Target-Language Role Playing

At last week’s #langchat, when asked about risks taken this year in teaching, I responded that I tried a new activity: target-language role playing. Since I had no idea if it would win the gold or crash and burn, I considered it a risky move.

The instructor at the AP Institute at the University of Iowa I attended last summer presented the idea of target-language role playing & provided some of the examples of roles that I used.  I did target-language role playing with my two AP Spanish Language & Culture class every Thursday as our warm-up.

How To Do Target-Language Role Playing

  • Pair up students via your preferred method. I use famous pairs partner cards from Kristy Placido (can’t remember if I bought them on TpT or downloaded them from her website. Either way, they are awesome and they came from her. Gracias!).
  • Pairs pick their roles and situation card (find the ones I use here or create your own!).
  • Examples:
    • Parent/kid: Why is the phone bill so high?
    • Best friends: I can’t believe you forgot my birthday.
    • Candidate/voter: You should vote for me!
    • Internado style! Carolina/Iván: I think we should see other people (Ouch!).
  • Students have a short amount of time to talk  about situation and how to play it, which gives them time to look up or ask about words/phrases they’ll need.
  • Pairs join together to create a group of four to “perform” (I don’t make them perform for the class because I have found that when they are more relaxed, their conversations flow smoother and they feel more inclined to be creative).
  • As the year progresses, increase the amount of time their conversation must last. We started at one minute and worked our way up to two. Next year, we’ll do more!
  • I “eavesdropped” on every student at least once during the course of the semester. After they were done, I gave them feedback on what went well and what to keep in mind for the future.
  • I always made a big deal when I heard students use an idiom they learned in class (idioms are our warmups on Mondays).


  • Was the language always accurate? Nope! Did we take the time after the activity to talk through common errors and how to say/form certain words and phrases? Absolutely! It provided great mini-lessons for pop-up grammar.
  • This was a great platform for talking about circumlocution (inspired by seeing this presentation by Sara-Elizabeth of Musicuentos). A couple students proudly told me after the AP test that when faced with wanting to use a word/phrase they didn’t know, they “talked around it.”
  • As it became more challenging to talk for longer, we talked about “just saying something” related to the topic. Who cares if you partner knew you were going to take the conversation in this direction? Just go for it! Students took a lot of pride in reaching the two minute mark. Sometimes it felt long and other times, it wasn’t enough time to get as in-depth as they wanted to go.
  • Students infused humor into their language practice! The funniest ones were the Internado-themed role plays because they really got into being their favorite characters.

To me, using the language creatively, infusing humor and emotion and conversing on an unfamiliar topic demonstrate real, solid steps toward more advanced proficiency! So really in the end, I wasn’t the one taking the risks with this role-playing activity – my students were and I couldn’t be more proud of them and the results!


Author: Señora Shares

High School Spanish teacher in Iowa. Passionate about what I do and contributing to those around me in the profession that I love.

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