Complaining and Apologizing ESL Activities, Role-Plays, Games and Worksheets

How to Complain and Apologize

ESL Complaining and Apologizing Worksheet - Vocabulary and Reading Exercises: Categorising, Reading Comprehension, Identifying, Gap-fill - Speaking Activity: Freer practice - Pair work - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 20 minutes

In this making complaints worksheet, students identify and practice expressions for making complaints and saying sorry. Students begin by reading two phrases and identifying which is used to make a complaint and which is used for an apology. Next, in pairs, students read two complaint dialogues and write where they think each complaint occurred. After that, students read the conversations again and sort the expressions used for complaining and apologizing into two columns. In the last exercise, students use the expressions to complete complaints. Finally, students take it in turns to read a complaint to their partner and the other student apologizes.
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Always and Never

ESL Complaints Role-Play - Speaking Activity: Pair work - Intermediate (B1) - 35 minutes

Here is a making complaints role-play activity to help students practice complaining with always and never. In pairs, students take it in turns to pick up a card that shows the subject of a complaint and two verbs. Using a dialogue from the board, the student with the card complains about something the subject is always doing and something the subject never does, e.g. 'She’s always moving things so I can’t find them, and she never cleans up after herself'. The other student then makes a suggestion about the complaint. Students continue in this way until all the cards have been used. Finally, pairs role-play some of their dialogues in front of the class.
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Business Complaints

Business English Complaints Lesson - Intermediate (B1) - 60 minutes

Here is a business English complaints lesson to help students master how to deal with complaints at their company. Students start by answering questions about their own experiences of making and handling complaints. After that, students read about three steps for dealing with complaints. Next, students put a telephone complaint in the correct order and write the question they think is being answered in each part of the conversation. Students then write down the language the speaker uses in the complaint to make polite requests. Afterwards, students match sentence halves together that use diplomatic language for dealing with complaints and match each sentence with its function. In groups, students then discuss a set of questions that relate to complaints they receive at their company. Finally, in pairs, students choose a common complaint that they receive from customers and write a dialogue for the complaint with one student acting as the customer and the other acting as a company representative. Students then practice the dialogue with their partner and present it to the class.
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Complaint Cards

ESL Complaining and Apologizing Activity - Speaking: Making Statements and Questions from Prompts, Role-Play - Pair work - Intermediate (B1) - 30 minutes

In this making complaints speaking activity, students role-play making complaints, apologies and requests in different situations. In pairs, students look at their cards that each show a picture, a complaint and a request. Students then write who they are complaining to and where they are on the other side of each card, e.g. waitress, in a restaurant. Next, students hold their cards so that the picture is facing them and the side they have written on is facing their partner. Students then take it in turns to make a complaint to their partner who looks at who and where they are on the card and apologizes appropriately. The other student then makes a request and their partner gives a suitable reply. When the students have finished, they exchange cards and repeat the process. Finally, pairs role-play the complaints to the class.
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Customer Complaints

ESL Making Complaints Role-Play - Speaking Activity: Role-Play, Freer Practice - Pair work - Intermediate (B1) - 25 minutes

In this two-part complaining and apologizing role-play, students practice making and dealing with complaints about misleading advertisements. The first role-play is based on buying a mobile phone. First, students highlight the key ideas from the phone shop's advertisement. In pairs, students then role-play a complaint about the misleading ad. Next, students swap roles and repeat the same procedure for a second complaint based on a flight. When students have completed both complaints, they present their role-plays to the class.
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Dealing with Complaints

ESL Complaints Game - Speaking: Role-Play, Guided Discussion, Freer Practice - Pair work - Intermediate (B1) - 30 minutes

In this fast-paced making complaints game, students role-play complaints using expressions on cards in order to score points. First, students brainstorm six situations in which people make complaints. In pairs, students then role-play complaints for the situations on the board. The aim is to use as many of the expressions on the cards as they can during the role-play. In each role-play, students take it in turns to be the person complaining (the customer) and the person dealing with the complaint (the manager). Students start with the first scenario on the board. Each student then takes one card from the top of the pile that corresponds to their role. The students begin the role-play and as quickly as they can, they use the expression on the card in a complete sentence. When they have done this, and while continuing the role-play, they take another card and repeat the process. Students score one point for each correctly used expression. This process is repeated for all six situations. The student with the most points at the end of the game wins.
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I'm Sorry

ESL Apologizing Games - Vocabulary and Speaking: Matching, Forming Sentences - Group work - Intermediate (B1) - 25 minutes

In these two engaging apologizing games, students practice expressions with sorry. The students' task is to collect matching pairs of cards that make a statement or question and response using the word sorry. In groups, students take it in turns to turn over one card from each set. If the statement or question and response make a logical pair, the student keeps the two cards and has another turn. If not, the student turns the cards over again. The winner is the student with the most cards at the end of the game. Afterwards, students put the statement or question cards in a pile and take it in turns to pick up a card and read it to the group. The group members then race to give an appropriate response with sorry. The first student to do this wins the card. The student with the most cards at the end of the game wins.
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Stop Complaining!

