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Applying Discourse Analysis in the
Classroom with a Specific Focus
on Teaching Discourse Markers
by Ceri Millward
- 3

Classroom Applications

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 markers.

Not 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.

The 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 devices.

Conclusions

Discourse 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.

Bibliography

Bolitho, R. and Tomlinson, B. 1980. Discover English, George Allen and Unwin.

Brown, B. and Yule, G. 1983. Discourse Analysis, Cambridge University Press.

Crewe, W.J. 1990. 'The illogic of logical connectives', ELT Journal, Volume 44/4 October 1990, Oxford University Press.

Crystal, D. 1992. Introducing Linguistics, Penguin.

Edmondson, W. 1981. Spoken Discourse; A Model for Analysis, Longman.

Halliday, M.A.K. 1985. An Introduction into Functional Grammar, Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M.A.K., and Hasan, R. 1976. Cohesion in English, Longman.

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

McCarthy, M. and Carter, R. 1994. Language as Discourse; Perspectives for Language Teaching, Longman.

Nunan, D. 1993. Introducing Discourse Analysis, Penguin Group.

Parrot, M. 2002. Grammar for English Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press.

Sinclair, J.McH., and Coulthard, R.M. 1975. 'Towards an Analysis of Discourse', Oxford University Press.

Swan, M 1997. Practical English Usage, Oxford University Press.

Thornbury, S. 1997. About English; Tasks for Teachers, Cambridge University Press.

Biodata

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. Ceri

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