5 ESL ROLE-PLAY Activities for Adults

Need an idea to do something different? Have an extra class outside of the syllabus and want to treat your students to an interesting game? Or maybe you simply want to take a break from teaching grammar or holidays vocabulary.

We’ve all been there and it’s totally fine to do something with your students that doesn’t produce concrete results. Language skills are above all social skills so it makes sense to sometimes close the notebooks and use what you’ve learned in a fun and social way. 

It’s important to note that all of the activities below are for more experienced speakers. If your classes consist of young kids on lower levels you may want to check out this article instead.

1. Alibi

Level: B1 and higher


A terrible crime was committed the night before and everyone in the classroom is a suspect. To prove their innocence students will have to testify their alibis under the scrutiny of their fellow classmates.

The procedure:


1. Put students into pairs

2. Each pair needs to create a believable alibi for what they were doing when the crime occured. Every detail matters, where they were, what the place looked like, who was with them, how long, what they were wearing, what did the place smell like. 

3. One partner leaves the room while their mate is being interrogated by the rest of the classroom. 

4. When finished, the excluded partner is invited back in and put under similar scrutiny. The rest of the class asks him or her the same questions to see if their story checks out. 

Note: the partner who was interrogated first can listen but cannot contribute in any way.

5. Do this for all students.

6. At the end give each student 1 piece of paper to vote for the pair they suspect the most.

2. Mars Colony

Level: B2  and higher


NASA has just established a human presence on the Red Planet. However, this momentous achievement doesn’t come without a large set of challenges. Mars is extremely inhospitable and, in order to survive, the Control Center and the Settlers must engage in an intricate dance of technology, human relations and impossible distances. 


Depending on the number of your students, you can have either one or two Mars colonies (three could work too but it becomes a stretch).

Divide your class into teams of roughly the same amount of people. 

Team 1: NASA Control Center 

This is the ‘parent’ of the whole project. They are responsible for providing support and instructions, however, their ability to help is limited to an 8-months-long distance between Earth and Mars. 



Leader – assigns tasks to their teammates and makes sure everything runs smoothly (area: management)

Communications Officer – is responsible for communicating with the colony (area: communications)

Engineer – solves technical problems (area: technology)

Psychiatrist – is responsible for everyone’s well being (area: people)

Scientist – solves Mars-related problems (area: environment)

Team 2: Mars Colony ________ (enter name)

The colony is a handful of people stranded on a planet with little resources and a hostile environment with a serial killer personality. The colony is self sustainable, however, it’s impossible to prepare for all outcomes which means that the colonists will have to think their way out of some situations. 



Leader – assigns tasks to their teammates and makes sure everything runs smoothly (area: management)

Communications Officer – is responsible for communicating with the colony (area: communications)

Engineer – solves technical problems (area: technology).

Psychiatrist – is responsible for everyone’s well being (area: people).

Scientist – solves Mars-related problems (area: environment).


Hero – wants to become famous no matter what (area: putting everything at risk).

If you’re doing more than one colony, then introduce specializations, for example, one colony specialises in transport – making a base, producing fuel, repairing the aircraft, whereas the other is an exploration colony that sends missions to scout the environment. 

The procedure:


1. Place the teams around the room so that they are in a considerable distance from one another. I often sit NASA team around a table and the MARS team on the floor so that they feel more grounded

2. Instruct them to communicate only via Communication Officers, which means that all information needs to go through them. Communication Officers interact by ending each sentence with over and each conversation with over and out. They also introduce themselves at the beginning of each conversation Mars Colony this is NASA. 

For example:

NASA: Mars Colony, this is NASA, do you copy? Over.

MARS: Yes NASA we copy, over. 

NASA: We’ve cancelled your Netflix subscriptions because you need to work more. Over.

MARS: You suck….over and out. 

3. Each problem the colony or NASA faces is solved by collaboration of all team members with their specialized skills as well as through cooperation between the teams. 


Sand Storm

There is a massive sandstorm approaching the colony which NASA is monitoring on their satellites. They have the information of the speed, size and direction and how long will it take for the storm to hit the colony. The storm will destroy the only vehicle colony has to move around the planet or one of two greenhouses with food in it. This doesn’t mean they will starve but their food supply is decreased by 50%. The task is to decide which item is more indispensable – the vehicle or the greenhouse. Note: remember that it’ll take 8 months for any supplies to be delivered.

