Communicative and Academic Functions

From the POLIA Handbook, p. 65

We have adapted Mary Finocchiaro's functional categories for our purposes (Finocchiaro & Brumfit, 1983, pp. 65-66). These fall under five major categories: personal , interpersonal, directive, referential and imaginative. Specific examples of functions under each category appear below (note that not all possibilities are included; instead, an array of functions is listed to exemplify each category). Academic functions have been adapted from Chamot & O’Malley (1994) and O’Malley & Pierce (1996).

Personal       (Back to Top)       

  • clarifying or arranging one's ideas
  • expressing one's thoughts or feelings (love, joy, pleasure, happiness, surprise, likes and dislikes, satisfaction, disappointment, distress, pain, anger, anguish, fear, anxiety, sorrow, frustration, annoyance at missed opportunities, etc.)
  • expressing moral, intellectual, and social concerns
  • expressing the everyday feelings of hunger, thirst, fatigue, sleepiness, cold, and warmth
  • Interpersonal       (Back to Top)       

  • greeting and leave-takings
  • introducing people to others
  • expressing joy at another's success (or disappointment at another's misfortune)
  • expressing concern for other people's welfare
  • extending and accepting invitations
  • refusing invitations politely or making alternative arrangements
  • making appointments for meetings
  • breaking appointments politely and arranging another mutually convenient time
  • apologizing
  • excusing oneself and accepting excuses for not meeting commitments
  • indicating agreement or disagreement
  • interrupting another speaker politely
  • changing an embarrassing subject
  • receiving visitors and paying visits to others
  • arguing or debating
  • offering food or drinks and accepting or declining such offers politely
  • sharing wishes, hopes, desires, problems, beliefs, thoughts, opinions, etc.
  • asking about others' wishes, hopes, desires, problems, beliefs, thoughts, opinions, etc.
  • making promises and committing oneself to some action
  • complimenting someone
  • making excuses
  • Directive       (Back to Top)       

    Directive function attempts to influence the actions of others. These include:

  • accepting or refusing direction
  • making suggestions in which the speaker is included
  • persuading someone to change his/her point of view
  • requesting and granting permission
  • requesting information
  • asking for help and responding to a plea for help
  • forbidding someone to do something; issuing a command
  • giving and responding to instructions or directions
  • warning someone
  • discouraging someone from pursuing a course of action
  • establishing guidelines and deadlines for the completion of actions
  • asking for directions or instructions
  • Referential       (Back to Top)       

  • talking or reporting about things, actions, events, or people in the environment
  • identifying items or people in the classroom, the school, the home, the community
  • asking for a description of someone or something
  • describing someone or something
  • understanding messages or descriptions
  • creating questions
  • scanning or skimming for information
  • paraphrasing, summarizing, or translating (L1 to L2 or vice versa
  • interpreting information
  • explaining or asking for explanations of how something works
  • comparing or contrasting things
  • discussing possibilities, probabilities, or capabilities of doing something
  • requesting or reporting facts about events or actions or about a text
  • hypothesizing
  • formulating and supporting opinions
  • evaluating the results of an action or an event
  • Imaginative       (Back to Top)       

  • discussing a poem, a story, a text, an advertisement, a piece of music, a play, a painting, a film, a TV program, etc.
  • story-telling, narrating events
  • experiencing and/or discussing a simulation (e.g., of an historical event)
  • expanding ideas suggested by others or by a piece of reading
  • creating rhymes, poetry, stories, plays, or scripts
  • recombining familiar dialogues or passages creatively
  • suggesting original beginnings or endings to dialogues or stories
  • solving problems or mysteries

    Academic       (Back to Top)       

    • seeking information/informing—observe and explore the environment, acquire information, inquire, identify, report, or describe information
    • informing—recount information provided by a teacher/text; retell a story or personal experience
    • comparing—describe similarities and differences in objects or ideas
    • ordering—sequence objects, ideas, events
    • classifying—group objects or ideas according to their characteristics
    • analyzing—separate whole into parts; identify relationships and patterns
    • inferring—make inferences, predict implications, hypothesize
    • justifying and persuading—give reasons for an action, decision, point of view; convince others
    • solving problems—define/present a problem and determine a solution
    • synthesizing—combine or integrate ideas to form a whole


    Chamot, A .U. & O’Malley, J. M. (1994). The CALLA handbook: Implementing the cognitive academic language learning approach. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.

    Finocchiaro, M. & Brumfit, C. (1983). The functional-notional approach. NY: Oxford University Press.
    O’Malley, M. & Valde

    Pierce, L. (1996). Authentic assessment for English Language Learners. White Plains, NY: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.