Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lesson Plan: Politeness

This is a lesson plan that I created. Additional, attached materials may or may not be mine, but I have tried to give credit where I can. I have found many lesson plan ideas created by other education bloggers and websites to be extremely helpful in my own teaching, and I would like to contribute to the pool of available resources. Please feel free to use the lesson plans for personal purposes and teaching, but I retain all the rights to my own created content.

Lesson Topic: Politeness
Level: B1
Context: Adult learners, Business English course
Style: Task-Based Language Teaching

Politeness is more of a cultural issue than a language issue. Language learners need to know both the correct forms to use AND the reason that these forms are polite or impolite. Every culture has a unique set of values, no matter what language the cultural members are speaking.

The difficulty I had with this topic was explaining which forms to use with other non-native English speakers when speaking in English. My students wanted to know whether they should use the politeness level that would be required in an American or British context because they were speaking in English, or whether they should use the politeness level that would be required in their own context because that was the common culture. That will be a choice that the learner will need to make on their own, and perhaps giving them some strategies for making the decision would be helpful.

Step 1: Schema Building
For the first part of the lesson, I collected some comics found in a Google image search that dealt with politeness in English. Here are some of the ones I used, but you can really use anything.

They like this one the most.
We read the comics, and then we talked about why they were funny. This is an important step, because a lot of the humor will be lost if the reader does not understand small details (for example, what is a Cherry Cordial and what does the adjective cordial mean?) After everyone understood the comics, I asked them for the phrases found in the comics to elicit some key vocabulary.

Next, I turned to a discussion of how, since there are different levels of politeness in every language, we figure out how polite we need to be when we are speaking. The students could suggest a few of these on their own, and they could recognize the other ones when prompted. Some possible factors that determine politeness are: (1) social distance between of speaker and listener (including age, gender, etc.); (2) power relations between speaker and listener; (3) conversation setting; (4) conversation topic; (5) degree of imposition (for requests); (6) severity of offense (for an apology); and (7) value of complimented item.

Step 2: Practice
To practice the new material, I created a list of requests that were very formally polite (such as “When you have a minute, could you be so kind as to send me an email reminder for the meeting?”), casually polite (such as “Could I see that newspaper, please?”), and non-polite (such as “Did you hear what she just said?”). It is important to point out to the students that non-polite forms are not always rude. For example, using a non-polite forms with family or close friends is often the norm, and no one will feel offended. However, using a non-polite form when a polite form should be used will probably cause someone to be offended.

After I created the list, I printed it out, cut up the lines, and mixed all of the requests up. Then, I gave them to the students and asked them to put the different requests into categories of non-polite, casual polite, and formally polite. They all worked together since it was a small group. At the end, I had them explain why they put each request in each category. Some of them were not exactly in the category that I had intended, but their explanations of why they had put it in the category was acceptable, so I left it.

Step 3: Listening
For our class, this part of the lesson was homework, but it could just as easily have happened in class. I had them watch 2 videos (and I also provided 2 extra videos, if they had time). These are the videos.
  1. Yes and No – I find that one of the biggest “rude” problems with German speakers is their directness in answering yes and no. With Spanish speakers, however, I often found that the problem was feeling like they couldn't politely say no (and consequently, they would communicate a 'yes' when they really meant 'no'). So, either way, knowing how to say yes or no politely is very important.
  2. Asking Permission – Unfortunately, asking permission can sound accusing or demanding if not done properly. This video gives some good pointers.
  3. Want vs. Would Like (Extra) – Important for requests, especially when you are requesting action from a colleague or associate.
  4. Softening the Message (Extra) – The right amount of indirectness is important for English speakers. Too direct, and you will be considered rude and pushy; not direct enough, and you won't be understood. This video talks about how to soften the directness of a message.
Step 4: Grammar - Politeness Strategies
In this lesson, the majority of the “Grammar” information was presented in the listening section. We did go over what was mentioned in the videos, and then we also talked about some other politeness strategies, including:
    1. Hedging: Er, could you, er, perhaps, close the, um , window?
    2. Pessimism: I don't suppose you could close the window, could you?
    3. Indicating deference: Excuse me, sir, would you mind if I asked you to close the window?
    4. Apologizing: I'm terribly sorry to put you out, but could you close the window?
    5. Impersonalized: The management requires all windows to be closed. (source)
Also, we talked about how, in English, a negative response to a request should usually be followed by an excuse. The more specific the excuse, the politer and more friendly the person is perceived to be. For example, when asked to meet someone for lunch, the response “I'm sorry, I have an appointment with a client at lunch today.” is more polite than “I'm sorry, I'm busy.”

Step 5: Practice
For practice, we first started by editing some formally polite requests (“If it isn't any trouble, would you be kind enough to email Mr. Jones about the project?) to more casually polite forms (“Would you please email Mr. Jones about the project?”) that would be appropriate for use between colleagues, especially when there is a power dynamic involved. (Idea credit)

Next, we practiced saying no to requests. One person was on the “hot seat,” and everyone in the class would make a request. Here's the catch: The person on the “hot seat” must say no to the requests using a different reason or strategy every time, and all of the other students are making requests in order to get the “hot seat” student to say yes. Some of the rounds went like this:
  • “Bob, Your reports are always so nice and organized. Would you be able to send me a copy of the template?” --“No, I'm sorry. I am not allowed to send them out because they are confidential”
  • “Joe, would you like to have some coffee with me? I have brought an extra piece of cake for you.” – “No, I am sorry, I must go to a meeting. Can we have coffee later today?”
  • “Jan, would you like me to babysit your three children so you and your husband can go out tonight? I have no plans and I am happy to watch them for free” – “Thank you, but my mother-in-law is in town, and she is watching them for me tonight. Are you free next week?”

It was a very fun exercise, and the students enjoyed it. (Idea credit)

Step 6: Skits, 3 ways
The task at the end of the lesson was a skit. The students, in groups of two and three, wrote a short, formally polite skit that had to include 2 requests and at least one “no” answers. Then, they re-wrote the skit casually polite and then non-polite. When they were presenting the skits, the other group had to guess which version they were doing, and then to say why they thought so. This also brought a lot of laughs. I think that sometimes adults forget that learning can be fun.