How to teach making and responding to invitations
Summary: Teaching tips and classroom activities for making, accepting and politely rejecting invitations.
Although not many of your students will regularly make or receive invitations to dinner, the pub, the races, etc in English, inviting people to socialise is a nice positive topic that ties in well with other points like:
- Names of places and things to do in the local area (amusement park, ten-pin bowling, etc), including explaining things specific to their culture such as kinds of local restaurant (“Korean barbecue”, “night market stall”, etc)
- Collocations such as “go”, “play” and “do” with sports
- Verb patterns (“fancy + verb+ing”, etc)
- Future time expressions (“sometime this week”, “this evening”, “later on”, etc)
- Phrasal verbs and other idioms and multiword verbs like “come out (for a drink)”, “come along”, “eat out”, “tag along” and “take someone out”
- Making other arrangements such as fixing business meetings (dealt with in another article on this site)
- Enthusiastic intonation (and less than enthusiastic intonation)
- Formality and informality in functional language
- Personal questions/ Small talk questions (to find out about someone’s tastes etc so you can lead smoothly into the invitation and/ or think of something that they might like)
- Dealing with foreign guests more generally (meeting them at the airport, etc)
- Social English more generally (giving directions to the place you agree to meet, explaining food, chatting over drinks, etc)
There are also some big mistakes that students might make when making and responding to invitations does arise that are well worth preparing them for. This article gives some ideas on how to present and practise the language of invitations, including such topics and typical errors. There are photocopiable versions of many of the ideas here in the e-book Teaching Social English: Interactive Classroom Activities.
What to teach students about invitations
Before students practise inviting each other to do things, in can be useful to teach them to start more smoothly with phrases like
- “Tonight/ Later/ This weekend/ Before you go back/ After the meeting/…”
- “We’ve arranged…”/ “We’ve organised…”
- “We’re planning to…”
- “We always/ usually/ tend to…”
- “We’re thinking about…”
- “There is a…”
- “I know you like…”
- “Did you say that you…?”
- “You know you said that you…? (Well,…)”
- “Are you hungry?”
- “Are you finished for today?”
- “Do you have any plans for…?”
- “Are you doing anything…?”
- “I know how busy you are but…”
- “I know it’s short notice, but…”
- “If you have time,…”
- “If you are interested,…”
There are a lot of possible phrases for the actual invitation, which mainly vary in formality. Possibilities include, in approximate order of formality:
- “It would be our (very) great pleasure if you could attend…”
- “We would like to invite you to…”
- “I was wondering if you would like to…”
- “Would you like to… (with us)?”/ “Would you be interested in…?”/ “We would like to… (with) you”
- “You (really) must…”/ “We should…”
- “Do you want to join us?/ Would you like to come along (to…)?”
- “How about…?”
- “What about…?”
- “Why don’t we…?”/ “Why don’t you…?”
- “Do you fancy…?”/ “Do you feel like…?”
- “How does… sound?”
- “Are you up for…?”
- “Wanna come along (to…)?/ Wanna tag along?”
Many of these can also take “… with me/ with us” or “together”, but this is often not necessary, especially with verbs that make that really clear like “come along”.
You also might want to teach vocabulary for the most common things to invite people to do, such as:
- (house/ office/ Xmas/ welcome/ retirement) party
- a (quick) pint/ a drink/ a couple of drinks/ a few drinks/ the pub
Although students won’t need to know all of those things, it’s well worth introducing at least three or four different invitation phrases, for variety and to introduce the general idea of formality differences. There are also some others which they should avoid or use with more care because they sound less enthusiastic like “You are welcome to… (with us) if you like”.
There are many more potential minefields when it comes to responding. There is little chance of offending someone when you respond positively, although there are again differences in formality, including (most formal top):
- “I would be delighted.”
- “(Thanks.) I would love to./ I’d love to. (Where shall we meet?)”
- “(Sure). That sounds great/ perfect/ perfect/ lovely./ That sounds like just my kind of thing (See you there!)”
- “Count me in!”/ “Just try and stop me!”/ “I was hoping you might say that!”/ “You read my mind!”
With some phrases students need to be careful with intonation, because things like “Sure, why not?” can sound reluctant if pronounced in the wrong way. There are also phrases like
“I guess” and “I suppose so” that students might have heard in movies but are best avoided as they always sound unenthusiastic.
Students need to be even more careful with negative answers. In English (unlike some other languages), even casual negative responses tend to be long. We usually respond positively, give a very detailed reason why we can’t, and talk about future times, for example:
- “(That’s a shame) that sounds like just my kind of thing, but it’s my wedding anniversary so we’re going out for dinner (at just that time). Hopefully next year.”
