Given the difficulty of pinning down students who arrive late to class, don’t finish their homework, or commit any of the other transgressions that teachers must address on a daily basis, it seems almost counter-intuitive to teach them how to effectively make excuses.
Why make our jobs any more difficult? On the other hand, giving a reason for not being able to complete a task or having missed a deadline is certainly an important life skill. The first step to teaching excuses is to select one or more forms. Perhaps because I am Canadian, I am partial to the “I’m sorry, but …” approach. Other forms include: “I wish I could, but …” “I can’t because…” “I couldn’t because …” and so on. Many teachers may be restricted to the form that is in their assigned textbook. I have had several classes struggle with ensuring that the excuse matches what has been asked or missed. This is especially true when giving excuses for something that will happen in the future (eg. when someone asks for a favour). However, once you have gone through the process of presenting the language and explaining the need for the excuse to match the situation, it’s time to practice using it. Here are four activities to get those creative (and sometimes competitive) juices flowing in the kids.
Try These 4 Creative Ways of Teaching Excuses
This takes a bit of preparation on the part of the teacher. Create a list of ten to fifteen different situations that would require excuses. Try to make them relevant to the students’ lives (ie. late coming to class, didn’t finish the homework, etc.). Then create a matching number of excuses. Ideally, these excuses will work for only one of the situations. Creating such clear distinctions means that the excuses must be specific and may need to include information that ties it to a single situation. For example, if the situation is about why you didn’t come to a Saturday morning class, the excuse could be that the student was visiting their grandparents that weekend. In this way the excuse does not work for why are you late to class.
Once you have all of the situations and excuses, create laminated cards from the excuses. The teacher will need to either memorize the situations or have a list of situations with them in class. If you have twelve excuses, then each card set will have twelve cards in it. You will need one card set for every group of three or four students in your classes. Have each group of students sit facing one another around a table. They spread out the cards face up on the table so that there is some space between each card. The students then put both hands on their heads. The teacher calls out a situation (no students can move until the teacher is finished speaking) and then the first student to slap the appropriate excuse gets to keep that card. They then place their hands on their heads and wait for the next situation. Whichever student has the most cards at the end wins.
Team Flash-Card Game
This game works best for excuses about things that will happen in the future (ie. when someone asks for a favour). Create a set of playing cards based on a variety of requests for a favour. In this case it is best to have far more questions than excuses in a set. For each excuse there should be several different questions that would work. Likewise, create some excuses that work for almost any request for a favour and some that work only for certain requests (ie. I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m busy. vs. I’m sorry, I can’t. I have school on Friday.)
Divide the class into groups of three or four. Each group will get one set of cards. The teacher will ask for a favour. The first group to hold up an excuse that fits the situation can lay that card aside. When one group has used all of their cards they are the winners.
As a final practice activity, have the students pay an exit fee. The teacher must create a card set of situations. There needs to be as many cards as there are students. Not all need to be unique, some can be duplicates. At the end of class set aside enough time for all students to give an excuse. Have the students line up to leave and the teacher wait near the door. As each student comes up to the door they must pay an ‘exit fee’ of one excuse. A card is drawn from the stack and the situation presented to the student. They must provide a fitting excuse for the situation before they may leave. Teachers may want to consider banning blanket excuses such as ‘I am busy’ etc.
Creative ExcusesRegardless of how order is determined, the teacher reads a situation and then gives groups a minute to talk it over.
This works best with classes that are a little more outgoing. Create a set of large cards, so the words can be read from all over the room. These should be a mixture of adjectives and random other words such as ‘space’, ‘monster’, animal names, and various other nouns. Either in advance or on the fly, the teacher makes up a series of situations requiring excuses. Put all the cards up on the board and divide the class into groups. From here there are several ways to proceed. The teacher can give each group a number and then roll a dice to determine which group will go first. Alternatively, groups can simply volunteer. Regardless of how order is determined, the teacher reads a situation and then gives groups a minute to talk it over. They must make an excuse using two or three (teacher’s choice depending on class level) of the cards (ie. I couldn’t clean my room because the vacuum turned into a huge purple monster!). The most creative excuses earn points for the group. Once a card has been used it is removed from the board. To make it clear what is expected, the teacher needs to give several different examples of creative excuses and encourage students to make crazy word associations for added points.
Excuses, as we all know, range from calm and well thought out, to so far-fetched they are laughable.
Often, the latter are by far the more interesting. While students often become comfortable using single, blanket excuses (I am busy) the above activities allow them to practice a wide variety. Ideally, these activities are also enjoyable for the class and get the students speaking English in a more relaxed atmosphere.