formal vs. informal language, style

UDL 3.4

Style-shifting is an instructional strategy in which a teacher trains students how to determine when to use formal and informal language so that students can communicate effectively in different situations, verbally or in writing. Students are intentionally taught why and how they would move from formal to informal writing or speaking style and learn to pay close attention to purpose, audience, and language. The teacher shares and analyzes examples of situations and writing genres when formal and informal language are appropriate. Teachers model how to shift from informal style to formal style for academic writing. Students are supported through clearly defining informal and formal style as well as teaching academic vocabulary, scanning skills, and synonym selection (e.g., replacing words, providing word lists or anchor charts) to adapt to intended style, which makes the process of moving from one style to the next more concrete.

Implementation Tips

Analyze Language Shifts
Analyze with students which words are considered informal, neutral, or formal. Discuss and practice shifting language style by choosing synonyms that match their intended style and audience. For example, describe an enjoyable game to friends informally (e.g. cool, legit) and formally to grandparents with synonyms (e.g., entertaining, pleasurable).
Illustrate Language Style with Media
Illustrate how people vary speaking styles by showing video clips of situations that call for formal (e.g. lawyer in court, employer conducting interview) and informal (e.g., speaking with friends) speaking styles. Lead students to compare and contrast language styles and focus on vocabulary, tone, and purpose of language.
Scenarios for Role Playing
Offer opportunities for students to practice style-shifting using real-world scenarios (e.g., ordering a pizza, applying for a job, giving a speech). Pre-prepare scenarios or brainstorm with students. Let students choose scenarios. Each group could choose one formal and one informal scenario and perform for the class.
Create Word Lists
Involve students when creating three word lists (informal, neutral, and formal) that include language they are likely to use. By creating lists as a class, students begin to take ownership of the words. Display lists for easy reference throughout the year.
Choice Board with Options
Practice style shifting in written form by completing a choice board assignment with a menu of options. (e.g., texts between friends, convincing parents of later curfew, writing a thank you letter following a job or college entrance interview). Ensure students practice writing in both formal and informal styles.
Correct Non-Examples
Create a graphic organizer with non-examples illustrating language that does not match the situation. Have students collaborate to style-shift. Students will identify mistakes and develop alternatives which correctly shift the language (e.g., To teacher: “You trippin’,” could be corrected to “Ms. Jones, I’d like to speak with you.”).
Closer Analysis of Video Clips
Lead students in a close analysis of pre-prepared video clips. Create a graphic organizer for students to take notes about the type of setting, audience, purpose, and language used in each video to determine how language matches the context. Students will make notes during the video and discuss after watching.
Identify Style-Shifting in Daily Life
Create an assignment prompting students to recognize formal written and verbal exchanges they face daily or in the future (e.g., applying to college, writing research papers, college entrance and job interviews). Identify the audience, level of formality, and common vocabulary and write sentence starters together to apply in future.


Introducing Style-Shifting
A teacher uses clothing style as a metaphor for language style to emphasize the importance of style-shifting. The teacher wears a unique outfit with an obvious formal or informal style (e.g, a suit vs. pajamas). The class discusses how fashion choices affect the way we are perceived and can be tailored to different situations. Next, the teacher relates formal vs. informal fashion styles to language styles--both are choices and both depend on the situation. The discussion segues into a lesson where students watch video clips and compare/contrast formal and informal language use in different settings.
Style-Shifting Scenarios Discussion
A teacher leads a class discussion about purpose and situations for formal language use and describes the importance of using formal language when applying for jobs, at the bank, or other common scenarios. The teacher presents a choice board assignment outlining scenarios that require formal language (e.g., addressing a police officer after an accident) or informal language. Students choose formal and informal scenarios to practice style-shifting through speaking and writing. The teacher provides formal language word lists and specific feedback as students practice, then they present to the class and turn in a written product.
Style-Shifting Role Playing
Students draw scenarios from a hat and role play with a partner. For example, Student A chooses a scenario requiring formal language: “Offer elderly neighbor assistance carrying groceries.” Student A asks, “Excuse me, Mr. Smith. Could I help carry your groceries inside?” Student B responds, “Thank you, young lady.” Student A adds, “I hope you have a nice day, Mr. Smith. Please let me know if I can help you again. Student B responds, “I appreciate your help.” The teacher rotates to help students with challenging language shifts and prompts students refer to word lists.

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