P is for Politeness

The post which follows is an article which appeared in the IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group Newsletter in 2015 

N is for New Information

N is for New Information

Screenshot of front pages of papers


New information is information that is assumed by the speaker not

  • to be known to or assumed by the addressee, or
  • previously established in the discourse.


New information typically

  • is placed late in the sentence, and
  • has a high amount of stress placed on the words representing it.

Examples (English)

In the following exchange, the stressed words are new information:

A: Do you know where my SHOES are?
B: I put them in the CLOSET.



As you can see, the new information becomes OLD information in the second utterance and the NEW information in the response provides additional facts or responds to the new information in the previous utterance.

New information and pronunciation

This high stress placement on the new information is usually called nuclear or tonic stress and marks information which is new or contrasted with information presented in a previous utterance or, simply, adds to or builds on that information.

Lack of such stress placement makes utterances difficult to follow a speaker (whether native or non native) and is a typical problem is foreign learner (and teacher) talk.

In terms of a hypothetical acquisition order of phonological features along the cline between unintelligible and with native like phonological competencies, stress placement seems to be a late acquisition item along with segmentation and catenation.

Thinking Task

Here is the transcript from a clip from the  “Yes, Prime Minister” TV series

It’s a series of aphorisms, which the PM delivers about British newspapers. Read through them and try to predict which parts of each utterance will be delivered with low stress (given information at that particular stage in the discourse) and which particular words will receive high/tonic/nunclear stress (New Information) 


Prime Minister:

“The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country,

the Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country.

the Times is read by people who actually do run the country.

the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country.

The Financial Times is read by people who own the country, 

the Morning Star is ready by people who think the country ought to be run by another country, 

and the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.”

Second speaker:

“Well, Prime Minister, and what about the people who read the Sun?”


“The Sun readers don’t care who runs the country as long as she’s got big t***.”


Now Scroll down please to listen to how these lines were actually delivered – listen from 1:04

















 Teaching the feature

I usually do this as a whole lesson on newspapers, part of which has to do with genre and features of different newspaper styles.

If you would like to use this in a lesson you might like to consider this procedure:

Lesson Outline

  1. Lead in with a brief chat about newspapers in the students’ native language. How many are there and what kind are they; what/who do they represent.  What paper do they read, if at all.
  2. Give them a handout with the aphorisms above but with the names of papers blanked out – depending on the local culture you might wish to omit the last one with the asterisked bits.
  3. Ss read and decide which of their local papers fit the descriptions – they can insert the names and practice reading them aloud
  4. Ask them to decide which word(s) in each sentence receive(s) the highest, most prominent stress
  5. Ask them to practice reading the sentences aloud in pairs or groups
  6. Then give them names of English newspapers and they can decide where they fit in
  7. Get them to listen to the video and fill in the names first then listen and mark the stress – check if they were right
  8. Last, ask them to read out their views of their own local papers and assign correct stress.

If you like, they can then add or change some of the aphorisms as they please.

This can be followed by more focused work on the lexical, grammatical and textual features of these papers.



Books on Discourse Analysis

Brown, G., & Yule, G., 1983, Discourse Analysis, Cambridge University Press

Johnstone, B., 2003, Discourse Analysis, Blackwell

McCarthy, M. 1991, Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press

Partridge, B., 2006, Discourse Analysis – an Introduction,  Continuum International

Thornbury, S., 2005, Beyond the Sentence, Macmillan Education


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C is for Coherence

Is she coherent? 

Watch this much discussed video of a young beauty pageant contestant answering a question posed by the judges.

 Thinking Tasks

1. Is Miss South Carolina coherent or not?  

2. Read this text and say if it is coherent. Try to answer the following questions:

  1. Where was published?
  2. Who authored it?
  3. What was the author’s purpose for writing it?

These children can be said to have two three or more mother tongues neither language is foreign to that child even if one language is a foreign language for the vast majority of people in the childs birth country. On average in Europe at the start of foreign language teaching learners have lessons for three to four hours a week. The Welsh language is also compulsory up to the age of 16 although a formal qualification is optional..In some countries learners have lessons taken entirely in a foreign language for example more than half of European countries with a minority regional language community use partial immersion to teach both the minority and the state language..In 1995 the s White Paper on Education and Training emphasized the importance of schoolchildren learning at least two foreign languages before upper secondary education.

Scroll down to the end of the post view the answer.


Review the following definitions and choose the best one (or the one you understand best):

1/ Coherence (linguistics)

Coherence in linguistics is what makes a text semantically meaningful.It is especially dealt with in text linguistics. Coherence is achieved through syntactical features such as the use of deicticanaphoric and cataphoric elements or a logical tense structure, as well as presuppositions and implications connected to general world knowledge. The purely linguistic elements that make a text coherent are subsumed under the term cohesion.

Robert De Beaugrande and Wolfgang U. Dressler define coherence as a “continuity of senses” and “the mutual access and relevance within a configuration of concepts and relations” . Thereby a textual world is created that does not have to comply to the real world. But within this textual world the arguments also have to be connected logically so that the reader/hearer can produce coherence.

– from Wikipedia reproduced here 

2/ Here is another definition from the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Applied Linguistics


Coherence is the quality of meaning unity and purpose perceived in discourse. It is not a property of the linguistic forms in the text and their denotations (though these will contribute to it), but of these cover forms and meanings interpreted by a receiver through knowledge and reasoning. As such, coherence is not an absolute quality of a text, but always relative to a particular receiver and context. A description of coherence is usually concerned with the links inferred between sentences or

utterances. It is often contrasted with COHESION, which is the linguistic realization of such links (Halliday and Hasan, 1976).

3/ A definition from the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics 

coherence n coherent adj

the relationships which link the meanings of UTTERANCES in a DISCOURSE or of the sentences in a text. These links may be based on the speakers’ shared knowledge. For example:

A:Could you give me a lift home?

B: Sorry, I’m visiting my sister.

There is no grammatical or lexical link between A’s question and B’s reply (see COHESION) but the exchange has coherence because both A and B know that B’s sister lives in the opposite direction to A’s home. In written texts coherence refers to the way a text makes sense to the readers through the organization of its content, and the relevance and clarity of its concepts and ideas. Generally a PARAGRAPH has coherence if it is a series of sentences that develop a main idea (i.e. with a TOPIC SENTENCE and supporting sentences which relate to it).

