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Applied Linguistics Review

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Transforming instruction to activity: Roleplay in language assessment

Gabriele Kasper
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, 1890 East-West Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA
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/ Soo Jung Youn
Published Online: 2017-05-05 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0020


Roleplay is used as a method for education and training, assessment, and research across a wide range of academic and occupational domains, including applied linguistics. In the assessment of speaking and pragmatic competence, roleplay is used to examine how test takers produce and understand social action-in-interaction and in this way overcomes the problem of “construct under-representation”. Roleplay is also chosen for assessment purposes because it accommodates the opposing needs for authenticity and standardization in the design of assessment instruments. While the research literature is mainly concerned with the issue of how roleplay corresponds to real-life interaction, this study asks the more fundamental question of how participants manage to produce roleplays as intelligible unfolding social scenes in the first place. Specifically it explores how the roleplay setup becomes interactionally consequential in roleplays designed to assess the interactional competence of students in an English for academic purposes program. From the joint perspectives of conversation analysis and membership categorization analysis, the study demonstrates how the roleplay participants mobilize their generic and setting-specific interactional competences to accomplish the scenario as a shared practical activity. It shows how the participants jointly “talk the institution into being”, and what details from the setup they treat as necessary, optional, or dispensable. In this way the study reveals the local endogenous order of roleplay as a device for knowledge generation, training, and assessment and spawns further topics for research on roleplay design and interactional competence in a language assessment context.

Keywords: conversation analysis; interactional competence; membership categorization analysis; oral language assessment; roleplay


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-05-05

Published in Print: 2018-10-25

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, Volume 9, Issue 4, Pages 589–616, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0020.

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