Listening to lectures:   What the instructor says….

Here are some common signal words – also called discourse markers – that will tell you whether an idea is important or a detail or example, when the speaker is moving from one main point to another, and when the instructor is summarizing a main point. You always have to think about the situation because these words will not be signal words 100% of the time.

Use these signals to organize your notes.  This will help you understand the main ideas better.

The more simple and clear your notes, the easier they are to memorize for tests and exams.

Introducing the topic Today we’re going to hear…You recall (from last time)…

Now I’d like to give you…

One other thing (about all of this)

Let me suggest some ways…

Let’s first deal with…

I’ll be talking to you about…

Let me talk about X,  then we’ll go to Y

We’ll be looking at…

What I’d like to do is…

The first thing is…

Let me start with…

Switching from one main idea to another Any other comments before I turn to…?Now I’d like to give you…

This leads to…

Let me talk a little bit about…

OK (falling intonation + pause)

Now (falling intonation + pause)

All right Lot more to talk about, but on to…

Back to…

Now I’d like to talk about…

One final point/thing is…

Now let’s look at…

So let me turn to….

Summarizing an idea My point is that…We’ve suggested that ….

What I’m saying is that…

You can see….

To tie/wrap this up..

What we’ve got is…

So there you’ve got…

The theory goes, then, that….

So the theory goes…

All this says is that….

Giving examples We can see this if we look at X…Take X, for instance/example

One of the ways this can be seen is…

Take something like…

Take (say) X (here) (for example)

If you’ve seen… then you’ve seen/know…

Showing that things are similar or relate In connection with X, Y…We will see from X that Y…

Along the same lines…

Like we just talked about….

That would go not only for X,  but (also) for Y…

Same way here…

This ties in with…

Showing that things are different You would think that X,  but in fact YIn fact……We should think of this not so much as X, but Y…

But look at…

Moving from less relevant information to more relevant information I guess I got off track here…Where was I?

(Well) forget about X…


How can you find relationships between ideas?

There are some keywords that can help you – but don’t forget to think about the context.   These words can be used in different ways, so they don’t always indicate these patterns.



chronological order 

first, second, thirdnext




as soon as








in the meantime

at last




Compare and contrast Contrast:but


on the other hand

on the contrary






along the same lines,

in the same fashion/manner



Cause and effect Cause:because (of)


created (by)

caused (by)








as a result



Problem and solution To introduce a problem:ButHoweverAlthoughEven thoughNevertheless

In spite of + noun



The problem is that….

An unfortunate result is …..


To introduce a solution:

(In order) to solve this problem,….

One way to solve this problem that seems safe and effective is to….

One solution to this problem is to …..


How can you tell whether an idea is more or less important than another idea?

English sentences use subordination to tell you what the main idea is. Some information is expressed in dependent clauses or prepositional phrases. This information will add extra information to the main idea in the independent clause – for example, when, where, and under what conditions something happens.

For example:

In order to use your study time effectively you must actively participate in the process by doing things like organizing your notes, making flash cards for review, highlighting key concepts, reciting material out loud, and creating a mnemonic device.


If we cross off the prepositional phrases, you can find the main idea of the sentence:

In order to use your study time effectively you must actively participate in the process by doing things like organizing your notes, making flash cards for review, highlighting key concepts, reciting material out loud, and creating a mnemonic device.  


The main idea is “you must participate.”  The rest of the information tells you:

  • Why: in order to use your study time effectively
  • In what context: in the (study) process
  • How: by organizing your notes, making flash cards, highlighting, reciting, and making mnemonic devices.

This “extra” – but often important – information is usually introduced by prepositional phrases or subordinate clauses. Here is a list of common prepositions and subordinate clauses that can help you identify them. However, remember that this is not a complete list, and that sometimes English words can have more than one function, so it always depends on the situation.


Common prepositions:

about               before             by                    in, into             through

above              behind             down               inside               to

across              below              during              of                     toward

among             beneath           except             off                    under

around             beside              for                   on, onto           up

at                     between          from                over                 with



Common subordinate conjunctions:


Time after, before, when, while, as, as soon as, since, until, by the time (that), once, as/so long as, whenever, every time (that), the first time (that), the last time (that) the next time (that)
Cause and effect becausenow thatsincedue to the fact that
Contrast even though, although, though
Direct contrast whilewhereas
Condition if, unless, only if, whether or not, even if, in case, in the event that


Noun clauses and adjective clauses can begin with:

  • Question words (who, whose, where, when, what, which)
  • Conditions (whether, if)
  • “that”

When you’re listening to a lecture, you won’t be able to catch all these words. However, it can help you to remember that there will be one important idea, and the rest of the information will be adding details like when, where, how, why and under what conditions.