Discourse Analysis for everyone

From Community Narrations

Aims of the practice and description of participants

Discourse analysis deals with how people are situated in a conversation and the roles each speaker plays; it can also highlight the different strategies people use to persuade others. Language is flexible and words alone do not depict the main message included in a sentence or text.
During this process, students need to learn that the wording of a message and the structure are not the only features to take into account. Hence, teachers should provide activities which go beyond the simple structure of a text enabling students to analyse details and ideas contained in messages.

Resources, Materials needed

- Advertisement downloaded for excercise 1
- Projector, role cards, scenario for excercise 2
- Photos and context stories excercise 3


60-90 minutes

Step-by-step - what has to be done?

The activity consists out of three activities.

1. The sign

The first activity focuses on creating and performing a sketch from analysing road signs and notices, making the students reflect on the purpose of a sign. Students are asked to read a advertisement and then work in pairs to prepare a short dialogue of the moment at which the advertisement was planned by the company’s publicity managers. Students then need to analyse why the message was written and write a dialogue between two people that shows a more profound knowledge of the situation and context. It is clear that the main reason for the notice to be placed on a bus is to attract a larger number of young clients, so a dialogue which includes two company employees planning to attract more students can be performed.

2. Car Crash

This activity involves role-playing a conversation with the scenario: Would you tell your boss you crashed his/her car in the same way as you would tell your wife or husband? Students should realise that a message itself contains more information than what is seen or heard at simple levels. These details help to construct a discourse which makes the meaning easier to understand. Divide the class into two groups and with the aid of a projector and a power point presentation (or just some cardboard notices), the teacher projects a message to a group of students while the other group waits outside the classroom or stands in a place where they cannot see the message. Messages must be about uncomfortable situations or confessions like: “I crashed your car”, “I lost your favourite book”, or “I cannot attend your birthday party”. After that, students who saw the message would choose from a basket or hat a pre-designed role card: boss-employee or son/daughter-parent. They act out the confession of the uncomfortable question with their partner and take on the pre-designed role. The student listening should guess the relationship they have with the student speaking according to the hints they hear, not the message. This way, students can become aware of all the meaningful details that are included in a conversation- outside the main information- in order to construct meaning. They need to pay attention not just to the actual message but also to all the details that build it. This kind of activity helps students’ listening skills as they are trained to listen for details that enable them to get the meaning in speech.

3. The picture

This activity consists of discussing the identity of a speaker/writer relating their discourse to a picture. This activity entails analysing a piece of discourse (spoken or written) of a person and matching it to a picture that the teacher has prepared beforehand. These pictures should be carefully selected conforming to the details given by the discourse producer. The following example is taken from the coursebook Global Intermediate: Coming in from the cold Alaskan blogger talks about what it’s like living in the north of the 64degrees latitude: I’m from California originally. I remember getting off the plane from California and the official airport thermometer read -47.5 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t mind the cold too much now…but I suffer from the long dark hours of winter. Ian Herriott in Alaskan life in the Anthropocene Epoch (Benne & Clandfield, 2012, p.35) By analysing the details of the speaker’s discourse, students now have to choose a picture and then they need to justify their choice: Who is Ian? Why? The end answers are not necessarily important. What becomes more relevant is the discussion students have when they decide which picture is Ian’s. By analysing aspects like “He said he doesn’t mind the cold, so I think Ian is picture A”, students would focus on the context and function of the message rather than on the wording.

Learning Outcomes - which skills are addressed?

Using discourse analysis goes can provide teachers opportunities to create a real-life atmosphere in class and develop other communicative skills, such as listening and speaking.
Apart from its communicative benefits, discourse analysis develop critical thinking and help to interpreting contemporary culture; they start questioning other more relevant issues in their education, which allows them to straightforwardly understand the world they live in.

How do you check the outcomes are reached?

Outcomes are reached by the positive feedbacks of participants.

Further Links/Readings