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Helping students with coherence

Writer(s): 
David Harrison, British Council (Tokyo)

 

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Coherence, cohesion, personalized writing, product, process
  • Learner English level: False beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school (12+) to adult
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes
  • Activity time: 1 hour
  • Materials: A short text cut up into component sentences and the full coherent version

 

Introduction

Learners of all levelshave problems forming logically ordered coherent texts, often over-relying on cohesive devices, in particular conjunctions, to try and connect ideas cohesively. Coherence is often confused with cohesion; while the former refers to the “overall semantic structure and unity of a text” (Richards, 1990, p. 104), the latter is concerned with surface level linking relationships inside and between sentences (reference, substitution, cohesive devices,etc.). As Thornbury states, “a lot of students’ writing reflects on the over-dependence on the cohesive trees at the expense of the coherent wood” (Thornbury, 2005, p. 36). This has often been claimed to result from teaching which over-emphasizesteaching conjuncts/conjunctions, such as however, therefore, and so on, as the only means to link texts together.The following activity that I created for junior high learners helped them both generate ideas and then link them logically to improve their written coherence.

 

Preparation

I will use an example centering on a school trip with my schoolchildren. Naturally, this may be adapted around any topic/theme decided by the teacher and dictated by class circumstances.

Step 1:Make enough copies of the sheets containing responses and questions (appendix A) to give out one set to each pair/group in the class. Cut out the responses (left-hand side of appendix A) and matching questions (right-hand side). Separate the cut-up responses and the questions for each pair/group into separate piles and mix up the cut-ups in each pile.

 

Procedure

Step 1:Supply each pair/group with cut-up responses taken from the coherent text. Have them generate questions for each one. Afterwards, supply each pair/group with the right-side question cut-ups and ask them to match them to the responses from the left-hand side. The teacher can then check the correct answers with the pairs/groups individually or as a class.

Step 2: Have students put the responses into a logical, coherent order. Asking pairs to perform a Q & A dialogue using the two sides of the cut-ups helps them do this. To check the answers, the teacher can perform the dialogue with one student or the whole class in turn or together. Point out the use of references such as it and there and how they help structure cohesion.

Step 3:Ask learners which words from the ordered sentences they think are unnecessary (e.g., repeated words/ideas) and have them cross them out. Use the first two sentences as an example: I went to Kyoto. I went there last summer becomes I went to Kyoto last summer. This demonstrates how to link several ideas into one sentence. After students have finished the whole text, they can compare their ideas before checking as a class on the blackboard.

Step 4:Give everyone the full, paragraphed text (Appendix B). This acts as a model to produce another personalized text about a similar subject (for example, their summer/winter holiday), before moving onto more varied texts.

 

Conclusion

This activity helped students to realize that each sentence in a paragraph should answer a different question, and be placed according to a logical coherent order. The lesson involves all four skills and embraces a composite of product and process approaches to writing. From struggling to write a few simple sentences, they ended up able to compose whole coherent paragraphs.

 

References

Richards, J. C. (1990). The Language Teaching Matrix. Cambridge:CUP.

Thornbury, S. (2005). Beyond the Sentence – Introducing Discourse Analysis. London: Macmillan.

 

 

Appendix A: Cut-up sentences (responses and questions)

 

I went to Kyoto.

Where did you go?

I went last summer.

When did you go?

I stayed there for 3 days.

How long did you stay there?

I went there with my school friends.

Who did you go with?

We stayed at a nice hotel.

Where did you stay?

We did lots of things in Kyoto.

How many things did you do there?

We visited temples, played games, and had a picnic in the park.

What did you do there?

The best thing about the trip was Kinkakuji.

What was the best thing about the trip?

That’s because it was so beautiful and golden.

Why was it the best thing about the trip?

My trip was a lot of fun.

How was your trip?

I want to go there again one day.

What do you want to do in the future?

 

Appendix B: Full paragraph

I went to Kyoto. I went last summer. I stayed there for three days. I went there with my school friends. We stayed at a nice hotel. We did lots of things in Kyoto. We visited temples, played games, and had a picnic in the park. The best thing about the trip was Kinkakuji. That’s because it was so beautiful and golden. My trip was a lot of fun. I want to go there again one day.

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