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Language Study at Key Stages 2 and 3

2 Cohesion

This section is designed to help trainees understand some aspects of the way that texts are constructed to make sense to the reader. As they work through this material, they are asked to make notes in response to a series of activities.

Activity 2.1 Introducing Cohesion

What makes a text? Try cutting and pasting the following jumbled text to make a coherent text. One sentence does not fit and will need deleting. Once you have finished, read the commentary which follows.

BBC NEWS | England | West Yorkshire |
Tiny Peewee aims for big time
  1. "I'm surprised he hasn't been squashed to be honest with you”.
  2. Now global checks are being made to see if tiny Peewee can join the big boys of world records.
  3. Ms Bower told BBC News Online she had contacted the Guinness Book of Records and they have said there are records for the oldest and the biggest hamster, but none for the smallest.
  4. The tiny creature - called Peewee - is fully grown and yet measures less than one inch in length, weighs less than one ounce and is no higher than a 50p piece.
  5. A hamster so small he could fit into a match box could well find his way into the Guinness Book of Records.
  6. "He's a bit bossy with the others,” she added. "Hamsters sleep in a big clump and he sleeps under everybody else, in the warmest spot.”
  7. "I think he stopped growing at three weeks old, all his brothers and sisters continued growing to around four or six inches, but he just stopped.”
  8. Rodent like large rat, with cheek-pouches for carrying grain to its winter store.
  9. "He'll be nine weeks old on Friday and he's from a litter of six."
  10. And Mandy, 36, said he may be small, but he's a little character with a big attitude.
  11. "He's always first to the feeding bowl, he's got a massive appetite and the others have to eat their food around him. ”
  12. The tiny rodent's owner, pet shop boss Mandy Bower who breeds hamsters for sale in Keighley, West Yorkshire, says she has never seen anything like him.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/10/29 10:27:27 GMT © BBC MMIII

What clues did you use to help sequence the text?


The correct sequence is 5,4,12,7,9,10,6,1,11,3,2, although some sentences could perhaps be ordered differently.

8 is the odd one out – a dictionary definition.

In ordering the text you no doubt drew on your knowledge of this genre - a news report – as well as an understanding of how the text is ‘woven’ together. It is the notion that texts have ‘texture’ provided by cohesive ‘ties’ which we will now consider.

Look at the two examples below to see how the second sentence in each case is connected to the first.

  1. Wash and core six cooking apples.
    Put them into a fireproof dish.
  2. Wash and core six cooking apples.
    Put the apples into a fireproof dish.

(Halliday and Hasan, 1976)

In the first example the use of the pronoun them refers back to six cooking apples and in the second, the use of the definite article the and the repetition of apples refer back to six cooking apples. These ‘ties’ give cohesion to the two sentences in each case. In these examples we can see that cohesion is realised partly through grammar and partly through vocabulary (lexis). We now consider grammatical and lexical cohesion in detail.

In Halliday and Hasan (1976) cohesive ties are classified under two main headings: grammatical cohesion and lexical cohesion. These two are further divided as set out below:

Grammatical cohesion


In English we employ the definite article, pronouns, comparatives, etc to refer back (anaphoric reference) or forward (cataphoric reference) to elements in the text. If we return to the Tiny Peewee text we can see reference ties at work in the opening lines:

A hamster so small he could fit into a match box could well find his way in to the Guiness Book of Records. The tiny creature …

The definite article the and the pronouns his and he refer back to A hamster.


This refers to the omission of a clause, or part of a clause, because the meaning is understood. This is a common feature of spoken language e.g.

  1. ‘Got a light?’
  2. ‘Sorry, don’t smoke.’

instead of

  1. ‘Have you got a light?’
  2. ‘Sorry, I don’t smoke.’

In the Peewee text we can see examples of ellipsis in the second sentence where the ‘he’ is understood and therefore not needed:

The tiny creature – called Peewee – is fully grown and yet (he) measures less than one inch in length, (he) weighs less than one ounce and (he) is no higher than a 50p piece.


There are also ways of signalling omission through substitution using a small class of words such as ‘do’, ‘so’ ‘not’ or ‘one’ e.g.

  1. ‘I’m thinking of skipping the lecture next Monday.’
  2. ‘So am I.’


  1. ‘I really enjoy those English and Drama seminars.’
  2. ‘I don’t.’


Another, larger class of ties is referred to as conjunction. Hallidayand Hasandefine these as linkers which serve to connect sentences to each other, and in their description exclude the use of conjunctions within the sentence. However, others (e.g. Gutwinski, 1976) include their use within as well as beyond the sentence. We can see how this broader notion of conjunction works in the following extract from Jacqueline Wilson’s The Illustrated Mum where conjunctions are used to reflect spoken language:

I’m still in the Juniors and I’m useless at any kind of writing so I just drew on my card. As it was Marigold’s thirty-third birthday I decided I’d draw her thirty-three most favourite things. I drew Micky (I’d never seen him but Marigold had described him enough times) and Star and me. Then I drew the Rainbow Tattoo Studio and the Victoria Arms and the Nightbirds club. I did them in the middle all clumped together and then round the edges I drew London and the seaside and the stars at night. My piece of paper was getting seriously crowded by this time but I managed to cram in a CD player with lots of Emerald City CDs and some high heels and a bikini and jeans and different coloured tight tops and lots of rings and bangles and earrings.

In the Peewee text we can see examples of conjunction in Sentence 3:

Ms Bower told BBC News Online she had contacted the Guinness Book of Records and they have said there are records for the oldest and the biggest hamster, but none for the smallest.

