Effective ways of teaching functional language in English lessons

How to teach functions

How to teach functions


  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Everyone who traveled to a foreign country where people speak an unfamiliar language knows that first and foremost we need to be able to use practical language in everyday situations.

For example, we need to be able to ask for directions, order food in a café or a restaurant or explain to a doctor where we have pain. 

I remember when I was in France and my level of French was between A1 and A2, I was struggling with asking simple questions. The course books that we’re using for teaching English might not be very helpful. I thought of the unit at the beginning of one of the English course books where the authors were teaching elementary students different types of whales and dolphins, such as a bottle nose dolphin, for example. 

In the context of language learning, "functions" refer to the communicative purposes or goals that language learners use language to achieve, such as asking for directions, ordering food, expressing opinions, or making requests. Functional language teaching focuses on teaching learners the specific language structures, vocabulary, and strategies needed to accomplish these communicative goals in real-life situations.

Become the best online teacher

Do our students really need to know what to call those exotic dolphins or do they want to feel confident in real everyday situations in an English-speaking environment? I think I know your answer.


I’d like to suggest the approach which is called Task-Teach-Task. The approach is student-centred and suitable for teaching functional language.

The skeleton of the lesson looks like that:


• Task 1

• Feedback

• Clarification of the meaning, pronunciation and form of the target language

• Controlled practice

• Feedback

• Task 2

• Feedback on content

• Feedback on accuracy 

Let’s say you want to teach your students the functional language of politeness. Show your students the following picture

Ask them to work in groups and discuss what they would tell their friend if she was wearing such jeans. Walk around and listen to the functional language the students are using. Elicit the expressions on the board and give feedback on content.

Show one more picture and ask students to match the sentences to the pictures.

  1. They could do with being a bit looser.
  2. It could have been a bit hotter.
  3. They are too tight.
  4. It was stone cold.

Ask the following questions about the sentences:

  • Do these sentences have the same meaning?  
  • Which is more polite in each pair?
  • What makes them more polite? 
  • Which situation is about the present and which is about the past?

Model, highlight and drill pronunciation. Clarify the form.

How to correct students’ mistakes in speaking

Effective methods

As the controlled practice it is possible to use the following exercise:

Make these sentences more polite.         

  • You ate too much.
  • Your suitcase is too heavy.
  • Your dress is too short.

Students should be able to produce correct answers.

  • You ate too much. 
  • You could have eaten a bit less.
  • Your suitcase is too heavy.
  • It could do with being a bit lighter.
  • Your dress is too short.
  • It could do with being a bit longer.

For the freer practice give students some real life situations and ask them to come up with the possible polite comments.

Give the students feedback on content paying attention to politeness of their expressions. Then give feedback on accuracy.

Pros and cons of Task-Teach-Task

The advantages of this approach are:

  • It’s student-centred
  • It’s based on real life situations
  • Using the task at the beginning of the procedure helps to raise students’ awareness and creates the necessity to use the target language. 
  • Peer teaching
  • A good balance of Teacher Talking Time and Student Talking Time

How to use tasks in language teaching

Tips and tricks

The disadvantages:

  • It doesn’t meet some students’ expectations
  • The teacher needs to be flexible
  • It requires experience
  • It’s more appropriate for higher levels
  • It needs monitoring and thinking on your feet

In conclusion, teaching functional language is essential for language learners to confidently communicate in everyday situations. The Task-Teach-Task approach is a student-centered and effective way to teach functional language. 

This approach balances Teacher Talking Time and Student Talking Time and is adaptable for different levels. However, it does require experience and flexibility from the teacher and may not meet some students' expectations. 

Overall, using real-life situations and peer teaching, the Task-Teach-Task approach is an effective way to teach functional language to language learners of different levels.

English speaking clubs

Article authors & editors
  • Helen Taranenko

    Helen Taranenko


    CELTA, CELT-P/S Course trainer, International speaking examiner



Leave your comment