prag·​mat·​ics |
\ prag-ˈma-tiks \

  • The sounds and sound patterns of a language and the rules that govern how they combine.
  • One of the four universals of language and literacy which also include morphologysyntax and semantics
  • It is the set of sounds and sound combinations that make up a language. 
  • Each sound is a unique auditory identity governed by a set of patterns.

Merriam-Webster, 2019

Putting it together for learners!

Four Domains

Pragmatics are the norms of conversation a.k.a. how we communicate with one another. The four standards or assumptions of communication are truth, information, relevance and clarity.

Communication fails if the information we are given isn’t truthful, contains too much information (“TMI” in many houses), is unconnected or ambiguous.

The four domains of reading, writing, speaking and listening are how these standards are navigated and collaboratively constructed within context and in social situations.


Reading means comprehending the written word, the subtlety, the nuance. Is the author being sincere, humorous, sympathetic, sarcastic, or sardonic? What is the subliminal message in the words and syntax of the text?


Writing involves those nuances of specificity and formality based on the author’s purpose. Is the author promoting a specific course of action? Requesting a favor? A raise? What is the format of the writing? Is it a formal report? A memo? An email?


Speaking like writing requires the correct register of formality. Beyond the spoken word what is also communicated non-verbally? Or shouldn’t be said at all? Would you speak to the superintendent of the school the same way you would to a colleague, a friend, your students or your family?  Most people don’t even speak to their parents the same way they speak to their spouse or children.


Listening involves probabilistic reasoning – guessing what comes next and making reasonable interpretations of discourse markers, non-verbal cues, incomplete sentences, and at times, silence.

So what?

Our ELs need that pragmatic ability and knowledge to not only understand what was said but to be able to go beyond the literal meaning of the words used and comprehend the unexpressed or unsaid meanings to read between the lines. 

Some Additional Thoughts


The ability to switch between one or more dialect or language based upon need, context, conversational or social setting.

When to Code-Switch

Bilinguals need to understand where and when it is appropriate to code switch – that is, to switch from one language or dialect to another. However, there are social contexts or conversational settings in which code-switching is acceptable and even something to be encouraged.  Great orators and speakers are able to code-switch to draw in or include their audience.  Writers code-switch to show character and dialog.

It’s a Good Thing

Why allow code-switching? Insisting that students never code-switch or ignore their primary language is unrealistic and uncouth. Recognizing their multiculturalness is honoring what they can do. Allowing code-switching and explicitly teaching students about code-switching helps them to understand social and cultural situations. 


More soon

Applications & Activity Examples

Code Switching

Code-Switching R.A.F.T.
Language Objective:
Students will modify the provided dialog into four different registers using the code-switching R.A.F.T. (Role, Audience, Format, & Topic) chart provided.
Basic conversation frame
R.A.F.T. charts and Language Support Menus (See hot button)

  • Using the provided table tents and descriptors of R.A.F.T., students will create four scenarios for a rival group to create a conversation based upon the target Code-switching genre. 
  • Teams will then switch R.A.F.T. charts and as a group create at least three conversations based upon the parameters of the provided R.A.F.T. chart from their classmates.
Under Construction

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

Under Construction

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

Under Construction

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

More for Those Who Must Know…

Discourse Markers

More soon

Oral Grammar vs. Written Grammar

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More soon


More soon

Probabilistic Reasoning in Listening

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Probabilistic Reasoning in Reading

More soon

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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