Ideas for Teaching Coherence

As definition 3 points out coherence in conversational exchanges includes less explicit links but written texts do although coherence refers more to the way ideas are related to one another

Cohesion is generally easier to teach as it involves lexical and grammatical links but coherence tends to be more difficult and it would probably involve quite a lot of recognition and analysis work on the information structuring of the genre you are training your learners to produce.

Activities which might encourage recognition and awareness raising – a few ideas:

  • ordering paragraphs into texts or sentences into paragraphs
  • inserting sentences from a list of relevant/irrelevant ones into a completed or incomplete text
  • completing a text where first – last sentence or first – last paragraph are given
  • discussing how ideas in texts are connected to each other – e..g. comparison & contrast ; cause & effect
  • appreciating how well written pieces are put together and analysing how the writer has achieved this effect.

Here is a good post from OnestopEnglish on just this topic with a great paragraph at the end by Scott Thornbury.

Find a great collection of lesson plans here on a variety of aspects of coherent transitions in writing; although intended for K-12 students, ELT teachers can find a great number of ideas which can be easily adapted to the ELT classroom.

Please share your own ideas or links in a comment; if you have written a relevant blog post or found a great link, I hope you will!


Answers to thinking tasks 

1. Not! (with all sympathy for this young contestant  who blanked out in front of the cameras..There are follow-up videos where she explains all,  in case you might want to use this in a lesson)

2. The text above was taken from a spam message on my blog – in response to a post about large school chains – franchises in Greece and elsewhere. It is not coherent because:

  1. It is an irrelevant response to the topic of the blog post. Grice’s maxim of Relevance is flouted.
  2. There is no internal coherence in the paragraph; although the sentences are connected by topic,  it is not obvious how the ideas in the sentences are connected to one another .
  3. The text, is a random collection of sentences, probably copied from various education sites and blogs that have to do with foreign language teaching – a stray and random collection. This is what blog spammers do: to get their sites listed, they put together paragraphs from various pages on the web and post, in the hope bloggers will not notice.

Interestingly, the mind of the reader who reads this text, attempts to find/discover some coherence in this text, simply because it has the shape and layout of a paragraph; hence we expect it to be coherent.

G is for Genre



Genre (play /ˈʒɑːnrə/ or /ˈɑːnrə/; from French, genre French pronunciation: [ʒɑ̃ʁ], “kind” or “sort”, from Latin: genus (stem gener-), Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.

from Wikipedia; also follow this Wikipedia link for a list of literary genres

Thinking Task

Watch this video of Peter Sellers and think about the features of the genre he is delivering.

How exactly has he achieved his intended effect?




Peter Sellers delivers the words of the famous Beatles song “A Hard Day’s Night” in the same manner that a Shakesperean actor would deliver the monologue from Richard III – he is not only dressed and surrounded by the props which we associate with William Shakespeare’s Richard III but his spoken style of delivery imitates the spoken features of this particular theatrical genre.

The effect is hilarious.

Is he insinuating that the manner of delivery may sometimes assign some kind of aura to the words that they might otherwise not have?

I don’t know. But what he (or his director) has created is a wonderful starter for discussions on the notion of genre.

Peter Sellers is flouting Grice’s conversational maxim of manner in the deliberate way that artists do in order to generate thought or to create a comical effect.

Imagine if the Beatles set Richard II’s monologue into music similar to a Hard Day’s night. Would we take the words as seriously then, I wonder.





Some Books on Discourse Analysis


Robert O’Neill’s critique of the Communicative Approach

I found this article written by Robert O’Neill on a website maintained by Ted Powers and have long shared it with Delta trainees. Recently, I realised that Ted Powers’ excellent website is down. In anticipation of a new, perhaps, website, I am reposting it here and would be happy to link the first few lines back the Mr Powers’ new website if he has any issue with it being here.  

I hope it is of use to those who are studying the different approaches and methods and are beginning to doubt the value of adopting any one approach wholesale. It is a fully thought through argument well worth reading – am looking for the original publication as we speak. 

 Please follow this link to learn more about Robert O’Neill’s life and work. The OUP website has paid him a fitting tribute. 


Just some of the covers of his books
Just some of the covers of Robert O’Neill’s  books

“The appeal and poverty of CLT”

by Robert O’Neill [March, 2000]

“The belief, so widely held and so frequently repeated that ‘language is (a means of) communication‘ is wrong in a way that has been devastating to any adequate conception of what humans are and how they differ from other species. Communication is just one use to which language can be put – and distinguishing between a thing and its uses should surely form the most basic step in any analysis.” Derek Bickerton, Language & Human Behaviour: London, UCL Press, 1996.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) has enormous intuitive appeal. Despite this, I have come to believe that at the heart of CLT – especially in fundamentalist versions of it – we find a naive, even impoverished view of language. To demonstrate what I mean, let me examine six propositions upon which I think CLT is based. I am going to argue that if these propositions are true at all, they are only superficially and trivially true – and true only in essentially uninteresting ways. In other words, they are just as true as statements like “When people speak, they use words”. Such a statement tells us nothing about what kinds of relationships there may be between words, how people learn to assemble them into larger units, or what else they do to construct or interpret meaning. I will try to show this through six counter-propositions. Then – finally – I will briefly suggest an alternative – and also suggest reasons why pluralist methodologies are more likely to be successful than any single orthodoxy.

Six fundamentally “trivial” propositions inherent in CLT

  1. Language is primarily a tool of communication. Learning a language means learning to perform communicative speech acts with it.

In CLT, “communication” means using language to make requests, give advice, agree and disagree, complain, praise, to try to persuade people to do things, and so on. The focus should be on meaning, not on form. Some supporters of CLT, like Geoff Thompson argue that this is a misconception of CLT. However, even he admits that there are good reasons for this “misconception”

  1. There is something called a “communicative syllabus” which replaces and is superior to a structural syllabus”

It is often argued that a typical structuralist syllabus focuses on the grammatical structure of language rather than on the “communicative” or pragmatic uses of those language For example, so the argument goes terms like “The Present Continuous”, tell us little or nothing about the fact that typical examples of this form such as “You’re standing in my way” or “You’re driving too fast” are complaints, or that one of the most frequent uses of the Present Progressive is not to talk about actions in the present but about pre-arranged actions in the future, For this reason, many CLT supporters used to argue and still do that language lessons should not be about “The Present Continuous” or “The Present Perfect”, but about “Giving and getting personal information”, “Asking for and giving directions”, “Expressing Opinions”, etc.