- “(Oh) I would have loved to, but I have a meeting in Nagoya and won’t be back until nine. But definitely invite me again next time.”
- “(Ah) that sounds perfect, but (the thing is that) I have an exam in the morning so I really shouldn’t drink anything. So I’ll see you at the meeting on Monday.”
- “That’s very kind, but I’m afraid I have a flight at five a.m, so I’ll have to take a rain check. I can come next week if you’re going out then.”
As you and hopefully your students should quickly be able to spot, the key word in all of these is “but”.
As students often don’t know what to say after that, it is also worth teaching responses to responses. Possible responses after an invitation is accepted include:
- “Great. I’ll email you a map later.”
- “You won’t regret it.”
- “I’m so glad you can come.”
Responses to rejections include reluctantly giving up or trying again, for example:
- “That a pity. It won’t be the same without you. We should have let you know earlier. We’ll definitely let you know sooner next time.”
- “Never mind. Another time, perhaps.”
- “Okay. I understand. Well, if you change your mind/ if your schedule changes…”
- “That’s a shame. How about if we made it…?”
- “That’s fine, you can just come along later. Just phone me when you get to the station and I’ll come and pick you up.”
Some classes may also need invitations by email, telephone, etc (situations which are also common in real life).
Typical student problems with invitations and responding to invitations
The biggest problem with invitations for my students is with negative responses, especially not responding positively enough and not giving a specific enough reason, instead saying things like:
- “I’d like to but I have something to do” X
- “That sounds good, but I have another arrangement” X
- “Sounds good, but I can’t” X
There is a general tendency in English to give specific excuses, as also seen in apologies like “We are sorry for the late delivery but there was a storm in the Indian Ocean which disrupted the whole supply chain”. In addition, very short answers are likely to be seen as a lie, and the person making the invitation might even think that the person responding couldn’t be bothered thinking of a good lie!
In both positive and negative replies, students can also have problems with flat intonation, making “Oh, I’d love to” also seem like a lie.
Students can also have problems with formality in replies and invitations, but this is fairly easy to deal with. A greater problem with invitations is verb patterns, as the phrases show a range of patterns which are easy to get mixed up. Ones my students tend to make mistakes with include, in approximate order of difficulty:
- Let’s + infinitive
- Would you be interested in + v+ing?
- Do you fancy + v+ing?/ Do you feel like + v+ing?
- How about + v+ing?/ What about + v+ing?
- Why don’t we + infinitive?
- How does + v+ing + sound?
- Are you up for v+ing?
A problem that is more likely to lead to misunderstandings is phrases that sound like suggestions for what the other person can do on their own rather than invitations like:
- “Why don’t you…?”
- “How about going…?”
The difference between “go” (somewhere else, on your own) and “come” (to the place where I am or somewhere else together) can be particularly confusing, especially as the distinction between “go” and “come” is often different in other languages. There is a similar subtle distinction between “Would you like something to drink?” (meaning tea or coffee) and “Do you want to come out for a drink?” (meaning alcohol). My students also tend to overuse “party”, sometimes leaving guests disappointed when it turns out to just be a few pints in a local bar.
Particularly in the UK, students are also likely to misunderstand phrases like “We must go out for a drink sometime” as invitations. In reality, very general phrases like these are almost always just smooth ways of ending a conversation in the UK, and so just mean “Goodbye” or “See you (sometime)”.
How to present the language of invitations
If you can find or make dialogues with invitations and responses, good initial comprehension questions include:
- What things are they invited to?
- What do they say yes to?
- What is their reason for saying no to the other invitation(s)?
Perhaps during a second listening or read through, students can also try to work out more difficult things like:
- What is the relationship between the people? (maybe from a list of possibilities)
- Is the excuse probably true or probably a lie?
- Are any of the responses unsuitable?
After reading the dialogues to check those answers, students can analyse the conversations for:
- Suitable invitations phrases and responding to invitations phrases
- Differences in formality
- Verb patterns in invitations phrases
- Patterns in negative responses (positive response + but + detailed reason + mentioning future contact)
- Good and bad examples (if the dialogues include both)
Most classes should also be able to cope with the jigsaw text activities or line by line brainstorming tasks suggested below even before presenting the language. Alternatively, the meaning and situations of invitations are easy enough that you could start by just getting students to do one of the practice activities below with a list of suggested phrases, then test them on the phrases they just used and the patterns in them. Before either of these approaches, discussing good and bad places to take foreign visitors is a good warmer.
