Topic: Analysing discourse structure

Here we look at what happens when we move away from words, phrases and clauses into bigger chunks of language. In this topic there's a focus on how longer texts are constructed by writers and navigated by readers.

Analysing structure in literary texts

Exploring structure through patterns and attention


  • Understand a method for analysing structure in literary texts.
  • Analyse the use of structure in a real text.

Lesson plan

  • This lesson is focused on the GCSE English Language 'structure' Assessment Objective.
  • It begins by considering what is meant by 'structure', and then introduces an analytical method for exploring the structure of literary texts.
  • This approach is then applied to a short extract. 
  • Some further texts are provided at the end, for us


Noticing and exploring linguistic patterns in literary texts

Foregrounding is a widely-used term in text analysis, literary linguistics and stylistics, referring to patterns of language that stand out in a text. The term itself is derived from art and film criticism, and is best understood by a visual analogy.

Here is a picture of San Francisco:

In this image, the houses are foregrounded against the background of the city. They are foregrounded because they:

Foregrounding - activity

In pairs or small groups, explore instances of grammatical foregrounding in Funeral Blues. This could be done by producing an analysis grid, where students examine how a grammatical feature of the text is foregrounded, and most importantly, discuss the potential meaning of the foregrounded feature. How do the instances of foregrounding add to our understanding and enjoyment of the poem?

To get you started, here are a couple of ideas:

Grammatical feature

Formal and informal

This lesson resource is designed to draw attention to how we use different registers in a variety of written contexts. When we use language, we make a number of different lexical and grammatical choices, depending on the context, or 'situation of usage'.

Formal and informal: Activity

working with register variation

The concept of register is about the idea of appropriate language, which is shaped by context. Thinking about context is a fundamental part of language analysis, and is a useful 'way in' to exploring language choices and meanings. 

Being able to vary your register is an important skill.

In this activity we will start by looking at two real letters. One of them is a personal letter and the other a business letter. You can download them, or read through them here:


Understanding and analysing metaphor


  • Understand the concept of metaphor and how they are formed
  • Analyse the use of metaphor in a real text

Lesson Plan

  • Using the information and examples below, explain that metaphor is an everyday part of human communication
  • Use the examples of metaphor to explain how they are formed: by something abstract being understood in terms of something concrete
  • At this point, students could discuss any other examples of metaphor they can think of
  • Next, mo

Metaphor: Activity

Analysing metaphor in political discourse

Attached to this page are some extracts of a 2016 speech delivered by David Cameron after the UK voted to leave the European Union. For each extract, you will be asked to do two things:

1) Work out what metaphor is being used. What is being understood in terms of what?

2) Comment on why you think that metaphor is used. What purpose does it serve? What kind of meaning does it carry, in the wider context of the political situation in which the speech took place?

You will see on the handout that one example has been done for you.

Metaphor: Introduction

What is a metaphor? Introduction for the classroom activity

Metaphor is often thought of as something that is confined to literary texts, but as we shall see, this really isn't the case.

Everyday language is full of metaphor, and it is actually quite difficult to use language without it!

Let's look at an example - the metaphor of LIFE IS A JOURNEY. (In linguistics, the standard way to show metaphor is by using capital letters). In this metaphor, the abstract concept of 'life' is understood as a concrete, physical 'journey'.

This generates sentences such as:

The second-person pronoun and textual effects

Exploring the use of you in different texts

In this lesson, students explore the potential readerly 'effects' of the second-person pronoun you.

Using noun phrases to build worlds

Learn how writers use language to create rich and vivid mental images

How do writers use language to create images in your mind? Read this extract and think very consciously about the kinds of images the language is conjuring up for you.

A rustle in the tunnel darkness; the knife was in his hand, and then it was no longer in his hand, and it was quivering gently almost thirty feet away. He walked over to his knife and picked it up by the hilt. There was a gray rat impaled on the blade, its mouth opening and closing impotently as the life fled. He crushed its skull between finger and thumb. (Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere)

Metaphors of language

Exploring the way we think and talk about language

This project asks students to explore metaphors of the English language. If you need a quick refresher, it might be useful to revisit some of the introductory pages on metaphor here before completing the project work.

Metaphor is a highly pervasive feature of any language, not only reflecting the way that we understand the world, but constituting and shaping it. In linguistics, we use the X IS Y formula to indicate a metaphor - for example:

A framework for language analysis

This page includes a handout on which you will find a framework for language analysis, developed over time through our Teaching English Grammar in Context course.

Starting to analyse a text can be a rather intimidating task. Where to start? What to include/not include? And how to do this systematically, rather than simply pulling out grammatical features at random and trying to write some kind of cohesive analysis?


Englicious contains many resources for English language in schools, but the vast majority of them require you to register and log in first. For more information, see What is Englicious?

Englicious (C) Survey of English Usage, UCL, 2012-19 | Supported by the AHRC and EPSRC. | Privacy | Cookies