Discourse Analysis in the
Classroom with a Specific Focus
on Teaching Discourse Markers
by Ceri Millward
Focusing specifically on the practical applications of teaching
discourse markers, I believe that some methods of teaching
these linkers in the classroom can be confusing and lead to
the misuse of certain markers. Many students misuse or over
use discourse markers in the belief that it will add a logical
argument to their writing or simply improve its style. This
of course, could be due to the traditional methods of teaching
discourse markers in the classroom.
Traditionally, we find that most course books present discourse
markers out of context in isolated sentences that bear no
relation to each other, thereby not allowing students to see
the 'big picture' and the form and function of these connectors
within that picture. Often, students are presented with large
lists of discourse markers, again out of context, which are
loosely categorised into groups according to meaning and function.
This of course, can lead students to believe that those discourse
markers within the same categories are interchangeable in
a text, as subtle differences in meaning and the positioning
of each conjunction are not highlighted.
W.J.Crewe (1990) suggests three different approaches, which
he believes may be adopted to remedy the misuse of connectives
by second language students; he refers to these as reductionist,
expansionist, and deductionist.
The reductionist approach - students are taught only a small
selection of connectors and through practice are able to understand
the semantic and discoursal value of each selected item .
The expanstionist approach - Discourse markers are categorised
into Implicit and explicit items. Students are encouraged
to use more explicit items such as connectors with more than
one word, which make the connection clearer. Crewe (1990:
322) believes that, 'with these, the student writer might
more easily be called to account for the logical structure
of his or her argument and made to explicate the links'.
The deductionist approach - When writing, students focus first
on the content of the text. Crewe suggests that the students
should write their first draft without the aid of any discourse
markers, to ensure that the content of the text has a logical
progression before the connectors are added.
Crewe goes on to expand on these three approaches in his paper
(1990) and although he makes some important points and practical
remedies for the misuse or overuse of discourse markers, I
personally feel that some of his solutions could lead to misunderstanding.
For example, he suggests the use of a table which refers to
less connectors yet breaks them down into even smaller categories,
this is suppose to clarify meaning yet seems to only serve
to confuse students even more. I believe, that the table Thornbury
(1996:247) suggest would be clearer and therefore more beneficial
to students on a practical level, though this alone will not
overcome the problem of the inappropriate use of discourse
only must meaning be clarified, but also form and appropriacy
so as to avoid incorrect usage of discourse markers. One of
the most effective ways to clarify meaning, form and appropriacy
is to allow students to infer the correct usage from context
by means of inductive exercises.
extent to which the students are familiar with certain discourse
markers, must play a central role when deciding which connectors
to teach, and the list should be reduced or expanded accordingly.
However, before deciding this, we have to take into consideration
several different factors, the most important of these being
the learners' reasons for learning English: do they need to
use it in a written or spoken context, or whether they need
it for formal or informal situations. In addition, frequency
should be another central consideration: how often are these
connectors used, and how they are used in relation to particular
kinds of texts and contexts. How much we break down the meaning
of each marker, highlighting subtle differences between them,
depends on the level of the class and how many discourse markers
they have seen before.
Overuse is also an issue, which needs to be avoided, given
that students tend to use discourse markers randomly under
the misapprehension that this will add to the cohesiveness
of their discourse, regardless of whether a logical connexion
exists within the text. As Nunan (1993:27) points out, ' cohesive
devices themselves do not create the relationships in a text;
what they do is to make the relationships explicit', this
should be made clear to the students. Cohesion, in itself,
is not enough to make a text coherent. The content of the
text has to have its own logic, which the reader should be
able to recognise even without the aid of explicit cohesive
analysis provides us with a greater knowledge of the mechanisms
that can be used to improve and heighten discourse. In a sense,
the purpose behind using discourse analysis in a classroom
situation is to make sure that the students are acquainted
with the different possibilities that English allows to make
their discourse, written or verbal, more 'natural'. Similarly,
in terms of comprehension, discourse analysis should aid the
students' understanding of the existence, and meaning, of
the greater picture in a piece of discourse.
R. and Tomlinson, B. 1980. Discover English, George Allen
B. and Yule, G. 1983. Discourse Analysis, Cambridge University
W.J. 1990. 'The illogic of logical connectives', ELT Journal,
Volume 44/4 October 1990, Oxford University Press.
D. 1992. Introducing Linguistics, Penguin.
W. 1981. Spoken Discourse; A Model for Analysis, Longman.
M.A.K. 1985. An Introduction into Functional Grammar, Edward
M.A.K., and Hasan, R. 1976. Cohesion in English, Longman.
McCarthy, M. 1991. Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers,
Cambridge University Press.
M. and Carter, R. 1994. Language as Discourse; Perspectives
for Language Teaching, Longman.
D. 1993. Introducing Discourse Analysis, Penguin Group.
M. 2002. Grammar for English Language Teachers, Cambridge
J.McH., and Coulthard, R.M. 1975. 'Towards an Analysis of
Discourse', Oxford University Press.
M 1997. Practical English Usage, Oxford University Press.
S. 1997. About English; Tasks for Teachers, Cambridge University
|Ceri taught English in Madrid for more than five years. During this period she taught all ages and levels, both business and general English. Her particular interests include designing materials, especially visuals, and using drama techniques in the classroom. Ceri is presently the Course Director for a Trinity TESOL Cert. course in European Language Centres in Seville.
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