How to review functional language

Alex Case
Fun and manageable lesson ideas for reviewing lots of useful functions like requesting, offering, apologising and thanking

Although common functions like requests and enquiries are well worth a whole lesson each, there are also advantages to big reviews of important functional language, including:

  • being able to deal with functions that are worth covering but aren’t worth a whole lesson on their own (such as giving good news)
  • being able to contrast different functions that may be confused (the command and offer functions of “Please + verb”, apologising and giving bad news, etc)
  • finding out students’ weak points (to work on one-by-one in future classes)
  • revising the most important functional language that you have covered

This article gives ideas on how to make such potentially overwhelming reviews both manageable and fun.

Functions review needs analysis and instant practice

As part of a needs analysis interview, get students to tell each other about their need to introduce themselves, be sympathetic, etc in English. Then ask them to roleplay situations in which they have to do those things, with their partner as their customer, their colleague, etc.  

Functional language review mimes

A surprising amount of functional language can be matched with mimes such as the gestures we sometimes use to interrupt, to give other people the chance to speak, and to stop interruptions. If you give students typical phrases for each function, they can work together to think of suitable accompanying gestures, ask other people to say the phrases that go with the gestures they make, then brainstorm suitable phrases into a blank table with the names of the same functions as headings.

Functional language meeting criteria board game

Students move around a board with names of functions, situations in which to communicate (e.g. “in a hotel”), levels of formality, etc written in each square. Their partner evaluates them on if their speaking matched certain criteria, with how many criteria they meet being the number of squares that they can then move, e.g. the right function = 1 point, the right level of formality = 1 point, language that no one else has used during the game = 1 point, and good responses to what other people say = 1 point. 

Functional language response matching

Make a table with around 10 phrases with different functions and three different possible responses for each, e.g. “Please help yourself to drinks” “Thanks. That’s very kind”/ “Thanks but I just had one”/ “Thank you. Would you like one of these snacks in return?” for offers. The functions you want to practise can be in the prompt phrases on the left and/ or the responses. Cut up the cards and ask students to match the responses to each. They can then brainstorm responses for each prompt phrase, try to use the same cards in communication, etc.

Functional language review dominoes

Make a list of phrases with advice, a complaint, an enquiry etc, and a reply for each one (“I really think you should look for another job” “That’s a good idea. I might give that a try”, etc). Make the phrases and replies into dominoes with the prompt phrases on the right half and responses to different prompt phrases on the left half of each domino, set up so that they make a circle when they are put together properly. Students work together to put all the dominoes together in that way, then maybe play a more competitive game of dominoes.

Instead of functional language phrases and responses, it is also possible for students to match up two phrases with the same function, e.g. the formal phrases on the right of each domino with the informal phrases of the same kind on the left of each.

Functional language dice games

Students roll a dice to decide what roleplays they will take part in, with each number representing one or more of:

  • What function to use (1 = asking for permission, 2 = giving opinions, 3 = interrupting, etc)
  • What level of formality to use (1 = very casual, 2 = casual, 3 = medium-formality, 4 = formal, 5 = very formal, 6 = free choice)
  • How to communicate (1 = telephone, 2 = email, 3 = online chat, 4 = face to face, 5 = online meeting/ video conference, 6 = free choice)

For some functions, you might also be able to use dice to decide the situation (1 = at work, etc) and/ or how positive or negative the responses will be (1 = very positive, 2 = positive, 3 = neutral/ changing your mind, 4 = negative, 5 = very negative, 6 = free choice).

Functional language coin games

A coin can be used to decide which of two functions they should use (heads = giving good news, tails = giving bad news, etc), which of two situations they should roleplay (heads = you are a prospective customer, tails = you are a supplier contacted by a prospective customer, etc), what the responses should be (heads = positive, tails = negative), and/ or what level of formality they should use (heads = formal, tails = informal).

Functional language roleplay cards

Students can take cards which say names of functions, levels of formality, situations to roleplay, and/ or vocabulary they should use in their phrases.

Functional language roleplay card pelmanism

Using roleplay cards is more challenging and more fun if they have to combine at least two of those each time, e.g. putting together the word “extra” with the function “ask for permission”. Unlike normal pelmanism, this should probably start with the cards face up, as it will be too challenging otherwise.

Functional language exchanges jigsaw

Write one email for each function that you want to practise, e.g. one email giving bad news, one email demanding action, and one email making a request, perhaps with a reply to each. Make sure that each email has suitable starting and ending, preferably in a way that makes it different from the others (e.g. ending the demanding action email with “Thank you for your cooperation”). The emails can then be split into two and/ or be split from the matching response emails. After students put the emails and/ or email exchanges back together, they can then roleplay similar exchanges. 

Something similar can also be done with short dialogues.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub
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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