Making excuses

Here’s a quick game to practise making requests and making excuses, as well as ‘housework’ vocabulary. In this post I’ll show you how to play the game with your students in the classroom and online.

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I’ve used this game with a variety of levels, from elementary up to advanced. For lower levels include additional support and preparation (outlined below). For upper-intermediate and above, students will be able to play with minimal set up.


In class, review housework vocabulary. You could do a board race or start with some conversation questions.

With my class I wrote the following questions on the board:

  • Who does the most housework in your house?
  • Which three chores do you hate the most?
  • If you shared a house with lots of people, which chores would be the most difficult?

Ask students to discuss them in groups then follow up with some feedback. Add new vocabulary to the board and ensure you have a varied list of household chores that students can refer to.

Next, give every student three small pieces of paper each. Ask them to think of the three chores they hate doing the most and write them on their pieces of paper (one chore per piece of paper).

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During the game, students are going to be asking each other to do chores and making excuses to avoid doing them. Write some phrases on the board for students to use.

  • “Could you please [do the washing up]?”
  • “Can you please help me with [the shopping]?
  • “Sorry, I can’t. [I’m too busy with my homework].
  • “Oh, I would, but [I’m not feeling very well].
  • “I’d love to help, but unfortunately…”
  • “Actually, I can’t right now because…”
  • “I’d be happy to, but…”

At this stage you could demonstrate, practise and drill the phrases with some examples. How much time you spend on this, depends on the level and confidence of your class. In my examples I always include one or two ridiculous excuses to set the tone for the game. I want students to be aware that they can make up silly excuses, as long as they try to use the language correctly.


How to play

Tell the students that they are now all living together in a shared house, and everything is a mess because no one has been doing their chores. Now, they need to ask each other to do some housework. Each student has their three chores written on three pieces of paper from earlier.

Students will stand up and walk around the classroom talking to each other in pairs. In their pair, one student goes first and asks their partner to do one of the jobs on their piece of paper. The other student has to make an excuse.

Student 1 – “Could you please take the dog for a walk?”

Student 2 – “Sorry, I can’t. I’m allergic to dogs”

If student 2 has a good excuse they can reject the card, but if they can’t think of a good excuse or they repeat an excuse that student 1 has already heard, then student 1 gives the card with that chore to student 2. This means that to play the game well students have to be creative with their excuses.

They then swap, and student 2 asks student 1 to do one of their chores:

Student 2 – “Can you please help me to vacuum the stairs?”

Student 1 – “I’d love to help, but unfortunately I have a bad knee”

Once both students have had a turn asking a question and making an excuse they find new students to talk to. With some classes you may find it easier to organise the pairs yourself, but with larger groups allowing students to mingle works well.

So, the objective for students is to give their housework cards to other students, while trying to think of good excuses so that they don’t have to accept any of the housework cards from other students. Whatever cards students have at the end of the game, are the chores they would have to do in the shared house.

Give the students ten to fifteen minutes to play the game. At the end of the game students sit back down and talk in pairs about the chores they have been given and the best excuses they heard during the game. While monitoring during the task make notes of any common mistakes and the most creative excuses, so that you can highlight them during feedback.



With my upper intermediate class we focused on tone, trying to sound as apologetic as possible when we made our excuses. Adding exaggerated excuses with over the top fake disappointment made the game a lot more fun.

You could play the game online in small groups by taking turns. For example, if you have a group of four, the first student asks each of the other three to do their first chore. They listen to each of the other students’ excuses, then they decide who had the best excuse. Students can’t repeat excuses, so the game will get more challenging and more ridiculous as the game goes on.

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While there is an element of competition as students try to make their classmates laugh, or surprise them, you don’t need to keep track of an overall score. As with any game like this, the focus should be on using the language and having fun, not trying to win at all costs.

This game is highly adaptable. You could use it with other contexts, for example a business class with typical office tasks instead of household chores. You could also turn the game around completely, with students making offers that everyone wants and instead of excuses to avoid them, students have to come up with the best reason why they should be picked for the opportunity.

As always, thanks for reading!

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