Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Picture role plays

I’ve been investigating role plays as part of my Delta reflection. I rarely use them because I never enjoyed them as a language student, but I think some students would respond to them very well.

Today I adapted an activity from Role Play by Gillian Porter Ladousse, called ‘Picture role plays’, with pre-intermediate (A2+) students.

  • I put a few pictures from eltpics around the room. Each picture showed a minimum of two people, and it was relatively easy to imagine that they were having a conversation. First, students walked around in pairs discussing what they could see. To prompt them, I had the question words Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? written on the board.
By the river

Photo taken from by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

  • Each pair chose their favourite picture and took it back to their desk.
  • They chose one person in their picture to write a mini biography of.
  • These were quite short, so I then asked students to read all the biographies and add one question under each.
  • The students then had to ‘inhabit’ the person they wrote a biography of and have a conversation with the other person in their photo.
  • Finally, they wrote out the conversation.
In the rain

Photo taken from by @inglishteacher, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

Shaun Wilden brought picture role plays to my attention during his seminar at the recent IH Online Conference. You can watch his session here and read the original description of the activity here.

Did it work?

Yes and no. The quieter students were very creative in the biography, and added lots of extra details. My favourite was ‘My grandmother loves playing chess and is the world champion.’ However, when it came to the roleplay, the conversation was quite stilted. They did ‘inhabit’ the role a little, but for the quieter students this was very difficult. The more confident students really seemed to enjoy it, and were arguing quite a lot about the correct language to use.

We had been practising indirect questions during the week, and one or two of the quieter students got them into their conversations. However, I didn’t have a particularly clear aim for the activity. It was very much a ‘Friday afternoon’ activity.

Doing it again

With role plays, you definitely need some kind of clear aim. Why do the students need to imagine the conversations between the people in the photos?

Most of the language work I did with the students was in their pairs. It would be useful to work more with the language and build on it further.

We didn’t have time to repeat the role play, and this is definitely something the students would benefit from.

Do you have any other advice?

(This is one of a series of shared mini reflections on some of the activities I’m trying out during my Delta. The first was here.)

Comments on: "Picture role plays" (7)

  1. Hi Sandy,
    Sounds like maybe it’d lead more naturally into “eavesdropping” on the conversations and maybe reporting them rather than taking part? But then that isn’t really a role play, is it?
    Maybe it’s worth working on the second person in the photo too – who are they? how did the conversation start? maybe kick it off as pair writing and then ask them to continue it as a speaking task?
    maybe to work with the language you could have an initial phase where students write one sentence or utterance from an imagined exchange in the photo and then read them out to the class who decide which image it comes from. Could look at each utterance in turn and discuss the conversation and linguistic context?
    Wish I had a class to go into next week to play around with it ! (classless this term and really missing the classroom!) Very inspiring. Thanks 🙂


  2. Thanks a lot Ceri. Those ideas are really useful!


  3. Hi Sandy,
    I agree with Ceri – writing before speaking will give these A2 students some confidence. This would be what I’d do:
    Show a model. I’d give the biography bit a miss and concentrate on dialogue. I’d choose a picture, do a dialogue, playing both parts.
    Run through useful chunks with them – set up a matching definition or joining sentences task. Make sure to include expressions used in dialogues “you know what happened…” “did I tell you…” “You won’t believe…” etc.
    Then they choose their picture and write the dialogue, using as many of the useful chunks you’ve given as possible.
    They practise their dialogue. Change partners. Practise again. If they can do it without their notes, even better.
    I’m going to use this model for my class tomorrow, but not with pictures. Watch out for my reflection on it.
    I’m going to do poetry, too! (It’s a 4-hour class) Have you seen my new poetry blog? It’s pretty 😉


  4. […] (This is one of a series of shared mini reflections on some of the activities I’m trying out during my Delta. The first was here, the second here.) […]


  5. […] Sandy Millin explains how your students might develop role-plays from pictures. […]


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