Requests: Sample Teaching Material

Teaching English requests to Japanese learners

(Iwata, 2001, pp. 24-26)

A. Lesson 1 (80 min.): Analysis of request strategies (Handout 1)

1. Introduction and consciousness-raising activities

Learners talk briefly in groups about certain characteristics of requests that make them difficult. They are asked to provide a personal assessment of the most influential contextual factors in their production of requests.

2. The instructor presents three contextual factors and explains differences in the relative importance of each of these in the U.S. and in Japan.

3.1 A Japanese ESL student’s role-play responses (transcribed ahead of time from role- play with a native speaker of English) in two request situations are read aloud by learners. The situations are not yet explained here. Learners are asked to provide descriptions of the situations presented and to identify possible problems in the requests.

3.2 The instructor asks learners to identify the strategies that they would use in order to produce a polite request.

3.3-3.5 Explicit explanations of the strategies (Blum-Kulka, House & Kasper, 1989):

  • Directness: direct and indirect strategies found within the head act
  • Head acts + use of tenses
  • Adverbial downgraders
  • Supportive moves

4. Learners make casual and careful requests by using the above strategies. The situations included the borrowing of: a pen, a quarter, one hundred dollars, a car, or a precious book from either a close friend or a professor. The instructor comments on each of their requests.

5.1 The learners are given a typical native-speaker dialogue in writing (transcribed from role-play between two native speakers of English), and are then asked to compare the native English speaker’s requests with those of a Japanese ESL student, and to modify the problematic utterances in the latter. Then learners practice appropriate requests in each situation.

5.2 The instructor introduces two types of discourse structures for requests, including some optional elements for more varied requests:

  1. Casual and short requests:
    • Getting attention
    • Supportive moves (optional)
    • The head act + subjunctive
    • Thanking
  2. Careful and long requests:
    • Getting attention
    • Small talk (optional)
    • Supportive moves
    • Head acts + subjunctive
    • Thanking
    • Closing the conversation (optional)

6. As homework, the instructor asks the students to take notice of the strategies they often use in English and to practice making requests.

B. Lesson 2 (60 min.): Role-play activities (Handout 2)

1. The instructor presents a brief review of the last lesson and learners are given a communicative practice activity.

1.1. Given a situation with an obvious request premise, learners plan a dialog, perform the situation in groups, and rate each other by utilizing a rating sheet. Learners act as a requester, the recipient of a request, and a rater, and then they switch roles.

1.2. NSs’ model dialogs (transcribed from role-play by two native speakers of English) are presented. Learners practice these in pairs.

2. The learners are asked to reflect on the process of learning the speech act of requests, specifically how much they have learned, and how easy or hard it was.

Teaching Requests in a Foreign Language Setting

(Rose, 1999)

  1. Introduce speech acts in a way that stimulates the learners’ interest and awareness using "field note" examples.
  2. Inform the learners about one aspect of pragmatics (e.g., requests).
  3. Have learners collect data in their first language and conduct a pragmatic analysis of the data.
  4. Conduct an analysis of similar pragmatic aspects (e.g., requests) in the target language.

(see Rose, 1999 for more information)



Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (1989). Cross-cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies. Norwood, NJ: Alblex Publishing Corporation.

Iwata, A. (2001). The effects of teaching on oral speech acts behavior: A case study of requests. Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Minnesota.

Rose, K. R. (1999). Teachers and students learning about requests in Hong Kong. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Culture in second language teaching and learning (pp. 167-180). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


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