Gaining Comfort with Levels of Formality

In a recent YouTube video, I challenged upper level students to find more formal or less formal variations of ten statements. Watch the lesson. Such tasks are open-ended because there isn’t one right answer. Ideally, the viewer should do my exercises with at least one other person. Two heads are better than one, and discoveries can be made while comparing word choices and grammar structures.

Watching movies, listening to podcasts, and reading the news as well as fiction will expose learners to different registers and subtle changes in tone. However, taking a more active and creative role allows for experimentation. Students need the opportunity to take risks without any dire social consequences, and the ESL classroom can provide that.

I suggest we give learners the chance to identify pieces of language as formal or informal (or something in between), and then test their ability to rephrase ideas while adjusting the register. The final step is to put their ideas into the full context of a conversation. If you find this approach logical, please check out the following handout with three tasks that can be modified for an online on in-person class. Note that the emphasis is on spoken English.

Related post:
Helping Students Understand Levels of Formality (2015) – With a focus on email.

Featured photo by Emmaws4s retrieved from

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