  1. Communicative goals can be specified. We can accurately describe what learners should have learned and be able to do with language at the end of the lesson

An example of a typical “communicative goal is given below.

By the end of the lesson, students will be able to

– talk about their own jobs and ask classmates about theirs

– use the Present Simple accurately and fluently in this context

– choose correctly between a/an pronounce the unstressed form of “d’you in their question

  1. Good communicative teaching is learner-centred, not teacher-centred.

“Teacher-centred” means “BAD” The teacher doles out formal knowledge of the language like a cook giving prisoners thin soup and stale bread in a Victorian prison. “Learner-centred” means “GOOD”.

This view is best summed up for me by Julian Edge in what I think is the best and most clearly written exposition of CLT principles,

Many classrooms are arranged so that all students face forward to the teacher; the message is clear.

  • the teacher dominates
  • all information will come from the teacher
  • interaction between or among students is less valued

Edge goes on to describe other seating arrangements which encourage co-operative, communicative pair-work and group-work. In one picture we see ten or eleven young learners, perhaps in their late teens or early twenties, listening attentively to one member of the group talking. In a second picture we see four learners working together. The learners are smiling, eager, interested, entirely absorbed in the communicative task that they are performing. These two pictures seem for me at least to communicate better than any others, the great intuitive appeal of CLT.

  1. What matters most is not whether learners learn to use the language accurately. What matters is that they learn to get their message across.

Professor John Trim, one of the founders of CLT, has said that “children learning in school must be taught that language learning is about communicating, not getting things right”. Trim believes in “emphasising the importance of repair strategies and of the acceptance of errors”. He asks “if certain learner errors are so predictable, how much effort is justified in the attempt to put them right, instead of developing different ways of enlarging that person’s communicative range?”. Instead of correcting mistakes, we should be doing things that will extend the communicative range of learners.

  1. The classroom and the behaviour of teachers and learners in the classroom should be as similar as possible to the behaviour of people in the “real world” outside the classroom

Strict turn-taking, “display questions”, etc. are “uncommunicative” and do not reflect the “real world” outside the classroom. The classroom must become like the world outside the classroom, where we see people using language spontaneously and communicatively.


Six opposing propositions

How can anyone who is not a reactionary, authoritarian anti-progressive disagree with an approach based on these propositions? To give my own answer to this question, I must express six different propositions.

  1. Generative competence the ability to use underlying syntax and structure is one of the foundations of communicative competence. Without it, there is no pragmatic competence worth talking about.

The question “Is form as important as meaning?” is fundamentally mistaken. Form IS part of meaning. It matters whether I say “If I have time I’ll see you” or “If I had time, I’d see you ” just as it matters whether I say “A man attacked a woman ” or “The woman attacked the man. ” The kind of meaning we get from syntactic form tells us essential things, such as “who did what, how, and to whom.” One of the many questions for teachers and materials writers is “How can we make learners aware of how form contributes to meaning?” I will give one possible answer to that question at the end of this article.

It may be possible to communicate very basic messages using words alone, but this is a hollow argument, It is also possible and probably more effective to communicate such messages using no words at all. Hunger, thirst, anger, rage, sexual desire, frustration and interest and most other emotions can all be communicated through gestures with perhaps a few grunts for emphasis. This is not the kind of “communication training” people are prepared to pay money or give up time for.

Language- as Geoffrey Leech argues, has two different domains. There is a GENERATIVE and a PRAGMATIC domain. The generative domain is syntactic and structural. It is possible to state general rules at least about how those syntactic structures are formed. The pragmatic domain is concerned with speech acts. Speech acts cannot be generated without syntax, but speech act theory analyses them purely in terms of their pragmatic effect. Speech act theory tells us nothing about how they are generated, and nothing about how they are learned in the first place.

The “narrow” or fundamentalist version of CLT can easily become a stifling orthodoxy in which things like rote-learning, memorisation, “display questions”, “teacher-talk” automatically mean BAD. None of these things alone is bad. What matters is how, when and why they are done. Although Thompson and Edge have a much broader vision of CLT than the fundamentalist version, it is often that narrow version that prevails among teacher-trainers and other people in strong positions of authority.

2. A language syllabus is more than a list. That is why examples of speech acts cannot be the basis of a syllabus.

Speech acts and functions are important. But in the real world, typical speech acts have to be modified and varied to fit different situations. Typical speech acts typically lead to very unpredictable outcomes. A competent speaker has to know different ways of performing the same speech act. Speakers can do this only if they can generate new examples of the different syntactic structures they need to perform typical speech-acts. That is only one reason a language syllabus has to have a structural as well as pragmatic component . Unfortunately, communicative goals in CLT are usually described so narrowly that it is impossible to study the necessary syntactic forms properly. For example, studying the Present Progressive from the perspective of a single kind of speech act such as “Referring to future plans and arrangements” does not tell us nearly enough about all the other pragmatic uses of the Present Progressive. It may even be better to begin with the structure and to relate it to its most important pragmatic uses. This often makes far better sense than beginning with the speech acts alone. In any case, the same speech act can be performed with very different structures. There is no one-to-one match between them. If we always begin with the speech act, we lose sight of the generative system that makes all speech acts possible.

3. Communicative goals are exercises in illusion rather than reality. It is not possible to specify communicative goals with any precision .

It sounds so neat and convincing to say “At the end of the lesson learners will be able to talk about their jobs” or “be able to give directions”. If these descriptions mean anything, they mean “with some luck and a lot of hard work and good teaching, learners may be able to say a little more about their jobs than they could at the beginning. They may be able to understand stereotypical directions like “To get to the railway station, go down this road, take the first right and then the second left” but in the real world railway stations are rarely so easy to find. Even native-speakers are often unable to give directions clearly or to understand them.

There are no reliable ways of knowing what learners have learned at the end of any lesson, still less of knowing what learners will actually retain in the long term.

