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


I became interested in the use of discourse markers in spoken discourse after conducting a mock test with my First Certificate group. We focussed on part two and the transcripts, which can be seen in the appendices, were almost all lacking in discourse markers. Students can become nervous and freeze at this point in the exam, and, as Hedge observes "trying to produce language in front of other students can generate high levels of anxiety" (Hedge, 2000: 298). Even so, having examined the students' needs, I believe that discourse markers can de-freeze them as it were: from being more coherent to gaining time using discourse "fillers" to overcome their nerves and process their thoughts and language. By coherence I mean the relationships that connect discourse between utterances (Richards & Schmidt, 2002, 85); to stop talking about one photograph to talk about another, without contrast (however) or dismissing previous discourse (anyway), often leads to incoherence. Students tend to under-perform in part two of the FC exam, failing to provide examiners with "[in]adequate sample of language" (FC handbook, 2008: 55). Students are expected to "to show their ability to organise their thoughts and ideas, and express themselves coherently and in appropriate language" (FC handbook, 2008: 55). Due to this need for coherence and clarity, combined with my needs analysis of students, a range of spoken discourse markers is essential so that in the exam students produce adequate language.


Thornbury goes as far to say that discourse markers are "not unlike the gestures and devices that drivers make use of to indicate their intentions in heavy traffic" (Thornbury, 2005: 66). One must assume that without them spoken discourse would be directionless and incoherent. Despite this importance, "there is no universally agreed way of classifying discourse markers" (Parrot, 2008: 302), making an analysis of the field challenging.
In part two of the FC speaking students should be "able to organize extended discourse" according to Cambridge ESOL's abridged CEF guidelines (FC handbook, 2008: 87). The discourse markers I use must consider part two of the FC exam, in which one of the four areas of assessment is "Discourse Management (Range, Coherence and Extent)". Those outlined below fit this context:

of previous
Examples However, on one hand, on the other hand, whereas.. Let me see, I mean, kind of.. Therefor, because, then.. At least, anyway, in any case, anyhow..
Source Parrot: Grammar for English Language Teachers Swan: Practical English Usage
Thornbury: Beyond The Sentence
Crewe: 'The illogic of logical connectors' ELTJ article Swan: Practical English Usage


1. Contrast
We use these to draw attention to (apparent) inconsistency.
They are normally positioned at the initial point of a clause.
General use:
However; in fact; on the other hand; rather; in contrast; on the contrary; still
Mainly used in speaking
Though; actually; all the same; anyway; as a matter of a fact; at the same time

The most frequently used discourse marker for contrast is however; less frequently used are nevertheless, nonetheless and yet.
Being a fire fighter is even scarier, however, so I think that would have me scared to death
It is, nevertheless/nonetheless¸ a recommended read
These markers can also change position, without a change in meaning, to the initial point of the clause:
However, being a fire fighter is even scarier, so..
Nevertheless, it is consistent with previous reports which…

We use though to mark that something contrasts with what has gone before, usually at the end of point we are making.
I still think he's probably climbing, though

We use actually, as a matter of a fact and in fact when we want to contrast what people may have imagined with the reality. These markers are positioned either at the beginning or at the end, as demonstrated below:
It looks like it's a man flying, actually/as a matter of a fact
Actually/As a matter of a fact, it looks like a man flying

We use on the other hand to introduce a contrasting opinion or point of view:
..Working as an English teacher, on the other hand, is less demanding than working as a doctor

At the same time and All the same are very informal markers, which are also used to indicate the arrival of a contrasting idea. These markers are positioned in the centre of the clause, usually preceded by but:
I'm not that keen on laptops but at the same time/all the same, they are useful

2. Markers for gaining time
Let me see; let's see; well; you know; I don't know; I mean; kind of; sort of; yeah

Give the speaker time to think or process in spontaneous discourse. They tend to come at the initial point of the clause, or in a central juncture.

These discourse markers lack an explicit meaning. They are used by speakers to gain time whilst processing information:
- Why did you do that?
-- Oh, well, you know, I don't know, really, I mean, it just sort of seemed a good idea

Thornbury compares using yeah and well to starting a manoeuvre in a car, indicating the start of the clause (Thornbury, 2005: 66). He also states that I mean "signals that some kind of clarification is going to follow" (Thornbury, 2005: 66); a particularly useful marker for a learner of English to master, given that it allows time to process the clarification that is to come. Other markers like sort of and you know – in non-interactive discourse such as the solo turn in part two of the FC exam – can be used by learners to gesture at words or phrases they do know.