Classroom practice of invitations and responses
Invitations jigsaw texts
A jigsaw text activity is one in which the text is cut up and students use language and context clues in order to put it back in the right order. The texts can be cut up between turns (i.e. with half the cards being the person who is inviting, e.g. the host, and the other half all the phrases of the person being invited). The texts can also be split halfway through sentences (“We would like to invite + you to come to…” etc), which is useful for pointing out patterns like “fancy + v+ing” and “say something positive + give specific reason why not + mention future contact”. For more challenge, you can also give two or more texts mixed up for students to separate and put in order, e.g. a casual invitation to a colleague with a negative response and a more formal invite to a foreign customer with explanation and a positive response. Making one of those dialogues a phone call can be good for making the distinction clearer and introducing inviting on the phone.
In some ways invitations are perfect for jigsaw text activities with more than one dialogue mixed up, as there are clear formality differences and often a logical set of stages in the dialogues (lead up the invitation, invite, ask for explanation of what that thing is, say yes, sort out practical details, say goodbye mentioning future contact, etc).
Invitations line by line brainstorming
Students look at the first line of an invitations dialogue, brainstorm all the possible responses, then look at the next line to check. They do the same for every line of the dialogue until the end, then are tested on their memory of the phrases that they read. The problem with this can be that there are too many possible things that the next person could say, leading to demotivation as students find that they rarely or never guess what the next line says. More motivation and more useful practice can be obtained by giving a hint to the function of the next line, e.g. “The person being invited asks for details” before a line that says “Sounds interesting. Is it okay for vegetarians, do you think?” After brainstorming the next line, students look at the hint and brainstorm again if they had the wrong idea of what kind of line was coming next, then look at the next line of dialogue.
Invitations make me say yes
Students make invitations and respond naturally (as themselves or in the role that they have been given such as a foreign colleague). The person making the invitations gets one point for each positive answer that they get (and no points for negative answers), so they should think carefully about attractive things, suitable times, etc. You can then play the opposite (and more amusing) game of trying to get negative responses. Alternatively, the person making the invitations can secretly flip a coin and try to get a positive response if they get heads or a try to get a negative response if they get tails.
Invitations bluffing games
The idea of bluffing can be used at either the inviting or the responding stage. Note that for all these games to work, students will need to mention a specific time when they make the invitation.
Making invitations bluffing games
Students make true/ realistic invitations (meaning invite their partners to something that is real, that they really would like to go to and perhaps are already planning to go to, and at a time they are really available) or false/ unrealistic/ impossible invitations (inviting their partners to something they actually wouldn’t like, inviting them to something that doesn’t exist and/ or inviting them at a time when they are actually not available). After responding naturally, the responder guesses if the invitation was real or not, and say why they think so.
Bluffing can be decided by:
- A coin (heads = a real invitation, tails = imaginary invitation or impossible invitation)
- A dice (1= a place that doesn’t really exist, 2 = a time when you are actually not available, 3 = something that you wouldn’t actually want to go to, 4 = a real invitation, 5 = a real invitation, 6 = free choice)
- Cards (saying “true” or “false”, or with specific kinds of bluffing such as “time you are actually not available” on them)
Responding to invitations bluffing games
Students listen to invitations and respond how they would if they got that invitation in real life (depending on how good it sounds, their availability, etc) or with the opposite of their own real response (e.g. rejecting it even though they would really say yes if someone really invited them to that thing). After responding to their response with “Oh, that’s too bad. It won’t be the same without you” etc, the inviter guesses if the response was a true one or a false one. Students can be told to mix their responses up, secretly flip a coin to see if they should respond realistically (heads) or in the opposite way (tails), or always respond in the same way (see below).
Invitations you must say yes
Students respond to all invitations with positive answers like “That sounds lovely. Can I also bring a friend?” and “Sounds interesting. Where shall we meet?”, then their partner tries to work out if they would really respond that way, or if in fact they wouldn’t be available, they wouldn’t like that kind of thing, etc. Perhaps after students work out that the game is more amusing when they make outrageous invitations like “Would you like to ski down Mount Fuji with me?”, you can then play the opposite and perhaps more useful game of responding negatively to all invitations (even ones like “Shall we grab a coffee after class?”) and then the other person working out which responses are true. You can then move onto flipping a coin to decide how you respond mentioned above.
Invitations challenges/ Invitations competitions
Having to say no can also be made into a kind of challenge. The person being invited rejects all invitations as long as they can until their partner finds something they can’t say no to or they run out of (different, specific) excuses. The person being invited then gets one point for each (believable, polite and specific) rejection up to that point.