Martian Baby

One of the colonists had a baby – the first human to ever been born on Mars. The Red Planet has only 30% of the Earth’s gravity, much more radiation and is generally not-so-fun-a-place for children, not to mention the limited room for the crew makes it hard on morale when there’s a baby crying all the time. At the same time this is one in a lifetime opportunity to see whether a human being can be born and raised on a different planet. Task: all teams need to reach consensus on whether to send the baby to Earth or not. 

Hello, Aliens

Part 1: The colonists have found a strange building with a sealed entrance on Mars. It looks old and was definitely not built by humans. The first task is to agree on a course of action. Things they need to decide:

– What to do with the information (make it public or not).

– Whether or not they should open the door and if yes, how. 

– What to do if they meet hostile aliens.

– What to do if the aliens are friendly and speak Englsh.


Part 2: The colonists meet the ExtraTerrestrials (if they opened the door, aliens are inside. If they left it, aliens come out). Yes, you’re playing the UFO. Task: they need to find a way to communicate with you to understand your intentions. What students don’t know: you’re the only alien on the planet, acting as its guardian and representative. Your civilization doesn’t know what to do with it so they just left you there to guard it. You don’t understand English but you are highly intelligent so you learn quickly. The teams will have to teach you all the words they need to communicate with you and understand your backstory. 

4. The game doesn’t really have an end, if your students enjoy it introduce more scenarios and if not then maybe try this one:

3. The Mafia (or Werewolf)

Level: B2 and above


Most people are familiar with this game so if you’re lucky you might not even have to explain the rules. There are two versions of it, one called Mafia and the other Werewolf. They work in the same way, the only difference being the name of the villains. 

I personally prefer this game as Mafia and that’s the name I’ll use for the explanation. 


1. Arrange the desks and chairs so that your students sit in a circle (either around the table or an empty space).

2. Explain that you’re going to play the game of Mafia where some of them will be a part of a secret Mafia group that kills the others. The Mafia wins if they manage to get rid of all the regular members, or townsfolk. The townsfolk win when they identify and exile all Mafia members.

3. One person (likely you) will act as the Narrator who is leading the activity without contributing to its course. 

Note: For your students to have the most fun during this game the Narrator should act flamboyantly, creating backstories for characters and really imaginative ways in which characters die. I like to call the town Bananaville and the inhabitants Banananers. 

The characters:

Mafia: assassinates 1 person per turn. 

The ratio should be 1:3 so if there are 12 students, 4 will be Mafia. 

Doctor: heals one person per night (may heal themselves).

Detective: asks the Narrator whether someone is Mafia or not. 

First round is character picking. Tell all the townsfolk to go to sleep (it works magic if you turn off the lights). All students must have their eyes closed. 


Note: make sure they don’t touch each other as people waking up will inevitably shuffle.


1. Say that now you’re going to pick the Mafia members.

2. Walk around the circle and gently touch the Mafia members.

3. Tell the Mafia to wake up and identify themselves to each other

4. Tell them to go back to sleep.

5. Next, pick the doctor.

6. Walk around the circle and gently touch the doctor.

7. Lastly, pick the detective.

8. Walk around the circle and gently tap the detective.

Wake everyone up and make it feel super dramatic that there are hidden Mafia members amongst them. Then tell them to go back to sleep again. 

The procedure (this will repeat every turn):


1. Wake the Mafia and ask them to silently decide and point to a person they want to eliminate, then make them go back to sleep.

2. Wake the doctor up and ask him/her to heal somebody (can be themselves), then make them go back to sleep.

3. Wake the detective and ask him/her to silently point to somebody they suspect to be Mafia. Then silently confirm that this person is either a part of the Mafia or not. Back to sleep.

4. Wake everyone up.

5. Announce the person who was assassinated (unless Doctor healed them). 

Note: make up a funny circumstance of their death. 

6. Ask the townsfolk to decide among themselves who they should exile.

This is when the discussion should begin. Some of them will accuse, some will defend. A lot of finger pointing and a lot of disagreements. After few minutes start an election. 

7. Each person gets one vote. For example, if Anna votes for James, he will raise 1 finger, if Taylor also votes for James he will raise another finger, etc. 

