Text messages – Register focus

Hi all,

As many of you know, I am extremely interested in register and style and feel it is often something that is overlooked in coursebooks as well as class.

The number of students who have no idea what I am talking about when i raise this issue is pretty high, too high. So, I think we should try to make it a feature of everything we teach.

This lesson follows on from some on phrasal verbs, which are often, though not exclusively, informal. I wanted a revision session which provided scope to use some, but also gave time for us to examine student examples and look at how they could be improved.

Why texts? Well, they write them, so they are relevant. They give opportunity to use some of the TL. They are short so don’t discourage. Plus they are short so can really be broken down.

Aim: to check register and appropriacy through the writing of short texts

Level: pre int / int / upp int / advanced


1. Write the four texts on the board. Ask the students in pairs to discuss who wrote them and why. Encourage them to think about how the writer felt and which words or features give this away.


  1. Hi. Can you call me asap please. x
  2. Hey, wondering if you’d chosen anywhere yet. I finish here at 4 so let me know before then. Cheers.
  3. Have you got any plans for later? I’ve got a spare ticket going for a gig if you fancy it.
  4. Where are you? Do you know what time it is? I’ve been here for ages now.

Do whole class feedback. Really go into detail.

Hi. Can you call me asap please. x

  1. This really troubled my class. They said work so I asked why. They said the polite question and the fact it was direct. I agreed but asked about the x. It was a name they said. I pointed out it meant kiss. So they came up with the idea that it might be a parent messaging a child with bad news. I was pretty happy with this explanation.
  2. Mine got that this was two friends arranging something. Cheers was interesting as they knew it in other contexts. We looked at whether there was a difference between Hi / Hey – concluding Hey could be seen as more friendly
  3. Some of my students decided that this was a guy inviting a girl out, which I liked as a possibility. We checked meaning of gig – one of the students was able to explain it.
  4. Mine didn’t get the repetition of the same thing as possibly being anger. Some did suggest it was to a friend as a joke, we discussed the potential for that to be misconstrued

I think the secret here is to really ‘demand high’ don’t let the students be lazy. Ask further questions, make them ask you questions. Encourage them to consider the connotations of the choices writers make.

2. Once you have gone through them all ask them in pairs to select two which they are going to reply to. Monitor and cajole. Again question what they want to say. For me, this was a great chance to prompt the students to use some of the TL, but also to fix register issues e.g. When i arrive – not wrong but is there a more natural way of writing this to a friend?

Additionally, it prepared me for things that could be highlighted for the whole class.

Then put some/ all of the student answers up onto the board. Ask which questions were being answered and how the person would feel receiving the reply. Highlight the examples of good language and fix what needs fixing through elicitation.

3. Finally, allow a few minutes for reflection. Ask the students to discuss what they feel was useful from the class; ask what they might now do differently. Highlight too that this was a chance to see them using new language and to provide an opportunity for them to use language they need for daily communication.




Using Articles for Articles

So here is another activity that can be used more as revision, or even to test knowledge of a grammar point, to see if it needs teaching.

It is something I tried out a couple of weeks ago and my class responded really well to it.  Since then, there has been a noticeable improvement in their work with articles. They don’t always get them right, but they are much better at self correction.  In my view, that is a big step in the right direction, plus it encourages learner autonomy, which is always a good thing.

I set this as homework, but you could ask students to do it in pairs too and I have added a couple of follow on activities that you could do to make it a whole lesson rather than just a practise activity.


1. Give the students a set of rules for when to use articles (this one is adapted from one in the back of Gold Advanced).

The definite article (1)

1.1 when there is only one of something

1.2 to talk about previously mentioned things

1.3 to talk about a generic class of things

1.4 with national groups

1.5 with adjectives used as nouns

The indefinite article (2)

2.1 with singular countable nouns referring to something general / non-specific

2.2 to replace one with numbers e.g. a hundred

Zero article (3)

3.1 uncountable, plural and abstract nouns in general

3.2 countries, continents, cities

3.3 mountains and lakes


2. Ask students to find a short article from a newspaper, or online, paper is better though for this.

3. Tell them that they have to underline all of the examples of articles in the text and then match them to one of the numbers above.

4. Ask them to show a classmate and they can compare, while you monitor to assist as needed.

5. Group feedback and check in case of any difficulties.

Extension activities

a) To encourage critical thinking skills you could ask students to summarise the text within a set word limit, e.g. 50 words.  The could plan it by selecting the key points and focus on writing those.

They could also tell a partner about the article or peer teach any interesting vocab they have found.

b) Ask students to look back through their own work and to try to correct mistakes.


So there it is, try it out and let us know what you think.