When Teaching Discourse Markers

Reflections on Discourse Markers 157 (pp. 139-145) by Michael Swan in Practical English Usage (2005)

This reflection presents one practical suggestion when scaffolding for students when learning about discourse markers. My group and I prepared a pre-, during- and post activities on the basis of the Discourse Markers part of Swan’s book Practical English Usage. The pre-activity consisted of orienting themselves in the grid from corresponding grid on page 153-154 in Derewianka’s book A New Grammar Companion, to make them realise that different authors (and teachers for that matter) might organise the discourse markers in different categories – still the same types of discourse markers together – but with different headlines and a variation of amount of categories. Swan divides the discourse markers into 21 different categories, whilst Derewianka only presents 6 overall categories. The during-activity asked the individual student to write one example of a discourse marker to each of the 21 categories, whilst reading the chapter in Swan’s book. As a post-activity, we divided the students into 4 groups, presenting them with a new grid of 8 discourse marker categories – a middle group – comparing the two different books – see grid beneath.

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Each group would then have to focus on two categories, e.g., Adding examples and Sequencing examples. They were given 10 minutes to find the corresponding discourse markers within their own internship reports within the given categories. Then discussing with the rest of the group what the usage of those types of discourse markers did for the context of their reports/the language, and finally – in a padlet – they added their examples along with the highlights from their discussion. Then all groups were split up and new groups was formed to have at least one representative from the previous groups in each. Now they had a few minutes to present their findings to the rest of their new groups.

The goal of using a padlet was to enable the students to save their ‘corporative notes’ for further use, whilst working in groups enforced learning through peer-to-peer teaching. Finally, the purpose of having them find the discourse markers in their own text, was to created relatedness and practical relevance for each individual student – this succeeded to a certain degree – one student added the fact that their internship reports were in English, which made the task pointless to him. Which really just empathises the importance of honest evaluation, because we cannot change what we don’t acknowledge.


Derewianka, B. (2015): A New Grammar Companion – For Teachers. Reprint. PETAA

Swan, M. (2005): Practical English Usage. OXFORD

Functional Grammar – Introduction

Reflections on Introduction (chapter 1; pp. 1-11) from A New Grammar Companion by Beverly Derewianka

Chapter 1 in Derewianka’s book A New Grammar Companion – For Teachers (2015) introduces the book, its form and its chapters. The book can be used in several ways, but especially for those who are interested in either the meaning or the form of English grammar. The meaning behind grammar teaching focusses on the linguistic choices created for certain meanings. Grammar is reviewed as a resources; “(…) an array of possibilities from which we can choose” (p.1).

Functional grammar teaching is a…

  • sociological perspective*
  • language perspective, and a
  • pedagogical perspective

*Sociological perspective as learners can (and should be able to) use language to achieve a range of social purposes such as describing, explaining, arguing and recounting.

When using a functional perspective:

  • Language is a dynamic, complex system of resources for making meaning.
  • Language reflects the culture in which it has evolved. It is not a neutral medium, but expresses certain world views, values, beliefs and attitudes.
  • Our language choices change from situation to situation, depending on the social purpose for which language is being used, the subject matter, who is involved, and whether the language is spoken or written.
  • The emphasis in language study is on how people use authentic language in various contexts in real life to achieve their purposes.
  • The particular focus will be on the language needed for successful participation in school contexts.
  • A knowledge of grammar can help us to critically evaluate our own texts and those of others (eg identifying point of view; examining how language can be manipulated to achieve certain effects and position the reader in different ways; knowing how language can be used to construct various identities or a particular way of viewing the world).


What language does and what it is needed for:

  • For achieving different social purposes
  • For sharing ideas about their experience of the world
  • For making connections between these ideas
  • For interacting with others
  • And for constructing coherent texts in both spoken and written modes.

The language choices made are naturally influenced by the context. The context includes the purpose, field, tenor and mode. The figure beneath shows how a text is typically shaped (how, and why). The social purpose covers genre and characteristics thereof, thus the entire text and all it’s elements (read: context) is shaped by the social purpose of itself.  Building the field influence that linguistic choices one has to express and connect ideas (knowledge), thus if the teacher is asking a learner to deliver a certain type of text, the “field” is where scaffolding ought to be done (if need be) e.g., to equip the learner with a broadened vocabulary (p.6). The tenor concerns the actual roles presented and their relationships with each other e.g., occupation, titles, intimate vs. distant relations. Finally the mode of the context has to do with creating a coherent and cohesive text, which is different from fluent and spontaneous verbal language.

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The chapter also introduces the levels of language (and their relation to each other), divided into the following:

  • Text
  • Sentence
  • Clause
  • Group/phrase (as a group of words, what function does ‘this phrase’ have in the sentence?)
  • Word

Example of a story divided into the 5 levels of language: (p.11).