Although CLT grew out of a rejection of “structuralism” which was supposed to be based on behaviourism , communicative goals in CLT are all described in typical behaviourist terminology. This implies that language is just behaviour and that communicative competence can be described in simple behaviourist terms.

4. Good teaching requires an understanding of both “whole-class” and “pair/group-methods. Very often far more often than most CLT supporters are prepared to admit competent whole-class teaching is more efficient than pair and group work

In the “real world”, real teachers have to deal with real learners and they are often very different from the eager, motivated learners in the pictures in Edge’s book. Learners in the classrooms I have in mind, typically all speak the same language; Spanish in Madrid, Polish in Warsaw. Japanese in Tokyo, and so on. They do not use English outside the classroom and they rarely if ever hear it used by anybody else. There is only one person in the classroom who has a reasonable command of English who is able to engage them in active use of English in which they also hear someone using that language competently. That person is the teacher and CLT methodology insists that person should “cut teacher-talking-time to an absolute minimum”.

It is true that with so-called “teacher-fronted” methods, some teachers talk too much. It is just as true that the specious description “learner-centred” covers an equally wide spectrum of lazy, ignorant, incompetent teachers who talk glibly of “learner autonomy” and fail to do any of the things that traditional but competent teachers in the past did to help learners towards true autonomy.

The issue is not “teacher-fronted” or so-called “learner-centred” The issue is how can teachers learn to vary their methods and approach, sometimes using “whole-class techniques and sometimes pair/group work. When and why is one approach better than another? A methodology that does not recognise this is not capable of providing teachers with the skills they really need.

5. A reasonable degree of accuracy is an essential part of fluency.

This is not at all the same argument as “learners must get things right from the very beginning”. But neither is this the same thing as saying that because many mistakes are predictable, they are not correctable. Trim fails to make an essential distinction, or to ask one of the many serious questions that should be part of any serious discussion of ELT: “What kind of correction strategies seem to work and which do not?” My answer to that question is “regular form-focused practice as well as many different opportunities to use the forms for a variety of pragmatic purposes”

6. There are essential differences between using your own language and trying to use a language you do not know well. These differences help to explain the differences in behaviour of people in the foreign language classroom and in the streets outside the classroom.

The first and most essential difference is that people in the streets outside the classroom are using their own language to communicate. They learned that language through a long and complex process that is part of their natural development. Children in very different cultures begin using language more or less at the same age, and go through very similar stages of development. This suggests very strongly that the process of L1 acquisition is genetically triggered and biologically driven.

The people in the street outside presumably have already learned the language and the complex syntactic relationships they are using so casually. That is why they are outside and not inside the language classroom. Learning and using an L2 – a foreign language – is an utterly different process. It is NOT genetically triggered or biologically driven in ANY way. This is what makes L1 acquisition and L2 learning so enormously different, and also why Chomsky says “you simply cannot teach a language to an adult the way a child learns a language. That’s why it’s such a hard job.”

Many typical forms of classroom behaviour, such as strict turn-taking, teacher-dominated interaction, as so on, make it possible to focus on things that we normally would not focus on in the world outside the classroom because in the world outside the classroom we would not have time to focus on them or even think about them.

An Alternative To CLT

What I am going to suggest works for me – and I believe it may work for many others. But this does not mean it can work for anybody. The principle behind this is that NO single method or approach can work for all teachers or for all students. We recognise that different learners have different preferred styles of learning. If this is true of learners and their learning styles, it is also true of teachers and their teaching styles. There is NO scientific evidence of any kind that proves or even suggests that typical CLT techniques work well or work at all under all conditions and with all learners. In fact, what little evidence there is points to the opposite conclusion. In a case such as this, it is far better to endorse pluralistic teaching strategies and techniques which allow for greater diversity and choice not just for individual learners but also for individual teachers. But what is my alternative – not the alternative?

Teaching as Narrative

As Scott Thornbury has argued, good lessons have an “affective” or “aesthetic” dimension which is just as important as their pragmatic or pedagogic dimensions. For me, this aesthetic dimension fulfils certain conditions or questions.

  1. Does the lesson, the format and material arouse interest that goes beyond the language itself?
  2. Is there a pleasing and logical relationship between the different parts of the lesson?
  3. Is there anything that the participants can look forward to besides the end of the lesson, and the chance to escape and go home?
  4. Is the language that was used or generated during the lesson memorable in any way? (There are also a number of “more practical” considerations).
  5. Is there something about the format of the lesson that makes it easily retrievable? For instance, if I am the learner, and didn’t understand parts of it or have forgotten it for some other reason, is there some way I could look at or listen to parts of it again as I go home on the bus or tram, or when I am at home the following day?
  6. Does the format and material of the lesson not only provide useful “input” for the learner but also lead to “output” and language production by the learner?
  7. Does the material and the format help to generate spontaneous language-use that is not easily predictable?
  8. Are there features of the language and the lesson format that are likely to stretch the expressive potential of the learners? That is, is there something that helps the learners to improve their generative and pragmatic competence rather than simply use fossilised resources?

My own solution is to adopt a “narrative” approach to the lessons I teach. As it happens, a fairly short text is usually the beginning, but never the end of the lesson. But the lesson would not have a narrative structure at all if that was all I did. And it is quite possible to teach within a narrative structure and not use a “text” in the conventional sense .

A lesson has a narrative structure if the following conditions are met

– The answers to the questions 1-7 are “Yes”

In other words, at each stage of the lesson, the participants have something to look forward to in the next stage; it may be a crucial piece of information they will hear in listening practice. The text might begin with a description of a fairly simple problem, such as someone – let us call her Paula – who feels unfairly treated at work- or as complex as “What led Watson and Crick to believe that the study of viruses could illuminate the secrets of DNA, and how did Rosalind Franklin’s work help them to discover its double helix structure ?”

By the middle of the lesson, learners, – perhaps working in pairs or perhaps as a whole class -should have found out what Paula decided to do about her problem with her boss – or why Watson’s was so intimidated in his first encounter with Rosalind Franklin in a laboratory in the basement of King’s College, London.

