dis·​course |

  • n: verbal interchange of ideas: conversation 
  • n: formal and orderly and usually extended expression of thought on a subject 
  • n: connected speech or writing
  • n: a linguistic unit (such as a conversation or a story) larger than a sentence
  • n: a mode of organizing knowledge, ideas, or experience that is rooted in language and its concrete contexts (such as history or institutions) 
  • n: social familiarity – obsolete
  • v: to express oneself especially in oral discourse 
  • v: talk, converse

Merriam-Webster, 2021

Putting it together for learners: Spoken!


Spoken discourse is connected text. That text may be spoken in the form of a conversation, a dialog, monolog or even a wedding toast. Spoken discourse can be broken down into utterancesthe smallest pieces of a unit of speech for a specific purpose such as the affirmation “dude” or a greeting, “whazup?”


Discourse Analysis is the study of units of speech larger than a sentence and the utterances used to create them.
Critical Discourse Analysis is the features of discourse on a larger scale. It typically deals with politics, society and power.

So what of all of this do our ELs need to know? Technically, ELs don’t need to know this fancy part. Teachers of ELs need to be aware of it so that they can effectively help ELs navigate through different types of discourse.  What is important in discourse discussions is helping ELs know that words do things! This is known as Speech Act Theory. (No, they don’t need that specific title either) They do need to know that words have power.  This power manifests itself in three ways: Locutionary Act, Illocutionary Act and Perlocutionary Act.
Locutionary Act – referential meaning based on sounds and words uttered
     Illocutionary Act – intended meaning or what is meant by the utterance
     Perlocutionary Act – understood meaning or result of the utterance

The speech act is not complete until the sent message is understood.

Again, so what? ELs need to know and understand that not all communication is direct and means exactly what the words mean. Some speech acts are direct and many are indirect. For example, if some one says, “Can you tell me the time?” they are not asking if you are capable of reading the hands of a clock or watch. They are not looking for the answer, “Yes, I can tell you the time” they are actually asking “What time is it?”

Speech Acts

Direct Speech Acts are those where the referential meaning equals the intended meaning. In our time example above, “What time is it, please” gets the desired answer of “2:32.”

Indirect Speech Acts are those like the question above “Can you tell me the time?” where the intentional meaning is different than the literal meaning. Besides the one above about the time, if your spouse says, “Boy, those chocolates look good” he or she is really saying, “Hey, give me some of those chocolates.”

Why important? Not all speech is direct.

A good deal of spoken discourse is indirect as a means of being polite. ELs need to know both how to use indirect speech to be polite and when to use direct speech to make sure that what they are saying is understood. Concomitantly, they need to understand when someone is asking them something in an indirect manner, it may be a polite command or an instruction.

See below for examples of different types of illocutionary acts.

Putting it together for learners: Written!


Written discourse is connected text. Besides spoken, the text might be written in the form of a report, a letter, a speech, or an email.


Stay tuned for the section on Written Discourse

See below for examples of different types of illocutionary acts.


Stay tuned for more on Written Discourse

See below for examples of different types of illocutionary acts.


Stay tuned for the section on Written Discourse

See below for examples of different types of illocutionary acts.

Applications & Activity Examples

Direct/Indirect Speech

Language Objective:
     Students will change direct statements into polite indirect statements in English.
     A set of direct statements making requests.

  • In pairs, students will read the statements.
  • Students will debrief and discuss the intended meaning of the statements .
  • If the statement is socially acceptable as is, students will be ready to justify their determination.
  • If a more polite indirect statement can be made, students will rewrite the statement and be ready to justify how and why they changed what they changed.
  • Students will square up into quartets and justify their changes or non-changes to their team mates.
  • Variation:  Add statements that are socially unacceptable in American society. (Students will need to explain why or why not these statements are acceptable in polite American conversation.)

(Check back for more  as this is still under construction.  Thanks for you patience.)


(Check back for more  as this is still under construction.
Thanks for you patience.)

More on the way

(Check back for more  as this is still under construction.  Thanks for you patience.)

Illocutionary Acts


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com·​mis·​sive | \ kə-ˈmi-siv \
Definition: constituting a statement that commits the speaker to some future action expressive of commitment

more soon


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References & Resources

Bear, D. R., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2016). Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (6th ed.). Pearson.

Curzan, A., & Adams, M. (2012). How English works: A linguistic introduction (3rd ed.). Pearson.

Freeman, D. E., & Freeman, Y. S. (2014). Essential  linguistics: What teachers need to know to teach ESL, reading, spelling, and  grammar. (2nd ed.). Heinemann.

Helman, L., Bear, D. R., Templeton, S., Invernizzi,  M., & Johnston, F. (2012). Words their way with English learners: Word study  for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (2nd ed.). Pearson.

Johnston, F., Invernizzi, M., Bear, D. R., &  Templeton, S. (2018). Words Their Way: Word Sorts for Letter Name –  Alphabetic Spellers (3rd ed.). Pearson.

Lems, K., Miller, L. D., & Soro, T. M. (2017). Building  literacy with English language learners (2 ed.). Guilford.

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