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First Certificate Speaking: Part 2. Avoiding
"ermmm": Adding coherence to spoken discourse
using discourse markers
by Jonny Frank
- lesson plan 2

Anticipated Task problems:
Problem - Students will not know what to say with regards to peer feedback in stage 2

I have supplied students with three questions to guide their feedback, and a language awareness exercises whereby they tick the expressions their partner used. This should provide them with information to tell the group after the task.

Problem - Students will not use the discourse markers when they re-visit the tasks at the end of the lesson:

I will encourage students to monitor and evalutate their partners' performance by ticking off the expressions their partner uses in their spoken discourse. This ensures that they are actively listening to each other, and the semi-controlled manner will encourage the student who is speaking to use them.

Problem - The meta-language involved in teaching discourse markers may prove overwhelming for students

I have paraphrased and simplified the language on their handout so that it is more understandable. It is crucial that students do not get held up by language such as "dismissing previous discourse" and that they push on with the task.

Problem - The pronunciation of certain words may prove difficult for students, considering their L1

The students' L1 is Spanish, a language which is pronounced more or less as it is written. This may cause problems with some words, as well as aspects of connected speech as students have a "say what you see" mentality to new words at times. Below I have outlined some of the expressions they may have difficulty with. If necessary I will drill the students before the penultimate task (stage 7) to ensure they complete this task as well as they can.

Single words:

Though – students may pronounce this word with /?/ instead of /ð/ at the beginning. I will drill the pronunciation so that students can notice the difference

Whereas – The last e in this word is not pronounced. Students may pronounce this due to L1 interference. If necessary I will draw students' attention to my pronunciation of the word and elicit from them which letter is silent. I will then drill the pronunciation of it.

However – sometimes students misplace stress on new items of language. I will place a stress box above the second syllable of this word and drill the pronunciation.

Aspects of connected speech:

It's kind of / ka?nd?/
It's sort of / s?:t? /
I don't know / ?:d??/
To provide higher-level students with an extra incentive for the last speaking task (stage 7), I may drill the above expressions to draw students' attention and to raise their awareness of how these expressions' sounds are reduced and connected in spoken discourse.

Problem - Students might just compare and contrast the photographs without paying attention to the question

Task 1 sees students predict the question for the photographs. I will then play them three alternatives and ask them to vote for which question they think will be asked. Students will then dictate the question to me and I will write it on the IWB. This is in order to heighten students' awareness with regards to answering the question, as this will form a natural context within which they can use the discourse markers.

This is a young FC group whose parents, and indeed some of the learners, are extremely interested in taking the exam at the end of this academic year. I recently conducted mock oral exams with this class, with a particular focus on part two of the exam (when students have to compare and contrast two photographs and answer a question connected to them). Given that the group is quite young, and that is was possibly the first time they had done such an activity, their spoken discourse was not very coherent. The spoken discourse, included in the Background Assignment as Appendix A, was incoherent; contrary to what is required to pass the FC speaking exam.

After transcribing the classes' audio, I started to think about how they could have said things differently. In each case they were missing some type of discourse marker, whether it was to gain time, to contrast ideas, to dismiss previous discourse, and to express cause and result. I decided to research this area to see if I could help my students improve in this area of the exam. A subsidiary benefit of introducing them to discourse markers is that their learner strategies will hopefully be amplified; that is to say: instead of searching for a specific word they will be able to describe it (kind of, sort of), or change the subject smoothly without halts to their discourse (anyway, anyhow). One look at the transcripts in the appendix will show the necessity that these learners of English exhibit in needing to become more aware of discourse markers in spoken discourse.

The students come to class on a Friday evening for an intense three hour class. They are thirteen and fourteen years old, so one has to bear this in mind a lot when preparing the class. With this group I find presenting items in a PPP (Present, practice, produce) formula unsuccessful. It is how they are taught at school, and inevitably such a method involves a stage of book work. I also find that such a method, as the one aforementioned, does not raise their awareness of the learning process. By giving them a task to complete and working to improve their performance of this task, I think their awareness of the learning process is enhanced; you can draw their attention at the end of the lesson to the improvements they have made to their English. In addition to this, I have also found this class to be extremely responsive to self- and peer- assessment, and hope to make use of this to make the feedback in the lesson student-based and communicative.

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