Fun Apologising Activities

Alex Case
Entertaining presentation and practice for the essential skill of saying sorry, including apologising games


Few things are more important in another country than knowing how to apologise, especially given the cultural booboos and other mistakes that you are likely to make in a place which you are not from. Few syllabuses give much room to this essential part of conversational English, so this article gives some entertaining lesson ideas with which to present and practise apologising.

Note that the activities below usually need students to use full apologies with the pattern “apology, reason why it happened, promise of future action” (as is common in English).

Presenting the language of apologies games

Apologies jigsaws

Make around six to twelve examples of different apologies, each of which has the three-part format “say sorry + give a reason for it happening + promise a future action to make up for it and/ or stop it happening again”. It’s best if they each have quite different topics/ situations, and a range of different levels of formality. Split each apology into three parts so that its parts could not be combined with those of any other (because they don’t make sense, have different topics, have different levels of formality, don’t fit grammatically, are not common collocations, etc). Cut up and mix up the cards, and ask students to put them back together. They can then underline useful language for the three parts of apologising and/ or deal out the cards, choose just one, and roleplay a situation using those words.

Apologies pairwork matching

Create about ten full apologies and split each in half in a way which means they don’t go well with any of the other halves. Put the first halves on a Student A worksheet and the second halves on a Student B worksheet, and ask pairs of students to match them up without showing their worksheets to each other (by the situation that they seem to have been used in, collocations, level of politeness, following the three-part pattern mentioned above, etc).

You could also do something similar with descriptions of the situation on one worksheet and the best language for each situation mixed up on the other.

Apologies cultural differences and useful phrases

Students read descriptions like “In business, employees are usually told to be sympathetic instead of actually apologising, so the apology cannot be taken as an admission of guilt and so encourage legal action” and accompanying phrases like “‘I’m really sorry to hear that” and “That sounds terrible”. Students label each description with what countries they know them to be true in. After discussing which are and aren’t common in their country, they can be tested on their memory of the accompanying useful phrases.

Apologies simplest responses

Students listen to language related to apologies and race to show what they think they have heard by holding up cards saying which of two categories they think each thing goes in, for example:

  • “An apology” or “Not an apology” (for giving bad news, sympathy, thanking for being told about it, etc)
  • “Formal apology” or “Informal apology”
  • “Apology” or “Reason or future action” (for the parts that usually go with the apology)
  • “Apologising” or “Being apologised to”

Practising the language of apologies games

Guess the situation from the apologies game

One student chooses a situation and says different possible apologies in that situation (usually including reasons why it happened and/ or future actions) until their partner guesses what the situation is. After taking turns doing this with some example situations, they can do so with their own ideas.

Although it is trickier, you can also do the same with people roleplaying both sides of the apologising conversation and someone else listening and guessing what is going on.

Apologies turn taking game

One student apologises for doing something (“I’m so sorry I slept on your flowerbed last night”), the next person continues the apology with a reason (“I didn’t realise that the English word ‘flowerbed’ does not mean a human bed”) and the third person finishes that same apology off with a promise of future action (“I’ll plant you some new flowers first thing tomorrow”). To make it more challenging, you should say that each reason and future action must be different from any used earlier in the game, and you could say that the language used for the should also be different (so no repeating “I’m so sorry”).

Apologies problem roleplays

Students try to use or adapt the language of apologies that they have been studying for tricky situations like:

  • you emailed an apology but got no response
  • someone else apologised, but then they realised that it was your fault
  • you have only just realised that you need to apologise for something that happened a long time ago
  • your customer is not happy, but if you apologise then they might take that as accepting responsibility and so demand financial compensation
  • you need to apologise to a large number of customers
  • you made a small casual apology, then realised that it was a bigger thing than you had thought it was
  • your colleague demands an apology, but you don’t think that you have done anything wrong

Apologies dice games

A dice can decide:

  • how students should communicate (“1 = on the phone, 2 = by email”, etc)
  • how formal their apology should be (“1 = very casual, 2 = casual, 3 = medium-formality, 4 = formal, 5 = very formal, 6 = free choice”)
  • how serious the situation is (“1 = a tiny mistake/ problem, 2 = a small mistake/ problem”, etc)
  • the situation (“1 = at work, 2 = at home, 3 = at school, 4 = in the street”, etc)
  • which of six situations they will roleplay
  • how the other person should respond (“1 = apologise back, 2 = dismiss the need for an apology, 3 = fully accept the apology, 4 = accept the apology but demand action or more action”, etc)

Apologies coin games

A coin can decide if:

  • the apology will be formal (heads) or informal (tails)
  • they will apologise (heads) or just be understanding and sympathetic (tails)
  • apologise face to face (heads) or another way (tails)
  • fully accept the apology (heads) or not (tails)
  • promise action to make up for it (heads) or to make sure it doesn’t happen again (tails)
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

Leave a comment