Teaching Polite Requests to Your ESL Students

Expressing polite requests is an important building block for your ESL students to achieve natural, everyday speech. This is especially important in English, where each form of request (using would, could, can, may, might) is used in a different context.

Our M2.1 -Requests-Would-Could-Can-May-Might lesson, filed under our Verbs-Modals category is designed for teaching polite requests to your ESL students.
In English, we use can to express informal requests (Can I borrow your book?) and could for more formal requests (Could I borrow your book?). Our lesson begins by outlining this distinction:
teaching-polite-requests teaching-polite-requests
Teaching polite requests with I as the subject
After introducing the basic distinction between informal and formal requests we introduce the 4 modals used to express polite requests with I. Can I for informal requests, Could I for more formal requests, May I for even more formal requests and Might I for very formal requests. We then explore the 3 modals that we use when requesting permission Can I / Could I / May I (May I go to the washroom?). To practice these different modals we use a number of situational examples and have the student pick which modal + verb construction is the most appropriate for each situation:
teaching-polite-requests teaching-polite-requests
 Teaching polite requests with you as the subject
We now introduce the 4 modals used to express polite requests with you as the subject. Can you for informal requests, Could you for more formal requests, Would you for even more formal requests and Will you for very formal requests. We then move on to explore polite requests using the construction of Would you mind. We use this construction when asking for permission (Would you mind if I opened the window?) and when asking for someone to do something (Would you mind opening the window?). Note that we use the past simple in the Would you mind… asking for permission construction and verb-ing in the Would you mind… when asking someone to do something construction:
teaching-polite-requests teaching-polite-requests

We hope that you enjoy teaching polite requests to your ESL students using our Verbs-Modals series. As always, feedback is very appreciated either here or by using our support form.


  • Ana says:

    April 20, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Great resource!! Thanks for sharing and helping other teachers!!

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      April 20, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      Hi Ana! Thanks for stopping by, we hope you enjoy! would/could/can/may/might for requests can be so challenging for ESL learners!

      • samia says:

        February 25, 2018 at 10:46 am

        wonderful and helpful resources! millions of “thank you”

  • Larissa says:

    March 15, 2018 at 7:53 pm

    Thank you so much for the resource. I haven’t taught request with my A2 business group and B1. I have planned to teach “Requests” tomorrow and this is the perfect touch to my lesson with your great an easy to follow picture explanations.
    Thank you off to class 🙂

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      March 16, 2018 at 4:44 am

      Fantastic Larrisa! Out of curiosity, what kind of environment are you teaching in?

  • amsha varthini says:

    February 17, 2019 at 7:07 am

    very useful

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      February 17, 2019 at 12:46 pm

      Glad you enjoyed Amsha!

  • Ratna says:

    March 4, 2020 at 1:14 am

    Great resources!!! Thank you so much for sharing this lesson…and it’s easy to understand

    • Chris says:

      March 25, 2020 at 2:09 pm

      You’re welcome!

  • Nick says:

    November 12, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Great lesson, thank you Chris.

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      November 15, 2020 at 4:46 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Nick!

  • Maza says:

    April 6, 2022 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks and appreciated

  • Lily says:

    July 28, 2022 at 12:33 am

    Hi, does someone knows the answers for this question, What difference would there be between an informal polite request and a formal polite request?

    • Sarah says:

      August 3, 2022 at 1:11 pm

      Hi Lily,
      That’s actually a great question to pose in the Off2Class Facebook group to see what other teachers say: http://www.facebook.com/groups/off2class/. We have lots of discussions about English grammar in there!

      Happy teaching,

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