By the end of the lesson far more information will have been revealed, such as what happened when Watson met Franklin again or whether Paula solved her problem. The purpose of the narrative structure is not simply to arouse and sustain interest. It is to keep learners involved with the language. If, however, the narrative does no more than keep learners involved with the language, it will still fail as vehicle of language-learning. The narrative has to lead to language-production as well as comprehension. There may be “narrative gaps” that can be interpreted in different ways and which require learners to extend their pragmatic and generative repertoires as they do so. Or perhaps before it is revealed what was done by the person with the problem at work, at least three possible courses of action are described or considered by the class.

Relating form to meaning

In using this narrative approach, I often discover that learners cannot interpret the difference in meaning conveyed by two superficially similar forms, such as “What would happen if you did this?” and “What happened when you did this?” or “I’d like to read this letter to you” and “I’d like you to read this letter”.

The narratives or dialogues were not specially designed to teach such examples. They occurred because they belonged in the text or dialogue. Because they arise naturally, it is also natural to focus on the different meanings conveyed by the different forms. One of the many advantages of using a narrative approach is that the narratives and dialogues make it possible to study a number of things together, and not just one thing, such as grammar, vocabulary or a particular speech act with no context.

Narratives relate different aspects of language to each other in ways, which single speech acts or a set of collocations without context cannot do.

Authentic vs. specially written

Suppose, for example, I want a dialogue in which someone deliberately lies, or threatens someone, or promises to do something and then later fails to fulfil that promise. Where could I find an “authentic ” example of such dialogues? When people know they are being observed or that someone is recording what they say, they rarely behave authentically or normally. Yet all of us know – at least in our own languages -what people are likely to say in such situations. Why should we refuse to use those intuitions in the materials we create or use for our students? Perhaps the products of such intuitions have to be “idealised” in various ways in order to make it possible for non-native speakers to understand them, but this is just as true of “authentic materials”, which are often too long or too difficult or simply not interesting enough for classroom use. Once you adapt such authentic materials, they are no more authentic that a forged signature on a cheque. So I personally have found it far better to create the texts or dialogues myself, often using authentic examples as a guide. When I create such materials, I am only doing what good writers or speakers generally do when speaking to or writing for native speakers. Good writers and speakers do not use language they think their readers or listeners will not understand. The logical conclusion of the “authentic only” argument is that we should treat non-native speakers of English in a way good writers and speakers of English would never treat native-speakers; that is – that we should ignore the problems non-native speakers have with English and speak or write as if those problems simply did not exist. This, by the way, does not mean that we should necessarily avoid language that we think is likely to cause a problem. It means only that we should locate it in contexts that give that language saliency and which also helps learners to infer meaning.

What EFL needs today is writers capable of developing skills that writers in other genres regard as essential: they must be able to develop the kinds of story, plot and character that can keep groups of very different learners interested in the language. The texts and conversations they write must exemplify as naturally as possible how people speak and write outside the classroom. However, the texts and dialogues must also serve the distinct pedagogic purposes that I have tried to categorise here.


Some Misconceptions about Communicative Language Teaching; English Language Teaching Journal Volume 50/1 January 96

‘Pragmatic’ in this sense is used in the sense Geoffrey Leech uses the term in Principles of Pragmatics ; the meaning language acquires when used socially, by and among people, in order to perform typical speech acts.

From Beginners’ Choice , Mohamed & Aclam, Longman 1992. I use this example only because it is quoted by Julian Edge in Essentials of English Language Teaching

Essentials of Language Learning” Longman 1993, p 51 EFL Gazette, December 97

See “the origins of syntax” in Bickerton’s “Language & Human Behaviour“, pp 66-84″ for a discussion of the importance of syntax not only for language but for human evolution and cognition”

Principles of Pragmatics (London, Longman, 1983)

‘Structuralism is one of the major philosophical movements of the 20th Century, and its European form is emphatically not behaviourism’

Language and Problems of Knowledge, The Managua Lectures The MIT Press, 1988 page 180 (Discussions after Lecture 5)

See for example Wong-Fillmore, L. When Does Teacher-Talk Work As Input? in Second Language Acquisition; Newbury House, (now Pearson Education) 1985.


‘Good lessons share features with, among other art forms, good films. They have plot, theme, rhythm, flow and a sense of ending.’

Scott Thornbury, “Lesson art and design”, ELT Journal, January 1999

see Watson, James. D, “The Double Helix” Penguin, 1968

[My quarrel with CLT 28/03/00 Robert O’Neill]


Robert O’Neill, teacher, teacher trainer, and writer, was hugely influential in the world of English language teaching. He died on 29 July, 2014 at the age of 81.

With his gift for story-telling and writing, Robert is fondly remembered as a man of wide-ranging interests, encyclopaedic knowledge and controversial opinions, who took great delight in his ability to shock and surprise. Fellow ELT author, Professor Alan Maley, who knew Robert for over 40 years, remembers him as ‘eccentric, brilliant, outrageously unconventional but, in the words of the song, with a ‘heart as big as a whale’.’ He believes ‘the profession owes Robert an enormous debt for his trailblazing publications, his professional enthusiasm and his exceptional generosity to younger colleagues.’

Continue reading here


A special tribute article accompanies this image on the Pilgrims website here 

Summary of the Cambridge Delta Module 2 assessment

carolineThe DELTA Module 2 assessment is somewhat complicated to someone unfamiliar with this model of reflective practice in which candidates reflect on the practices, values and beliefs throughout the course and identify and pursue the goals they have set for themselves.

Module 2 Assessment Summary in Table format

I have summarised the various assessment components in a table format to make it easier to visualise – I hope this helps candidates and tutor colleagues on the Delta course.

You can find the latest Cambridge Delta Handbook (2015) embedded below. If you are thinking of following a Delta course, careful reading of this document is necessary!


Students engaged in an activity during a Module 2 teaching assessment



What you need in order to pass Module 2

Both the internal and the external assessment contribute to the final grade.

Pass requirements

  • a Pass grade in both parts of the submitted internally assessed assignment
  • a Pass grade in both parts of the external assessment • completion of both parts of the PDA.

Merit requirements

  • a minimum of a Pass grade for the submitted internally assessed background essay
  • a Pass or Merit grade for the submitted internally assessed lesson • a minimum of a Pass grade for the externally assessed background essay
  • a Merit grade for the externally assessed lesson
  • a Pass in both parts of the PDA.