3. Causes and results
To draw attention to the fact that something is caused by or naturally comes from something else.
They are normally placed in-between two clauses to introduce the causal aspect.
General Use:
So, then, because

Mainly used in formal contexts:
Consequently; therefore; thus; hence

Mainly used in speaking:
As a result; in that case; consequently

We use therefore and consequently in more formal contexts. Thus and hence are particularly formal, and also less frequent. As a result and consequently are more often used in spoken discourse than the aforementioned
He is English so he speaks English
I think therefore [consequently/as a result] I am
I didn't do it because I ran out of time

These markers connect a statement with a causal or resultant factor:
I missed the train so /as a result/consequently/therefore I had to catch a taxi

4. Dismissal of previous discourse
anyhow; at any rate; in any case anyway
The above markers appear to dismiss previous discourse to move on to another part of discourse.

These markers, found in Swan's unit on discourse markers, denote "What was said before doesn't matter – the main point is as follows" (Swan, 2005: 141)
Yeah, that's what he was probably on about, anyway/anyhow/in any case, what are you up to tonight?


a) Classification
One major problem when teaching discourse markers is the volume of them. Parrot states that there isn't an agreed classification of this field, "nor is there an exhaustive inventory of them" (Parrot, 2008: 302). There are discourse markers specifically for written discourse, and naturally those suitable for spoken. In addition to this, register must be considered carefully as in certain contexts nevertheless would be deemed too formal.

b) Learner Strategies
As can be seen in appendix A, my learners rely on what Bygate describes as Reduction Strategies (Bygate, 87: 42). This means that rather than "attempt[ing] to compensate for their lack of language by trying to get round it" (Bygate, 87: 42), which would be an Achievement Strategy, they find a "partial solution" to their communicative problem:
Okay, in this picture..erh.. these persons are doing like…I don't remember in….I don't know how to explain it in English….like tirolinas……and this other, well both are doing sports…..

(Class transcripts, Appendix A)
Maria has implemented a reduction strategy instead of an achievement one. Maria wants the exact word for "tirolinas", but instead of using an achievement strategy, she prefers to move on to the next picture – "and this other…" - leaving her utterance unfinished; and inadequate. Coercing learners away from what could be described as "over-monitoring" (Krashen, 81: 19) – seeking the specific word they desire – is quite a challenge.

c) Fillers
Above, Maria represents an atomistic approach to language production: seeking to analyse language on a word level. She is typical of many learners, and this is why the "fillers" we find among discourse marker analysis may become a problem. Discourse markers such as well, I mean and let me see work seamlessly within native-speaker discourse as they drive, pause and steer the speaker (Thornbury, 2005: 66). For a non-native speaker, however, it may be difficult to dismiss the phrases as having no lexical meaning, instead being exponents of a discourse function.

d) Task difficulty
Asking learners to comment without any preparation is demanding. Indeed, "many students speaking in their own native language find" such tasks "appallingly difficult" (Brown & Yule, 83: 35), which is certainly the case with my class context. Asking teenagers to comment on two pictures and to answer a question, whilst being timed, is demanding and can result in them panicking. Many students in my class also find using discourse markers such as however and on one hand…on the other hand peculiarly formal and adult in their L1, let alone in English.

e) Textbook treatment
Given that "hardly any stretch of informal conversation is without markers" (McCarthy, 98: 59) it is seems odd that this "routine aspect of speech" (McCarthy, 98: 60) does not receive more attention in language text-books. The textbook we currently use, Objective First Certificate, deals with part two in a dismissive way, demoting it to a spot the difference-style activity. There are also no exam-type listening tasks for students to assess how other speakers do on this part. Not only is this type of task important for an example, as students will need to able to manage and steer spoken discourse in their lives, whether chatting to friends in English or using them in seminars or work presentations.

Solutions & suggestions

a) Classification

Discourse markers can seem a daunting field since their classification is so unspecific. Parrot explains the importance of taking into account the text and context that markers are used in (Parrot, 2008: 302). In the case of the second part of the FC speaking exam markers such as those for attitude would be inappropriate. The learners are evaluated on their discourse management, thus markers for expressing coherence, contrast, cause, gaining time and comparison are more suited than those used to convey attitude.

