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Identifying the functions of learners’ language


How are the functions of students’ language identified?


Look at questions 1-5. There are situations and three possible functions. Select the correct option 1, 2 or 3.

  1. The student cannot hear the instructions given by the teacher.
    1. Ask the teacher to repeat the instructions
    2. Show agreement.
    3. Give an idea.
  2. A student believes that she has not understood a word. She must:
    1. Request an opinion.
    2. Provide an example.
    3. Verify the meaning
  3. A student has an opinion about how to start a pair-work activity. He should:
    1. Show disagreement.
    2. Make a comparison.
    3. Make a suggestion.
  4. A student has to encourage a timid student in group work. She should:
    1. Look at information.
    2. Ask him to speak.
    3. Express his meaning.
  5. A student cannot understand a new word. She must:
    1. Convey doubt.
    2. Provide advice.
    3. Get clarification.


The purposes for which students use language in the classroom are known as functions. They include participating in tasks, activities, asking questions from the teacher and interacting with other students. Some examples of students’ language functions are asking for clarification from the teacher or other students as well as checking information on understanding.

What are some common functions of students’ language?

Identifying the functions of learners’ language 2

Given below is a description of a lesson with examples of students’ language functions for each stage. Go through the table.

Learners’ language functions

Teacher’s and learners’ actions


The teacher enters the classroom and the learners say ‘Good morning’. The teacher hands out a reading text and gives learners instructions for the reading task.

Asking for clarification

The learners check the instructions with the teacher by asking ‘Can you explain that again please? What do we have to do?’

Checking information and understanding

The learners complete the reading task individually. The learners check their answers in pairs. They say, e.g. ‘What answer do you have for number 4? I don’t understand the meaning of this word. Do you know what it means?’ The teacher checks the answers.

Saying goodbye

The lesson ends. The learners say ‘Goodbye’ to each other and to the teacher.


Nerd baby says ...​

Students need a range of classroom language so that they can interact with one another in a proper way as well as with the teacher. The language that they would need for this can be rather formal. Sometimes it can be more relaxed. This depends on the people in the group. The language needed to interact with the teacher is usually neutral or more formal.

Students must have the knowledge of particular words and phrases needed for certain games or activities. An example: It’s my turn/It’s your turn/I’m first.

It is important to educate the students on the language needed for a range of students’ classroom functions. It is also necessary to teach them to comprehend the language for a range of teacher classroom functions. Usually, this language is not taught in the coursebook. When tasks and activities are planned, the language that students need to do tasks must be considered.

Test Your Knowledge

Given below are examples of student language. There are eight. Which function does each of the examples show?

  1. Hi!
  2. Could you say that again, please?
  3. I haven’t got the same answer.
  4. See you later.
  5. Is it page 10 or page 50?
  6. Well, I guess this is the best answer.
  7. Yes, I agree with you.
  8. What do you say?

The table below contains sets of exponents A-D. Each of them conveys one function of students’ language. Which function is conveyed by each set?


How about starting with number five?

Let’s do this together.

Why don’t we ask one for the other groups?


Can you give an example for number 4?

Can I use this word to talk about myself?

Does this mean the same thing?


It’s great to see you again.

How are you?

Good morning.


My answer’s the same as yours.

Yes, that’s right.

That’s my opinion, too.


Here are some comments from teachers. Which of them would you agree with and why?

  1. I prompt my students by placing examples of suitable language for classroom functions on my classroom walls.
  2. I don’t believe students need to use English for classroom functions. They can just use their L1.
  3. My students normally use their L1 when they do group work and when they ask me questions. I don’t believe they know how to say them in English.

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