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Some problems with functions and speech acts
and some solutions through pragmatics to help
upper intermediate learners
by Greg Gobel
- lesson plan 3

Lesson Rationale

In general

This lesson focuses on functional language for giving and responding to instructions in the context of how to use devices. The coursebook ( Cutting Edge Upper Intermediate, page 47) is a good departure point, but needs to be adapted to help learners more fully manipulate, use and understand this functional language. This class understand the usefulness of functional expressions from previous lessons, but we need to take a deeper, look, spending more time learning and using them – especially in more pragmatically contextual and realistic ways, which the book does not always provide.

Lesson Stages

The lesson follows a test-teach-test format – an appropriate strategy because the learners will have a clearer reason for using the new language in the second test phase knowing they had not used it at the start of the lesson, or will be using it more comfortably and effectively than at the start. Also, from the teacher’s perspective, I tend to feel more comfortable knowing which areas need more focus based on the first test.

In stage 1, giving each other instructions on how to operate a device, learners get some fluency practice early on and test out how effectively they can give instructions, and especially how they respond to instructions. I have noticed in the past that learners tend to listen to operational instructions without taking a very active role in the conversation.

In stage 2, learners listen to a dialogue in which the interlocutors give and receive operational instructions. I have adapted the coursebook’s dialogue to include additional and slightly different functional language and to increase the challenge and authenticity by having the new speakers speak a bit more naturally than the coursebook speakers do. The task in this stage is to order pictures (catering to visual and auditory learners) according to the interlocutors’ instructions and responses to gain an overview of the dialogue and prepare for the more intensive listening and language focus.

In stage 3, attention is focused on target functional language through a sequence of lifting the expressions off the tape (to increase challenge and interest, rather than simple tape dictation into gaps), identifying the appropriate function and pertinent pragmatic information about the expressions, chorus and individual drilling, and identification of prominence and tonal movement. This should provide learners with a helpful introduction to the target language from both conceptual/usage and phonological perspectives. The book suggests focusing learners on whether the expressions are for giving or receiving instructions, but I feel a more helpful and precise categorization scheme will lead to more appropriate and confident usage:

  • The giver: 1. telling how; 2. checking instructions; 3. warning and/or correcting.
  • The receiver: 1. preferred responses, i.e., acknowledging you understand; 2. dispreferred responses, i.e., requesting help.

Stages 4 and 5 give learners the opportunity to give and receive instructions in semi-controlled and freer speaking tasks, which ensure the receivers are involved and have a reason to listen. This should help learners become aware that instructing is a cooperative type of communication, not simply a one-sided affair.

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