Basic linkers

A user's guide to linkage

I suggest that there are ten basic ways to link ideas together, and that these can be organised in pairs.

The point of knowing these ten link systems is that they help to organise ideas in a coherent, methodical way. If you think about the ten ways that are listed below, they are the most common fundamental connections between ideas - for example, adding or contrasting ... giving reasons or consequences ... and so on.

This business of essential linkage, then, is of fundamental importance - although, of course, clear use of language depends on clear thinking, and vice versa !

Five pairs of linkers

The ten modes of linking are organised in pairs of contrasted concepts. This is to present the idea of the point of such linkage as clearly as possible. In essence, this arrangement proposes we should think about what we want to achieve by linking, and then select from the appropriate range of linkers.

The layout of the handout attempts to evoke the idea of clicking on icons on a computer screen.

  • In each icon graphic, the word(s) are intended to sum up, to label, the basic concept of the link
  • In the list of similar links provided for each icon, the first, in bold, is the most common - the others are alternatives, perhaps more formal, and perhaps with very slight differences of emphasis  

The icons explained

Here is a list of the links, identifying the icon, and with a brief explanation.

Basic links in a chain


... the basic process of adding one idea on to another, heading in the same direction.

The further down the list you go, the more formal the linker. [see also Sequence markers ]


.. adding, but in a different direction.

The alternatives provide varying degrees of contrast - 'However' might indicate just a small change of direction, while 'On the contrary' involves a 180° change.

Organising in pairs


... listing things which exist side by side.

'Not only...but also' gives a bit of emphasis to the second element.

'either / or'

... choosing between two (or more if you add 'or's) options.

The structure in itself presents the options equally - any bias comes from how you describe the options.

Arguing backwards, arguing forwards


... giving reasons i.e. explaining backwards from an idea, showing how it is caused.


... giving consequences of an idea - what follows logically from it, or things which result from it.

Noting objections, exploring possibilities


... accepting (an opposite argument), but carrying on. 'Despite' is only followed by a noun; all the others can be followed by noun or verb.

'IF x 4'

... thinking about possibilities.

Choosing between the four options involves thinking how possible are the possibilities ... from 'always happens' to 'can't happen but could have'

And of course the use of 'if' involves the Conditional structures of verbs - see Conditionals, explored  and related pages

Personal and factual frames


... showing that what comes next is your idea - so putting the statement in a 'personal frame'

'in fact'

... suggesting that what follows is real, not just an opinion - contrasting what people think is true with what is really true

Teaching: Embedding the idea

The simple approach is simply to give out the Linker Icons sheet, and talk it through with the students, using Presentation mode.

However, it will certainly help to embed the idea more fully by asking students to review the idea, probably in your following lesson. For this purpose, use the worksheet handouts provided below.

#1 Linkers icons notes provides the categories, but the students are required to make up their own definitions - they have to formulate the concepts in their own words

#2 Linkers icons defined provides them with my basic definitions - this gives them the 'correct' version

Clearly, the best approach is to do #1 first, and then at the end, when they have all evidently grasped the concepts, give them #2 as confirmation.

Practising linkage systems

Look at the page Linkers wheel  - which provides a technique for exercising the use of linkers in class.

qBank resources

Linkers, basic ... cohesive devices/connectors/conjunctions, and how to apply them

* see also, in the Transferable Academic Language section

Passage structure - linkers-based ... exercises require following the logic of the ideas in order to select correct linkers


Linkers in action: More ideas about teaching the use of linkers can be found in the following pages :-

**  Genes & Culture ... an analysis of a piece of science journalism ... see especially the section 'TAL linkers and modifiers'...

**  Step by step Explanation ... clear explanation relies on effective grammatical linkage

**  Class, jokes, and linkers  ... a short text full of linking devices provides a good basis for emphasising the sort of logic involved in various linkers ... available both as a 'head-down' text and as a 'heads-up' presentation

Structuring ideas: if we take the idea of linkage from another angle, we can study the structuring of sentences...

**  Sentence Structure    ... a toolkit of different ways to link ideas, apart from linkers themselves - punctuation, prepositions, relative clauses, etc ... with examples to illustrate the process

**  Sentence templates ... a series of diagrams to illustrate different ways of designing sentence

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