b) Learner Strategies
Bygate suggests several learner strategies appropriate to the FC context to overcome the halt in discourse exemplified by Maria above. His strategies include Achievement strategies and Reduction strategies. Achievement strategies include the following guessing strategies (Bygate, 85: 44):
The encouragement of achievement strategies would show students how to avoid reduction strategies such as Maria's:
Okay, in this picture..erh.. these persons are doing like sort of climbing a tree, kind of trying to win, whereas this other, well both are doing sports…..
(Appendix A)
This demonstrates how discourse markers can be incorporated into communicative achievement strategies to help students avoid freezing as they search for the word they think they need.

c) Fillers
Teaching learners these items in isolation or without a model would lead to the problem discussed previously: literal translation. By exposing students to a native speaker doing the same task students can "notice the gap", as pointed out by Thornbury (Thornbury, 97: 326). Supplying students with an authentic, or perhaps semi-authentic, example they can "attend to the linguistic features of the input that they are exposed to" (Thornbury, 97: 326 ). That is to say that by presenting the markers within a typical context they will notice that they do not carry specific lexical meaning, but are a useful exponent in spoken discourse.

d) Task difficulty
In order to heighten learners' awareness of how markers can help them in discourse, one could get them to re-write their own transcripts; by recording students, transcribing what they produce, and asking them to re-write it. Thornbury suggests that re-writing can be a "useful way of introducing new language features" (Thornbury, 2005: 68), so in this case students may benefit from restructuring their discourse after being presented with the linkers. Thornbury's idea complements that of Krashen, who believes that one of the conditions needed for learners' self-correcting is "allow[ing] learner time to refer to his conscious knowledge" (Krashen, 81: 118). So, if students are supplied with transcripts of their own spoken discourse, they will be able to analyse, process and review the language produced with a view to using it the next time they practice this part of the exam.

e) Textbook treatment
McCarthy suggests that the frequency with which discourse markers are used is perhaps one of the reasons they are "so often absent from concocted dialogues in language textbooks" (McCarthy, 98: 60). Perhaps teachers should try and incorporate markers in a more natural way, like "drawing their attention to how he/she uses markers to divide up the lesson" (McCarthy, 91: 130). Another way of raising students' awareness of this language feature is mentioned by Thornbury: "expose them to instances of speaking and have them study the transcripts for instances" (Thornbury, 2005: 43) of the language being focussed on. Having a native speaker do a similar task to that which the FC comprises would give students an authentic response, which would include discourse markers.

Activities to help teach discourse markers

1. Supply students with thematically linked pairs of photographs from magazines and an appropriate question.
Source: FCE Handbook for teachers

2. "Watch your language". Supply students with speaking topics to speak about for one minute.
Source: First Certificate Games and Activities (Wyatt: 2002, Penguin)

3. Deductionist Approach
Oblige students to state the connection between points of a text before selecting discourse markers
Source: The Illogic of Logical Connectives
(Crewe, W.J, ELT Journal 44/4,p. 323)

4. Play an extract of a native and a non native speaker performing the same task, such as FC part 2. Students listen and note differences before using a transcript for the language focus.
Source: Having a Good Jaw: voice-setting phonology
(Thornbury, Scott, ELT Journal 47/2, p. 129)

5. Supply students with a transcript of their own spoken discourse and ask them to complete the spaces provided using appropriate markers.

6. Record learners and give them the audio for them to compare beside a teacher checklist.
Source: Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom
Hedge, p.60

7. Supply learners with an example of spoken/written discourse with ill-fitting markers. Learners have to highlight the mistake and decide on an appropriate replacement.

8. Supply learners with a checklist of markers before a speaking activity. Learners peer assess one another, ticking off the marker once their partner has used one.

9. Jumbled Dialogue. Students have spoken discourse and have to read their part out. In groups they do this and decide on the sequence that would create the entire discourse
Source: Conversation and Dialogues in Action, Dornyei and Thurrel, p. 23

10. Paper conversations. Students write down their responses to the question on slips of paper. Their partners can help them self-evaluate, or the slips could be re-ordered and evaluated by another pair of students.
Source: Teaching Speaking, Thornbury p. 68

Supplementary resources

Michael Vince – Grammar for FC
Rob Nolasco & Lois Arthur – Conversation
Zoltan Dornyei & Sarah Thurrel – Conversation and Dialogues in Action


Discourse markers are an area of language intended to "make clear the structure of what is being said" (Swan, 138). Having researched this area it is clear that although discourse markers lack clarity in terms of classification, they are indeed both a driving force and necessity in providing coherence in spoken and written discourse. This, in fact, makes it even more crucial to raise students' awareness of them. Not only can they be of assistance in written work, but they can also play a vital role in communicative strategies.


