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

Complaining and Apologizing Language

ESL Complaining and Apologizing Handout - Reading Activity - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 10 minutes

This free complaining and apologizing handout 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.

Complaint Cards

ESL Making Complaints, Apologies and Requests Activity - Speaking - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 30 minutes

In this free complaining and apologizing speaking activity, students practice making complaints, apologies and requests. Give each pair of students a set of cards. On each card is a picture, a complaint and a request. The students take six cards each. The students look at each card and write on the other side who they are complaining to and where they are. Students then take it in turns to hold up a card so the picture is facing them and the side they have written on is facing their partner. The student then makes a complaint. Their partner apologizes appropriately and the other student makes a request. When the students have finished, they exchange cards and repeat the process. Finally, pairs of students role-play the complaints to the class.

Complaints, Requests and Apologies

ESL Making Complaints, Apologies and Requests Lesson - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 60 minutes

In this engaging complaining and apologizing lesson, students learn how to make and deal with common complaints, make requests and apologies. Students begin the lesson by looking at some common complaints made by parents and teenagers. Students answer questions and practice generating common complaints. Students then learn how to make a request following a complaint and how to use phrasal verbs to request action. After that, students practice making apologies using various structures. Finally, students work in pairs and practice complaints, requests and apologies by creating mini-dialogues from pictures.

How to Complain and Apologize

ESL Complaining and Apologizing Worksheet - Reading and Writing Activity - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 20 minutes

In this complaining and apologizing worksheet, students identify and practice expressions for making complaints and saying sorry. Give each student a copy of the worksheet. 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. The students then 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. Then, in pairs, the students take it in turns to read a complaint to their partner and the other student apologizes.

I cant get no satisfaction!

ESL Complaints Role-Play - Reading, Listening and Speaking Activity - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 25 minutes

In this making complaints role-play activity, students make and deal with complaints in various situations and score how satisfied they are with each outcome. Divide the students into pairs (A and B) and give each student a corresponding set of role cards. The students then 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 at the bottom of their card. The two students then compare their numbers to see if they match or not. When the students have finished all the role-plays, they report back what happened in each situation and how satisfied the person complaining felt and why.

Making Excuses

ESL Apologizing and Making Excuses Activity - Listening and Speaking - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 25 minutes

Here is a fun apologizing and making excuses activity for pre-intermediate students. Divide the students into pairs (A and B) and give each student a corresponding worksheet. One student has a diary of their partner's behaviour last week and has to ask for reasons for their actions, e.g. 'Why were you late for class last Monday?' Their partner uses the picture prompt for that day and gives an excuse, starting with 'I'm sorry...' The student listens to each excuse and writes the corresponding day next to the appropriate picture. When the students have finished, they compare worksheets to check the answers.

Always and Never

ESL Making Complaints Role-Play Activity - Speaking - Low intermediate (B1) - 35 minutes

Here is a making complaints role-play activity to help students practice complaining with ‘always’ and ‘never’. Give each pair of students a set of cards. Each card contains the subject of a complaint and two verbs. Students take it in turns to pick up a card. 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 makes a suggestion about the complaint. Afterwards, the students swap roles. This process continues until all the cards have been used. Afterwards, have the pairs role-play their dialogues in front of the class and give feedback.

Back to the Shop

ESL Making Complaints Role-Play Game - Speaking Activity - Low intermediate (B1) - 35 minutes

In this free making complaints role-play activity, students play a game where they role-play shop complaints and their classmates try to guess where they are and what product they are complaining about. Divide each group of four into two pairs (A and B) and give each pair a corresponding worksheet. The worksheets show products they brought yesterday, but there is a problem with each item and they have to return each product to the shop and make a complaint. The students then role-play shop complaints about the products on their worksheet, but they cannot say where they are or what product they are complaining about. One pair goes first. They choose an item at random from their worksheet and role-play their first complaint. One student plays the role of the customer and the other plays the role of 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 he/she bought it, e.g. 'I’d like to make a complaint about a product I bought yesterday'. The other pair listens to the role-play and looks at a set of shop pictures. Their task is to decide which shop they are in and what product the complaint is about. When the role-play is over, the other pair gives their answers and the first pair tells them whether they are right or wrong. Pairs score one point for choosing the correct shop and two points if they guess the correct product. The pairs then swap roles. This process continues until all the role-plays have been completed. The pair with the highest score at the end of the game is the winner.

Customer Complaints

ESL Complaining and Apologizing Role-Play Activity - Speaking - Low intermediate (B1) - 25 minutes

In this two-part complaining and apologizing role-play activity, students get to play both the role of the person complaining and the role of the person who deals with the complaint. Divide the students into pairs (A and B) and give each student a corresponding worksheet. The first role-play is based on buying a mobile phone. The students highlight the key ideas from the phone shop's advertisement. The students then role-play a complaint about the misleading ad. When they have finished, the 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.

I'm sorry

ESL Apologizing Game - Matching and Speaking Activity - Low intermediate (B1) - 25 minutes

In this amusing apologizing game, students practice using expressions with 'sorry'. Give each group of three a set of statement/question cards and a set of response cards. The students shuffle each set of cards and then spread them out face down on the table in two sets. The students' task is to collect matching pairs of cards that make a statement or question and response using the word 'sorry'. One student begins by turning over one card from each set. If the statement/question and response make a logical pair, the student keeps the two cards. If not, the student turns the cards over again. Play then passes to the next student and so on. The winner is the student with the most cards at the end of the game. As an extension, one student takes all the statement/question cards and says each one in turn. The group members then race to give an appropriate response. The first student to do this wins the card. The student with the most cards at the end wins.

Business Complaints Lesson

Business English Dealing with 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 begin by answering questions about their own experiences of making and handling complaints. After that, students read about three steps for dealing with complaints. Students then practice the language for making and handling complaints from customers. They answer questions, match expressions and identify the functions of certain phrases. There are also several discussion questions in the lesson for the students to answer and talk about. The lesson ends with a role-play activity about a business complaint.

Dealing with Complaints

ESL Making and Dealing with Complaints Role-Play Activity - Speaking - Intermediate (B1) - 30 minutes

In this fast-paced making complaints role-play activity, students practice making and dealing with complaints. The students begin by brainstorming ten situations in which people make complaints. Write and number the students’ ideas on the board. Next, give each pair of students a set of cards, which they shuffle and place face down on the table. The students then role-play complaints for the situations on the board. The aim is to use the expressions on the cards as part of their role-play. In each role-play, students take it in turns to be the person complaining and the person dealing with the complaint. The students start with the first scenario on the board and spend a short time thinking about what they are going to say. Each student then takes one card from the top of the pile. 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. The aim is to use as many of the expressions as they can during the role-play. Students score one point for each correctly used expression. The students then shuffle the cards, swap roles, and move on to the second role-play situation. The student with the most points at the end of the activity wins.

Softening Complaints

ESL Making Complaints Activity - Speaking - Intermediate (B1) - 25 minutes

In this free making complaints activity, students learn how to soften complaints. Divide the students into pairs (A and B). Give Student A a set of strong adverb and adjective combination cards and Student B a set of positive and negative adjective cards. Student B places nine cards face up on the table in a three by three square. Student A takes the top card from his/her 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 their square 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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