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Discourse in Writing
by Emma Worrall
- lesson plan - preliminary information 1

Time: 60 mins
Level: First Certificate


Main Aims:

1) To encourage students to use their existing knowledge of sequencing devices and cohesion to order a text. (see stages 2 and 3).

2) To analyse meaning and use of the following discourse markers (stage 5):

on the whole, but, unfortunately, except for, however, although, besides, in conclusion, also, as I see it, for example, despite, taking everything into consideration, another point in favour, a further disadvantage

Subsidiary Aims:

1) To produce a cohesive written text using some of the above discourse markers (stage 6).

2) The students will work collaboratively to produce their work. (see stage 6)

3) The students will be able to peer correct their completed
work after regrouping to form their completed essays. (see stage 7)

Timetable Fit

Writing is an integral part of the First Certificate Exam course and students must learn to write in a very specific way and fulfil certain requirements. This is often very challenging for students as general English courses (which most of the students at Hyland Language Centre are generally used to) do not expect such requirements (for example, formal letter writing) .In Paper 2, Part 2 the students have a choice of compositions questions of which they must answer one question. A discursive essay is part of those choices. We have recently been practising other writing activities and we have already looked at some of the linking devices used in informal letter writing The FCE Gold course book looks at the discursive essay in unit 12, but I wanted to contrast informal letter writing with a composition of a more formal style for this class. The students have also been introduced to the various requirements that they should fulfil in their compositions, such as content, style and register, and target reader and they have seen examples of past papers (in the FCE Examiner's booklet) with examples of students' work which passed or failed and the bands (grades) which they were given.

Lesson Rationale

Looking back on my first year of teaching the FCE (last year) I should have perhaps started focussing on the writing part of the exam a lot earlier in the course. So, this year I have decided to place more emphasis on writing from the beginning, hoping to develop 'good habits' from the start, by encouraging the students to follow a rigid procedure when tackling any writing exercise (for example, writing a plan, checking the style and register required and using linking devices to ensure cohesion and logic to their work). As I usually gave written compositions for homework on last year's course, I decided to give students the chance to work collaboratively in this class and use their own interlanguage to create a text which will involve the students making decisions on "word order, cohesion and sequences of tenses in discourse" (McCarthy 1991:153). As McCarthy says, the decision-making processes are brought to the surface and individuals will have to "explain their choices, a process more motivating to learners than having to explain the choices of an invisible, unknown author." (McCarthy 1991:154). Another advantage of having students work in groups is that students may be encouraged to take more 'risks' (J. Hatfield 1992). Quieter, more reserved students who are often put off by speaking in front of the class or teacher are able to contribute valid knowledge and opinions in a small group setting with less pressure on their spoken performance.

I chose my material from another source Instant Grammar Lessons (Battersby 1996) which has suitable activities for FCE. The idea I have used is based on a dictogloss style activity incorporating a 'bottom-up' approach but in a written rather than audio form. Using a dictogloss (or dovetailing as it is known. See stage 6) type activity can encourage learners to call upon their linguistic resources, considering the various language options open to them and it encourages the learners to discover what they do and do not know about English.

I chose the discursive essay from Instant Grammar Lessons (1996 unit 2.1) which compares the advantages and disadvantages of watching television and reading books. However, there were certain things on the original text which I wanted to adapt because I felt that the 'reproduction of text' style activity chosen called for a simpler version, I wanted it to be challenging but not demotivating. I changed some of the vocabulary and phrases which I thought would hinder the reproduction of the text (see stage 5) for example, "well-stocked". I also felt it was necessary to change the phrase about television licences as it was not culturally relevant to the students. I reduced some of the longer sections in order for the students to have similar length paragraphs to reconstruct. I removed the sentence in line 10 because I thought the idea of a question would distract from the idea of using discourse markers, so I rewrote the sentence adding another discourse marker (i.e. "Besides" see Main Aims). I removed one of the discourse markers in case it might confuse the students. I reduced the amount of sentences that the students would have to reproduce to make it a more manageable task, leaving the groups of students with the first and last two sentence cards. I should point out that this class will be mostly experimental for me and the students, and although the students have already been exposed to some activities of the lesson plan in previous lessons (see stages 2 and 4) we were looking at an informal letter context.


White board, board pens, blutak, pencils, white paper strips, help cards, essay photocopied on card and cut into strips for each group, discourse markers on large pieces of card, photocopies of the essay in paragraphs (enough for each student), 2 x copies of the essay on OHTs (one with the discourse markers underlined, see appendix ) , OHP.


1) The students will find the task challenging but not too difficult as to be demotivating.
2) Students will be interested in the topic as the two activities (reading and watching television) are common past-times, however, some students may not be familiar with the genre especially if they have never had to write a formal essay like this).
3) The students will be interested in building up their writing skills for exam purposes or equally for those students who have to write letters at work.
4) The students may be fully capable of writing formally in their own language but there may be differences in style or structure which they are not aware of in English.
5) The linking devices should not all be completely new for the students and they should have some idea of how to use most of them. Likewise, they should be able to categorise them without too much difficulty (see problems and solutions section for the discourse markers which may cause some problems).
6) Students will transfer their knowledge of the discourse markers to future written compositions of this nature.

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