ESL Making Complaints and Apologies Lesson - Vocabulary and Speaking Exercises: Writing Sentences from Prompts, Guided Discussion, Guessing, Matching, Creating and Presenting a Dialogue - Pair work - Intermediate (B1) - 50 minutes

In this complaining and apologizing lesson, students learn how to make common complaints, requests and apologies. First, students look at some common complaints made by parents and teenagers. Students then answer questions based on the topic and discuss their answers in pairs. Next, students read about reasons for complaints. Students then write down four complaints and say them to their partner who guesses if the complaints object to a negative behaviour, attitude, habit or condition. After that, students learn how to make a request following a complaint and how to use phrasal verbs to request action. Students then move on to match phrasal verbs with expressions and use the phrasal verbs to make requests that follow a complaint. Next, students learn how to make apologies using different structures. Finally, in pairs, students write mini-dialogues where they make complaints, requests and apologies using picture prompts.
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Back to the Shop

ESL Shop Complaints Game - Speaking: Role-Play, Freer Practice - Upper-intermediate (B2) - 35 minutes

In this free shop complaints role-play game, students make complaints in a shop and their classmates try to guess where they are and what product they are complaining about. Students imagine that items they brought are faulty and that they have to return them to the shops. Students then role-play shop complaints about the products without saying where they are or what product they are complaining about. Pairs take it in turns to choose an item at random from their worksheet and role-play each complaint to another pair. One student takes on the role of the customer and the other is the shop assistant. The customer makes a complaint to the shop assistant about the item they brought yesterday and tries to get an exchange or refund. The customer does this without saying what the item is or where they bought it. The other pair listens to the role-play and looks at a set of shop pictures. Their task is to decide which shop the pair are in and what product the complaint is about. Pairs score one point for choosing the correct shop and two points if they guess the correct product. The pair with the most points at the end of the game wins.
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Complaining and Apologizing Language

ESL Complaining and Apologizing Worksheet - Handout - Upper-intermediate (B2) - 10 minutes

This free complaining and apologizing phrases worksheet provides students with some useful expressions to use when making and dealing with complaints. The sheet covers language and phrases for making a complaint, apologizing, giving reasons, calming someone down, asking for specifics, taking action, checking back and making promises.
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I can't get no satisfaction!

ESL Complaints Role-Play - Reading, Listening and Speaking Activity - Upper-intermediate (B2) - 25 minutes

In this making complaints role-play, students make and deal with complaints in various situations and score how satisfied they are with each outcome. In pairs, students take it in turns to role-play each situation with one person making the complaint and the other dealing with the complaint and deciding how to react. The person dealing with the complaint circles the 1 to 5 scale on their card, depending on how helpful they want to be, one being not at all helpful and five being very helpful. When the role-play has finished, the student making the complaint decides how satisfied they are about the outcome and circles the appropriate number on their card. The two students then compare their numbers to see if they match or not. When the students have finished, they report back what happened in each situation and how satisfied the person complaining felt and why.
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Softening Complaints

ESL Softening Complaints Activity - Listening and Speaking - Upper-intermediate (B2) - 25 minutes

In this free making complaints speaking activity, students learn how to soften complaints using not very and rather. Student A has a set of strong adverb-adjective collocation cards and Student B has a set of positive and negative adjective cards. Student B places nine cards face up in a three by three square. Student A takes the top card from their pile and makes a complaint using the vocabulary on the card, e.g. 'Excuse me, but this computer is incredibly slow'. If Student B has an adjective in one of their squares that can be used to soften the complaint, they say the softened complaint and turn the card over. Student B softens the complaint by using not very + positive adjective or rather + negative adjective, e.g. 'Excuse me, but this computer is not very fast'. Student A then takes another card and the process is repeated. When Student B has three cards turned over in a row, the students swap roles.
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