Currently Teacher and Academic Coordinator at British Council Madrid Young Learners, Spain, Jonny also examines for Cambridge ESOL and writes and designs materials for the British Council LE Kids website.  He has also presented at Spain TESOL 2012.  You can follow him on Twitter @ Jonny Lewis Frank.

Brown and Yule, Teaching the Spoken Language: an approach based on the analysis of conversational English, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1983

Bygate, Martin, Speaking, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987

Capel, Annette & Sharp, Wendy, Objective First Certificate, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008

Crewe, W.J, "The illogic of logical connectives", ELT Journal Volume 44/4 Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990

Hedge, Tricia, Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2000

Krashen, Stephen, Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, <>, last viewed: 23/11/2010

McCarthy, Michael, Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991

McCarthy, Michael, Spoken Language & Applied Linguistics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998

Parrot, Martin, Grammar for English Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008

Richards, Jack C & Schmidt, Richard, Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics: Third Edition, Pearson Education, Harlow, 2002.

Swan, Michael, Practical English Usage: Third Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005

Thornbury, Scott, Beyond the Sentence, Macmillian, Oxford, 2005

Thornbury, Scott "Reformulation and reconstruction: tasks that promote "noticing", ELT Journal Volume 51/4, Oxford University Press, Oxford,1997.

Thornbury, Scott, How to teach Speaking Longman English, 2005
University of Cambridge, ESOL Examinations, FC Handbook for Teachers from December 2008, 2008

Wyatt First Certificate Games and Activities, Penguin, 2002

Paper 5 Speaking

Grey questions


1AB Compare and contrast the photos, and talk about what the people in the pictures are trying to do
2AB Compare and contrast the photos, and talk about who would live in rooms like these

Student responses:
Okay, in this picture..erh.. these persons are doing like…I don't remember in….i don't know how to explain it in English….like tirolinas……and this other, well both are doing sports, in this other they are like, [er], making a boat for go into the lake.
Both are very funny but I think this one is funniest eh..because, in this other you could be…you could hurt, and in this one if you felled you will be ….. you won't hurt, and…. I don't know [stopped by teacher]

Okay, the first one is tidiest than the second one. This is like modern that the other one, because it's like white and red and the other one is the clothes are in all the room, and I think the first one is the room of a girl because girl are usually…err… more tidiest. The second one is of a teenager. It could be a girl or a boy. Erm…and….. [stopped by teacher]

Okay, I think this room iis to a girl because the girl are the more tidy, and this room is about a boy that lives in the country because you can see the…. trees and, away some houses, a lot papers in the floor…. In this pictures there, here there is a carpet and this carpet itss…I like it because its table, it has lots of papers and…lots of things….and… in thiis.okay, [erm], this floor I can see the floor. In this picture I can't see it because things in the floor [stopped on his own]

Erm, okay. I…erm…..i don't know what they are trying to do but I think, it's something like a boat or…with..with… two…with two…boots…two trees. this one I think they are…hmm, in the trees and they are walking over..over…. over ropes. Erm, it'sa kind of sport I think…Ermmm…. I think that this is so so hard because I've tried once and I fell. Well, I didn't fell because I …I had a rope that that save me [stopped by teacher]

Yeah…Okay….now in the first room it's like very clean and no everything is on their place. But then, in the second picture it is all messy and in the floor. I don't know it's very dirty….Errh I think…..maybe this one it could be from a… I don't know…. a student a teenager, or maybe someone from the university because they have to study and they don't have time maybe… to do all the room. And then this one I think it would be for an older person which have a lot of time, or maybe don't, but pay a … pay some people to clean it. And also, this is like…also…. this could be from a teenager because it's like …..if they live in a house with their parents or something like that because it's all old [stopped by teacher]

Erm, this pictures it's like a camp… and this first picture they are…they want to, erh, a boat… and in the second …err….they are climbing……er….off one tree to the other…and…. I think that the second picture is more difficult because you can't……[stopped on her own]

Erm, in the picture A….ermm… all the…erm…. things the…erm… in order… all like…order. And I think it's the room of someone who has all the things in one place, and that thing goes in that place and it doesn't goes in other. And in the picture number…o sea in the picture B, it's all…like disorder, anything has a place where it goes… nothing has… I don't know……O sea…erm when you look..look it… you don't think that clothes goes there, that clothes go in a wardrobe….[stopped by teacher]

Okay, in picture A,…'s a family, I think they're trying to make a boat.. with some… objects…they..have..found there in the, in the…erm….in the…in the…. bueno, they have found there. And… I think they are working/walking together, and… it's… friends I think, they are climbing trees and they are having fun, and I think they are trying to make a natural park where you can play or….have fun with your friends….and, er, here it's more like a family activity, and…. they are next to a river [stopped by teacher]