Groups can also be challenged to find as many things as they can which they all want to go to and they are all available for, with extra points for activities and places that no other group thought of like “go karting” and “palace tour”. Particularly if the teacher is new to the area and genuinely doesn’t know what there is to do, it can also be good to challenge the students to find things that the teacher would like and would be available for (as long as you make it clear that it’s just a roleplay and so they don’t really have to pay for your dinner all next week!)
Invitations coin games
In Make Me Say Yes above flipping a coin is used to decide if they should try to get a positive response or try to get a negative response, and in the bluffing games a coin decides if they should respond genuinely or not. A flip of a coin can also decide:
- Which side of a two-column table they look at to decide the verb, time, kind of event or place that they should include in their invitation
- The level of formality (heads = more formal than last time, tails = more casual/ friendlier than last time)
- How they communicate (heads = face to face, tails = email or telephone, etc)
- Which person in their group invites and who responds
Invitations dice games
As well as its use in bluffing games suggested above, a dice can be used to decide:
- Who they are inviting (1 = a colleague, 2 = a client, 3 = a friend, 4 = an ex-colleague or ex-classmate, etc)
- The level of formality (1 = super formal, 2 = fairly formal, 3 = medium formality, 4 = fairly casual, 5 = very casual, 6 = free choice)
- How they communicate (1 = face to face, 2 = email, 3 = telephone, etc, perhaps with the other numbers as “free choice”)
- Which verbs, time expressions or places they should include in their invitations (1 = play, 1 = the … after… or 1 = sightseeing spot)
- What their response is (1= accept, 2 = accept but with conditions, 3 = reject politely and suggest a different time, 4 = reject politely and suggest a different activity, 5 = reject politely and only vaguely mention future contact, 6 = free choice)
- What kind of excuse they should use (1= time problems, 2 = the activity doesn’t suit you, 3 = moral, cultural or religious objection, 4 = you did something very similar recently, etc)
- What roleplay they take part in (possible with a list of more than six roleplays if you ask them to roll the dice more than once)
Invitations card games
As well as deciding what kind of false invitation they should make (see above), cards can decide:
- What time they should try to get their partner to agree to do something (with cards like “this evening” and “at the weekend”)
- What action they should try to persuade their partner to do together (with cards like “do” or “do karaoke”)
- Who they should imagine that they are inviting
- Kinds of responses (e.g. ask for changes)
- Kinds of excuses when they say no (e.g. bad timing)
- Key words that they should use during the dialogue (e.g. a whole pack of cards with “but” on)
As well as simple roleplays that match situations in which your students might invite people or be invited in the future, more fun roleplays include:
- Problems to solve (the other person being vegetarian, the other person saying no to almost everything, both people wanting to invite the other person out, both having very few available times, not knowing how to get to the place, the initial invitation is very vague, wanting to change arrangements that have already been made, having already made other arrangements and wanting to somehow combine the two, etc)
- Inviting people in awkward situations (after not contacting someone for a long time, after just meeting someone for the first time, your ex-boyfriend, etc)
Explaining and inviting
Give students a list of places, activities, etc that might genuinely need to be explained if they make up part of an invitation, for instance places that only exist locally like “Nando’s Chicken” or “dragon boat races”. The person being invited always asks the person inviting to explain what the thing involves (even if they really know what it is) before they respond (as a foreign visitor would). Students can then match the places to short English descriptions such as “a famous fish market where you can see bidding for whole tuna early in the morning”. This is likely to be useful practice for that real situation, or it can be used to prepare them for visits abroad by adding things they will come across overseas such as “fish’n’chip shop/ chippie”.
Invitations simplest responses games
Students are given two cards and race to hold up the right one depending on what they hear. Possible pairs of cards include:
- Invitations/ Suggestions
- Inviting/ Being invited
- Positive response/ Negative response
- Good/ Bad (meaning polite, suitably enthusiastic, long enough, specific enough, etc)
- A/ B (meaning which of two phrases or responses is better)
Invitations good and bad phrases and responses
Similar to the last variation of the Simplest Responses Game above but with more options, students listen to two or more phrases or responses and say which is best (like TOIEC Listening) or say which one is not okay (better for presenting a large number of useful phrases along with a few potential traps). After circling and crossing off phrases on the worksheet, they can then test each other in the same way or:
- Read out bad phrases to be improved
- Read out phrases and seeing if their partner can respond appropriately
Invitations good and bad intonation
As well as listening for the best or worst intonation in one of the two games above, students quite enjoy trying to pronounce sentences like “Sounds good” with both good and bad pronunciation. After doing this in groups, you could then get the class to compete for points for both the best and the worst (most uninterested, etc) pronunciation.