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Compelling Conversations for English Teachers, Tutors, and Advanced English Language Learners

  1. Hedging Language & Seeking Clarification in Our Arguments

    December 29, 2015 by Eric
    Eric

    Raised hands in class of middle school.

     

    “Education is a kind of continuing dialogue and a dialogue assumes, in the nature of the case, different points of view.”

    ~Robert Hutchins (1899-1977), educator and philosopher

     

    In academic writing, especially argumentative essays, it is important to argue your claims with supporting facts. Yet, the importance of seeing the other side of the claim or argument is equally as important; a feat that would be nearly impossible without the aid of hedging language. Hedging allows the writer to acknowledge evidence and alternate points of view while remaining non-committal, allowing the reader to see the big picture through the focus of your argument.

    Chimayo’s own Eric Roth co-lectured a presentation about this very topic, available to watch here on YouTube. Here’s a worksheet he’s crafted to get students into the practice of using hedging language:

     

    Hedging Language: Poetry vs. Accuracy

     

    What are three vague generalizations about the United States?

     

    What are some proverbs or slogans from your country or culture?

     

    What are some popular songs that make universal claims?

     

    Can you think of two sayings that contradict each other?

     

    Techniques for turning vague generalizations with more accurate, responsible statements:

    • Add frequency adverb (sometimes, seldom, often)
    • Weaken the verb (seem to, appear, tend to)
    • Add modal (can, may, might,)
    • Add qualifier (one of the best, an effective method)
    • Identify conditions (when the information is known)
    • Cite source (according to a 2013 WHO report)

     

    Can you rewrite a generalization about an American city (New York, Los Angeles, DC, etc.)?

     

    Can you rephrase a traditional proverb or popular slogan?

     

    Seek Clarification: Key phrases

    Checking what someone means:

    • What do you mean by that?
    • Do you mean…?
    • In other word….?
    • So are you saying…?
    • Can you clarify that statement?
    • Correct me if I’m wrong, but do you mean…?
    • Sorry, I’m not sure if I got that. Are you saying…?

     

    Asking someone to explain what they mean:

    • Could you expand on that?
    • Which means what?
    • Which means exactly what? (more sceptical)
    • What are the implications?
    • Can you spin that out?
    • Sorry, what exactly do you mean by that?
    • Sorry, could you go over that again?

     

    Checking that someone has understood you:

    • Is that clear?
    • Are you with me?
    • Does that make everything clear?
    • Can we move on?

     

    Want to learn more? Check out the Being Yourself chapter from Compelling American Conversations, available here with additional commentary from the Teacher Edition!

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  2. Conversation Tip #9: Ask Clarifying Questions!

    September 20, 2010 by Eric Roth
    Eric Roth

    What is a clarifying question? What do you mean? Can you be more specific? Can you give us some examples? What do you exactly mean?

    Sometimes our English students need help asking questions, especially critical questions that allow them to clarify concepts and better participate in conversations. One crucial skill that needs to be explicitly taught – after being informally modeled in class discussions – is asking for clarification. In fact, I consider the ability to ask appropriate follow-up questions a vital life skill.

    Here are some simple questions that students can, and often should, ask to collect more information. I often encourage students to make a general statement or bold claim, and support their opinion with some reason. Proverbs and advertising slogans are great for this purpose.

    Sunshine promises happiness.
    Just do it.
    Laugh and be well.
    Bad luck can’t last forever.
    You create your own luck.
    Be bold.

    Yet these absolute statements require qualification and clarification, especially in the context of an academic discussion or intense conversation. Therefore, it’s natural to ask some practical clarifying questions in a friendly, open-minded way.

    Here are some useful examples of common clarification questions:
    What does that mean?
    Can you be more specific?
    Why do you think that?
    How did you reach that conclusion?
    Can you share some examples?
    To what extent, does that saying apply here?
    What do you really mean?
    Can you clarify that for me?
    How does that statement apply to….?
    Can you spin that concept out for us?
    What are the implications of that statement?
    What are you implying?

    We can also ask questions to confirm information or paraphrase.
    Are you saying that….
    Are you claiming….
    Do you mean ….
    So you are saying…
    Do you want me to…

    This simple exercise is also quite helpful when teaching hedging language and formal definitions to add precision. Since I primary teach graduate students who must participate in classroom discussions and answer questions after giving presentations, I consider this ability a vital skill for intermediate and advanced English language learners.

    How do you clarify information? What questions do you ask as follow-up questions when you feel confused? What questions do you teach your students to use to collect more details or verify information? Why?

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