•  a branch of linguistics that is concerned with the relationship of sentences to the environment in which they occur

Merriam-Webster, 2019

prag·​mat·​ics | \ prag-ˈma-tiks

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 my house), 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. 



An Additional Thought:

Our emergent 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.

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. 


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

Application/Activity Examples


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 table tents (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.

More to come

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.). Boston: Pearson.

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

Freeman, D. E., & Freeman, Y. S. (2014). Essential  linguistics: What teachers need to know to teach ESL, reading, spelling, and  grammar. (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: 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.). Upper Saddle  River, NJ: Pearson.

Ishihara, N., & Cohen, A. D. (2010). Teaching and learning pragmatics: Where language and culture meet. New York, NY: Routledge.

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

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

More for those who Must know ...


Discourse Markers

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Oral Grammar vs Written Grammar

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Probabilistic Reasoning in Listening

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Probabilistic Reasoning in Reading

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