ESL Etiquette: Teaching Students to Speak with Politeness
No matter where you teach ESL, culture will always find its way into your classroom. It’s to be expected.
So many things vary from one country to another and one people group to another, and what it means to be polite in any given culture is no exception. Every culture has certain expectations when it comes to how and when to speak, and being polite in difficult, frustrating, depressing or emotional situations can be a challenge for your students as it is to native English speakers. To familiarize your students with what it means to be polite in the U.S., try this lesson plan on teaching students to speak with politeness.
Start your lesson on politeness by posing a tough question to your students. How would they confront a teacher who they thought was being unfair in their grading? How would they tell a friend that his girlfriend was cheating on him? How would they tell a parent that they were quitting school? Any of these questions or others like them will get your students thinking about how to talk to someone about something uncomfortable. After your students think about the situation and perhaps discuss it with a partner, challenge them to come up with advice for someone else who might be facing the tough situation.
What’s It to You?
One of the best ways for your students to understand each other as well as their host culture is to talk about the importance of politeness in their home cultures. Put your students into groups of four or five, preferably students from various cultures, and then have them discuss the following questions.
When students discuss these questions, they are bound to hit on some interesting topics. It is important to show politeness to your elders? Your superiors? People with power or money? Different cultures will have different values, and values dictate what type of behavior is expected. All these cultural values will come out in your students’ discussions.
Now that your students have discussed situations in which they should show politeness in their home cultures, have your class work together to create master list. On your list, include as many situations as you and your students can conceive in which it is important to show politeness.
How to Be Polite
Once you have a list of situations your students think require politeness, walk them through these rules for polite conversation in the U.S.
Once you have discussed these guidelines with your students, have them think back to the difficult situation they discussed at the beginning of the lesson. Did their advice follow these guidelines? If so, great! If not, you may want to have your students come up with some different advice.
Putting it All Together
This summary activity will encourage creativity and humor in your students. Have groups of four or five work together to write a skit about a situation in which a person can be impolite. Your students should choose a situation from the master list you compiled as a class. Each group will write and perform two skits about this situation. In the first skit, they will show how NOT to act in their situation. In this version, they should not follow the polite speech guidelines. They should also write a second skit about the same situation. In this skit, students should show how to speak politely following the six polite conversation guidelines. Each group should perform both skits for their class, and the viewers are sure to have as much fun as the performers when they watch their classmates being intentionally rude in a conversation. Not only that, but acting in and watching skits will help your students remember what it means to speak politely in the U.S.
Do you every have problems with students speaking impolitely in your classroom?
If so, how do you handle the situation?
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