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Expository Discourse

Vol. 13 •Issue 47 • Page 9
Expository Discourse

Mastering the language of the curriculum

Adolescents with language learning disabilities are at a distinct disadvantage for comprehending and recalling expository discourse as compared to their peers," Jeannene Ward-Lonergan, PhD, CCC-SLP, told ADVANCE. "This is a real concern because they deal with it on a daily basis in school."

Expository discourse refers to factual academic language in classroom lectures, oral presentations and homework assignments, as well as on tests, in textbooks, and in other classroom materials. If students have difficulty mastering expository language, they may fall behind in understanding the content being taught, explained Dr. Ward-Lonergan, assistant professor in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.

The types of expository discourse are comparison, cause/effect, collection/description, enumeration, problem/solution and procedural.

Comparison discourse compares advantages to disadvantages, pros and cons, favored views to opposing views, or similarities and differences. They often can be found in social studies lessons, where students may, for example, be asked to consider the similarities and differences of two geographic regions.

Cause-and-effect, or causation, discourse has an antecedent event and a consequent event and often is found in history lessons. Collection/description, used in a variety of subject areas, refers to a collection of facts describing a particular topic. Enumeration is a listing of examples and information related to a specific topic.

Problem/solution and procedural discourse are common in science classes and text. Problem/solution discourse poses a problem that may be resolved with one or more possible solutions. Procedural discourse lists steps on how to do or make something. For example, students must follow a certain set of directions in order to conduct a science experiment. Procedural statements are common in home ec classes as well.

Students with speech and language difficulties often have significant difficulty comprehending expository language. Conversational and narrative discourse are often easier to understand and produce. Conversational discourse is more informal and offers opportunities to make repairs and seek clarification, and narrative discourse has a fairly predictable structure. However, as students progress through the upper elementary grades and beyond, they are confronted with more sophisticated, decontextualized language.

Students are expected to understand and produce the different types of expository discourse, yet many students with speech and language difficulties struggle greatly with expository language, according to Dr. Ward-Lonergan.

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"It's not as though there is one predictable organizational structure they can learn and hang on to," she said. "They have to become familiar with different types of discourse structures, so it becomes a very challenging task. Also, the content being discussed tends to be more technical, and the vocabulary and syntax used is often more advanced than what is typically produced in conversational or narrative discourse."

Speech-language pathologists should intervene with curriculum-based intervention strategies to help students understand the different types of expository language. They should begin by reviewing their state curriculum standards or examining classroom tests, assignments and materials to determine which discourse structures are characteristic of their students' curriculum. Introducing examples of the structures used helps students become aware of and identify the differences in discourse.

Speech-language pathologists can highlight key words to identify the different types of discourse structures. For example, phrases such as "in contrast" and "on the other hand" are frequently used in comparison statements, while "as a result of," "because" and "consequently" denote cause-and-effect statements.

Other helpful strategies for heightening student awareness of expository language are graphic organizers and diagrams. Graphic organizers visually show the student how a chapter or passage is organized and can be used to help students organize their own ideas when producing expository discourse. Diagrams are helpful in illustrating the critical elements comprising different discourse structures.

Clinicians can teach students how to use context clues to define unfamiliar words when reading or listening. Another strategy is paraphrasing. Students can read each paragraph individually in a passage and ask questions to determine its main idea and important details. Rephrasing the paragraph in their own words helps them to actively monitor their comprehension.

Morphological awareness skills also are important for understanding new vocabulary. Students are better prepared to decode and comprehend text when they learn the meanings of common root words, prefixes and suffixes.

A helpful strategy for comprehending textbook material is SQ3R: survey, question, read, recite, review. In brief, students survey the material ahead of time and read any study questions, keep the questions in mind while reading the text, and recite answers to the questions and write a few notes to help remember important ideas when they are finished reading. They review the questions and try to answer them without using their notes and then study the notes to help recall information later.

"We want to teach language learning strategies that can be generalized across content areas instead of just selecting isolated skills and working on them," Dr. Ward-Lonergan said.

In addition, speech-language pathologists may wish to teach strategies on how to write complete sentences, organized paragraphs and five-paragraph themes to help students meet the written expository language demands of the curriculum.

Students can use word processing software for spell checking, legibility, editing, and the creation of a professional product. The ability to use this type of software is a functional life skill that motivates students.

"These strategies aren't just going to get them through one assignment or an upcoming test," she noted. "They will carry over and apply across the board. We're teaching students strategies they can use in all of their content area classes to help them with the curriculum."

Adolescents and older students can practice using the strategies in activities that primarily involve spoken expository discourse, such as newscasts, weather reports, talk show interviews and oral reports. Dr. Ward-Lonergan videotapes the students, who enjoy watching themselves on television and benefit from a discussion and critique of their project.

For more information:

  • Jeannene Ward-Lonergan, PhD, (209) 946-3227, e-mail:

    Nicole Klimas is Assistant Editor of ADVANCE. She can be contacted at

    Expository Discourse

    • Comparison

    • Cause and effect

    • Collection/description

    • Enumeration

    • Problem/solution

    • Procedural


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