Performing introductions: Speech acts for the classroom.


When I am planning a lesson, I always put time into finding a good “hook” so that I can engage students from the first words spoken. I have never found a foolproof formula and often think of how I could have made the opening better, or bolder, or funnier. I might have been missing the point. According to Jason Rutter, humor as a form of discourse, is quite predictable. He claims that many academic papers describe jokes as “canonical structures” and that audiences respond to them in a “systematic manner” (Rutter, 1997, p. 463).

Rutter uses discourse analysis to describe the dialogue of compères in their introductions for stand-up comedy shows and illustrates how they craft their speech to create a specific response from the crowd. He presents a line by line conversation analysis of the speech act: a scripted series of six turns. Using transcripts from show openings, he describes the sequence. Each line has a function in the introduction as Rutter explains:

  1. Contextualisation, gives small particulars of the comedian’s background
  2. Framing of response, directs audience towards greeting and attitude
  3. Evaluation of comedian, comments on performers skill or how he knows the comedian
  4. Request for action, applause
  5. Introduction of the comedian
  6. Audience applause

The compère aims to size up the audience, set expectations and give the audience cues for responding. The pattern is fixed, and the author even shows that variations can occur but there are a set of contingencies that must be respected for the audience to understand what to do next. It is the job of the compère to guide the audience through the show for the evening.

ESL lesson introductions are similar to introductions to comedy routines. I am the addresser, and the students are the addressees, and it is my job to set the tone for the lesson, to deliver lesson topic information, confirm understanding, and provide for expected outcomes. Like the compère, the opening hook of the lesson plan serves to ease the students into the learning context by arousing the right attitudes and responses.


Rutter, J. (1997). Stand-up as interaction: Performance and audience in comedy venues (Doctoral dissertation, University of Salford).

2 thoughts on “Performing introductions: Speech acts for the classroom.”

  1. Hello Cynota,

    Thanks for your posting. I wish I were your student as I really prefer a teacher who has a sense of humor and could always attract students’ attention. However, I do not think that it is really necessary for you to come up with a “hook” every class in order to engage your students. Although I have been being a student since I was a primary student and I have only limited teaching experience, I prefer teachers who are capable of clarifying everything they teach in class. I still remember it was very challenging for my high school English teacher to do it because she kept saying “they speak English this way, so there are no concrete rules, etc .
    If they could embed humor in class when they teach content and language knowledge, I will very appreciate it as sometimes I do feel some classes could be very boring. Personally speaking, finding appropriate jokes for students might be easy at the very beginning, but you have to find different “hooks”, which could be very time-consuming because you have to ensure none of them has been previously used.
    Anyway, I really like your ideas, but achieving it could be somewhat difficult. What do you think?

    Colin (comment 4)


  2. Hi Cynota,
    Thank you for your post!
    I read this at a good time – I’m starting an online ESL teaching position from next week, and I was just thinking about how to start the lesson. It’s online, so it’s very different (I think) from a standard ESL job when the student is physically there with you. But I think the content of your post is still relevant; we need to start with a good hook so that the students will engage in the lesson.

    It’s true – in a sense, as teachers, we have a job similar to the comedian. I’ve noticed through past teaching experiences, how the students seem to feed off of my energy. If I seem tired, they’re tired, but if I’m energetic and ready, they’re also the same. And you’re definitely right; without a good hook, the lesson usually doesn’t go well!

    Thank you again for your post!
    – hina


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