Polite phrases are important when learning a language. For anyone who
has traveled, it is obvious that please and thank you are some of the
most useful things to learn in any language. In the classroom, you will
probably be the only one appreciative of polite language however if your
students ever have the opportunity to speak English outside the
classroom, this will be the most important thing you can teach them.
How To Proceed
When introducing questions for the first time, it is important to put
them in context. After the introduction of vocabulary, phrases and
meaning, drill the target language and then ask your students to think
about when they would use the new structure. For instance, you would not
randomly walk up to someone on the street and say “Where is the
bookstore?” When demonstrated, your students will see that in a real
life situation, it would be best to add some polite words and phrases
around the edges of the request. Once they understand the need for this
and you have paired polite phrases with your target structure, they
should always be practiced together in the same way that you teach a cat
instead of simply cat. Starting to use polite language in the
introduction phase will ensure that your students associate the two from
the very beginning.
Practicing model dialogues is always an excellent opportunity to use
polite phrases. For example, when teaching students the structure “How
much is this ~?” have them practice a model dialogue or role-play based
on the one below:
A: Excuse me. How much is this book?
B: It’s $20.
A: Oh, thank you!
B: You’re welcome.
Half the dialogue is simple polite language which frames the target
structure. This is much more beneficial for your students to study than
the very simple two line target structure because it gives the question
some context and enables students to see the purpose of such a question.
If a math teacher explains that her classes will help students balance a
checkbook, they may be more eager to pay attention or at the very least
understand the purpose of learning such skills. In the same way,
understanding the reason for studying English topics and structures can
motivate your students. If your students practice dialogues like the one
above throughout their studies, they should have extensive practice
using polite phrases and will be more comfortable using English outside
the classroom too.
Classroom English is another chance to have students practice polite
phrases. If possible, make a set of flashcards for these words and
phrases to post throughout the classroom. This will help students
remember them and make prompting them much easier. Here are some
examples of phrases for students to use in class:
- May I have another handout?
- Can you please repeat the question?
- Excuse me.
- Thank you.
- You’re welcome.
You can create your own set and add to it as necessary throughout the
year. When working with very young children, it may be enough to have
them say “Paper please.” instead of just “Paper.” when they would like a
piece of paper or a handout from you. It is a very simple thing but
important to reinforce as much as possible. Whenever students ask you
for something, you can wait for them to say please before giving it to
them. It will not be long before students automatically say please when
making a request.
Your language in the classroom will affect your students as well. Say
please when giving directions, thank you when students hand in
worksheets and you’re welcome in response to students. The more you
model polite language in your daily interactions with students, the more
familiar they will be with when certain phrases are used and they will
feel more comfortable using them when interacting with you and other
Polite phrases are not covered extensively in most textbooks however it
is important that you give your students many opportunities to practice
polite language and make them use it in the classroom. Polite classroom
English can be a short section on every exam and polite phrases can be
included in many practice activities. The more practice and exposure
your students have to polite language, the better they will be at using