani de Mello has a BA in Language Arts and a Masters degree and PHD in Applied Linguistics. She has been working in ELT for over 20 years as a teacher, course designer, teacher trainer and Cambridge examiner. Here she shares a creative role play activity that uses improvisation to improve students’ speaking and writing skills.
This activity is inspired by a workshop on theatre techniques for the classroom. It has been adapted and modified to develop students’ speaking and writing skills. It can be used any time within your course program and it provides a great opportunity to engage and motivate your students. The active involvement of the students results in more creative written work.
- Activity Name: The Missing Girl
- Materials: A photo of a teenage girl
- Skills: Speaking, Listening, Writing
Step 1 – Presenting the case
Without saying what the activity is about, the teacher shows the class a photo of a teenage girl with the word ‘Missing’. The teacher takes on the role of chief police officer and addresses the students as police officers. The teacher asks them to pay attention to every detail and to write down all the pieces of information to help solve the case. ‘Get some paper and pens and take notes of each and every detail from now on’, says the teacher/chief police officer. ‘We’re here today to solve this case about a missing girl and I hope to find answers as soon as possible’.
The teacher should encourage the students to ask him/her questions. ‘Don’t you want to know her name, age, how/when she disappeared…’. As they ask questions, the teacher starts to build the case, providing the missing girl’s name, age, what she was wearing, the time of her disappearance, etc.
The teacher then pauses and asks one of the students ‘what do we have so far, officer?’ The student reports on the information collected and the case begins to develop. All the students should take notes.
Step 2 – Interaction and involvement
After the brief report, the teacher says: ‘I invited her mother to come and talk to us in order to gather more details.’ The teacher then asks a student (at random) to sit on a chair in the centre of the classroom to improvise and play the role of the girl’s mother. The teacher starts asking the character questions to help the student to improvise. Depending on the group, the character’s answers may become increasingly more sophisticated and surprising. The teacher should encourage all the students to ask the character questions that will help to solve the case. If students are reluctant, call them by their police officer names to help them engage in the activity and lead them into asking relevant questions.
Teachers should pay special attention to timing and intervene when the interviewees have nothing else to say. They could ask questions like ‘Is there anything else you would like to say/add?’ to end the interview.
Step 3 – The characters
The teacher invites different students to play the characters involved in the case: the boyfriend, the brother/sister, the best friend, the neighbour and so on. After each interview, the teacher calls out a student to share new details about the case.
As a follow-up activity, all students should write a report which includes the information/clues they collected during the interviews and come up with their own conclusion to the case.
The use of the improvisation approach in your classroom will refresh students’ communicative skills while creating a supportive and collaborative environment. As the case is being built, the teacher’s interventions promote students’ organic use of the language, helping them to experiment and emotionally connect with the activity.
As the students have to report back on the facts that are presented by the witnesses, the teacher may use these opportunities to correct possible grammar and vocabulary mistakes by repeating the same facts as an excuse to clarify the new information.
For further ideas around using role plays in the classroom, check out this article on Fostering creativity and fluency with roleplays.