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

To a Word doc of the materials used

Time: 60 minutes

Level: Upper-Int

Main Aim:
Learners will be better able to use functional chunk expressions to give instructions and ask about how things work in the context of giving and receiving instruction to operate a device. (stage 4,5) [Expressions: First of all…, Can you see a ___ that says ____ ? , The next thing is to…, What you need to do is…, Have you got that?, Got it? You should be able to see a…, Look out!, Hang on a minute., This one/thing here?, If you want to _______ then you have to _______, What if I want to..?

Subsidiary Aims:
To sensitize learners to prominence and tonal movement. For learners to make attempts at identifying these. (stage 3)

For learners to be able to classify chunk expressions into specific pragmatic categories: telling how to do something, checking instructions, warning or correcting what someone is doing, saying that you understand, asking for help or asking for more time. (stage 3)

If time allows and learners are not overwhelmed with the expressions and subsidiary aims above another subsidiary phonological aim will be to raise learners’ awareness of linking in the expressions, e.g., final consonant linking with initial vowel, some assimilation, some intrusion, some elision. (stage 3)

For learners to practice extensive listening while putting pictures in order. (stage 2)

For learners to practice intensive listening by identifying expressions in the listening text. (stage 3)

Timetable fit:
We are currently progressing through module 4 in the coursebook, Cutting Edge Upper Intermediate. The lesson previous to this one was a review lesson for the upcoming internal upper-intermediate exam, after which we will have three days left before the winter break to go over problematic bits on the exam and finish module 4.

From 4:05 until 4:15, the learners will do some vocabulary matching sheets focusing on language that is particular to the devices that will be used in the lesson. This pre-teaching will hopefully help them feel more comfortable and more successful in giving instructions to each other through the lesson. The lexis will include (washing powder, liquid, drawer, knob, power button, mouse, mouse pad, icon, screen, viewfinder, handle, lens cap, record button). Additionally, learners will get the instructions chart and think of a few expressions for each functional category to see what they know and prepare for the mini-test in stage 1. The last 15 minutes of this particular class will be spent either continuing to practice giving instructions if learners are still interested or with a quick question/answer session to review for the internal end of term exam that is coming up. In a future lesson we will look at written instruction.

Learners have given instructions to peers at lower levels.
Giving instructions is a function that learners are familiar with in their L1 (Spanish).
Although an ‘upper intermediate’ class, the learners struggle to keep up with the complexity in the coursebook.

Anticipated Problems and Possible Solutions:

  • Learners will speak more Spanish than necessary. After attempting to train them out of this habit, they still believe that speaking Spanish helps their English. They also see class as more of a social club than a place to learn English. This is an on-going process of training them out of bad habits from previous years. Solutions: Continue to ask learners to speak in English. Ask learners, ‘Can I help?’ to get them to revert back to English. Use gestures and eye contact to help prevent and stop Spanish.


  • Learners may get caught up on vocabulary related to the devices; this may cause frustration or lack of task success. Solutions: I will try to teach some of the particular device lexis before the start of the lesson. Also, I will make myself available for the learners’ questions about words they do not know.


  • Learners may struggle with the listening. Listening has been consistently their most challenged skill. The Cutting Edge listenings seem geared more toward an ESL class than an EFL class, consistently ‘above’ these learner’s level. Solutions: Tell learners how they should listen before the activities so that they feel more comfortable going into the tasks. Willingness to play the tape as much as it takes. Pausing the tape to help or give learners clues. Reading the dialogue myself if they still cannot work out the tape. Last resort: use the tapescript, although that does seem to make it more of a reading activity than listening.

Classroom aids-related:

  • The room is quite small, even for the seven learners on the roster. With an extra person in the room, the learners may be lacking comfort space. Solutions: First, I will try to change rooms with another teacher before the lesson begins to get a room that has more space. If that does not work, we will have to make do. Perhaps at times I can open the door to create an impression of roominess.
  • Someone else takes the OHP. Solutions: I have reserved it for today, but sometimes that is not a guarantee. If there is no OHP, I will have to gather learners round closely with a blank piece of paper under the OHT.
  • The tape recorder has recently been acting up a bit in this class’s room. Solutions: I will check the tape recorder before the lesson and change it if need be. If it acts up during class, I will have to read the tapescript myself.
  • A plan was made to ask learners to bring in a device that they knew quite well for stage 1, but no learners came to class on the preceeding lesson, 7 th December. Solution: Learners will talk about video camera as that is the focus of the listening text.


  • Sometimes this class takes a long time to get through material in this upper-intermediate book. They find it very difficult, sometimes even when I grade down the tasks, or even the material. Solution: Be patient and not force the learners through just to get to the end. I would rather they did some of the lesson successfully than all of it knowing they were not very successful.
  • Learners complete activities faster than expected. Solution: Several back up activities are planned to fill time in a relevant if this happens.

