Number one for English language teachers

Writing skills: formal and informal writing

Level: Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

To enable students to break down the different features of formal and informal English by working through a step-by-step text transformation at their own pace.


One copy for each student of…

  1. A lesson on Register (Answer key in the Teacher’s notes)
  2. Step by step worksheet (Answer key in “Informal text”)
  3. Text to work on (to be given after the lesson) “Informal text” 


This material is particularly relevant for the formal requirements of Business English and discursive essay writing (some Exams). After the lesson students can extract a list of rules for both vocabulary and grammatical differences between formal and informal English, which they can take away with them and apply elsewhere. The teacher could encourage them to do this as homework and start the next lesson in groups, drawing up what is remembered onto (A3?) paper. A possible list could be as follows:

Formal features
Informal features
Vocabulary items
Latin based words
Uncommon words
Anglo Saxon words (phrasal verbs)
Common words
Full wordsAbbreviations
Passive constructions
Noun phrases
Complext sentences
Active constructions
Verb phrases
Simple sentences

Alternatively, after the lesson, give out a list like the one above and get students to find examples from the text for homework.

Teacher’s notes

Some discussion on “register” is needed at the start in order to place the lesson in real life and let students see the reason for going through such a picky process. Be aware that the students’ first languages might not have the extent of differences between formal and informal language that English does. Discuss written and oral situations where formal register might be appropriate e.g.. business, administration, public notices, academia, discursive essays (such as CPE, IELTS and other exams require). To bring the topic to life why not make a brief reference to the Norman Conquest, when Latin based French was introduced into English along with the aristocracy. Use the links below to research this period or send your students to find out more.


  1. Orient students to the topic (see teacher’s notes)
  2. Hand out sheet “A lesson on register” and allow time to answer individually before checking in pairs or open class.

Answers are

  1. It’s a letter from a bank official, maybe the Manager, or a Head of Lending Department
  2. It’s to a customer
  3. It answers a letter from the customer in which he/she asked to borrow some (more) money
  4. It’s written in a formal register. Don’t waste time trying to explain this in any way as the lesson answers the question.


  1. Explain that you are all going to transform the text completely into an informal piece of writing, which says exactly the same thing, but looks very different.
  2. Hand out “Text to work on” and “Step by step worksheet” (fold over the worksheet so they can only see vocabulary items first). Point out that scheduled has already been changed to set as an example. Allow about 20 minutes for students to work through ONLY the vocabulary items on their own, whilst the teacher monitors and answers questions.
  3. Check through so far and then work through the rest of the worksheet (individually or in pairs), explaining each step as necessary (judge the timing of this to leave room if possible for step 6 and 7).
  4. When the students have their own written copy of the, now, informal text give them the handout called “Informal text” and let them check their own work. 
  5. In pairs, allow students to look ONLY at the informal text (handout), and ask them to retransform it into a formal text – speaking in pairs.

Links on register in English

This is from the site by the Guardian: interactive, designed for UK schools:

The State University of New York’s (SUNY) online writing guide on formal writing:

This is from another ELT site. The author of the piece, Alex Case, is currently writing the exams materials for onestopenglish. 

Rate this resource (4.88 average user rating)

  • 1 star out of 5
  • 2 stars out of 5
  • 3 stars out of 5
  • 4 stars out of 5
  • 5 stars out of 5

You must be signed in to rate.

  • Share

Readers' comments (3)

  • I've used this in class and it works really well - thanks for great material!
    Hint for enzothebaker: I used the blackboard, but if you have time, try OCR online (just type this in google). It's a free online programme that allows you to convert pdf to Word for a limited number of pdf documents (one page at a time, so if it's not the first page of a document you need to scan it first). Takes a while but worth it if you want to modify or amend pdf material you plan to use more than once.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Great lesson plan but there are omissions on the Text To Work On (underlinings and words) and without the appropriate program, it's impossible to amend so has to be typed out again.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Thank you, Awesome material

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

sign in register

Powered by Webstructure.NET

Access denied popup