Ken Paterson is grateful for a piece of advice given to him soon after he started teaching English for Academic Purposes many years ago.
This, these, that and those
Over the years, I’ve had a complex relationship with the demonstrative determiners.
Before I started teaching English, I can’t remember giving them a moment’s thought.
Then, after a few years of saying to students (with appropriate hand gestures), ‘This is for things that are near to us, and that is for things that are far away’, I started to get interested in ‘text analysis’ and ‘cohesive devices’, and went a bit over-the-top, getting students to highlight determiners, and the words or phrases they referred to, in a complex code of colours and arrows that made their handouts look like early abstract art.
By the time I met my first English for Academic Purposes class, however, I’d calmed down a little.
‘The appropriate use of demonstrative determiners’ was helpfully listed as a ‘teaching outcome’ on our EAP course pro forma and, although I got into the habit of projecting short texts onto the OHP screen in order to discuss the function of a this or that, or reformulating sentences on the whiteboard to include an appropriate determiner, I never seemed to get that satisfying look in students’ eyes that here was something they could easily take away and use themselves.
And then a colleague introduced me to the concept of summary nouns.
This/these + a summary noun
‘Abstract nouns with demonstrative determiners’, she informed me, ‘improve the flow of the text by summarizing old information and introducing it to a new clause or sentence.’ And then she gave me an example or two, such as the following:
An alternative to the guided interview is the focus group, in which respondents are asked to discuss their views collectively. This method, where participants engage with each other, has the advantage of lowering the risk of interviewer bias.
I must have been aware at some level of this feature of academic English, but I hadn’t actually had it explained to me as an entity in itself that was potentially teachable.
‘Oh, there are lots of things you can do with it in the classroom’, she added, such as:
– asking students to identify some of the many typical summary nouns (area, conclusion, development, example, idea, phenomenon, situation, trend etc.) and organizing them into sub-groups (claim, comment, remark etc.);
– gapping texts after the demonstrative determiner and eliciting the most appropriate summary noun;
– applying the feature to disconnected or ‘untidy’ texts;
– inviting students to bring in for discussion their own examples;
– looking at the occasions where a writer has paired that or those, or such instead of this or these with a summary noun.
And what I found in class was not only the sense among students that this was a feature they could take away for immediate use, but also, it seemed to me, a greater awareness of the function of demonstrative determiners in other contexts (on their own or with non-summary nouns), almost as if the ‘graspable’ nature of ‘this/these + a summary noun’ had acted as a kind of bridging device.
So thank you, Sue, wherever you are!
Ken’s talk, ‘Organising academic grammar’, takes place at IATEFL Birmingham on Friday 15th April from 12:30-13.00.