Number of learners:

  • If there are either 5 or 7 learners, there will not be even pairs for some of the tasks. Solution: Use group of three. Although not ideal, I would rather not pair myself up with a learner because then I would not be able to monitor everyone as effectively.

Learner Profiles:  
The class:
There were only four learners in the class when we started in October. Now, there are seven. The increase has been gradual, with Adriana joining after about two weeks, Marta P. joining in early November and Soledad joining at the end of November. Jose, Marta and Irene were all in an intermediate class together last year. They have told me that they had a teacher that encouraged them to speak Spanish (because this would help her learn Spanish) and did not try to establish a heavily English-speaking atmosphere in the class. Being used to that, they are having trouble trying to reduce their use of Spanish in class. We have experimented with some learner training awareness activities in the hopes that showing them why relying on a lot of Spanish in class can be a hindrance to their learning. Although they say they understand, we still have a long way to go, taking little steps along the way. Most of the class are between 16 and 18 years old, except Soledad, who is a bit older.

Jose is enthusiastic for both English and Spanish in the lessons. He does usually engage with the material, whether it is from the coursebook or supplementary. He especially enjoys historical topics. He is going to take the selectividad exam later in the school year and has asked if we can do some practice for that as the time approaches.

Marta struggles with English syntactical structure, and tends not to remember much vocabulary from previous lessons. She rarely does her homework and has a erratic attendance. She thoroughly relishes speaking Spanish in class, and considers class more a time for socializing with her friends from last year rather than an opportunity to practice English. Marta wants to be involved in child care and does not have any intention of using English in her future job.

Irene is especially interested in speaking Spanish in class.She often comes late to class by about 5 to 15 minutes. Recently she has missed several classes due to school exams and holidays. I am worried that she is not making that much progress, and also a bit worried that she does not seem to care. I have talked with her about these issues, and she says she is aware of them, but does not That said, Irene has an effervescent personality and tends to give most tasks a go for a few minutes until reverting to Spanish. She wants to be a flight attendant. This would be worked into class content if she came to class more predictably. Possibly for after the winter break, I will have a lesson with flying/flight attendant

Lucia struggles sometimes with the tense system, but takes her learning quite seriously. She has plans of becoming a lawyer, and knows that English may be important later in life. She always does her homework, quite thoroughly, and is very receptive to feedback and correction.

Adriana also does her homework regularly. She originally did not intend on using Spanish in class, but has been tempted too often by the group of three that has carried their Spanish-speaking over from last year. She and I have talked about this, and she knows her original intention would be more beneficial linguistically, but she said she does not want to be thought of ‘strangely’ or isolated by the group of three. Marta Marta works hard and enjoys using English in class, generally. However, she can turn off without indication and drift into daydreaming about her other interests. Amongst the learners, probably she and Adriana tend to use Spanish least. She especially enjoys break dancing and music, U2 and Bono being particular favorites.

Soledad is the most recent learner to join the class. She said that she studied English for a while up to about seven years ago, and then stopped. She feels she has lost a lot of her former knowledge and abilities. Like many of the other learners, she has particular difficulties with the Cutting Edge listening texts. Soledad is several years older than the other learners. Her attendance is rather erratic.

Classroom Aids:

To a Word doc of the materials used

  • Tape recorder
  • Tape with dialogue
  • White board
  • White board pens
  • Tape with background music for some tasks
  • Picture cutouts for ordering
  • Chart for expressions
  • Gap fill for expressions
  • OHP
  • OHT chart
  • OHT video camera visual cut ups.
  • OHT phrases
  • OHT Best Buy
  • Role cards

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.

Stage 1
8 minutes
Test to see how learners can give instructions to each other.
Prompting learner-to-learner interaction early in lesson.

1A. Learners give each other instructions for how to work a video camera; T monitors checking for language they used to help give inst, or ask how the video recorder works.

  • Interaction pattern: Closed pairs, attention on pictures and tape recorder
  • Classroom aids: ohp, oht
  • 4-5 minutes

1B. Feedback to the task focusing on both the steps and also some of the language that learners may have used.

Stage 2
7 minutes
Tactile activity to cater to kinaesthetic learners. Listening text to cater to auditory learners.
For learners to put stages of camera operation in order so they have a framework for stage 3.
For learners to verify they have succeeded and to wrap up the activity.

2A. Learners listen to a taped dialogue about operating a video camea. As they listen, they put eight pictures in order. If need be, tape can be played several times to help learners hear.

  • Interaction pattern: Closed pairs, attention on pictures and tape recorder
  • Classroom aids: sets of pictures, tape, tape recorder
  • 4 minutes

2B. Feedback to pictures on the ohp. One set of cut up pictures, the same as the learners have, are rearranged on the ohp. This may be done with learners telling teacher how to order the pictures or teacher may ask a learner to come to ohp to order them.

