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Organizing ideas

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Organizing ideas

  • A listener will understand your talk better if you organize what you say in a logical sequence or linear pattern. This means that you tell the listener what you are going to talk about and then go through the points you want to make. The most common pattern of organization is the following:

    Introductory statement

    Point I

    Point 2

    Point 3

    Concluding statement

  • Here is an example of this pattern :

    Breeding butterflies has many advantages for the collector.

    1. way of obtaining specimens

    2. spares can be released into the wild

    3. helps survival because butterflies have

    been protected from natural predators

    The experience is a learning experience for the collector and a benefit to the species

Using transitional expressions

  • These sentences would flow better if the speaker used transitional expressions. Can you think of a link and where to put it?

    In my physics class, we did lots of experiments that helped clarify scientific principles. I understood those principles better by doing those experiments.

In my physics class, we did lots of experiments that helped clarify scientific principles. As a result I understood those principles better.

Connecting ideas using transitional expressions

  • Join the following ideas using transitional expressions.

  • We had to hand in our essays on time. They wouldn't be marked.

  • I admired my high school history teacher for several reasons. He could explain historical events as if he were telling a story.

  • I enjoyed doing quiet activities like playing chess. My brother preferred more physical activities like football.

  • Our teacher would walk around the classroom looking at our work. We were busy on our individual projects.

  • The rain poured down for several days. The river banks in my city overflowed.

  • I took as many science courses as I could. I studied biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and physics.

  • The rain forest provides us with many products. The forests are being cleared for crops.

Defining unknown terms

  • In order to help your listeners understand, you may need to define a term that you use in your response. For example:

    My hobby is telemark skiing.

  • The listener may not know what this is. Let’s say you give the following definition:

    That means skiing using telemark skis.

  • The definition given here doesn’t really help much.

  • To effectively define a word, use a three-part definition:

    1. State the word or phrase to be defined.

    2. Give the category that the word or phrase fits into.

    3. Tell how the word is different from other words that fit the same category.

  • Now look at this definition of telemark skiing:

    Telemark is a type of alpine skiing in which the boots are connected to the skis only at the toes, so traditional skiing techniques have to be modified.

Defining words and phrases

  • Practice defining words by giving a three-part definition to the following words.

  • childhood

  • avalanche

  • fiction

  • loan

  • accountant

  • whales

Using parallel structures

  • Your listener can understand the flow of your ideas better if you use parallel structures when you speak. Look at this non-example:

    My teacher gave interesting assignments and motivating the students.

  • Which meaning does this sentence have?

    My teacher gave interesting and motivating assignments to the students.

    My teacher gave interesting assignments and motivated the students.

Connecting ideas by using parallel structures

  • Join the following ideas using parallel structures. Example:

    To learn how to snowboard requires a lot of practice. The learner has to be patient.

    Learning how to snowboard takes practice and patience.


    To learn how to snowboard not only takes a lot of practice but also a lot of patience.

    You have to be fit. Sometimes you have to travel a lot to get to the snowboarding areas. The equipment is expensive.

    To be a snowboarder you have to be fit, travel long distances, and use expensive equipment.

  • Wind energy is an alternative form of energy. So is solar energy.

  • To get accepted into some universities, you have to send copies of your high school diploma. The university might want letters of recommendation from a teacher who knows your work. Also, you frequently have to write an essay stating why you want to study there.

  • Students tend to get out of shape because they spend a lot of time studying. Frequently they eat a lot of junk food, too.

  • Rivers are polluted by factories dumping their waste products into the water. People also throw their garbage into the river.

Rephrasing or replacing key words

  • If you keep repeating a word or phrase, the listener can get confused. For example:

    My teacher wrote the assignment on the chalkboard. The assignment was on the chalkboard until the teacher erased the assignment after we had all done the assignment.

  • How could you make this less confusing?

My teacher wrote the assignment on the chalkboard. She erased the board after we had all completed the task.

  • The word assignment has been replaced with task; the word teacher with she; and the word chalkboard with board

Connecting ideas by rephrasing key words

  • Read the following sentences. Replace words or rephrase the sentence to avoid repeating key words. Example:

    I learned how to play the guitar first and then the piano. I practiced on both the guitar and piano for several hours every day.

    First I learned how to play the guitar and then the piano. I practiced both instruments for several hours every day.

  • Since I frequently can't find the definition of words I need in a dictionary, I've had to buy a specialized dictionary. I also need to use an encyclopedia that gives more detailed information. Using my dictionaries and encyclopedia, l can collect information for my course papers.

  • My grandfather taught me woodcarving when l was young. When l need to relax, I go out into my yard and practice my woodcarving.

  • Many people enjoy reading fantasy stories about imaginary worlds and extraordinary events. Fantasy is also common in popular movies.

  • A pitfall trap can be used to get a sample of small ground-living creatures. To make a pit fall trap a glass jar is put into the ground with its rim at ground level. The trapped creatures can then be counted and identified.

Connecting ideas by using pronouns

  • Read the sentences and use pronouns to replace repeated words.

  • I prefer to spend my leisure time with different friends. Since my friends have diverse interests, one friend or the other is always involving me in different activities.

  • Many children are sent to school at an early age to get a head start in a formal education. That is unfortunate because children learn very important lessons about life through play.

  • The woman believes that the new plan to reserve study rooms will affect students adversely, because of the plan, students won’t be able to reserve the rooms ahead of time, and it is possible that a room will not be available when the room is needed.

  • The computer program contains activities for dyslexic children. The children work through the activities to help improve reading abilities.

Using consistent tense, person, and number

  • The listener can get confused if you are not consistent. For example:

    My teacher brought five paper bags to school one day. He put us into groups and gave each group a bag. You have to take the objects out of the bags in turn and then a person has to tell a story involving the object from the bag.

  • What’s confusing about this text?

My teacher brought five paper bags to school one day. He put us into groups and gave each group a bag. You have to take the objects out of the bags in turn and then a person has to tell a story involving the object from the bag.

One day my teacher put us into five different groups. He gave each group a bag and told us to take turns pulling out an object and telling the other members of the group a story involving that object.

Finding inconsistencies

  • Underline the sections where you see inconsistencies in tense, person, or number.

  • Cooking is fun when you are planning a nice meal for visitors. You can make a starter, main course, a salad, and a dessert. Then, when your guest arrives, you can surprise him with how well you have cooked it. Guests will appreciate all the work one does to make tasty meals.

  • It is very important for a teacher to be patient because their students don't always understand what they are expected to do. Sometimes one has to guess what the teacher means. It is very upsetting if you guess wrong and then they get angry when it isn't your fault.

  • A movie is never as good as the novel they are based on. Sometimes the novel has two or three subplots. Since all these subplots can't be addressed in a two-hour movie, the main plot is frequently changed. But without the subplot, they don't make sense. In the end, the movie tells a completely different story than that of the novels.

  • The professor talked about the rise and fall of empires. He notes that the conquerors spread through the valleys, the most fertile and accessible parts of a country. However, the people who live in the less accessible areas, like the tropical forests or the high mountain regions, are frequently not affected by the conquerors and continued to maintain languages and traditions throughout the many invasions that will take place over the centuries.

  • Now try to correct the inconsistencies you have found

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