Act to avoid trouble

Yuka Iijima and Kyoko Okamoto, International Christian University

Quick Guide

Key Words: Learner training, college skills, problem solving, role playing
Learner English Level: Intermediate to advanced
Learner Maturity Level: University
Preparation Time: Varies
Activity Time: One class
Materials: Worksheets: cases 1 & 2 (see below).

According to the interactional view, language is considered a "vehicle for the realization of interpersonal relations and for the performances of social transactions between individuals" (Richards & Rogers, 1986, p. 17). For college students, successful social interaction with their teachers and peers is crucial for academic development and success. However, students sometimes run into unexpected trouble, or unintentionally bother their teachers, because they lack appropriate language and social skills. To help college freshmen improve those skills and avoid unnecessary misunderstandings, or confrontations with their teachers and peers, we developed a series of activities called "Act to Avoid Trouble." Each activity includes a case study, giving students the opportunity to role play and discuss a problem that they might face on campus. Although a teacher could easily just tell students what to do and what not to do in an academic context, engaging students in role playing and problem solving allows such information to emerge through experience and discussion. Among the series of activities, the following two case studies, Plagiarism and Visiting a Teacher's Office, can be easily adapted to many English communication classes for freshmen.

Case 1: Plagiarism

Your friend from another section comes to you and desperately asks you to show him or her your written assignment. Your friend forgot to do the homework. He or she says: I will not copy your writing. I just want to borrow some ideas. The deadline is today, but I do not have time to think of my own ideas.

What would you say to your friend?


When students enter university, most already have some idea about academic misconduct. Their understanding, however, is usually related only to test taking. The purpose of this activity is to clarify the concept of plagiarism in the context of homework assignments.


Step 1: Ask students two questions: What is plagiarism? and What could happen to you if you are involved in plagiarism? Elicit ideas from students, and then give a brief lecture on the university policy on academic misconduct. To make the activity more authentic to students' own campus life, explain some actual cases of plagiarism that have occurred at their university in the past.

Step 2: Distribute case 1. Students read case 1.

Step 3: Divide students into small groups and take turns role playing the two characters in case 1.

Step 4: After the activity, students share how they felt while acting out the roles and observing others and discuss possible solutions to the problem.

Step 5: Each group shares the results of their discussion with the rest of the class.

Step 6: The class develops their suggestions for solving the problem. Here are some possible solutions generated by students.

  1. 1Directly say "no" and sincerely explain the reason why.
  2. Offer to go to the teacher's office with the friend and help him or her ask the teacher to extend the deadline.
  3. Tell the student that your ideas are not good and that you do not want to show them to anyone else except the teacher.
  4. Show surprise, "How could you ask me such a thing?" and walk away from the situation.

Step 7: In each group, students role play the two characters in case 1 again to utilize the learned techniques and language expressions.

Step 8: Follow up as a whole class, comparing students' feelings before the first and after the second role play.

Case 2: Visiting a Teacher's Office

Ichiro was absent from yesterday's class. He wants to know what the class did, and if there were any handouts or homework. He sees his teacher's office door is closed. He knocks on the door, walks into the office, and asks: Excuse me, I have a question. I missed your class yesterday. What did you do in class?

If you were Ichiro, how would you talk to your teacher?


This case study is intended to make students realize what behavior appears inappropriate and impolite to teachers. This activity not only helps students develop social skills that are expected in common teacher-student interactions, but it also deals with the choice of language expressions according to formality or informality of social relationships.


Step 1: Students read case 2 and individually identify the problems in Ichiro's behavior and language use.

Step 2: Divide students into small groups. Students role play Ichiro and the teacher in turn.

Step 3: Students share their feelings and opinions about Ichiro's behavior with each other.

Step 4: Finally, they discuss how to change Ichiro's inappropriate behavior and language use into more acceptable forms.

Step 5: In a class discussion, students hear from other groups how they analyzed the situation and made it more acceptable. The following comments identify possible strategies Ichiro could take to remedy the situation.

  1. Apologize first about missing class.
  2. Do not open the door until he is told to come in. The teacher might be talking on the telephone.
  3. Say his name and his class to the teacher before asking questions. The teacher may not know who he is.
  4. Ask the teacher if they have time to talk at that moment.

Step 4: In each group, students role play again to try out the new strategies and appropriate language and compare their feelings about the first and the second role plays.


The activities described above can provide opportunities for students to experience and discuss possible problems that might occur in their academic lives. Role playing can help students realize the complexities of the problem and integrate the new knowledge of social and language skills in action; problem solving can train their thinking skills and coping abilities. Our students commented that these activities raised their overall awareness and taught them to anticipate situations that they had not thought of previously. We hope freshmen acquire necessary language and college skills at the beginning of their academic lives and are able to pursue their goals without unnecessary trouble.


Richards, J. C., & Rogers, T. S. (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.