Practising key phrases #2: phrase cards in a RP


These are all ideas for using phrase cards to practice key phrases in a Meetings role-play. The ideas could all be used for other communication skills such as Telephoning.

For all the activities, you need to first prepare sets of cards with one phrase per card, and then possibly laminate them for long life and re-use. You will find key phrases in most coursebooks, boxed off in the communication skills units, and grouped according to function.

Activity 1

Distribute a whole set of cards to each student before the Meeting RP, and the students put them on the table in front of them, face-up. Before doing the RP, the students can ‘self-drill’, ie read each card in turn and quietly say the phrase to themselves a few times – just to bring the phrases into awareness.

Now set up and run the role-play in the normal way, but at the start say to the students that you’d like them to use some of the phrases during the activity (of course at appropriate moments). They can turn over the card face-down once they’ve spoken the phrase. I know teachers who introduce a competitive element – who can use all their cards first – but I don’t like that as I find it spoils the content of the RP.

Activity 2

Put a set of phrase cards (or a couple of sets, mixed up)  into a pot in the middle of the table. Just before the RP begins, students draw three cards randomly. They have to speak those particular phrases at an appropriate moment in the RP. Once spoken, they put the card back into the pot in a random position and draw another so that they always have three in front of them.


The students can write their own phrase cards instead of using cards prepared by you . They can copy the phrases from a language box in a coursebook onto slips of paper. This gives you zero preparation and is quite a nice noticing activity for the students anyway.



I have used these activities many times and oft, Paul, but what I also like to do is give the students a basic agenda and just throw them into the RP without any cards or prompts. I then note down what functional stuff they come up with and in what context. For example how did they open the meeting, how did they ask for opinions, how did they go about disagreeing etc. When I have enough to work with (usually after about four or five “turns”) I call a Time Out. I then go through what I have written down, asking for feedback from them as to usefulness, accuracy, alternatives etc. and board them. We then replay the RP, each student taking a different role and using whichever of the boarded examples they choose. Repeat as necessary!
I find redoing the role play however many times one may think necessary a really effective way of increasing accuracy and of assimilating new functional phrases.

Thanks for this terrific resource!


Yes, great idea to use an ‘In At The Deep End’ approach – the big advantage is that language feedback starts with what is already in the students’ heads rather than something chosen by an author or teacher. Very much along the lines of my ROLO ideas. I find that I vary my approach from lesson to lesson, sometimes reformulating student-generated phrases, other times giving them phrases that come from me (or a book) to extend their language.
Also great to repeat the RP – some teachers wouldn’t have the courage to do this as they think the students would find it boring, but as you and I know they don’t.
My main problem with an entirely Deep-End approach using only student-generated language (not suggesting you would do this) is the ‘face validity’ of the course. The students appreciate a list of ‘useful phrases’ organized by function, and recognize it as part of what they paid for. It gives them something to hang on to. They usually haven’t seen the multiple variants of these phrase lists that we have: for them this nicely printed and arranged list is the first one they have seen, and it’s a physical take-away from the lesson.


Agreed. What I do as well, is record the phrases as MP3 files which they can download to iPod or whatever, or I burn to disk for them. So the students have some of theirs, some of mine and an accompanying list to take away and PRACTISE.

The value of repetition cannot be underestimated – and recording each round is a very clear proof to the students that they improved with each RP. Having a recording is also a fantastic resource.

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