Distinction requirements

  • a minimum of a Pass grade for the submitted internally assessed background essay
  • a Merit or Distinction grade for the submitted internally assessed lesson
  • a minimum of a Pass grade for the externally assessed background essay
  • a Distinction grade for the externally assessed lesson
  • a Pass in both parts of the PDA.

Where there is a difference in the internal and external grades, the coursework will be moderated and the internal grades and the predicted coursework grade taken into account.

(information taken from the Delta Handbook) 

Images by CELT Athens

Do your Delta at CELT
Do your Delta at CELT

Helping Intermediate Learners Better Understand Cohesion

Helping Intermediate Learners Better Understand Cohesion

                           Caroline teaching one of her previous LSA’s

by Caroline Leaming 2012


Cohesion is regarded by Halliday as ‘the crucial criterion to distinguish text from ‘non-text’ (Y. Liu & K.L. O’Halloran, 2009, p.368). Along with coherence, cohesion plays an important role of creating texture in a text (Halliday and Hasan 2003, p.17). However, based on my experience of teaching Japanese and Saudi students, cohesion appears to cause trouble to learners of all levels of English. These observations were also noted in studies concerning the use of cohesion with EFL students. Crane (2000, p.142) remarks that while Japanese students have a firm grasp on the theoretical structure of the English language, they ‘seem to lack the ability to coordinate functional usage of this knowledge with semantic patterning.’ Research also reveals that even advanced level, non-native speakers of English rely on a ‘restricted repertoire of features in constructing unified text’ (Hinkel, 2001, p111). Recent studies show how Arabic cohesion differs greatly from the conventions in English (Ahmed, 2010, p.218) and explains why my students in Saudi Arabia struggled to understand the importance of repetition and reiteration when writing or speaking in English. In Arabic, it is ‘considered good style to simply repeat the same word several times’ (Murcia & Olshtain, 2000, p.83).

What becomes obvious then is that cohesion in English follows different rules from many of our students’ native languages, therefore time invested studying cohesion in English should not be underestimated. It is for these reasons that cohesion will be considered in this assignment. This examination will pertain to the intermediate learner as this is the level in which the learning of these devices takes prominence. While linguists agree cohesion is essential to texture, the text-forming resources which are believed to constitute cohesion, differ between them. Hassan refers to cohesion in terms of the cohesive devices Theme, Information and Parallelism (Martin, 1992, cited in Liu & O’Halloran, 2009, p369) whereas Martin ‘introduces Collocation and Sequence of Tone but excludes Parallelism.’ Eggins’(2004) view that Cohesion is created from Referential, Lexical and Conjunctive Cohesive devices as well as the use of Theme and Rheme will be adopted for this study.

It should be noted that McCarthy (1991, p.2) warns us that ‘discourse analysis is not a method for teaching languages; it is a way of describing and understanding how language is used. With this in mind, the following section describes the various forms of cohesion. The final section explores problems students have understanding and applying these forms, and offers some suggested solutions that could remedy these issues.

Section One: Analysis of Cohesion

1.1      Conjunctive Cohesion

Conjunctive cohesion involves the use of conjunctions to create and express logical relationships between the parts of a text. Conjunctions act as a “cohesive tie between causes or sections of text in such a way as to demonstrate meaningful pattern between them,” (Bloor. T. & Bloor. M. 2004, p 97). According to Halliday and Matthiessen, (2004, cited in Eggins, 2004, p. 47) the three main types of conjunctions are Elaboration (for example, in fact), Extension (and, also, moreover) and Enhancement (next, likewise, hence, however). Conjunctions add texture by creating semantic unity in texts which makes them ‘unproblematic,’ (Eggins, 2004, p.47)

1.2      Referencing

Referencing allows writers to introduce participants, such as people, places, and things, and then ‘keep track of them once they are in the text’ (Eggins, 2004, p33). Three types of referencing exist. Homophoric refers to the shared information of a culture for example, the Queen. Exophoric refers to information from the immediate context of the situation. These two types of referencing contribute to the texts’ situational coherence (ibid. p.34). The final type of referencing, endophoric, exists in the internal texture of the text and can be categorized into three types; esophoric, in which the referent occurs in the phrase immediately following the presuming referent item. cataphoric, which refers to a referent that has not yet appeared, and anaphoric, which refers to a referent that has appeared earlier in the text.

1.3      Lexical Cohesion

Unlike other forms of cohesion, lexical cohesion is non-grammatical and concerns the relationship between words which are members of the same semantic set. Bloor & Bloor comment that these meaningful relationships between words help create cohesion when they are used together in the same short stretch of written English (Bloor. T. & Bloor. M. 2004, p. 87). Eggins purports that there are two kinds of lexical relations between words; taxonomic (words relate to others through class/subclass or part/whole) and expectancy (where a nominal element is linked with a predictable verbal element). Lexical relations analysis is a way of systematically describing how words in a text relate to one another and can be represented in the form of lexical sets or lexical strings. The importance of students being aware of lexical cohesion was proved in a study conducted amongst Japanese students of English which showed the considerable effect the knowledge of lexical cohesion had on their understanding of texts (Muto, 2007).

1.4      Theme and Rheme

The importance of theme in creating cohesion in a text is supported by Eggins who asserts that the theme/rheme structure of a clause is an essential component in the construction of a cohesive text (Eggins, 2004, p. 326). Theme is the departure point which the writer has chosen for a clause and typically contains familiar or ‘given’ information. Since the aim of this essay is to concentrate on the metafunction of texture, and in particular on its use to create cohesion, the interpersonal properties of theme will not be explored. Instead, the role of textual elements in the position of theme, such as continuity adjuncts and conjunctive adjuncts, will be considered.

Continuity adjuncts are mainly used in spoken discourse. When used as theme, they indicate a speaker’s orientation to the interactive continuity of their contribution (Eggins & Slade, 2004, p.84) and their response to what has previously been said. Examples include, yeah, oh, well. Conjunctive adjuncts are conjunctions such as so, but, and which act as textual theme when positioned before the first topical theme in a clause.


