Unit 2: Pragmatic Instruction (Implicit and Explicit): Studies and Teaching Examples

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Go back to Unit 1: Introduction to Pragmatics In Language Education Continue to Unit 3: Developing Activities to Scaffold and Engage Students
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  • Using the mini-lecture, the participant will create a table of the benefits/cons of explicit and implicit pragmatic instruction using examples to demonstrate their knowledge of the unit.
  • The participant will discuss their currently preferred method of instruction based on the findings of the studies and connecting it with their own experience through a K-W-L learning journal.
  • The participant will demonstrate their ability and motivation to further educate themselves on pragmatics instruction by navigating the internet to find outside resources and adding sources to a comprehensive final list.


Implicit and Explicit Pragmatics: What are they?


Implicit instruction entails using language for communicative purposes, without providing direct attention to target utterances-- in hopes that the rules (pragmatics, in this case) are obtained intuitively. In a language learning context, this would be language input and output without any “metapragmatic rule provision.” The alternative to this, found to be much more effective, is explicit pragmatic instruction. Explicit instruction calls for direct student attention to the target forms or utterances, as well as metalinguistics (the intentional reflection and thinking about language usage and forms) and repeated practice of each component being taught. With pragmatics, this entails explicit “metapragmatic information...of the target features,” or specific examples and rule instructions about pragmatics (Glaser, 2013).

Think of an iceberg: explicit instruction is what students see clearly with explanation; this is the part of the iceberg that is above the water. Below the surface is implicit instruction; students are not given explanations but they are expected to discover it unconsciously.

Implicit Instruction: Examples

Implicit instruction: Teaching entire structures (sentences) without pointing out specific target forms. An unconscious process, students are guided to discover these patterns on their own.
Examples of Implicit Pragmatic Competence Raising Activities: The amount of implicit strategies are lower due to the fact that they are based upon unconscious thought. There are two main ones.

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  1. Input Enhancement Tasks: These are strategies used by educators to make a target form or speech act more noticeable, but in an implicit, reflective way. Teachers can be selective in their speaking speed, stress on pronunciation, or monitoring the difficulty of language in which they speak to their students3. They can also use non-verbal practices or gestures such as Textual Enhancement and Input Flood.
    1. Textual Enhancement (TE) is an "external form of input enhancement, by which learners' attention is drawn to linguistic forms through physically manipulating certain aspects of the text to make them easily noticed"4. These include bolding, underlining, and italicizing text.
    2. Input Flood is "a focus-on-form intervention in which the input that is provided to learners is seeded with multiple examples of a target structure"(Hernandez, 2018)5. An example of using input flood is when a learner is provided with a text that contains the target form/speech act repeatedly throughout; however, it is not explicitly pointed out or taught by the instructor.
  2. Recasts: A technique to correct learners' errors in such a way that communication is not obstructed. An example of this is as follows:
  • Student: "I want eat."
  • Teacher: "What do you want to eat?"

Explicit Instruction: Examples

Explicit instruction: Teaching with intention and learning with awareness. The target item is explicitly regarded. It is active, usually deductive, utilizes monitoring and noticing, and incorporates much metalinguistics. WHAT and WHY are we learning. Summary: Structured order, teacher-driven, specific and demonstrative Examples of Explicit Pragmatic Competence Raising Activities:

  1. Discussion and Comparisons: You can conduct class discussions centered around the topic that provide a comparison between the students’ native language (L1) and culture with the target language and culture (L2). Additionally, asking students to fill out a table or worksheet is a good idea. 1
  2. Reading and Listening: Students can read text, listen to audio, or watch videos that give explicit information about the speech act in another language/country. Students can then answer discussion questions centered around the material, fill out worksheets, play games, etc.
  3. Providing Examples and Strategies: You can outright provide students with examples of the speech act in the target language, and ask them to compare and contrast them to their native language. Additionally, teaching students how to develop strategies for picking up on pragmatic and semantic clues in the target language can help as well.
  4. Discourse Completion Tasks (DCTs): These are very famous in the realm of pragmatic instruction. A Discourse Completion Task is an activity or tool that has students engage in a one-sided role play revolving around a situational prompt in which a participant will read to elicit the responses of another participant2. Oftentimes they are used upfront to assess a students' current competence, but they can be used as well in the classroom as activities.
  5. Roleplays: Roleplay activities that encourage students to engage with one another in speaking practice revolving around a situational prompt are a good choice for explicit instruction, especially when paired with a discussion in which students analyze their peers' and own performance.

Explicit vs. Implicit

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There are a plethora of resources, articles, and journals that all debate whether explicit instruction, implicit instruction, or a combination of the two leads to the best success for language learners. However, thus far the general consensus in many of them is that a combination of both implicit and explicit instruction (with an emphasis on explicit instruction) is ideal. This is because each type of instruction provides unique benefits and can help different learners develop their pragmatic competence over time.



  1. Fill out your activity journal
  2. Optional: Post your journal response in the Unit 2 discussion board.


Continue to Unit 3: Developing Activities to Scaffold and Engage Students

References and Resources

Additional Resources

Click here to view a list of resources that discuss the benefits of explicit, implicit, and combined instruction.


1Hilliard, A. (2017). Twelve Activities for Teaching the Pragmatics of Complaining to L2 Learners. ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM, 1-13. doi:americanenglish.state.gov/english-teaching-forum

2Wikipedia: Discourse Completion Tasks

3Stringer, T. (2018). Input Enhancement Techniques : A Critical Summary of the Literature. Language and Culture : The Journal of the Institute for Language and Culture, 22, 203-219. doi:10.14990 / 00003393


5Hernandez, Todd A., "Input Flooding" (2018). Spanish Languages and Literatures Research and Publications. 56. https://epublications.marquette.edu/span_fac/56

Glaser, K. (2013). The Neglected Combination: A Case for Explicit-Inductive Instruction in Teaching Pragmatics in ESL. TESL Canada Journal, 30, 7.