Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Wardrobe Building: What's in Your Closet?

Carla Lovett


Students practice making appropriate adjustments in language use for various situations, using the metaphor of a wardrobe. This lesson is great for the first day of school or as an introduction to a unit that focuses on writing for a specific audience.


The student makes appropriate adjustments in language use for social, academic, and life situations, demonstrating sensitivity to gender and cultural bias.


-Copies of the Sentence List (See Associated File.)
-Copies of “Building Your Communication Wardrobe” chart and answer key (See Associated File.)
-Pen or pencil


1. Download the “Sentence List” and the “Building Your Communication Wardrobe” chart from the Associated File and make one copy of each page for each student.
2. Before class, write the three styles of English and their definitions on the board or chart paper (see # 3 in Procedures). Cover this information so that the students cannot see it until you are ready.
3. Rewrite the sentence “I got your back” into “Khakis' English” and “Black Tie English” so that you can provide examples of each in case students have difficulty coming up with their own examples (see # 5 in Procedures).
4. Download the “Building Your Communication Wardrobe” Answer Key from the Associated File and make one teacher copy.


1. Tell students that today you will talk about their wardrobes. Ask students to think about what they have hanging in their closets right now. Ask one student to name an article of clothing hanging in his or her closet. Then, ask that student where he or she might wear that item. Ask the student if he or she could or would wear that item anywhere he or she might go. For instance, if the student says she has a dress in her closet, she might say that she wears it to work, to church, or out to dinner. Then, ask her if she would wear her dress to the beach or to a baseball game. She will reply “No.” Broaden this discussion by asking students what would happen if all they had in their closets were tuxedos or evening gowns. Continue this discussion until students identify that it is necessary to have different styles of clothes for different occasions. (10 minutes)

2. Tell students that just as different clothes are needed for different occasions, different styles of English are needed for different occasions. Ask students to identify different situations where they speak differently. Ask students if there are different people to whom they speak differently. Tell students that today’s lesson will focus on learning that different styles of language are appropriate for different situations and on practicing making adjustments in language for these different situations. (5 minutes)

3. Tell students that the styles of English can be compared to styles of clothing. Show students the three styles of English you have previously written on the board or chart paper and explain each one.
-T-shirt English: informal language; slang; used with close friends in informal settings
-Khakis' English: moderately formal language; polite; respectful; used with parents, teachers, and others you may not know well.
-Black Tie English: very formal; used in job interviews, professional letters and memos, and essays
Explain to students that each style of English is okay to use (yes, slang is okay) as long as they are used in the appropriate situation with the appropriate people. (5 – 10 minutes)

4. Explain to students that the problem with language use comes when they do not have all three styles of English in their communication wardrobe. Just as they are limited as to where they can go if they only have T-shirts in their closet, they are limited to those they can effectively communicate with if they do not have the right communication wardrobe. Tell the students that the objective for the day is to go “shopping” for other styles of English to add to their “wardrobes.” (5 minutes)

5. Give students the sample sentence “I got your back” either verbally or written on the board. This sentence is slang for “I will protect you” or “I’m your friend.” Ask students to identify which style of English it is (“T-shirt”, “Khakis” or “Black Tie”). After they have identified it as “T-shirt English” (slang), ask the student to take out a sheet of paper. Ask students to rewrite the sentence on their papers, changing the words to make the sentence into “Khakis English”. Then ask them to rewrite it again, making it into “Black Tie English.” Allow students a minute or two to do this individually on their papers. (5 minutes)

6. Call on various students to share their rewrites of the sentence into “Khakis English.” Ask other students if the example sentences fit the criteria for “Khakis English” and why or why not. Do the same for the “Black Tie English” examples, giving as many students as possible the opportunity to either share one of the sentences they have written or to respond to another’s sentence. Provide feedback to all students who speak as to the accuracy of their sentences and/or their responses to the sentences of others. (10 – 15 minutes)

7. Distribute the “Building Your Communication Wardrobe” chart and the “Sentence List” to each student. Explain that they are to identify which style of English each sentence is and then rewrite it into the other two styles. Use this completed chart to formatively assess students. (See Assessment.) (20 minutes)


Use the “Building Your Communication Wardrobe” chart to formatively assess the student’s ability to:
-correctly identify the type of language used in each of the given sentences.
-make appropriate adjustments to each sentence so that it fits in each of the categories.
(See Associated File for an answer key with possible answers.)
Note: Students' answers will vary dramatically. If a student does not identify every sentence as you would, the answer is still acceptable as long as the student can accurately change the language to fit the other categories. For instance, if you identify a sentence as written in Black Tie English, but the student says it is Khakis' English, that would be an acceptable answer if the student has rewritten the sentence into both slang (or informal English) for T-shirt English and more formal language that it was originally written in (for Black Tie English).


1. As an extension to this lesson, students could formulate their own sentences and allow classmates to “translate” them into the other language styles.
2. ESOL students could be paired with a native speaker to work on this assignment. The native speaker could help the ESOL student with the slang, etc.
3. For lower ability students, or for any students, this assignment could be completed in pairs or in teams.
Return to the Beacon Lesson Plan Library.