Discourse-based Teaching

By Eman Elturki

Discourse-based teaching using authentic written and spoken discourse can be a prefect resource for teachers to teach the different language skills. For instance, through a newspaper article, a letter or an extract from a book, a teacher can teach a grammar rule. Students can learn the rule, how it is used in context as well as learn new vocabulary and benefit from reading the article. Then through using the same piece of discourse, students can practice speaking through retelling the information in the article to a partner/to the class, with an emphasis on using the taught grammar point correctly. Also, students can write an essay or a paragraph about a certain idea in the article. Moreover, a teacher can use a natural piece of spoken discourse like a real recorded conversation, a phone call, an interview, or a speech to teach, for example, the suprasegmentals of English. Through that, students can learn oral discourse management of rhythm and intonation as well as having a chance to explore authentic social interaction that takes place between people in L2. Then, a teacher can design a role play or student-led discussions and debates in order for the students to practice speaking through what they have learned, and assign a writing exercise to practice writing.

Advantages of Using Discourse

  • Learn grammatical rules in context.
  • Get familiar with essay organization.
  • Explore how punctuations are employed in a text.
  • Explore different writing styles.
  • Improve learners’ oral communicative competence, e.g. mastering oral discourse management of prosody: rhythm, stress and intonation (Celce-Murcia & Olshtain, 2000).
  • Explore naturally-occurring social interaction in L2.


Written Discourse

The teacher can choose any piece of informative written discourse that serves the main objective(s) of the lesson. In addition, through the same text, the teacher can highlight other aspects of written English like punctuations or capitalization depending on the age and the level of the students. For instance, a passage about a certain topic, e.g. famous sites in the world “Statue of Liberty”, can be chosen to teach the passive voice in context as well as developing other language skills.


  • Students practice reading the text.
  • Students learn some information about the history of the “Statue of Liberty” and develop comprehension.
  • Through reading the text, students learn the passive voice inductively and see how it is employed in context.
  • Students learn new vocabulary.


  • As a warm-up, the teacher can start by asking students about the “Statue of Liberty”, e.g. ask questions about its location, history, etc.
  • As a post activity, students can discuss in pairs or as a class other famous sites with an emphasis on using the passive.


  • Through engaging in discussions, learners have the opportunity to listen to each other speaking. While students are working in pairs, the teacher may ask each partner to write down notes, like misuse of the passive, as a form of peer review.


  • Students may be asked to choose a famous sight, gather information, and write an essay/paragraph about it. It can be assigned as homework.

Spoken Discourse

The teacher can adopt any material of English spoken discourse, e.g. TV interview, that serves the point of the lesson and suits the level of the learners. It is important for the teacher to provide a written copy of the listening material after practicing listening several times in order for the learners to write notes and go back for it later whenever needed.


  • After introducing the topic, learners listen to/watch the TV interview several times.
  • Learners get familiar with the English intonation, stress, pausing and other characteristics of the spoken language.
  • Learners get the chance to listen to expressions, phrasal verbs, and grammatical structures used in real-life context.


  • After listening several times, the teacher can design a speaking activity, like working in pairs or groups of three to analyze, discuss, report, or debate what they have listened to. The teacher should monitor students’ use of suprasegmentals, grammar and use of expressions.


  • Learners can be assigned to write a paragraph or essay, like a reflection or their opinions, about a certain point in the listening section.


  • As a peer review, students can exchange papers, read each others’ writing and write comments, if necessary, for improvement.

Celce-Murcia, M. & Olshtain, E. (2000) Discourse and context in language teaching: A guide for language teachers Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Written by Eman Elturki for TEFL.net December 2010
Eman Elturki is a PhD student in the Language and Literacy Education program at Washington State University. She holds a master’s degree in TESOL from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She has taught different levels of English as a foreign language in Libya. Her research interests include English language teaching, second/foreign language acquisition, and discourse analysis.


  • estudiante random says:

    de pana

  • sergio says:

    de pana

  • Wasan f.Hadi (master of Arts) says:

    Thanks for your efforts ,but can you give us more information about how can we adopt discourse in teaching aspedific grade or a level and how a context to be chosen concerning certain level . Can grammar patterns be deduced from a context or only speaking or reading

  • Siriwimon Noksub says:

    thanks for your useful information, I am studying an Applied Linguistics, so it benefits me so much. 🙂

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