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Teaching students’ dialogical speech through role plays

Statistically, the English language takes the second place after Chinese according to the number of people speaking it. It is a language of international relations, negotiations and business. English is a means for connecting nations and people. Not surprisingly, learning the English language is one of the priorities of the Kazakhstani educational system, as it goes within the President’s trilingual policy. In his speech within Kazakhstan developing Strategy 2050, in regard to English, the President stressed that this language is necessary to represent the country on the world stage. "Out of 10 million books, which are published in the world, 85% are in English. The latest data in science and information technology is published in English. Today 3,500 foreign companies operate in Kazakhstan. We need a language to communicate and cooperate with them,"stated the President [1].

Thus, we need to know English to provide communications and to be able to converse. That is why, the Foreign Language discipline is peculiar, therefore, learners are aimed at not just acquiring knowledge of the language system, that includes grammar, lexis and phonetics, but also mastering the speech activity in a foreign language as a means of intercultural communication, that results in forming a multilingual and multicultural personality. A student should be able to orient in a lack of language resources and solve communicative problems. Forming communicative competence is one of the aims of the Foreign language discipline.

According to the Study program for the major “Foreign Language: 2 foreign languages”, students should master speaking and dialogical skills properly. The students should be able to use a combined dialogue (combination of different types of dialogue) in the process of communication on the basis of new topics and expanded vocabulary in situations of formal and informal communication, using arguments, emotional and evaluation tools. They should easily engage in everyday conversations, exchange information, clarify it, seek briefings, express their attitude towards stated and debated issues. Another ability to acquire is to talk when discussing books, films, television and radio programs and to adapt to the individual and cultural features of a communication partner. Moreover, the students should relate nonverbal means (gestures, facial expressions, posture, etc.) with the communication situation. The volume of their dialogues should be up to 15-20 replicas from each communicant.

In addition, the students should be able to discuss relevant issues of the conversations, following the rules of speech etiquette. They should be ready to participate in polylogs and discussions in compliance with the speech norms and rules adopted in the countries of the studied language, querying and sharing information, expressing and arguing their point of view, asking an interlocutor and clarifying his or her views and perspectives, taking lead in the conversation, making explanations and supplements, expressing emotional attitude to that being expressed, discussed, read or seen [2].

All these mean that students should be prepared to face a real life communication situation and be ready to react and communicate adequately in it.

The main function of a language is to provide communication: to express and receive information. So, language is not as much about rules and grammar it is mostly about interacting, speaking and conversing. A person is meant to know language when he\she can communicate in this language efficiently. However, there always is a problem for students to communicate fluently because of so called language barrier which is mostly present in speaking. Students can be perfect at reading, listening and grammar but they will fail to speak and improvise in an unprepared situation. Some other problems of meaningful speaking are in asking for information, breaking in, presenting the information in order to define the main problem, expressing negative attitude politely, saying tactfully, changing the subject, guessing, expressing arguments, etc. [3].

This means that the great importance belongs to developing students’ ability to communicate in a dialogue. Dialogue is a conversation between at least two people who share their views, opinions and replicas answering questions and giving responds. There are several types of dialogues according to the aim of the conversation and message transmitting. They are as follow:

  • notification message;
  • question message;
  • motivation message;
  • agreement message;
  • question and answer to the question;
  • question and counter-question;
  • greeting – greeting;
  • goodbye message;
  • thanking – respond message.

In general, dialogue speech has a number of peculiarities, namely, diversity of types and topics; situational character that means it depends on the situation and has spontaneous nature. Also interlocutors mostly use short statements and often simplified grammar that need to be paid special attention in the English teaching class. Some other features are limited time, use of conversational clichés, anticipation mechanism [4].

Actually, the process of conducting a dialogue involves four stages:

  1. Production of utterance;
  2. Reception of utterance;
  3. Evaluation of utterance;
  4. Response to utterance.

Reception of utterance and response to it are anticipated by speakers/writers even before they happen, because when one speaks one is already speaking in ways that take into consideration how another one will react or respond. Indeed, at some level, the mere act of speaking presupposes a respondent and therefore it already responds. Dialogue happens, then, not just as a verbal back-and-forth. It also happens as a complex feedback system inherently social in character [5].

As a matter of fact, the dialogue is a product of at least two persons. Therefore, in this view, dialogic speech, unlike monologic speech, happens impromptu and is not prepared in advance. Often, this becomes the main difficulty for the majority of students, as they fail to improvise and use their knowledge in a practical situation.

Another difficulty in dialogical speech is that a student should not only react but also give a stimulus in his turn for his companion. Other way it will be only a series of questions and answers, and the dialogue will be far from natural one. Dialogue plays a central role because it is a medium through which participants are able to share their conceptions, verify or test their understanding, and identify areas of common knowledge or difference [3].

To teach dialogical speech is difficult as a dialogue needs alternate use of students’ abilities to understand the speaker and then to express their own thoughts and ideas. Dialogic speech is mainly of situational character. The linguistic nature of dialogic speech lies in the process of exchanging replications, which are coherent in structural and functional character. The basic goal of dialogic speech teaching is developing the abilities and skills which enable to exchange replications. Other necessary skills are to be good at listening while receiving information and be fluent at speaking to reply. This should be two way communication, not an examination.

