Formal and Informal Language

Lesson Plan

Goals:

  • Distinguish between formal and informal writing contexts
  • Identify which grammatical features create register
  • Apply these features in writing

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that we don't speak and write the same way in all situations. Depending on who we're talking to and what the situation is, we change. This is called register.

As a warmer, the teacher can elicit words or ideas that come to mind when the students see the words formal and informal. The teacher could use images of different social events to encourage discussion. Push students by asking them to write a definition for each. To finish this stage, the definitions below can be displayed on a presentation slide in the activities. 

Formal describes a more serious register. We use this for talking to people we don't know or who are in positions of authority. It is also used for talking to people older than us. It shows that we want to respect or impress the audience.

Informal describes a more relaxed register. We use this for talking to people we know well like friends and family. It is also used to talk to people the same age as us or younger. It shows that we feel comfortable with the audience.

Show your students Activity 1. Discuss and decide whether the five situations are informal or formal. Use concept checking questions based on the above descriptions to support students.

  • Who is the author of the text? Who is the audience?
  • What is their relationship?
  • What is the context and purpose of the text?

Finish the discussion by explaining that register is not black or white. There can be a sliding scale between formal and informal, e.g. Making a speech at a wedding could be either, or a mix of both!

Non-standard varieties (regional and social dialects, slang, etc.) are also part of this discussion. As a rule, they shouldn't be included in assessed work - even in informal writing - since they are not part of Standard English. There is nothing wrong with dialects and slang, but they may not always be appropriate in particulrar circumstances.

Next, students look at Activity 2. This activity is also provided as a paper resource. It could be completed as a pair and share, before switching partners and/or giving feedback to the whole class. 

  • Read the two short texts A and B.
  • Discuss and annotate: who the writer and audience is, and what the context and purpose is.
  • Decide which one is formal and which one is informal.
  • Discuss: how can you tell? Which words and phrases helped you decide?
  • Students underline/highlight three words or phrases that showed the register. 

Explain to your students that register is created by the language we choose. They might have noticed features such as the greeting and send off of each text. In this lesson, they will look deeper at the grammatical constructions used to make a text informal or formal.

Students can now do Activity 3.

  • Look at the examples 1 - 8 taken from texts A and B. Identify the grammatical label for each one.
  • Grammatical features include commands, direct address, contractions, phrasal verbs, prepositionsnouns, modal verbs, and single word verbs.
  • When checking answers, ask students to explain how they identified each feature to check knowledge of grammatical terminology. 
  • Label the grammatical features in the original texts. This will help with the next activity.

Finish with Activity 4.

  • Move the grammatical features to the appropriate area.
  • Students can look back at the previous activities to help.
  • When checking answers, ask students why they think each feature is more informal or formal. 
  • Discuss: is it possible for these features to appear in both informal and formal texts? Which ones are more likely to be seen in both types?

Further Work

Students create a mat or poster with grammatical features and examples to guide their future writing of formal and informal texts (paper resources below). See if students can expand their lists with more features and examples. Use this resource to help when writing in an appropriate register.

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