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15 fun complaining and dealing with complaints activities

Alex Case
Stimulating classroom practice for the language of making and receiving complaints, with complaining and dealing with complaints games

Having to complain and deal with other people’s complaints can be difficult even in L1, let alone in another language and with cultural differences. Luckily, in the classroom, complaints can be one of the most amusing topics, and also this subject also connects well to loads of nice language. This article gives 15 ways of making the topic manageable, fun and useful.

Dealing with complaints jigsaw activities

Students can put together phrases or exchanges related to complaints in several different ways:

  • matching up a split apology + reason why it happened + promise of future action
  • matching complaints and responses to them (by topic, formality, etc)
  • putting together whole exchanges related to a complaint (e.g. an email exchange about a terrible package holiday, including about ten emails in total, maybe mixed with a different exchange about a comedy club)

Endless complaints game

One student picks a situation such as “You bought a car” or “You read a newspaper website” and roleplays making as many different complaints as they can related to that topic until they run out of ideas. To score, you could give one point for each complaint, plus one point for each response that is good and uses a different reason and future action from the other responses. This can be made more challenging and fun by including situations where it is difficult to find much to complain about like “You bought an eraser” and/ or students choosing subjects at random.

Complaints guessing games

Guess the situation from the complaint

One student chooses a situation from a list such as “In a hotel” or “Renting a car” but doesn’t say which they selected. They then make typical complaints about that thing until other people guess what the situation is, then they can discuss the best responses to those complaints.

Guess the complaint from the responses

Give students a list of complaints such as “There is a fly in my soup” and “The toilet is blocked”. One student secretly chooses one and gives responses to that complaint like “Actually Sir, I think you will find that is a raisin” and “I’m so sorry about that. Perhaps the last guest put something down it. I’ll move you to another room right away” until the other people guess which complaint they chose. They could then discuss what they think the best response would be.  

Dealing with complaints roleplays

Complaints and dealing with complaints problem roleplays

This topic is usually challenging and amusing enough without needing any complications, but students who would benefit from an extra bit of both could do roleplays like “Refuse to accept responsibility or take any action” and “Complain again about something else (soon after the first complaint has been resolved)”.

Dealing with complaints step-by-step roleplays

Students progress from very simple roleplays like “Student B apologises, gives a reason and promises future action, and Student A is happy with that”, through slightly more difficult ones like “Student B has to clarifying what exactly the complaint is before dealing with it”, to very difficult ones like “Student B very politely suggests that Student A is actually to blame”. This is particularly good in mixed classes, as groups who find it easy will quickly progress to the more challenging and amusing roleplays.

Dealing with complaints board game

The step-by-step roleplays above can be made into a board game by putting on stage in each square. These roleplay squares can be mixed up with or replaced by squares with situations to complain in, levels of formality, phrases to use, and/ or keywords to use. Students progress around the board by how well they deal with a complaint while keeping to what is written in the square they are on. Their performance can be judged either from a ranking (“Dealt with perfectly = move on six squares”, etc) or from a list of criteria (“The right level of formality = one square”, etc).

Complaints cultural differences and useful phrases

Students mark descriptions and matching phrases like “Complaints often use giving bad news language – Unfortunately, the smart speaker you sold me doesn’t seem to be working” with countries or cultures where they think that is common. They then try to write accompanying useful phrases on a second worksheet with those parts blanked out.

Dealing with complaints line by line brainstorming

Make a longish exchange involving complaints such as one where the first suggested action is not accepted, and put it into a one-column table so that each line is in one box. Pairs of students cover the page so they can only see the first line of the conversation, brainstorm what could be coming next, choose the most likely, then reveal just the next box to check. They continue in the same way until the end of the conversation or email exchange, always brainstorming before revealing the next part.

Complaints coin games

A coin can be used to decide if:

  • it will be a big complaint (heads) or small complaint (tails)
  • they should repeat a complaint they’ve really had in real life (heads) or never had (tails)
  • they should complain by email (heads) or phone (tails)
  • it is a formal situation like a company complaining to a supplier (heads) or an informal one such as between housemates (tails)
  • they should take action in response (heads) or just be sympathetic (tails)

Dealing with complaints politeness competition

Give students rude complaints and responses like “I demand a refund!” and “It’s not our fault”. They choose one and take turns making it more and more polite (usually meaning longer and longer), until no one can go any further. They discuss which is probably best of those different options in real life, then do the same with other examples.

Dealing with other language by dealing with complaints

The topic and language of complaints can be tied together with other points such as countable and uncountable nouns (“My room doesn’t have any natural light”), there is/ are (“There’s an alligator in…”), past tenses (“I was planning to sunbathe but…”), and quantifiers (“There are several cracks in it”).

Written by Alex Case for
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers

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