Section Two

Issues for Intermediate Students & Suggested Solutions

This section comprises the principal challenges hindering intermediate, adult learners from using & understanding cohesion and some suggestions for the teacher. Since cohesion can be related to both written and spoken discourse, the following offers a variety of both, indicated with either S (spoken), W(written) or B (both).

2.1    Conjunctive Cohesion

Problem 1 – Misuse of discourse markers

Intermediate students often overuse many discourse markers in oral or written tests, thinking it will gain extra points. However, they are often misused and in fact do the opposite in losing them points. Similar research has been noted by Anderson (1989) and Lindsay (1984) in Murcia & Olshtain (2000, p.206).

Suggested Solutions

Students need additional practice with incorporating discourse markers into their productive work. This can be achieved through:

  • (W) – Gap fill exercises in which the discourse marker is missing and the appropriate one is chosen from a selection. Gradually, as the student’s familiarity with their use grows, the selection is removed, forcing students to recall an appropriate discourse marker by themselves. This works well with analytical & visual students and students with logical-mathematical intelligences.
  • (S) – Giving students in small groups (2-3 students) a pack of discourse marker cards. Students have to start and continue a story using the discourse marker written on the card each time it is their turn to contribute to the story. This is excellent for verbal learners with interpersonal intelligences. The teacher gives students a topic based on the lesson’s context to make the story more relevant.
  • (B) – Cohesion Mingle: Students are given different halves of a sentence, one with a discourse marker, one without. Students find their correct other half. In later lessons, students are asked to write their own sentences on two pieces of card. The teacher collects them in, shuffle them, and redistribute them randomly. Students, once again, have to find the other half of their sentence. Bodily-kinesthetic & interpersonal intelligences respond well to this type of activity. My Saudi intermediate students enjoyed the challenge of making their own materials and being responsible for their learning. This is a technique I have used often in classes teaching conjunctions.
  • (W) – Cutting up short texts (stories, newspaper articles etc…) and asking learners to rearrange them in the correct order. This alerts them to the importance of cohesive devises for linking texts. Spatial intelligences are satisfied by this type of activity.
  • (S) – For visual learners, pictures telling a story are given out, mixed. Students should rearrange the story into a logical sequence and then tell the story using cohesive devices.
  • (B) – Nuttall (1982, p.82) suggests tackling cohesion issues by identifying problems and then asking questions in which the meaning of the cohesive items is made explicit. For example, the clause: The Scottish went there because…, would raise the question, Why did the Scottish go there?’ This may be challenging for some intermediate learners, but could be introduced initially with pre-made cards that students had to match. Gradually, the students write and make the cards which are swapped between groups. This worked particularly well with a number of intelligences in my Saudi class of intermediates such as, kinesthetic, spatial, linguistic, and interpersonal. They were split into teams and had great fun trying to catch the other team out with difficult questions.

2.2    Referencing

Problem 2 – Students have difficulty understanding references

English often creates ambiguity in terms of referential ties. E.g. Bob talked to Hans and then drove his car to Berlin (Murcia & Olshtain, 2000, p.131). Whose car was driven, Bob or Hans, is unknown. When a student’s L1 offers access to additional pronoun features such as gender to help them retrieve the antecedent more easily, students may have difficulty understanding references in English.

Suggested Solutions

Provide activities that ask learners to locate obscure reference and practice identification and utilization.

  • (W) – Give students in groups a place/ person/ thing mentioned in a text and have them work together to highlight with (coloured pens or pencils) all the references back to (or forward to) the place/ person / thing in a text. Repeat the process with another referent. Have groups compare their answers and discuss their results. This activity has worked well with my analytical learners and students with spatial, linguistic and interpersonal intelligences.
  • (B) – Encourage Ss to make reference chains for the main items in the text. Reference chains are used to show the patterns of the main participants in the text and their importance. Students then use higher critical thinking skills to discuss in groups what the intention of the author was when mentioning certain places/ people/ things more often than others. This will appeal to analytical learners and students with linguistic, spatial and logical intelligences. My Japanese learners especially were able to learn much from this type of referencing and would often use this technique in subsequent classes, regardless of the text type. They enjoyed being pushed to think outside the box, which is a skill they are often not encouraged to do at school.

Problem 3 – Distance between the referent and its antecedent confuses students

When referents and antecedents are placed far apart in the text, students’ ability to process the text might be slowed down considerably and students may need to read a second or third time.

Suggested Solutions

  • (W) – Reassure students that reading texts several times to search back for referents and antecedents is not a problem and that in real life, native speakers often have to reread things, as they probably do too in their own L1. If students’ affective filter is raised every time the teacher asks students to do this type of activity, they will not be productive in their learning.
  • (W) – Start slow. Introduce students to progressively difficult references by choosing texts in which the references become gradually further from the antecedents. This will slowly ease students into this type of cohesion and build confidence in their reading abilities.

2.3    Lexical Cohesion

Problem 4 – Unaware of the importance of repetition and reiteration in English

As mentioned previously, (Introduction) some languages do not value the importance of varying repetitions and using different synonyms.

Suggested Solutions

  • (W) – Ask students to identify lexical chains from a text to show how often, different words from the same lexical field are used in English. E.g. family – parents – mother. Students could then be asked to rearrange the chain based on semantic relationships. This exercise alerts learners to the synonyms & hyponyms and words of the same lexical field in a text and shows how important lexis is in creating a cohesive text.
  • (B) – Teach synonymy through Odd One Out games in which students must correctly identify which, out of 3 or 5 items, does not belong in that lexical field. I tried this activity with my younger Saudi learners with excellent results. I believe this worked especially well because a competitive element was added by having groups compete and discuss answers in teams.

Problem 5 Producing cohesive written text

Students struggle to produce cohesively written texts, often because they fail to see the cohesion in their own writing.

Suggested Solutions

  • (W) – Ask students to attempt writing parallel texts. Through contrastive analysis, the importance of the cohesive devices they use naturally in their L1 can heighten their awareness of their importance in English. Parallel texts could also be used as a reading exercise in which students are asked to notice and evaluate the differences in use of cohesive devises between their L1 and English. This would be especially beneficial to Arabic and Japanese learners in which the conventions of cohesion are different to that of English.
  • (W) – Give students a random mixture of sentences and challenge them to discover the connections between them and add appropriate cohesive devices. This will appeal to linguistic and spatial intelligences.
  • (B)In as Few Steps: Give students two random words and ask them to come up with and write/ say in as few steps as possible, a possible connection between them. Students should use cohesive devices to show the connections. This can be made more challenging if a competitive edge is added with other teams. A time limit could be set in which learners must try to come up with as many connections between words, using cohesive devises, as possible in under two minutes.



