I have utilized, written about, and presented my "Logical
Conversation Method" (ED247744/FL014406, Old ERIC Clearinghouse Database)
for nearly 25 years, since developing it as a masters research
paper for my M.A. in TESL at the University of Kansas, in 1984.
That was back when there were only three other articles on
flowcharts in the entire field of ESL/EFL,discourse
was just starting to build momentum as a popular research
area, and computer-assisted language learning was in its
Most recently, I presented on conversation flowcharting at
NYSTESOL in 2000, the Kansas TESOL 2005 conference, and as an invited session
at TESOL's first Peace Forum, in 2003. At the 2005 conference
of Kansas CEC (Council for Exceptional Children), I presented
a paper suggesting applications of my logical convesation
method for helping high functioning individuals with Autism
to be able to navigate verbal exchanges more successfully.
The basic premise of my approach is that conversation
practice guided by discourse flowcharts enables the learner
to develop an awareness of different discussion pathways
and thereby manage his or her interactions more effectively.
But, even though the flowchart has a strong visual aspect,
all the steps of my original method are heavily text-based.
The early practice activities entail following instructions
which briefly describe different functions, such as "disagree,
giving a reason" or "contradict the reason with a counter-example,"
following a system which was first used by Peter Mohr in 1981.
One key step in my approach, the use of cue cards which
represent moves on the flowchart, seems to allow learners
to transition from direct reference to the chart to another
level, at which the chart and function-labels are no longer
needed. That idea of using cue cards came from my linguistics
classmate at K.U., Zi Li He, of China. At TESOL 1992 in Vancouver,
I presented on possible computer applications of the logical
conversation flowchart approach, based on some preliminary
work I had done using Apple's HyperCard software.
I have also used Cuisinaire rods in a conversation game in
which the different colors represent different functions and
players pick up and discard the rods one by one, until some
of the more difficult functions are the only ones left and
must be practiced. In addition, I have developed "conversation
adventure booklets," which are cue-card sequences from the
flowchart, but very small and stapled together, so that two
students pick a topic, pick up a booklet, and turn the pages,
letting the cues guide their conversation.
I was recently using this method in an advanced oral communication
class, and was asking students to practice using the conversation
adventure booklets. After this class session, a masters student
in design suggested to me that there was too much text involved
and that he would prefer to work from an image like the one
I had briefly drawn on the board, a pyramid with opinions
at the apex, reasons in the middle layer, and examples at
its base. I took his suggestion as my personal homework
assignment for the next class, and came up with two items
which seemed to spark more spontaneous conversations and
generate some noticeable enthusiasm as well.
[Eventually, I will name the student whose bright suggestion
has greatly enhanced my logical conversation teaching approach,
but right now it would represent an invasion of his privacy
to do so. When I have gained his permission as well as an O.K.
from the university to publish the student's name, or after
he has finished his university degree program, I will come
back to this story and insert the information. I am very
grateful for the help and inspiration this individual has
provided by reacting to the logical conversation activities.]
I was highly motivated by the request of my student for
a visual which would give him and his classmates faster
access to their memories of how to perform the various
functions in a logical conversation without having to
process abundant text. In response, I created the pyramid
figure, with starting language for questions along the
left edge and language for statements along the right edge
of the pyramid. The idea is that students can quickly
determine whether they want to work at the opinion,
reason, or example level, and then easily find the
a starting phrase which represents a typical way in
which people handle these functions.
During our last few class sessions of the semester,
we are beginning each class with very short speeches
by designated class members, on topics they have chosen,
and then breaking into discussion groups, which use the
pyramid handout along with our evolving list of starter
The questions for discussion come from recycled and
refined lists which students cull through continually,
eliminating those they are uninterested in or tired of
and conserving those they still want to talk about, and
adding their own suggested topics. On
the day I first used the pyramid, one student had decided
to talk about how to respect the gay lifestyle even if
one believes it is immoral, and so our new topic list
included his five questions: Can parents make a child gay?;
Is homosexuality immoral?; Is homosexuality unhealthy?;
What is heterosexuality/homosexuality?; and What makes a
Other questions on the list included: Does individual
freedom interfere with the rights of others?; What do
you want most in your life?; Which is more important for
life--knowledge or imagination?; Which is more important
for success--knowledge or experience?; Which is more
important--love or money?; Which provides more energy
for society's progress--the human mind or technology?,
and a number of others.
In their small groups, students selected questions
from the list and conversed, trying to stay focused
on the opinion-reason-example dynamic we are practicing.
After every five minutes or so, I brought a group to
the front of the class for a "debate" on their favorite
topic. Here is where I introduced another innovation
which I had been inspired to develop while working
on the pyramid graphic: color-coded "ballots" with
which audience members could indicate which portion
of the pyramid speakers were currently focusing on.
This idea of color-coded ballots came from similar
devices described by Jo Gusman in a two-day workshop
on sheltered English in the summer of 2003 (read
the report). She has taught large groups of multilingual
kindergartners, and found that new English learners can
be included in classroom communication as equal participants
if all students are using "Yes-No" (green/red) fans and
multi-colored fans for multiple choice responses. Jo Gusman
is a very dynamic presenter who understands on a profound
level the interplay between comprehensible input and
affective filter, two concepts which she explains much
better than Terrell or Krashen ever did. Her Web site,
"New Horizons in Education, Inc.," is well worth a visit.
Anyway, in our classroom "debates," everyone in the audience
had a set of three different "ballots," one for opinion, one
for reason, and one for example. I also had ballots, and I
started whipping them back and forth to make a sound like
a flag waving in the wind. Soon the room was so full of this
sound that we could barely hear the speakers, but the
enthusiasm and our focus on the elements of logical
conversation was undeniable.
The new visually accessible additions to these activities
serve very well to underscore the important way in which
this approach allows a teacher to focus on content (for
acquisition purposes) and form (for analytical clarity)
at the same time. It is impossible to focus on discourse
form without simultaneously focusing on content: that is
my strong belief.
I'm looking forward to the next few class sessions, as
our question list keeps evolving and our awareness of
conversational logic hopefully develops as well. Twenty-five
years after I started becoming interested in conversational
logic and the use of flowcharts in second language instruction,
I am still (and newly) excited about my Logical Conversation
Click here for a pdf version of these new handouts.
By Robb Scott
Editor, ESL MiniConference Online
2007 ESL MiniConference Online
PDF conversion by PDF Online