Blue Questions

Compare and contrast the photos, saying why people go to these places on holiday

Yes…..saying why…er..for example in this photo people is going to relax and b, do a sunbathe. It's a very place place, it's very beautiful and….it's…it's…and here the people come to visit the momument..and they are working through this and seeing the views….and….hmmm…….eh …here people come to be with their family and be rela…and be happy….and de-stress……[stopped on his own]

Ehh, the first one I think that…is… China. And the second one is a beach. I think people go to China because there is…….monuments that are really amazing…it's really famous so they want to see And the second one, go to the beach, to relax…. do sports or something…ah….iin…picture C is a cultural holiday, and D is I think more relaxing…erh..[stopped before time]

Okay…erh… here is a photo in the beach, and this is in China. In the beach is more hot, and there is the beach…o…and you can swim. And I think people go to China because it's interesting,….and it's a monument, so if you want to go sightseeing it's more interesting that to going to the beach….for, for example in summer if they want to swim it's better to go to the beach and pass the summer there [stopped by teacher]

White and Yellow Questions :


1AB Compare and contrast these two photographs and say how the people feel about their jobs
2AB Compare and contrast these two photographs and say why you think people go on holiday to these places.

Student responses:

Erm, in photo A, I think it's funny and interesting because they are spending their time in the mountain….Erm… I think they are having more fun because it's an activity that you can't do in the city, and….. in the photo B I think it's nice too….but less than in the mountains and…. they are eating together, and…. they are talking about the things about the life [stopped on her own]

Juan Carlos
In this photos, erm, the friends spend time in the forest, because I think they are like adventure and like the nature. In this photo, he spends his free time talking about his problems, his things, and I, I …would like go, I would prefer to go to the forest because I like the activity adventures and nature [stopped by teacher]

Well….i think…this is a little exciting…more than A than B..because B is sitting there answering callings, and writing in the computer. It's a little bit…boring, and usual and common and uhhh. I don't know what does exactly this people does but,…mmmm….mmmm, I think …for the … for the action, they are like on a helicopter, I think it's a little bit exciting, more exciting, yeah.. [stopped on his own]


Lesson plan 1

Main Aim:
To heighten students' awareness of discourse markers (stages 2, 3, 4, 8) and to encourage students to use them in a semi-controlled oral practice task (stage: 7)

Subsidiary Aims:
To provide students with an opportunity to practice FC part 2 speaking where they are asked to compare and contrast two photographs while answering a question.
To encourage students to assess their peers and give constructive feedback (stage: 7 and 8)
To revise adjectives and expressions to express fear from the current unit of the coursebook:
(Appendix B)

Personal Aims:
To keep my talking as natural as possible without it being incomprehensible for students.
To remind students of their need to behave and work hard in task.

Class profile:
The motivation for doing this course for this class lies in taking the Cambridge ESOL First Certificate exam. I would say the majority of learners are instrumental-extrinsic as their parents see the FC exam as important for the future of their children. It is also worth bearing in mind that even though the class is quite young (thirteen to fourteen), there is a strong desire to take the exam before they hit "Selectividad" exams in three years time. These exams will decide which universities they will be able to study at, so their importance will precede that of extra-curricular language studies at that time.

Timetable fit
The topic of the practice part two speaking will be connected to Objective First Certificate's fifth unit, which is focussed on the lexical field of "Fear and Loathing". The class has recently been introduced to some expressions (scared stiff, spine-chilling) and adjectives (spooky, uneasy) to give variety to their discourse on being "scared".

We will be focussing on part two of the speaking, however, due to having conducted a mock test on this part of the exam a couple of weeks ago. After reviewing the answers given by the students I decided that further work was needed as their answers provided inadequate samples of language. The lesson will therefore demonstrate to students the importance of discourse markers in spoken discourse, such as part two of the FC.

After the class I am going to supply the students with their own transcript (Appendix A) and ask them to re-write their transcripts in light of the lesson. This will give them time to process the lesson, and time to reconstruct their own work (an idea purported by both Thornbury and Krashen). We will, without doubt, constantly return to this part of the speaking throughout the year to evaluate how students are coping with new lexical fields, and to see if they are still using discourse markers in spoken discourse.