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Derewianka, B. (2015): A New Grammar Companion – For Teachers. Reprint. PETAA


Teaching Grammar

Reflections on Introduction: Teaching Grammar (chapter 5) in Basic Issues in EFL Teaching and Learning (Eisenmann & Summer:2012) by Ivor Timmis

Even though one might think, that there’s a general conception on how to teach language to new learners, there’s great debate especially concerning the importance of grammar teaching. There are two extreme views on teaching grammar; one part beliefs that teaching grammar is absolutely central to learning a new language, where the other part believes that grammar is not important at all, or even harmful to be taught or a waste of time. The two opposite positions on grammar teaching are the interventionist and the non-interventionist.

The non-interventionist has a highly input-based focus, and divides learning into two; learning (as of being taught explicitly) and acquisition (absorbing), thus saying that acquisition is more important, as it creates implicit knowledge within the student. Learning is then referred to as the conscious, traditional grammar-based process in the classroom, whereas when arguing for the acquisition-approach, the non-interventionist will refer to when we as humans learn our first language, which certainly isn’t by being taught grammar explicitly. Through listening and reading the learners are exposed to comprehensible input (Krashen, 1981), which has to be material that are both interesting and understanable. The non-interventionist beliefs that grammar has (or should have) a minor role when teaching a new language. This belief became especially popular in the 80s as sales-pitched by Stephen Krashen, that stated that a student that cannot verbalise the answer, might as well just have the answer, they are just working with their implicit knowledge in a more introverted fashion and will start verbalising as they have gathered enough implicit knowledge (just like young children learning their first language).

The interventionist empathises the importance of grammar teaching (form-focused activities) and will present studies showing how being taught grammar is very beneficial when learning a new language. The interventionist will argue the importance of explicit output-based learning as the basis of understanding and acquiring a new language. As output-based can facilitate acquisition by helping the learners to notice gaps between what they want to say and what they are able to say. They also counter-argue with the non-interventionists and say, that non-interventionist content-based teaching certainly may lead to significant gains in fluency and receptive skills, but that it does not produce accuracy of output.

So whether one fits one or the other, there are additionally different approaches to the way that one might teach grammar; proactive and reactive grammar teaching. The traditional approach is the proactive gramma teaching, this happens as grammar is explicitly presented by the teacher, the practised and produces by the learner (PPP; present-practise-produce). The procedure typically involves the presentation of the target structure in some kind of illustrative context and the explanation, meaning and use of target structure. This is followed by controlled practise where the learners manipulate the target item in exercises. The opposite and less explicit approach to teaching grammar is reactive grammar teaching which happens as the error occurs. There is a focus on form, where grammar points are dealt with as and when they create difficulty in context of a communicative activity, thus the teaching becomes implicit. This could be the teacher responding in a verbal dialog with a learner, by correcting their grammatical error in their answer. Reactive grammar teaching can both be planned and/or spontaneous.

Additionally the activities of grammar teaching can either focus on input or output. Ellis (2003) argues that input-based approaches intends to draw the students attention towards the structure of a subject in different ways, by highlighting to pointing out different structures in the input material. The theoretical reasons behind input-based approaches, rests on the computational model of language acquisition (Ellis, 2003), where acquisition occurs as a result of obtaining input. Furthermore it’s argued that the link between input and intake is the process of noticing, i.e. where the learners becomes conscious of what they already know and what input they get from their L2 (Schmidt, year), thus the learner need to be conscious of the input, in order to produce it as output. Therefor the teacher using an input-based approach should seek to provide a rich input. The input-based approach is especially linked to acquisition through listening and reading. The output-based approach to grammar teaching requires intense practise and is typically linked to explicit- and proactive teaching, though there are two kinds of output-based approaches; one includes that the that the output is fundamentally an intense practice of particular structures, and one where the learner is experiencing acquisition through practising output. By an explicit practice the learner will gain an automatic control of certain structure in their development of language (DeKeyser, 2003). Within output-based grammar teaching, the teacher anticipates what the learner will have difficulties with and plans tasks accordingly, yet focusing primarily on meaning.

Furthermore, one should be aware of the intentions behind teaching grammar either explicitly or implicitly. Explicit teaching is often designed to create explicit knowledge, which is the conscious knowledge of grammar i.e. the rule-set of grammar. Krashen (1981) would argue that explicit knowledge can be used only when learners have sufficient time and are focused on the form and know the rule. So although learners are aware of their explicit knowledge, as they hav to attend to language structures to learn them, when it comes to actual language use they face many problems because explicit knowledge exists independently of its actual use. It can be, in contrast to implicit knowledge, communicated or demonstrated on demand. Rather Krashen would favour implicit teaching as implicit knowledge is proceduralised (acquisition). Implicit knowledge is the knowledge we have without knowing why. For example the correct way of saying something, but without knowing why, maybe just sensing that it sounds right.


DeKeyser, Robert (2003): Implicit and Explicit Learning. In: Doughty, Catherine/Long, Michael (eds.): The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 313-348.

Eisenmann, M. & Summer, T. (2012): Basic Issues in EFL Teaching and Learning. 2nd Review. Universitysverlag WINTER Heidelberg

Ellis, Rod (2003): Task-based Learning and Teaching. Oxford: OUP.

Krashen, Stephen (1981): Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.

Schmidt, Richard (1990): The Role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning. Applied Linguistics 11, 129-58.