Stevick compares a conversation in an EFL lesson to building a fire in a stove. Not something we’re so familiar with anymore – but it’s clear that the fuel should be there, and a bit of kindling (the language and the structure of the activity), and of course enough air for the fire to burn (the initiative). Of the types of role plays he lists, some provide much less air but a lot more support, and the others are all about student initiative: which is the way it should be because we pick and choose depending on the situation. I’ve sorted them according to the level of support:
- You say and then she says: scripted dialogues where the learners only have to rephrase what the book says. Useful for scaffolding and just as good for conversation as freer prompts sometimes!
- Cross purposes: each participant has a set of instructions that contradict each other and one of them has to persuade the other to win. Who doesn’t like information gaps!
- What if! The learners borrow characters that they already know: from books or films, or among mutual acquaintances. An interesting take on conversation, where the contents are scaffolded enough to provide some entertainment and focus on the language.
- Me Tarzan, you Jane: the participants only know the names or functions of their characters (shop assistant and buyer) and have to come up with a dialogue of their own. Could be useful when the group is very creative, otherwise may deteriorate into a very formulaic interaction.
- Simulations: role-plays with background materials which require preparation and follow-up and can take several hours.
So, at which side of the spectrum are you at the moment? Or do you move from one side to the other?