Language Registers

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons
Editor: Scott R. McDaniel

Time: 1 class period
15 minutes
Materials: Copies of the first website notes on Language Registers (see also #1 under resources)


In this lesson, students will explore the various levels of language, contrasting formal language with personal communication. They will also begin to think about how a knowledge of the registers can make their communications more effective in a variety of situations.

Purpose – This lesson is meant to help students get engaged and aware of different language registers, and why it is useful to recognize when certain registers are appropriate.

Students will be able to:
1. Distinguish between various formal and informal language registers.
2. Determine the situations which are appropriate for each register.

National English Education Standard
Standard 4: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Teacher Background
The instructor should be familiar with the various language registers and how once adjusts spoken and written language for a specific audience.

Related and Resource Websites
1. http://www.genconnection.com/English/ap/LanguageRegisters.htm
2. http://slincs.coe.utk.edu/gtelab/learning_activities/30carc.html
3. http://www.iho.shom.fr/Dhydro/Html/site_edition/Help_HTML/isoreg.html



1. At the beginning of class, have copies of the terms and definitions associated with various language registers from the first website listed above under “resource websites”. Or, if you prefer, you may compose a handout of your own with this information.

2. As students enter the classroom, have the following situations posted on the board:

  • A teacher, principal, or boss
  • A parent, relative, or guardian
  • A friend or sibling
  • A boyfriend or girlfriend
  • A stranger on the street
  • A shop clerk or librarian
  • A scientist or mathematical expert

3. Ask the students to think about the following situation: You are taking a stroll through the mall when someone approaches you. It is one of the persons described in the list above. What do you imagine this person will say to you? Will all of the above people speak to you in same way?

4. After allowing the class a moment to ponder, divide students into groups of 3-4. Ask each group to write down what they think each individual will say to them and more importantly how they will say it. Give the class about 10 minutes or so to finish this activity.

5. Ask each group to report on their thoughts and ideas. Go through each of the various people in the above list, and ask students to identify how each person would generally speak to them. Ask students to think about what kind of words the person might use, for example, would this person use slang terms in their conversation? What about sentence structure? You may wish to create a chart on the board listing each individual and the ways in which the person would use language in different situations.

6. Have a short class discussion in which the class compares and contrasts how they would speak to each of the people in the previous list.

7. Have students write down as many differences in their ways of speaking as they can.

8. Finally, present the class with the handout you have prepared on the different language registers. Discuss each of the different levels of conversation (static, formal, consultative, casual, and intimate). Ask the class to think about the situations in which you would use each of the language registers.

If time allows, a fun closure activity to do with the kids is to create several short conversations or skits in which they act out all the different language registers in various situations. For example, the casual register could be demonstrated by a conversation between friends, the formal register could be acted out as a graduation speech, the intimate register could take place between girlfriend and boyfriend, the static register could be a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and the consultative register could be represented by a conversation between an employee and his boss.

Have students write a story, or re-write a common fairy tale or fable (such as “Little Red Riding Hood”), in the style of one of the five language registers. Students usually have fun writing this assignment.

Embedded Assessment
The students can be assessed at several stages during the lesson, especially when students present their findings during group work, during discussion, and at the end of class if you decide to do the skits. See if students can characterize each of the five language registers and determine the situations in which they should be used.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

1996-2007, The University of Arizona
Last update: November 10, 2009
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo