Teaching discoursally

Published on 24th March, 2011 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

The following simple suggestions raise awareness and prominence of both discoursal and lexical features in a written text. Use these techniques to encourage students to look at texts they have read in a different light (suggestions 4 and possibly 3 may work better with a previously unseen text).

What follows is a sample extract from a longer text, but note that these generic suggestions can be used at different levels to promote a more sophisticated writing style. The discoursal feature of lexical chaining highlighted here is an area seldom focused on in course materials.

The child picked up the sweet from the floor and immediately lifted it to his mouth discreetly, before his mother noticed. However, the woman caught the boy’s hand just before the offending object was placed on his tongue. She shrieked, then looked, incredulous, at her friend …

1  Put the words child, sweet, mother and mouth on the board. Ask students to locate the words, then find other words which replace them in the next sentence(s) (boy, offending object, woman, tongue). Ask students why these are used and what the effect is.
2  Project an annotated text on the board, with the secondary words, (boy, (offending) object, etc) highlighted. Students come up and draw arrows back, to show what they refer to. General nouns like object are useful words to point out.
3  Put up the projected text, which students have probably already read. Blank out the secondary nouns (boy, (offending) object, etc). Invite suggestions, avoiding repetition or pronouns.
As above, but blank out both first and second nouns, substituting with a mini image, eg a sweet for both sweet and object.
5  Students read a text with an abundance of repetition rather than interesting lexical chains. Ask students to identify the problem and then improve it (perhaps using a thesaurus).