Learn and Teach Medical English Through Role Play

Role play, when done correctly, is an excellent method for teaching English to people of various professions, specifically when the knowledge of the student in their field is beyond the knowledge of the teacher.  This happens in many cases, such as with lawyers, financial specialists, doctors, etc.  In the previous article I wrote on how to learn medical English I speak about some of the challenges that both the teacher and the student face. In this article, I will show, in as much detail as possible, how I use role play with Medical English students of various specialties.

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Google Doc Teaching English Example

This is an example google document used when teaching one of my students. The top sentences are error correction and then some instruction on using the phrasal verb “tied up” followed by clarification about the spelling of days of the week.

The main tools:

I have organized my classes to teach over Skype to students from around the world.  In some classes I also use “gotomeeting” which is a professional meeting software that gives high quality video and audio in both one to one classes and groups.  Secondly, I always have a shared Google Document between the student and myself. This document allows me to write and the student to see it live, or vise versa. It saves automatically meaning that the student can go back any time they wish to see the document, make notes, print it, review it, etc. 

Before the class:

Before the class I ask the medical professional (who I will refer to as “student”) to please email me with a senerio, the kind that they might encounter in the medical field and with which they practice.  It is important to note that as a teacher I do not need to know all the medical terms or have precise knowledge of the topic.  What I need is a basic understanding and good acting skills.

Learn Medical English Role Play Example

This email was sent to me by a student with the specific details that I will need as a teacher to participate in the role play.

I have attached here an example of a student´s email to me about the role play which we will do.  This comes from a student from the Netherlands who specializes in hip-surgery.  You can see that with some basic studying I can get an idea of the role that I will play in our next class.

Class time:

The double role of the teacher: 

As a teacher I now have 2 roles which I will play.  I explain this to the student.  On one hand I will be the character in our role play, in the case the young lady who is accompanying her grandmother to the hospital.  On the other hand I will be the note taker.  As we do our role play I will be taking notes in the Google Document whenever I hear something that sounds a little strange or is not expressed correctly in English.  I ask the student not to look at these notes in the moment.  Our role play will last about 10 minutes and after it is completed we will review the notes.

Dealing with the difficult to understand themes/topics/vocabulary:  

I know very little about hips.  I took a quick look over some of the information that was sent to me by the student before the class, but in general my knowledge is very limited.  This is ok and does not harm the learning of the class.  Why? Because my role in this play is to be the young woman who must help her grandmother, speak with the doctor (my student) and make decisions. Just like in real life I am going to ask a lot of questions.  I want to be sure that any decision I make about my grandmother´s surgery is the right one.  I want to know the risks.  I want all of these things clearly explained to me.  This means that the student (doctor) will have to explain to me in English, just like he would in a real situation, everything I need to understand as a patient.

Reviewing the Notes: 

When the role play has come to an end I become the teacher again.  I ask my student to look at the notes that I have taken with me.  Now I am able to step in as a teacher and help him/her with the specific areas of English they need.  It´s not uncommon that doctors are needing to work specifically with conditional sentences and phrasal verbs.

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