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"Pragmatics: Teaching Speech Acts" Book Review

Updated on May 13, 2014

The Book - In Short

This book is a guide for those who teach pragmatics or who plan to teach pragmatics in their classrooms. Tatsuki and Houck bring together research on pragmatics and lesson plans which have been tested in the classroom. They first address the importance of pragmatics when teaching English including the negative effect of pragmatic misunderstandings. Once they have established the importance of pragmatics, they then present a series of lessons. These lessons are divided into three parts (requests, indirect acts, and responding acts) with the last part of the book focusing on assessment.

The Different Sections

The first two chapters are introductory chapters. The first chapter is essentially the introduction to the book (more on that later). The second chapter is the first lesson plan in the book. Part one in the book focuses on requests covers indirect requests, softening requests, and formal requests. The next part, indirect acts, includes giving advice, expressing opinion, and giving feedback. Finally, with responding acts the lessons focus on refusals. Also included in this section is a lesson which involves an online program which allows students to make comparisons between their native language and English. As was previously mentioned, the final chapter focuses specifically on how to assess pragmatics. They discuss various forms of assessment from holistic assessment to self-assessment. All the worksheets and rubrics for the lesson plans and assessments are included in the appendices. Throughout this book, the authors focus on increasing students’ awareness of the pragmatic differences between the students’ native languages and English.

Chapter One: Pragmatics From Research to Practice: Teaching Speech Acts

This chapter introduces the purpose of the book and how it can be of use to ESL instructors. The authors delve right into the challenges English instructors face when teaching English. Students may be able to speak English perfectly (grammatically) but they struggle to understand the nuances of different situations. They even point out that native English speakers sometimes need educating to know what is appropriate in different situations. I'm sure we have each met enough socially awkward people to attest to this. They then go on to point out that teachers do not have a lot of time to sort through information, determine what pragmatics or "speech acts" should be taught, and how they should be taught. It can be overwhelming. This book was designed to address these needs. The remainder of the chapter than provides a synopsis of every chapter in the book.

The Lesson Plans

So, essentially, chapters 2-13 are lesson plans. They begin by defining the goal and rationale for the lesson. Then, as each chapter has been used in the classroom, we are provided with a context - what kind of classroom the lesson was taught in, how long did it take to teach, etc. In addition, they provide a brief analysis of how the students did. Finally, it delves into the curriculum and materials used as well as the tasks the students will perform. The lesson is then outlined by activities (usually 4-5), each activity building on itself following a task-based approach. The chapter then concludes with a more in-depth reflection of the lesson and how it went.


The one lesson plan that I have had the opportunity to use is titled, "Requesting a Letter of Recommendation: Teaching Students to Write E-Mail Requests." The only changes I made to the lesson was, in addition to the example letters they provide, I found some that I had written in the past and we critiqued them as part of the lesson. It worked very effectively. I look forward to using the rest of the lesson plans in future classes. I do believe it is important to note that these lessons are designed for more advanced students. It would be difficult to use them in a beginning classroom.

If teaching pragmatics, this book is an invaluable asset. First, it contains a series of lesson plans which have been tested in classrooms in many different settings. These lesson plans can either be used as they are or adapted for various purposes. For example, the lesson I mentioned earlier, "Requesting a Letter of Recommendation: Teaching Students to Write E-Mail Requests," focuses on writing e-mails to professors. This could easily be adapted to focus on writing employers instead.

The formats of the lesson plans are straightforward and clearly explained. A common method used in the lesson plans, which I find very effective, is to help students raise their awareness of the pragmatics in their first language. This can result in a healthy, dynamic conversation in your classroom. As students make comparisons between the pragmatics of their first language and the foreign language, their understanding of both sets of pragmatics will increase.


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