The most common notion in the literature studied is that for mastering any language it is necessary to develop speech skills through different training exercises and speech practice. The foreign authors distinguish two basic stages of dialogic speech teaching. The first is training of abilities to exchange replications during communicative exercises. The second is developing the skills by training the capability to perform exercises of creative nature during a group dialogue, conversation or debate [6].

Oral speech in the classroom should be always stimulated and encouraged. Teachers often try to develop students communicative skills through the exercises directed to memorizing and grinding the words, paradigms and grammar rules but the attention also should be paid to training the components of communication, not only to translating some speech patterns from one language to another. There are dialogues offered by the text book which are recommended to be learnt by heart. Students learn them like a poem, however, after they are not able to use the same models in their spontaneous speech. Students have difficulties in using the speech items they have learnt in communicative patterns. Therefore, such types of activities are not efficient in activating speaking skills.

For developing spontaneous communicative skill students need a series of synthetic exercises which can reproduce communicative model in the required situation or context. In this context, modern interactive techniques become definitely relevant and efficient. One of such techniques is role play games that provide the atmosphere close to real life situation, provoke students’ creative and performing skills and encourage them to speak. Such kind of communication activities gives students practice in using the language under controlled conditions.

Role-playing games is one of the main methods that ensure active participation, involvement, experimentation and discovery in learning. It gives students the opportunity to go through all the stages of the learning cycle, including the learning through training, performing some tasks, the embodiment of theory into practice, repetition (review) and feedback. It is a very flexible method that can be used to put into a lesson something real and practical. Role-playing games are used in many situations, contributing to the development of interpersonal skills. For example, in conversation, conflict resolution, in the work relating to people, and develops students' confidence in them [7].

Role playing is a kind of game methods based on the simulation of social roles in the process of solving educational and professional goals. In the conditions of role-playing game learner faces situations that are not typical for his\her real activities and roles, and where he\she is forced to change their communication skills. Effectiveness of the training is provided by the fact that a person is better able to absorb the knowledge, skills and abilities in situations, when he\she has to accept a social role, previously not known to him / her. Moreover, being in someone else’s role reduces psychological tension and increases creativity [8].

Thus, role plays can be successfully implemented in teaching dialogical skills, because in a role play both language and other communication methods are used in the game in a way that learning becomes an integral part of the task. Acting out scenes from everyday life, especially those situations in which a new lexical material is involved, students get the opportunity to use the language in a free and entertaining manner. These activities develop fluency. To help students to speak on different topics, teachers may give them topical patterns, provide special worksheets and essential vocabulary lists, so all the students can be involved into conversation. Later the students will be able to transfer the patterns on their topics.

Role-playing games help to develop communicative skills. In many situations a communicative task is the goal, which is assigned in the specific conditions of communication, from which it is clear who is speaking, to whom, about what, under what circumstances and why. Most of the communicative tasks are based on dramatization. Intensive methods made sketches and role plays pretty common. It is because dramatization is an accurate model of the true communication, which saves its main features. Therefore, role plays provide safe environment, where participants can practice or rehearse new language models, practice their speaking skills, making mistakes without being afraid or embarrassed, without terrible consequences. This is practice without troubles. And any role play is a great possibility to provide experiments and put theory into practice [7].

As a role playing game can be structured or spontaneous it can help not only to train grammatical or lexical patterns, but also make students give impromptu speeches. The participants should not only speak according to their roles and the goal of their communication, but also react to the partner’s lines, show understanding, empathy, mercy using special vocabulary and change behavior and relationships via discovering other points of view, roles or feelings.

Another positive aspect of a role play is an opportunity to receive feedback and discuss all the advantages and drawbacks of the conversation and find the ways to avoid disadvantages in future talks. In addition, role play games provide an opportunity to rehearse a real situation from the participants’ life or an event which they can face once. This helps to get students prepared to a communication situation, form their awareness about it and practice to dialogue in it.

Unfortunately, we can point out some impediments of role playing games in teaching. First of all, participants can feel inconvenient because of the necessity to act a role in front of the audience, lack of confidence in their abilities to perform the role, lack of information about the role or situation. Also, passivity may occur if only few people take part in a game, but others only watch. The problem can be solved if observers are given concrete tasks, instructions or question, they have to answer in the end. As we stated that feedback is a good way to work on drawbacks, the quality of feedback can depend on the observing skills of participants and some offences can occur if the feedback was indelicate or, on the contrary, observers can be afraid to insult his \her feelings and will not give fair respond [9]. That is why, teacher should provide good, friendly atmosphere, in which everyone will be free to act. The participants also should be thought to accept constructive critics and consider it as a motive for further improvement.

