Learning Authentic and Polite English Through Late Notes

Elizabeth J. Lange, Kaichi International University; Jong Oe Park, Gakushuin University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Excuses, late, policy, politeness
  • Learner English level: High-beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: University, adults
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: Varies
  • Materials: Handouts

When students come late to class, it can easily cause other students to lose their concentration, which disturbs the flow of ideas. One good way to reduce this is to have a clear and consistent policy of having students bring a note with the reason why they were late. This policy can deter lateness, minimize interruptions, help the teacher keep accurate attendance records, and, most importantly, the late notes can be used to teach and reinforce contextualized socio-pragmatic English, providing appropriate models of language that can be used when students are late. 


Step 1: Make it a requirement at the beginning of each semester that any student arriving late to the class must bring a late note with a reason and give it to the teacher before sitting down (see Appendix A).

Step 2: Collect the late notes for a few weeks until a sufficient number needing correction are available (see Appendix B).

Step 3: Use part of a class to practice the art of writing grammatical, feasible, polite, and socially acceptable notes for being late, along with possible follow-up activities as outlined below.

a) Distribute a handout listing late notes needing correction and use them as a basis to correct what students say while explaining what are socially accepted norms of polite English. Some examples: 

  • I was over slept. → Sorry to be late because I overslept.
  • Lated with laziness → I was late because I was lazy. Sorry about that.
  • Forget wallet. I returned my home. → Sorry. I had to return home to get my wallet.
  • Missed train. → Sorry I was late because I missed the train.

b) Have a discussion about further possible reasons for being late. Examples may include: an overcrowded train; traffic held up because of road works; couldn’t find my socks or train pass; forgot to bring my books and returned home for them.

c) Ask students (individually, in pairs, then in groups) to list imaginary reasons for being late and write excuse notes. 

d) Ask for volunteers to write some possible excuse notes on the board and help them make them acceptable and polite in English if necessary.

e) As follow-up activities for more advanced students, discuss the following expressions and vocabulary: the consequences of being late for work/class; the importance of being on time; and, when giving excuses for being late, the positive impact of being very polite as well as the consequences of being perceived as being inappropriate or rude. 


In addition to improving their English, the late-note policy will not only help discipline students for being late to class, but also allow them to join classes already in progress without creating a disruption. In this way, the late student will save face and the teacher will be able to carry on with the class as if nothing had happened!


The appendices are available below.