  • Interaction pattern: lockstep
  • Classroom aids: sets of pictures, ohp, oht.
  • 2 minute

Stage 3
20 minutes
For learners to notice and write down the target expressions of the lesson. For learners to practice pronunciation through controlled repetition drilling.
For learners to attempt noticing prominence and tonal movement.
For learners to decide about the meaning/function of each expression.
Tchr will try to create pace but balance it with patience through stage 3A.

3A. In this stage of the lesson, learners will do several things with the teacher guiding and helping them focus on the target language

For each target expression in the dialogue, the following sequence will be used drawing on techniques of lifting from the tape, drilling, classifying:

    1. listen to bit of tape
    2. listen to bit of tape again
    3. elicit from learners what the expression is
    4. listen again if trouble
    5. try eliciting again
    6. ask learners to categorize function according to chart
    7. choral drill
    8. individual drills
    9. have learners identify prominence and tonal movement
    10. perhaps drill again if necessary
    11. T makes note of a few helping clues on board for quick recall at end of this stage

(Throughout this sequence T may try to raise learners’ awareness of other phonological features in the expressions to do with linking. This will depend on time and learners’ success through the stages of the sequence above.)

  • Interaction pattern: Learners-tape recorder; learners - T.
  • Classroom aids: tape recorder, tape, board, charts
  • 15 minutes

3B. Teacher will show learners a completed chart on ohp. Learners can compare with their own chart and make necessary changes. Teacher will monitor at this point to be available to help.

  • Interaction pattern: closed pairs; learners – ohp; learners – T.
  • Classroom aids: charts, ohp, oht with chart
  • 3 minutes

3C. Very quick recall with teacher’s board notes for each or some of the expressions.

  • Interaction pattern: learners - T.
  • Classroom aids: board, possibly board pen
  • 2 minutes

Stage 4
13 minutes
For learners to have controlled practice using the expressions to build confidence in using them before making attempts in a freer environment.

4A. Controlled speaking practice. StA has a picture sheet with some word prompts to help them give instructions to their partner using expressions for giving instructions. StB has the pictures cut up and mixed up so must listen to StA and put the pictures in order, meanwhile using expressions for receiving instructions. Both learners try to get rid of all their phrase slips. Also listeners need to decide which of the instructions was not in the right order.

  • Interaction patterns: closed pairs, changing pairs when appropriate
  • Classroom aids: prompt cards with visuals, phrase slips
  • Time: 8-10 minutes

4B. Feedback

  • Interaction pattern: lockstep
  • Classroom aids: prompt cards if necessary
  • Time: 1-3 minutes

Stage 5
12 minutes
For learners to have the opportunity for freer practice in a contextualized role play.
Learners stand to re-energize and give task more real-life context, as in a shop they would likely be standing to do this.
For learners to experience both sides of this this type of conversation, time allowing.
For learners to correct their own mistakes soon after completion of the activity. To bring closure to the task.

5A. Role play at ‘Best Buy’. First learners have a chance to read their role cards, then they do the role play with a partner.

A: Shop clerk who is patient and willing to forgive instructions but can’t give compensation.

B: Has bought a device, not sure how to get it to work. Wants some sort of compensation.

  • Interactive pattern: closed pairs, standing.
  • Classroom aids: correction notes, role cards (3 types), ohp chart ready if learners struggle too much
  • 5 minutes

5B. Feedback and correction spot.

  • Interactive pattern: lockstep
  • Classroom aids: board, board pens, correction notes

5C. Change roles if time allows.

  • Interactive pattern: closed pairs, standing
  • Classroom aids: correction notes, role cards, ohp chart ready if learners struggle too much
  • 5 minutes

5D. Feedback and correction spot.

  • Interactive pattern: lockstep
  • Classroom aids: board, board pens, correction notes

The following tasks are available if there is extra time. The order is flexible based on time or emerging considerations.

Stage 6
4 minutes
To consolidate new language after the speaking activities.

6A. Learners get a gap fill of the dialogue used in stage 2 and 3. They fill the gaps from memory with some of the target expressions.

  • Interaction pattern: closed pairs
  • Classroom aids: gap fills
  • 3 minutes

6B. Feedback, eliciting answers from learners.

  • Interaction pattern: lockstep
  • Classroom aids: gap fills
1 minute

Stage 7
5-6 minutes
To personalize the instructions and for further practice with the target language.

7A. Learners think of a device they know of, e.g., their discman, mobile phone, etc; or, even a type of behaviour that can be instructional, e.g., Jose’s martial arts.

  • Interaction patterns: learners thinking alone
  • 1 minute

7B. Learners give instructions again, but this time about their own device.
Listener pretends they do not really understand what to do so that speaker has to reiterate explanations. Role change possible as needed.

  • Interaction pattern: closed pairs
  • 3-5 minutes

7C. Feedback.

  • Interaction pattern: lockstep
  • 1 minute

Homework: Learners do p 27 in the workbook focusing on giving instructions.

To the original lesson plan

To a Word doc of the materials used

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