Taking the metafunction of texture, and concentrating specifically on the role of cohesion, this essay has analysed the different types of cohesion according to Eggins. As cohesion is a difficult area of English for even advanced learners to fully understand, this essay has set out to explore the principle problems intermediate learners face as well as to offer some evaluated solutions and activities.

Section Three: References

Ahmed, A.H. (2010). Students’ Problems with Cohesion and Coherence in EFL Essay Writing in Egypt: Different Perspectives, Literacy Information and Computer Education Journal (LICEJ), 1 (4), 211-221.

Bloor, T. and Bloor, M. (2004). Functional Analysis of English (2nd Ed.). London: Hodder Education.

Crane, P. A. (2000). Texture in Text: A Discourse Analysis of a News Article Using Halliday and Hansan’s Model of Cohesion. Retrieved on 20th November, 2012 from http://library.nakanishi.ac.jp/kiyou/gaidai%2830%29/08.pdf

Eggins, S. (2004). An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics (2nd Ed.). Great Britain: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Eggins, S. and Slade, D. (2004). Analysing Casual Conversation. London: Equinox Publishing Ltd.

Hinkel, E. (2001) Matters of Cohesion in L2 Academic Texts, Applied Language Learning, 12:2. 111-132.

Liu, Y., O’Halloran, K.L. (2009). Intersemiotic Texture: analyzing cohesive devices between language and images. Social Semiotics, 19:4, 367-388.

McCarthy, M. (1991). Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Muto, K. (2007). The Use of Lexical Cohesion in Reading & Writing, 107-129 Retrieved on 19th November, 2012, from library.nakanishi.ac.jp/kiyou/gaidai(30)/07.pdf

Nuttall, C. E. (1982). Teaching reading skills in a foreign language. London: Heinemann Educational Books.

Thornbury, S (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

Lesson Plan Download

Caroline Leaming LSA4

Teacher Successes & Failures

One of the questions we ask prospective candidates applying to follow a Cambridge DELTA course at our centre, is to describe an activity they have used with one of their classes which was successful and one which wasn’t. In both cases, the candidates have to explain why they think this has happened.

2013-06-14 13.30.01

A typical response looks like this:


  1. Think of your own experiences as a teacher and describe one   successful and one unsuccessful classroom activity used with a group of adults, explaining the factors contributing to their success or otherwise. Please describe each activity briefly and comment as to why it was successful or otherwise. 

Approximately 250 words

Successful  activity

Unsuccessful activity

Students were asked to follow up a lesson on giving/following directions by hiding/writing directions to a piece of candy.  Students were put in pairs.  One student would attempt to find the candy by reading the directions, the other student taking note of any confusion caused by the wording or structures they used (and maintaining silence). If the first student was unable to find the candy using the written directions, the students would then attempt to verbally direct their partner to the candy (If they managed to find the candy, they would be verbally directed back to the classroom).After both partners found the candy they would report back to room and the teacher.  Students would be put in groups as they arrived back in the classroom and encouraged to speak about what structures/wording was easiest to follow and where they became confused (problems in structure/wording for the most part).The activity was successful for several reasons.We focused entirely on directions for a couple of days before the activity, so the students were aware of directions (and directions vocabulary) and how to go about phrasing them already.Students were able to spot mistakes more easily because the directions were written down and being interpreted by someone else in their presence.The small group discussions helped me to see and understand who might need more help with the topic and also helped students become more aware of the language they were using (rules, things they ought to consider, etc.).

When all of the students had returned we had a short class discussion on common mistakes/troubles, that allowed all students to learn from their collective mistakes (and helped me know what to focus the final lesson on).

This activity was structured around a course designed to provide students with English skills they might use in the workplace.  The unit related to restaurant services.  The activity was a reading exercise designed to produce vocabulary from students/expand their vocabulary by explaining words they might not understand.The focus of the lesson was to be vocabulary and pronunciation, as my job was to teach this class conversational/spoken English skills as opposed to grammar and structure.The students were asked to read through passages as a group and individually.I was unprepared for the students to not understand the grammar presented in the chapter (the grammar teacher’s class had been cancelled). We got bogged down in things (mostly grammar and structure) that I was unable to adequately explain, as I was not fluent in the students’ native language (I did not know the grammar terms in their language and they did not know the grammar terms in English).I was so focused on trying to fill this gap in their knowledge that the class hardly learned anything in the lesson and both the class and I left incredibly frustrated.If I had been aware of several factors the situation might have improved. First off, had I been more aware of my teaching environment I would have known the grammar teacher was absent and I could have changed the lesson.

Secondly, if I had had an alternative plan ready just in case, I could have taught something else/presented the material in a different way.

I was caught unprepared.  Because I was unprepared for this to happen, I shifted the focus of the lesson drastically to try to salvage some part of the lesson.  I tried to take on another teacher’s job, a job for which I was not qualified.  All in all, the lesson was unsuccessful.  I later presented the material again (successfully).


Is it possible to predict something about a teacher from this write up?

We believe it is. A reflective teacher is one who can learn from their successes and failures but who can also analyse the processes follow and reflect on the factors that allowed or prevented success.

Failure and success analysis are a vital part of our development and should be practised regularly, on a blog, in a private journal, even as a recorded comment on our iPhone or laptop

Can all these reflections be accurate?

Reflecting on the reasons for success or failure is more important as a process than as an outcome. In the case above, there may be factors which the teacher has not considered, e.g. the grammar lesson got bogged down because the teacher did not have any methods of teaching grammar without recourse to terminology in the learners’ L1, something which may spring to mind in this instance.

Recording one’s reflections in some way

This is actually not as important as the recording of the reflection and revisiting it later, possibly in the light of further reading or discussions, or even a staffroom or online chat!

We learn by constantly assessing and reassessing our teaching practices and planning decisions and this learning needs its own time and its own individual pace for each teacher.