To raise the students' awareness even further, after re-structuring and re-writing their transcripts, they will tell their partner what they changed and why in the proceeding lesson. Students will share their work with one another, whilst at the same time using some of the discourse markers in freer spoken discourse (in my first extract, though, I didn't contrast my ideas). I will ask the students to read each others, and then in their groups of four they will decide who has made the most progress and why.

Anticipated behavioural problems:
Problem - Maturity:
This is a very young senior group (thirteen to fourteen years old), who have all come from junior classes last year. As a consequence their behaviour since the course began, in October, has been quite immature. This is down to the junior-senior move, since junior classes are generally pitched to a younger age, using lots of games and short activities. A couple of students - Alberto and Laura – have already had to be spoken to by their parents with regards to their behaviour in class.

I will divide the class up into tables to discourage a larger social group mentality.

Problem – Time:
This class is timetabled on a Friday night and students arrive tired after a week at school. Learners can, understandably, become restless and fidgety because of the class time. It is also the only class we have on a weekly basis, so students often get to class and begin to socialise as soon as they see their friends.

I will make sure that activities are not too long, and that the students are given scaffolding speaking exercises to make the lesson both challenging and rewarding

Problem - Length of class

As if a young group on a Friday evening wasn't enough, this class is also an intensive course. That means the learners are at the centre from 18.05 until 21.00.

At the beginning of each lesson I ask learners to set goals for that lesson. I try to raise their awareness of the short amount of time that we have as compared with the great amount of work that we have to do.

Problem - Learners as people

As with any learning context, this class has learners with varying oral levels. This can make some learners feel uncomfortable when speaking, and others frustrated

I will make sure that learners are paired with partners with whom they feel both comfortable with and challenged by to meet these emotional and linguistic needs.

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.

Learners: Strengths and Weaknesses:

+ +
Confident, competent speaker.
Makes a great effort to always speak in English in class.
Accurate pronunciation
Keen to learn new vocabulary and keeps a vocabulary page for each class.
Good pronunciation.
Confident speaker.
Speaks for the full minute.
Uses "like" as a discourse marker appropriately.
- -
Can become overly-flustered if she cannot find the exact word or expression she would like to use in her L1 (lack of communicative strategies)
Lacks effective learner strategies when she can't find the right word.
Spoken discourse can come to a halt as she doesn't use a wide enough variety of discourse markers, such as those for gaining time, expressing contrast and cause and result.
She is inclined to overuse "like" as a marker, and could improve on this.

+ +
Generally makes an effort to speak in English.
Quite fluent depending on the task
Keen to learn new vocabulary and keeps a vocabulary page for each class.
Attempts to use comparative language (even if not always accurately)
Speaks for the full minute.
- -
Can veer off into L1 sometimes
Lacks communicative strategies when she doesn't know the exact word
Lack of coherence in her spoken discourse. She moves from one point to another missing out discourse markers, leaving the listener quite confused. In particular she needs to include markers of contrast, such as whereas, however.

+ +
Brings a vocabulary book to class – keen to record new expressions
Makes an effort to speak English
Gives a personal response to the photographs.
Speaks for the full minute
- -
Sometimes reverts to Spanish before trying to convey meaning.
Lacks fluency, which in turn effects his performance in FC speaking tests
Can become silly as the lesson goes on (due to age and time of class)
Tends to describe the pictures rather than compare them.
Fails to use discourse markers to give coherence to his spoken discourse. He is likely to miss out markers of contrast, as well as those to gain processing time ("fillers").

+ +
Good at learning and using new vocabulary
Behaves well in class
Has an awareness of discourse markers for gaining time it's kind of...
Speaks for the minute
- -
Reverts to L1 too easily at times
Can become distracted by other learners
Sometimes values task speed over task quality
Especially poor at spontaneous spoken discourse
Over-relies on markers for gaining time, which in turn leaves him with little time to actually compare.
Needs to include markers of contrast, such as whereas, however.

+ +
A very confident speaker
Impressive comprehension
Very fluent
Uses language of speculation well (maybe, this could be..)
Speaks for the whole minute (and more)
- -
Has had behavioural problems already this term – parents have been called
Poor homework return record
Sometimes seeks to distract others by speaking Spanish
Doesn't always listen to instructions and can be found off-task due to this at times.
Spoken discourse lacks coherence.
Transcript shows pauses where she could use markers for gaining time (like, I mean) as well as opportunities to use those for contrast (on the other hand, whereas, however).