We can classify conjunctions as having the following functions in a text:

  • Additive (‘and’)
  • Adversative (‘but’)
  • Temporal (‘then’)
  • Causal (‘so’)

How would you categorise the following in the chart below?

However therefore also on the other hand
Later first meanwhile because yet in addition

additive adversative temporal causal

Lexical cohesion

As well as tying a text through grammatical resources, as seen above, vocabulary (or ‘lexis’) makes a text cohesive.

In the Peewee text we can examples of lexical cohesion in words which are linked e.g. comparative and superlative forms such as ‘less’, ‘higher’, ‘warmest’, ‘oldest’, ‘biggest’. Other vocabulary relates to Peewee’s size and weight e.g. ‘tiny’, ‘small’, ‘fully grown’.

There are a number of features to consider when examining the relationship between words in a text. These include: repetition, synonymy, antonymy, hyponomy and collocation.


In the Peewee text you can see the word ‘hamster/s’ repeated four times. Can you identify any other examples of repetition?


Synonymy concerns words that have a similar meaning. In the Peewee text the words ’small’, ‘tiny’ and ‘little’ are synonyms. Can you identify any others?


These are words that have opposite meanings e.g. ‘little’ and ‘big’. In the Peewee text an example of antonymy is: ‘ And Mandy, 36, said he may be small, but he’s a little character with a big attitude’. Are there any others?


In the Peewee text the word ‘creature’ may be seen as a superordinate term, with a more general meaning, whilst ‘rodent’ or ‘hamster’ have more specific meanings which come under, or are subordinate to, ‘creature. These subordinate terms are called hyponyms. So we can see ‘hamster’ as a hyponym of ‘rodent’ which in turn is a hyponym of ‘creature’.


In addition to the features mentioned above, when we examine texts we find that words tend to be found in the company of other words, or to collocate. In some instances these relationships between words are highly predictable. For instance, ‘daylight’ collocates with ‘broad’ but not with ‘wide’; ‘rich’ collocates with ‘cake’ but not with ‘tea’; ‘strong’ collocates with ‘tea’ but not with ‘cake’. In the Peewee text we find in line 11 a relationship between the words ‘feeding’, ‘appetite’ and ‘eat’, for instance.

The way words relate to one another in a text adds to the cohesive force of the text.

Activity 2.2 Analysing texts applying knowledge of cohesive ties

Having worked through some of the ways in which texts hang together through grammatical and lexical cohesion, trainees can be asked to analyse the following extract from The Wreck of the Zanzibar by Michael Morpurgo to consolidate their own understanding, before moving on to consider how to teach about cohesion in the classroom.

September 8th

Today I found a turtle. I think it’s called a leatherback turtle. I found one once before, but it was dead. This one has been washed up alive. Father had sent me down to collect driftwood on Rushy Bay. He said there’d be plenty about after a storm like that. He was right. I’d been there for half an hour or so heaping up the wood, before I noticed the turtle in the tideline of piled seaweed. I thought at first he was just a washed-up tree stump covered in seaweed.

He was upside down on the sand. I pulled the seaweed off him. His eyes were open, unblinking. He was more dead than alive, I thought. His flippers were quite still, and held out to the clouds above as if he was worshipping them. He was massive, as long as this bed, and wider. He had a face like a two hundred year old man, wizened and wrinkled and wise with a gently-smiling mouth.

I looked around, and there were more gulls gathering. They were silent, watching, waiting; and I knew well enough what they were waiting for. I pulled away more of the seaweed and saw that the gulls had been at him already. There was blood under his neck where the skin had been pecked. I had got here just in time. I bombarded the gulls with pebbles and they flew off protesting noisily, leaving me alone with my turtle.

Activity 2.3 Teaching about cohesion

What are some of the implications of cohesion for your teaching of vocabulary?

Activity 2.4 Clarity of writing

An understanding of cohesion can help us to judge how difficult to read a text may be. In particular, elliptical clauses or unclear reference ties can pose problems for the reader. Give trainees the two texts below and ask them to consider which one is most clearly written and why.

A.  An insect flies into the web. It struggles. The spider comes running down. It binds the insect with silk. Then it bites it with its fangs and poisons it. If the spider is hungry it eats the insect. If not, it keeps it for later. (Derewianka, 1990)

B.  This spider makes a silk thread inside its body. It uses the silk to spin a sticky web between plants. Then the spider sits and waits. When a fly gets caught in the web, the spider runs out and wraps it up in silk. It keeps the fly to eat later. (Royston, 1992)

Although Text A may appear simpler on first examination because of its short sentences, the final sentence, where the elliptical ‘If not’ replaces the clause ‘If the spider is not hungry’, and the fifth sentence, where it may not be clear which ‘it’ is which, may present difficulties for the young reader. We have seen that texts are tied together grammatically and lexically and that the cohesion of a text will depend on a number of cohesive resources. Understanding how these work across different curriculum subjects helps us to select appropriate materials and to set up appropriate activities for reading texts.


  • Derewianka, B. (1990) Exploring How Texts Work Newtown: Primary English Teaching Association
  • Gutwinski, W. (1976) Cohesion in Literary Texts The Hague: Mouton
  • Halliday, M. and Hasan, R. (1976) Cohesion in English London: Longman
  • Morpurgo, M. (1995) The Wreck of the Zanzibar London: Egmont books
  • Royston, A. (1992) Minibeasts London: Dorling Kindersley

Further reading

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