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Boosting student confidence: TV character role-play for IELTS Speaking success





Date Published

14 June 2023

My name is Natalia Larchenko. I’m an English teacher from Italy. This year I’m the winner of the IELTS Morgan Terry Memorial IATEFL Scholarship.

In this blog, I would like to share the idea that helped me to win this prestigious award.

Natalia Larchenko

Pretending to be someone else to alleviate stress and give developed answers during the Speaking test

‘No … maybe … Well, I don’t really know what to add here …’

Lack of ideas, a melancholic shrug of shoulders, an indignant raise of eyebrows. IELTS teachers and trainers have seen it all.

The thing is, even though all IELTS Speaking tasks are carefully chosen to cover student-friendly and everyday topics, some of them prove to be more challenging than others.

Two practice questions I might use with my students are:

  • 'Do you like eating cooked food that has fruit in it?‘
  • ‘Would you ever change the colour of your hair?’

Both questions can provoke the response described above. Truth be told, these are not the questions you would usually ponder and not everyone is ready to give an elaborate answer even in their first language, let alone, during an exam!

How can IELTS teachers help their students to come up with answers to any question?

As with everything, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every student needs an individual approach.

One thing I have tried is asking my students to pretend to be someone else.

Using your imagination to defuse tension and concentrate on the content is hardly a new idea. For example, imagining your audience is made up of good friends while giving a talk is advice that we are all familiar with.

However, it may be difficult for test takers to imagine Examiners as good friends, especially in a test environment. Therefore, I took things a step further and I asked one of my particularly reticent students to use his imagination to channel TV characters of his choice.

One ‘success’ story

Reading my students’ favourite books and watching their favourite films is what I normally do to be able to make our lessons more personalised and engaging.

The student I mentioned wasn’t a big fan of books, but he was really fond of the American TV series The Office. He was always happy to retell what happened in the episode we watched and was enthusiastic about role-playing scenes from the series. However, when it came to answering IELTS questions, the spark in his eyes often faded. He was trying to think of his life experiences, couldn’t find the right ones, and it inevitably made him nervous.

Being asked to act like his beloved TV characters (he’d watched the series in his first language before the course as well) led to staggering results.

To compare, it went roughly like this:


‘Do you like eating cooked food that has fruit in it?’

‘Well, yes … fruit is good, you won’t be obese’ (trying to think of vocabulary we have covered).

After (conjuring up Dwight Schrute from The Office):

‘Oh no, it’s disgusting to combine fruit with something else. You must eat them raw. I have a big farm and I eat all my vegetables and fruit uncooked.’

Suddenly and miraculously, the focus shifted from being tested under pressure to thinking of something that put him in a good mood.

To add another layer of ‘fun,’ we used a Wordwall wheel to choose what character to exploit.

Wordwall wheel to choose what character to exploit

And I tried to guess which character the student was emulating.

For example:

‘Would you ever change the colour of your hair?’

‘No, I don’t think so. I’m a very handsome man and I don’t want to change anything.’

‘OK, you are being Dwight Schrute.’

In a nutshell, the fluency increased, and the student was more at ease while being interviewed.

Separate to that, I also asked him to do shadowing while watching the series (listening and repeating) and to write down 1–2 words from every episode (trying to work out the meaning from the context, making other examples with the words, etc.).

It did help to improve his pronunciation and expand his vocabulary to some extent (unfortunately, he didn’t always have time and energy for extra practice, otherwise, the results could have been even better).

Further experiments

Now, with the introduction of AI tools, I have thought of more ways to draw on the achieved results.

For instance, I tried asking Chat GPT to answer IELTS questions pretending to be Dwight Schrute:

Chat GPT answer to IELTS questions pretending to be Dwight Schrute

The given answer could be used for the student to guess the character (as we did before) or to guess if it’s a real quote from the series. It will help the student to generate their own ideas, I believe.

You can also ask Chat GPT and your students to paraphrase the answer using simple English. You can then compare their results.

Chat GPT answer to IELTS questions pretending to be Dwight Schrute
Chat GPT answer to IELTS questions pretending to be Dwight Schrute

Moreover, you can turn these quotes into listening practice by using text-to-speech converters.

In other words, there are plenty of ways of using films and series, as long as you see that it brings joy to your students and they are making better progress.

Natalia Larchenko, Italy
English language teacher at International House Milan
Winner of IELTS Morgan Terry Memorial IATEFL Scholarship 2023

With special thanks to my friend Olga Snitkova for opening up a wonderful world of IATEFL to me.