+ +
Very keen learner who makes an effort to use new vocabulary whenever possible
Good comprehension
Speaks about both photographs
Unable to speak for the whole minute
- -
Very shy and withdrawn.
Can freeze if she needs to speak directly to teacher or in larger groups.
Especially poor at spontaneous spoken discourse
Being put on the spot panics her a lot, so she freezes. She could do with using markers for gaining time to help her process her thoughts in order to give more coherence to her spoken discourse.

+ +
Confident if not always accurate speaker
Works well in pairs and groups
Speaks about both photographs
Speaks for the minute
- -
Can become distracted and revert to L1
Language produced is not always that accurate (though she more than often gets her point across)
Especially poor at spontaneous spoken discourse
Can sometimes resort to L1 time-gaining discourse markers, like o sea.
Needs to improve her contrasting of the photographs, especially in terms of coherence. Markers such as however and on one hand would have significantly improved her recording.

+ +
Successfully incorporates new vocabulary (phrasal verbs, etc.) into class and homework
A capable speaker
Speaks for the full minute.
- -
Can struggle if spoken discourse is spontaneous
Prefers to revert to Spanish rather than "buying" processing time.
Due to lack of discourse markers she resorts to starting utterances from the beginning. This is not conducive to coherent discourse, and saying "I think" four times is overly-repetitive.
Sometimes falls back on L1 discourse markers such as bueno. Needs to increase her awareness of markers to contrast and gain time.

+ +
Keen and interested in new vocabulary, and has a penchant for using it in written work
Speaks for the full minute
Uses some discourse markers well: well to start and I don't know to gain time and give the impression of fluency.
- -
Often produces pauses that are too long
Struggles to produce adequate language when asked to produce spontaneously.
Needs to know the meaning of every word, even if he understands the complete phrase.
Can pause for long periods: mmmmmmmmm. He would be better applying some markers to dismiss previous discourse (anyway) and to contrast ideas (however, on one hand).

+ +
Written work is excellent.
Shy but works well in pairs and small, closed groups.
Learns and uses vocabulary that comes up in class
Uses sequencing which helps coherence (the first, the second)
Speaks for the full minute
- -
Finds it difficult to speak coherently if there is an element of spontaneity.
In spoken discourse can produce too many unfilled pauses.
Lacks discourse markers of contrast, dismissal of previous discourse, as well as causal – tends to rely on simple causal markers such as because.

+ +
A confident speaker in the right context.
Makes a conscious effort to learn and use new vocabulary
Speaks for the full minute
Uses conjunction "and" correctly
- -
Tends to leave out more complex discourse markers such as "however", "on the other hand", "let me think" in speaking exercises
Needs to amplify the markers she uses. Over-reliant on tried and tested markers such as "and", when could be more specific by using "however", or "whereas" – especially in contrasting.

+ +
Works hard, records and tries out new vocabulary in both written and spoken work
Makes a conscious effort to speak in English
Confident member of the group
Uses some specific vocabulary
Speaks for the full minute Her written and spoken discourse is generally good, and has even begun to use linking expressions in freer oral practice in class. She does, however, need to start using time-gaining markers rather than pausing
- -
Avoids any kind of contrast discourse markers, which would markedly improve her performance.
Neither does she use any markers to gain time.

Juan Carlos
+ +
A confident speaker
Fluent even if he uses very simple language sometimes.
Gives a personal response to the question
Speaks for the full minute.
- -
Needs to add markers to his spoken discourse.
Can resort to Spanish if he can't find the word
Annotates his notes with direct translations to L1
His spoken discourse for this part of the FC is devoid of appropriate markers. He needs to use markers for contrast (whereas, on the other hand), or

[no transcript available]
+ +
Confident at speaking in English
Very high level of oral comprehension
Very fluent
Tends to give a personal opinion too quickly, without comparing the photographs.
Very good at using language of speculation
- -
Poor homework return
Sometimes chooses to speak in L1 first, and will change once prompted.
Quite reliant on translations as opposed to learner strategies to convey meaning
Has presented some behavioural problems – parents have been called
Despite his fluency he tends to rely on discourse markers such as but and so; he could do with expanding his range. Due to his fluency discourse markers for gaining time and dismissing previous discourse less of a priority than causal and contrastive discourse markers.

+ +
Very capable student
Good at understanding meaning without a focus on L1 translation
Only member of the group with an additional L1, he speaks French as well as Spanish.
Speaks for a minute
- -
Can over-use new vocabulary seen in class
Speaking and writing carry significant elements of L1 transfer; e.g. "permiss" rather than "let" or "allow".
Very hesitant and gives himself processing time in the test, as seen in the transcript (………). Instead of pausing, he could do with using markers for gaining time, or even ones to dismiss previous discourse in order to relieve the cognitive load.


