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Role-play for the Gen. Y Learners

By: M. Abdessalami

            Role play activities are beneficial in E. F. L classes for a large variety of reasons. First, they have positive impacts on language development. Second, they set up an atmosphere of empathy among the students. The learners assist and back up each other. Another reason is that they give the students the opportunity to use the target language authentically. Besides, they are an unforgettable experience which makes them remember a great deal of the language functions and structures used. Moreover, they boost acting skills thanks to the persona the students are taking in each dialogue or drill. Furthermore, they represent a kind of recreation where the students can take a deep breath of fresh air. Finally they are vital for learners to gain some self-confidence and self-esteem (stern, C. Murcia, Parrish, C. Maxwell)

            However; these activities have to be tailored for this new generation characterized by their inclination towards getting bored easily. Teachers have to provide the meaningful materials and content necessary and motivating enough to allow learners to engage in authentic communication. So, the role play activities should be somehow fanciful, funny and challenging. Gone those days when the students were capable of handling all different situations - including those not correlating with their immediate milieu - because they know a little about the world around them.

            Nowadays, with all the multitude of dynamic visual resources the internet provides, the “screenagers” become able to see and instantly share extraordinary things; consequently, they become more exigent. Compared to what they can get from television and the web, the classroom situation looks dull, regressive and depressing. The learners of today have easy access to different sources of information coming from the four corners of the world via print, audio, video, podcast, and through various ePub files. In few years time, the students will use PebblePad for learning going beyond the clumsy material the conventional school can afford. For these reasons, I guess, it’s useless to force them to learn a foreign language in a method and with material under the level of the fantastic things they are used to seeing on the web.

             "Likes and dislikes", "offer", "suggesting", "request" and "preference" are universal social language functions in day to day interactive elocution. Teachers need to train the students in E. F. L classes to use them naturally because these expressions are fundamental for genuine communication. Yet, if these expressions were introduced discretely, they would not have the same effect they might when they are presented in a true-to-life context. Worse than that, if they are presented in a very serious formal context, millennial students will quickly “log out”, disconnect and stop following because there’s nothing inspiring about it. They are not actually keen on attending rigid and indigestible lessons. However, if these functions are introduced in a very curious context, the kids will very likely look interested and participate massively, and they may also add original things to enrich the activity and make it motivating for them and engaging for their classmates. Hence, the importance of being careful about the role-play scenarios we choose for them.

            Now, here are two distinct scenarios for beginners teaching them common language functions using "would like", "would prefer", "would rather", "would suggest" phrases. Which of the two scenarios would you prefer to use for a role play activity?

Scenario 1

Waiter:     Hello, what can I do for you?
Customer:   I'd like to have a set lunch, please.
Waiter:   Yes, of course. Would you like a starter?
Customer:   Yes, I'd like a bowl of green salad, please.
Waiter:   And what would you like for a main course?
Customer:   I'd like Spaghetti and Meatballs, a big portion, please.
Waiter:   Would you like anything to drink?
Customer:   Yes, I'd prefer a large glass of apple juice, please.
Waiter:   Oh, I’m afraid we’re out of apple juice. Would you like me to get you something else?
Customer:   What would you suggest?
Waiter:   We serve ice-cream, yogurt, lime, grape, and Banana Pancake.
Customer:   Banana Pancake? That sounds delicious. I’ll try that.
Waiter:   Excellent. Would you like something else?
Customer:   No, thank you.

             This is an ideal example of true to life situations where formal authentic language is used. This sort of dialogue used to be great just about a decade ago; yet, it looks outlandish for this generation who are used to burgers and fast food. They are unlikely to be excited about it for they believe it is improbable to be exposed to such ceremonial contexts where a minimum of strict manners, polite styles, etiquette and protocol are required. It’s too formal for them. The students get bored from the first shot. There’s no need to remind you that this is not an E. S. L class; it’s rather an E. F. L one. In case they should be forced to do the activity, they act ironically in high-class table manners as if they are on a mega-yacht.

            On the contrary, if they are introduced to those above mentioned function in a rather down to earth scenario, they feel at ease and act naturally. The kids’ common culture in the following activity is more appetizing than the restaurant scene in the previous activity.

Scenario 2

Child:      No, please Mom. Not coffee. You know I don't like coffee.
Mother:   Would you like some tea and bread?
Child:      No, not again Mom. We always have tea for breakfast.
Mother:   What about some milk?
Child:      I hate drinking milk in the morning.
Mother:   What would you like, then?
Child:      I don't know... I'd like something like ... fruit or ...
Mother:   Do you want an orange?
Child:      I'd prefer a banana!
Mother:   I'm afraid there aren't any. Would you like an apple, instead?
Child:      Yes, please Mom ... and some cheese ... and some Yogurt ... and
Mother:   Ok, Ok I'll see what I can do for you.

             I bet the learners will see themselves in that impish child. What is remarkable about this after-school-chat, or say negotiation, is that it reveals something particular about the human offspring. They often ask for things they cannot even specify. It is generally in the food circle but it can also be a common situation for other sides of their inconsistent life style. Fortunately, we didn't get the conversation from the beginning; otherwise, maybe, we’ll get bored but in a funny way. The child needs to have something to eat after school, but he cannot come out with a defined type of food. Because this is almost a common culture for all the children of the world, the learners must have been like this child once... I was!

            This kid’s attitude is really weird, but only for grown ups who forgot about their childhood. However, for those who still remember such incidents, this naughty kid’s behaviour only reminds them of their early experience with life. This is perhaps the motive which will make the learners identify themselves with the wicked kid and this is the exciting and motivating part of it. The teenagers, based on their own experience, know for sure that it is true that when the kids are really starving they would wolf anything you offer them unquestionably. On the other hand, if they keep insisting that they need something to eat without being able to name it, even with proposed multiple choices, be certain they are not hungry; they just want to make you angry. When they are belly full they are not really interested in food but in the possibility they can get something new, something they didn't have the opportunity to taste before. And this is the secret that makes the learners prefer to do the role play activity number two.

            In the first scenario, the students are not acting properly because they are just performing an act they didn't experience - and maybe they would never experience, according to them at this early age. They are not really serious when they do the activity; whereas, the second activity is very like them. They are aware of what they are doing since all of them have experienced something similar to that before. They feel they are re-acting a real scene from their past. Don't forget that we are living in exponential times.

Madrasati @ Abdessalami On_Line