8. The person with the most amount of votes (fingers raised) is exiled. They also have to confirm whether they were Mafia or not. 

9. Everyone goes back to sleep and the round starts over.

10. Repeat from step 1.

Mafia wins if they are the last ones standing.

Townsfolk win if Mafia is all exiled. 

Note: when choosing the Mafia members remember to get a good mix of the most outspoken and quiet students. The gregarious ones will defend themselves well, whereas the quiet ones won’t raise much suspicion. 

Additional characters:


Once in a game Mayor may reveal themselves and cast two votes instead of one. 


Once per game the Survivor may ‘rescue’ themselves at night after the Mafia attack if they think they got killed.


The Informant works similar to the detective. He or she may inquire whether certain members are Mafia. Then, once in a game, the Informant may reveal themselves during the town debate and raport on one Mafia member. After that the Informant dies.

4. Film Set

Level: B2 and higher


This may be hard to pull off if your students aren’t familiar with the basic dynamic of the film set, however, if they have a basic idea that the director is in charge of everything but mainly actors, that the cameraman is responsible for what’s in the frame and the sound technician keeps everything quiet, then this could prove a very fun exercise. 

You’ll need to prepare a handful of role cards before the game and a few lines of script.

Every person draws a role and a characteristic behaviour they should adopt. 

The roles:


Has a very short temper.


Keeps asking actors to do the scene in a weird way: Can you say it like a baker? Pretend that she is a dragon. Do it again but start laughing for no reason. 


Gets too creative with camera angles


Ultra finicky about things visible in each shot.


Is a total diva


Keeps confusing lines.


Is hungry/sleepy and keeps asking for food/break. 


Thinks is great at acting when in reality Is really bad

Sound Technician

Keeps hearing voices.


Annoyingly asks everyone to be quiet all the time.


Keeps talking about how much everything cost.


Thinks he/she is producing a different movie. 

The procedure:


1. You can do this in two ways

  • If your group is small, give roles to everyone and execute the exercise as a whole class.

  • If your class has 15 or more students, divide them into groups of 5-7 and do it group by group with a ‘live’ audience.

2. Distribute the roles to everyone involved.

3. Move the desks and chairs around to create a space for the set. If the director wants to have the scene at the table then single out one table and chairs, if she prefers to pretend the actors are in a boat surrounded by sharks then create a make-shift boat for them to sit. Give the sound guy a broom to hold it like a microphone. 

4. Let the role play run its course

5. When it becomes clear students have exhausted things they can do in their role, stop the game and shuffle all the roles, giving everyone a chance to try a different character.

5. Construction Business Simulation

Level: B2 and higher


This activity needs a minimum of 5 different teams, however, the more the better, which means that it’s best executed in a larger classroom. 20 students is a good number. 40 even better. 


The game run-time is anywhere between 1 to 2 hours. 


Each of the student groups will be a company. There are 5 types companies:


  • Construction (2 – 4 students)

  • Labour (2 students)

  • Real Estate (2 students)

  • Materials (2 students)

  • Equipment (2 students)


There should be multiple companies of the same kind competing in the market. It’s best if there are more Construction Companies than any other type. 


Note: Before the game begins do the math to make sure there are enough of all groups to meet the supply and demand of the market. If there aren’t enough students, consider excluding one of the resources to increase competition. 


Before the game begins you may need to explain to your students that profit is calculated like this:


  • Money from sales

  • Expenses (monthly, costs of land or materials)



Construction Company:


You have $1,000,000 and 4 weeks to build a building starting tomorrow.


What you need:

1. Purchase 1 parcel of land.

2. 10,000 tons of raw materials

3. 10 construction vehicles for 2 weeks.

4. 1000 man-hours of labour. 


Real Estate Company:


Make profit by selling land to Construction Companies. Each parcel of land costs you $100,000. Your monthly expenses are also $100,000


Equipment Company:


Earn by renting construction vehicles to the construction companies. You have 20 vehicles, but each cannot be rented more than once at a time. Your monthly expenses are $350,000


Material Company:


Make a profit by selling raw materials to the Construction Companies. Each ton of raw materials costs you $10. Your monthly expenses are $40,000


Labour Company:


Earn profit by contracting labour force to the Construction Companies. You have 20 construction workers in your company. Each of them can work 8 hours per day, earning $20 per hour of work. Your monthly expenses are $25,000.

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