How to teach writing 1 - Activities with conjunctions and linking devices
In second-language writing, there is a balance between the points being communicated and the way that they are put together. Point to point, most essays can be built with simple ideas in simple sentences following a subject-verb-object structure. However, when it comes to stringing these points together to show the relationships between them, conjunctions and linkers must be used.
The range of linking devices in English is quite complex - they range from single words to longer phrases, and should be placed in specific positions within or between sentences, and must come before specific following structures. The rules surrounding conjunctions are often oversimplified by textbooks, but with a few simple ways of presenting them, students can increase their range in writing and make conjunctions work to their strengths. Here are some ways of organising linking devices to present to students:
Organising linkers by function
Different linkers relate clauses and sentences together to communicate different types of link. One way of organising them is by meaning, as follows:
Adding information: and, in addition, also, furthermore, moreover...
Contrasting information: however, nevertheless, by contrast, on the other hand...
Giving examples: for example, for instance, One example of this is…,
Cause and effect: as a result, consequently, in consequence, because, because of, due to...
Organising linking devices lexically in this way gives learners a set of meaningful links to use between their points. The next step is to make sure that they use these linkers in the correct place.
2) Organising linkers by sentence structure
Another way of presenting linking devices, along with some context to demonstrate how they can relate points, is to categorise them according to the position they occupy in a sentence. This can be shown visually by using the following sentence formulas, where ‘X’ represents the position of the conjunction:
CLAUSE. X , CLAUSE (where the linker connects two ideas across two sentences)
Examples: However, Nevertheless, In contrast, As a result…
X CLAUSE , CLAUSE (where the linker connects two clauses in one sentence, and appears before them)
Examples: Whereas, Although,
CLAUSE , X CLAUSE (where the linker connects two clauses in one sentence, and appears between them)
X NOUN PHRASE, CLAUSE (where the conjunction must be followed by a noun or noun phrase, connected to a following clause in the same sentence)
When displaying these formulas, be sure to emphasise the appropriate use of full stops and commas, as this represents whether ideas are linked within or across sentences, an area which is often misunderstood by learners. Some of the above conjunctions can only start sentences, in which case I present these with capital letters to stress this point.
This presentation can be followed by ‘noticing’ tasks, where students look at sentences, identify the linker and the clauses, and say which structure is used. Once they have seen examples, they can apply the linkers to their own sentences and build up from there.
Activity idea: Sentence building
Prepare some strips of paper containing clauses, noun phrases and conjunctions. Give each pair or group of students a set of strips and instruct them to build as many logical sentences as they can. This tests whether learners have identified the correct function, position and following grammar. This activity works best if there are several possible answers, as choices can be made as to how to get the maximum number of linked ideas together.
Even better, preparing an entire paragraph consisting of linked sentences can get the learners thinking about he progression of ideas as they connect them together, making paragraphing choices about the order of information too.
Prepare a set of cards containing a range of linking devices and put them face down in the middle of each group of students. Instruct one student to say a sentence on a topic they have studied recently. The next student picks a conjunction card at random and has to continue the idea using that linker and the appropriate following language. The next student picks another linker until the chain stops being logical or gets too long and complex. Once this happens, ask all members of the group to remember the sequence of ideas and write out the chain of sentences from the activity.
After they finish, students compare their paragraphs and edit each others’ use of conjunctions.
However you work with linking devices, make sure that you do some work with function, position and following language, and your learners will get more comfortable linking idea together with clarity and accuracy.
Tom Garside is Director of Teacher Training for Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the new RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with a specific focus on online language education.