In spite of these negative aspects we can add some more advantages. For example, a role play is an interesting and unusual type of teaching exercises, which is not only useful in training dialogic speech, but also can help developing interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Thus, it helps to improve the feeling of empa-

thy, initiative and responsibility and develop self-confidence. Due to its game nature a role play disposes indifference and helps to remove barriers in the classroom, consequently, the group becomes united. Also, students get more in-depth understanding of the course material and gain necessary skills for in-and-out-ofclassroom communication. Overall, using role plays in teaching, teachers train students to be able to use their newly learned knowledge for the solution of important problems [9].

Indeed, many of the things we do in our everyday life are related with language. For instance, we talk about our favorite hobbies, we have interviews, we purchase a service, we talk about our feelings, we suffer a disease and complain about it, we give health advice, we recommend a product or buy something, we describe places and so on. While learning a language students should be given an opportunity to try themselves in a communicative situation close to real life without learnt scenarios and written lines. Students should be able to meet a foreigner in their local city and explain him the direction to the hotel; or come to a foreign country and be able to make purchases or book a flight ticket. This can be successfully achieved if the students get the ability to “go through” such situation, which can be provided by a role play game. All the essential vocabulary, small-talk phrases and special lines for responding and emphasizing will be better learnt through practice. In methodological aspect: role plays as a task based focus are a part of a language teaching method centered in actions, because it considers the students learning the language as members of a society that has tasks that need to be done within a series of specific circumstances, in a specific environment and inside a specific field of action. Therefore, language is closely related to tasks, so language teaching should incorporate those tasks and aim to produce the language for those specific tasks [10].

Moreover, in a role playing lesson there is increased involvement on the part of the students, who become not passive recipients of the instructor’s knowledge. Rather, they take an active part. Poorman (2002) observes that “true learning cannot take place when students are passive observers of the teaching process”.

In addition, the educational advantages from using role-play in teaching include the following ideas. It encourages individuals, while in role, to reflect upon their knowledge of a subject. As such, role-play is an excellent teaching method for reviewing material at the end of a course of study. It gives life and immediacy to academic material that can be largely descriptive and/or theoretical. Also, a role play can encourage students to empathize with the position and feelings of others something that, in the normal process of teaching, is likely to be missed [11].

To achieve good result at teaching dialogical speech through role plays a teacher should structure the lesson, typically involving the following steps:

  1. Preparing. On this stage students should review the essential vocabulary, and remember the real-life situation related to the content, and discuss the context of the role play.
  2. Modeling and eliciting. This step allows demonstrating the stages typically involved in the transaction, eliciting suggestions for how each stage can be carried out, and teaching the functional language needed for each stage.
  3. Practicing and reviewing. On this stage students are assigned their roles and they practice the role play using cue cards or worksheets to provide language and other support.

During the lesson the teacher should comply with the following principles:

  1. Organizing spatial environment reasonable and adequate to gaming activity. The playing field must liberate the student, rather than create additional difficulties.
  2. A player should be given an opportunity to express him/herself in different roles according to individual (intellectual and creative) abilities.
  3. Teaching interaction should be provided in the conditions of "normalization", i.e. in strict compliance with the norms and rules formulated by the teacher.
  4. Decision-making teaching requires a sufficiently strong compliance of the regulations and the availability of the element of uncertainty in the information, and the development of progressive (based on an objective criteria) approaches to collective decisionmaking.
  5. Compulsory participation of all students in the whole cycle of gaming sessions.

Following these principles will make the lesson, based on role playing game method, effective and productive.

Drawing up a conclusion, it is necessary to emphasize that a role play game is an efficient tool in teaching dialogical skills. Students can better practice their dialogue speeches in a role play due to its numerous advantages, namely, providing favorable atmosphere for creativity and ability to be someone and play a role; enhancing students’ interest and motivation and improving the efficiency of a lesson; providing the situational context with a necessity to solve a task. Thus, a Role playing-based lesson aimed at developing dialogical skills is quite efficient and reflects the general concept and need of modern Kazakhstani teaching. It can become that “qualitative ‘breakthrough’ in the English language studying” which the President spoke about in his speech. “Eventually, it will provide every Kazakhstani citizen with new boundless opportunities in life” and such a modern technique will benefit the whole communication process.


  1. www.strategy2050.kz
  2. Study program for the major “Foreign language: 2 foreign languages”. Almaty, 2011.
  3. Kuznetsova A.Sozaeva Ye. The Development of Oral Dialogical Speech Skill in the Intermediate Level
  4. http://www.mindomo.com/
  5. Scholtz A. Speech-Act Theory, Dialogical Theory, Democracy, for “Persuasion in Ancient Greece”
  6. Vida Asanavičienė, Nijolė Žegūnienė. Priorities оf Dialogic Speech Teaching Methodology аt Higher Non-Linguistic School, 2010
  7. Pfeiffer and Jones, “Annual guidebook for teachers”, 1983
  8. Morry van Ments, “The Effective use of Role-Play”, London, 1999
  9. ICMA/ USAID, Project "Development of local self-government in Kazakhstan", Guidebook “Teacher’s teaching”, 2004
  10. http://www.hablayapanama.com/ 11. Lori Jarvis, Kathryn Odell, and Mike Troiano. Role-Playing as a Teaching Strategy, 2002.

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