Activity: true/false 2

True/false activities are also useful for demonstrating the role of the Expression stratum in highlighting given and new information within a clause. Let’s take two examples:

  1. The boy is 11 years old.
  2. He rides his bike to school.

In the first example, the new information is ’11 years old’ which, in an unmarked clause, is given tonic prominence: The boy is 11 years old. In the second example, we find a more complex weak-strong iambic pattern, He rides his bike to school, that highlights certain elements within the clause.

When we present these two as being true or false, however, the focus of given and new information changes in a slight, but important, way. If we take the first example first, the given information becomes the entire previous clause, The boy is 11 years old, packaged as a single nominal group (it could be replaced with ‘it’) while the new information is is true. This change is reflected in the Expression stratum:

  • The boy is 11 years old is true

The given information is spoken quickly and without any tonic prominence, which moves to the word false. The two pieces of given information (The boy is/The boy is 11 years old is) would take roughly the same time to be spoken. Similarly with the second example, we move from an iambic pattern to one in which there is a single piece of new information:

  • The boy rides his bike to school is false

Again, the given information is spoken quickly and without stress.

This difference in speed and intonation indicating a nominalised clause can be difficult for both elementary and advanced students (Japanese, for example, does this grammatically with either the particle の, no, plus a topic marker は, wa, or 事, koto). Using true/false activities can be a good way of pointing out the difference.


Activity: true/false

I’d never really paid much attention to true/false activities before, where the students read a statement about a reading or listening passage and then decide if it’s true or false, and usually just whip through the answers without really spending too much time on them. But recently I’ve found them to be useful practice for focusing on two main points that are often overlooked.

The first is the use of the Finite. The difference between “He rides his bike” and “He does ride his bike” is, I think, that the second example is asserting the Predicate to be true. I don’t think students, especially lower levels, are often made aware of this distinction and I’ve found true/false activities a good way to do it. This is after all, as Halliday pointed out somewhere, how children argue: You smell! Do not! Do too! Do not! by asserting the truth or otherwise of a statement. For the activity, introduce the reading/listening as usual with the statements, e.g.:

  1. He rides his bike everyday     T/F
  2. He doesn’t goes to the park   T/F
  3. He is 12 years old                     T/F
  4. He can ride a motorbike         T/F

Rather than just “Number one is true, number two is false, etc.”, the students here have to assert the answer:

  1. For number one, he does ride his bike every day
  2. As for number two, he does go to the park

For more advanced students, the true/false difference between the two above can be made more explicit by isolating the Finite with the use of conjunctions:

  1. Number 1 says he rides his bike and he does
  2. Number 2 says he doesn’t go to the park but he does

The second point highlights the role of the Expression strata in indicating true/false through the use of tonic prominence. While examples 1 and 2 can be split into Finite and Predicate (rides → does ride), the examples 3 and 4 cannot so easily be highlighted. It is by giving them tonic prominence that this is achieved:

  1. .
  2. .
  3. He is 12 years old
  4. He can’t/can not ride a motorbike

I think, then, that true/false activities can be, in fact, a useful way to introduce or highlight the role of the Finite and that of tonic prominence.


As well as the grammatical system of THEME, the clause as a message also carries “a unit that is parallel to the clause” (H & M, p.88): the information unit. This is a system of Given and New information, where information “is presented by the speaker as  recoverable (Given) or not recoverable (New) to the listener” (H & M, p.91) and is realised by the tone group. The unmarked form is one that proceeds Given → New:

  • I usually (Given) play tennis (New).

The tone having prominence signals to the listener the information focus:

  • I usually play tennis (Given) on Wednesdays (New).

It is also possible, however, for a marked information focus to signal to the listener that some information is news, often used contrastively:

  • I (New) usually play tennis (Given) but my sister (New) doesn’t (Given).