MAKING UP CHARACTERS FOR ROLE PLAY
World Language English, 2, 4, 249-250, 1981
Role-play teaching techniques require the student to assume the role of someone else. The usual way of setting this up is to distribute cards to the players describing the relevant features of the characters they have to play; the differing aims or information they are given structure conflicts into the ensuing role play. A classic example of this approach is the Q Cards series,1 where, for instance, the students enact a press conference between a sports person and a group of journalists. This way of making up characters for the students, however, means that they have to conform to a ready-made persona; whatever they do is within limits established by the teacher in advance.
One way round this is to get the students to invent characters, they are given cards with the characters' names and are asked to write on the card the person's age, occupation, likes and dislikes, and any other aspects that they need to make up for the particular role play. Either they stick to the character they have invented or they exchange cards with each other. So, compared to the usual prepared cards technique, this adds another phase of character creation to the role play, involves the students more, usually produces more interesting and original characters, and adapts the characters more to the students' interests and idiosyncracies. However, the danger is that the character creation is outside the teacher's control; the characters they invent may be wildly unsuitable for the role play itself; the conflicts cannot be engineered by the teacher in advance.
Are there any ways round this? In fantasy role playing (FRP) games such as Dungeons and Dragons a technique is used that allows structuring but still produces new characters. The essential part is the use of dice; to make a character you decide on a particular quality such as 'intelligence' and then you throw a dice to see how much intelligence the character has. You throw again for the other aspects of the character—strength, wisdom, dexterity, and so on. The method of character creation can be adapted to language teaching in several ways, one of which is the following.
Let us suppose we want to use a role play of a job interview; first, we need to divide the students into interviewers and candidates. Using an ordinary six-sided dice, the students make one throw each; to get an equal number of interviewers and candidates we decide that scores of 1-3 are candidates, 4-6 are interviewers; the teacher can adjust the odds according to the class size and according to how many students he wants on the interviewing board. The students next choose names for themselves; let's say one student becomes Pamela Jones, one John Brown. Now they throw a die to see the properties of their characters, using the following charts; first, they throw for age, and if they get a 1 then their character is under 20, 2 between 20 and 29, and so on; then they throw for looks and discover if they are handsome, ugly, or just plain; and so on for the other charts.
|/. Age||II. Looks||III. Intelligence|
|1. Under 20||1. Handsome/beautiful||1. Brilliant|
|2. 20-29||2. Good-looking/pretty||2. Clever|
|3. 30-39||3. Quite good-looking/pretty||3. Quite cleve|
|4. 40-49||4. Rather plain||4. Average|
|5. 50-59||5. Ugly||5. Stupid|
|6. Over 60||6. Extremely ugly||6. Very stupid|
Can speak 5
Can drive a bus
Can ride a horse
Can swim like a
Can type with
Five years in
Ten jobs in
Long career in
2. A degree
3. A diploma
4. A certificate
VII. Manner at interview
The students then fill in their cards with their own information; Ms. Jones for instance, according to my die, is 40-49 years old, quite good-looking, brilliant, can speak five languages fluently, has done some holiday jobs, has a PhD, and is very cold at the interview; Mr. Brown, however, is 30-39, quite good-looking, average intelligence, can type with one finger, has had no experience, has a diploma, and is very aggressive in manner. Having created their characters the students can go on with the role play and decide who gets the job.
Obviously these charts are just an illustration of what can be done; the teacher can prepare suitable charts for whatever the role play is and adapt them to the level and interests of the students. This method of character creation produces 'new' characters by chance combination of the traits but allows the teacher to structure the exercise by the way that he constructs the charts from which these traits are drawn. The actual technique of creating characters with dice is also interesting and amusing in itself. The technique can then be used as a preliminary to any role play; all the teacher needs to do is to prepare relevant charts and to have a six-sided dice. In FRP games this approach is taken a stage further; the adventures that the characters have during the game depend upon the characteristics they have rolled; a set of characteristics such as those used here could be involved, for instance, in a maze game such as that described in an earlier article. Their best use, however, is for determining the outcome of various tasks confronting the players in the game; this is an aspect of FRP games that goes beyond the scope of the present article; good sources of ideas can be found in magazines, such as The White Dwarf,2 or in the various guides to games like Dungeons and Dragons.3
Saxon Menné (1975) Q Cards, Paul
The White Dwarf, Games Workshop,
G. Gygax (1979), Advanced Dungeons and
Dragons: Dungeon Master’s Guide, TSR Games