1. Warmer
5 minutes
Plenary Feedback

To time students and help them get a feel for how long one minute is
To raise students' awareness of why we spoke for one minute

Students take turns and speak about a topic for one minute. Teacher tells students when one minute is up and dictates the next topic for students to speak about.

Elicit which part of the FC exam you have to speak for one minute in.

Ss – ss
Ss – T

2. Lead-in
10 minutes

To draw students' attention to the question.
To emphasise the importance of the question in this part of the paper.
To introduce students to the context of the lesson.

Show students pictures on IWB and ask them to predict what the question could be. Students think of three examples.
Play three excerpts and see if any students got it right.
Ask students to dictate question to teacher so that it is written clearly on the IWB

Supply students with two examples (A and B) of part 2 of the FC speaking exam as well as the feedback sheet. Both students get a chance to speak for a minute, after which their partner completes a couple of questions about how they did, as well as ticking/noting any expressions their partner used

Ss – ss
ss - T
Ss – ss

3. Pre-listening:
Predicting lexis that might be in the recording
5 minutes

Plenary feedback
To expose students to how a native speaker would approach the same task
To encourage students to predict lexis that may come up in listening.
To ease cognitive load
To share ideas and help weaker students

Tell students that they are going to hear a native speaker answering the same question.

Ask students to predict what words they think I will say. Remind students of the topic of the question, and encourage them to write down phrases/adjectives/nouns connected to "scared".

Share ideas as a class.

T- ss
Ss – ss
Ss – T

4. Listening
10 minutes

To ease students into the language analysis task
To listen and get a global idea of the text
To ease students into the language analysis.
To personalise the transcript by making it relevant to learners' context – the FC exam.

X1: students listen and tick off the phrases they have come listed.
Students compare and tell their partner what the speaker said.

X2: T supplies students with the transcript. Students listen again and highlight the phrases and words they think would be useful in the FC part 2 speaking.
Students then compare in groups
Feedback as a class, using the IWB.

Ss – ss
ss – ss

5. Language analysis
10 minutes

To engage students in an intensive language task.
To get student thinking about how these words and expressions work in spoken discourse

T asks students to group the phrases in their notepads.
T encourages students to look at a text and analyse the expressions they highlighted in the text.
T then reveals next IWB slide and shows students the groups he has highlighted. What are they used for?
T supplies students with a table to complete with expressions from the extract and further ones included below.
Students work in pairs to complete the table

T – ss
Ss – ss
Ss – ss

6. Highlighting phrases
5 minutes

To get students thinking about the phrases
To appeal to students on an emotional level

Ask students to highlight six expressions they like/don't like with a highlighter pen or circles.
Students compare with partners and tell them why they like/don't like them and if they have ever used them before.
[if time encourage students to compare in groups of four and to come up with a group favourite]

T – ss
Ss – ss
Ss – ss

7. Semi-controlled speaking practice
10 minutes

To give students a change to do the task again
To encourage students to peer-evaluate and give feedback

Explain to students that they are going to re-do the FC-speaking activity from earlier. Elicit possible reasons why.
In pairs students ask their partner about the photographs they haven't spoken about. They listen and tick off when their partner uses the discourse markers from the table they have completed in stage 7.
Students then give feedback to their partner. T guides them to feedback with regards to expressions they have used and in what ways they have improved since the beginning of the lesson.

T – ss
Ss – ss

8. Plenary feedback
5 minutes

To assess the improvements the class have made.
To raise students' awareness of their ability to use markers in spoken discourse.

After students have given feedback about their partners', ask students to think about their first attempt and their second attempt. Teacher lists differences on the IWB

Ss – T


Evaluating your partner:

1. How did your partner compare and contrast the two photographs?

2. Did your partner answer the question? How did they do this?

3. Which adjectives and set-expressions did they use when they spoke?

4. Tick the following expressions if your partner used them:

However - Let me see - Anyhow - Whereas - Let's see - So

Contrast expressions Expressions 'to buy time' Expressions to convey caue Expressions used to move on







I mean
Let me see
For this reason Anyway

-Consequently - Anyhow - However - In any case

-On one hand…on the other hand - Let's see

-In addition to - On top of that - Whereas - It's kind of - It's sort of

- Well - I don't know - So - Though - Although


Tell your partner about:

1. the last film you saw
2. where you went on holiday last year
3. where you would like to go on holiday next year
4. the scariest thing that has happened to you

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