ELTWorldOnline.com http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo Tue, 21 Oct 2014 06:48:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/?v= Incorporating Collocation Teaching in a Reading-Writing Program http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/08/27/incorporating-collocation-teaching-in-a-reading-writing-program-2/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/08/27/incorporating-collocation-teaching-in-a-reading-writing-program-2/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 09:23:29 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4657 by Yang Ying, National University of Singapore
and Jiang Jingyi, South China University of Technology

This paper discusses vocabulary teaching in tertiary institutions in China and points out the importance of learning collocation in an English as a foreign language context. The authors propose that the teaching of collocation should be incorporated into any standard reading-writing program by addressing three important aspects in the process, namely: use of resources, training of students’ note-taking strategies and incorporation of classroom tasks that require noticing, recording and using collocations. This is further elaborated through an example of how a reading text can be exploited to promote students’ awareness and use of collocation, and their learning of collocation in and outside the classroom.

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In the last two decades, there has been considerable discussion among ELT (English language teaching) researchers on the importance of lexical collocations for second/foreign language learning (Bahns, 1993; Hill, 1999; Lewis, 1998; Lewis, 2000; Lewis, 2001). Collocation, or in other words, the combination of words that have a tendency to come together, is thought to be an important part of language learning “because the way words combine in collocations is fundamental to all language use” (Hill, 2000, p. 53). There is a need, therefore, to develop a student’s ‘collocational’ competence – the possession of “a sufficiently large and sufficient phrasal mental lexicon” that enables the student to produce language that is “fluent, accurate and stylistically appropriate” (Lewis, 2000, p. 177). Collocational competence is one of the hallmarks of an advanced language user.

Despite the clear need for EFL students to develop their collocational competence, however, collocation does not appear to be a priority in ELT practices in China. EFL students in China generally possess limited collocational competence, which has led to several problems in their language production such as overusing general words and using ‘Chinglish’. It is therefore necessary to help Chinese EFL students develop collocational competence.

This paper proposes teaching strategies and tasks that help incorporate collocation learning into the current widely adopted reading-writing program in tertiary classrooms in China. The paper starts with a discussion of the importance of collocation in learning English as a foreign language, followed by a description of some of the problems that Chinese tertiary students face due to their lack of collocational competence. It is proposed that a collocation teaching approach should involve three important areas: (i) the use of collocation learning resources, (ii) the training of students’ note-taking strategies and (iii) the incorporation of classroom tasks that require noticing, recording and using collocations. We will illustrate this approach with the example of a trial reading-writing program that incorporates collocation teaching and by showing how a text can be exploited to facilitate the learning of collocation in and outside the classroom. The paper concludes with a discussion of the challenges we encountered in integrating the teaching of collocation in the program, and looks into the possibilities of follow-up classroom research with regard to the teaching of collocation in the Chinese tertiary EFL classroom.

Collocation and its role in second/foreign language learning
This section explains what collocation is and explores the role of collocation in language learning from theoretical and practical perspectives with special reference to EFL in the Chinese tertiary context.

Defining collocation
Firth refers to collocation as “words and their companions”, emphasizing words and their relations with other words (quoted in Palmer, 1976, p. 94). The BBI Combinatory Dictionary of English: A Guide to Word Combinations identifies two kinds of collocation, grammatical collocations and lexical collocations. “A grammatical collocation is a phrase consisting of a dominant word (noun, adjective or verb) and a preposition or grammatical structure such as an infinitive or clause” (Benson, Benson & Ilson, 1986, p. ix). The word afraid, for example, possesses collocations like afraid of, afraid to and afraid that which are called grammatical collocations. On the other hand, lexical collocations “normally do not contain prepositions, infinitives, or clauses” and typically “consist of nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs” (Benson et al., 1986, p. ix). Examples of lexical collocation include intense training (adj + N), withdraw an application (V + N) and the dough rises (N + V). This paper focusses on lexical collocation.

Lexical collocation can be explored by examining its internal combinatory strength. Some applied linguists (Bahns, 1993; Benson et al., 1986, p. 252-253) categorize lexical collocations into free combinations, collocations and idioms while others place them on a weak-strong continuum (Conzett, 2000) in terms of their degree of fixedness or idiomaticity. At the weaker end of the continuum are the free combinations. The word fast, for example, can be used relatively freely in weak combinations such as fast runnerfast train and fast student, within more stable collocations such as fast colourfast friendship, and fast hold (Farghal & Obiedat, 1995), and in a strong combination such as the idiomatic expression play fast and loose.

YY Figure 1Figure 1: Weak-strong continuum for degree of fixedness

This paper focuses on combinations that are weak (free combinations) and of mid strength (stable collocations), not strong collocations.

The role of collocation in language learning
- Knowing a word involves knowing its collocations
Mastering the use of a certain word involves more than knowing its definitional meaning. Definitional meanings are all too often overgeneralizations that do not cover all lexical properties. Some lexical properties can only be conveyed through their combinations with other words. For example, the words journey and trip have similar dictionary definitions, but while business trip is acceptable, business journey is not. An attempt to use definitional explanations alone to differentiate between these two words may be of limited help. An important difference between the two words lies in their collocations. In summary, knowing the definitional meaning of a word does not necessarily help a student ‘use’ the word. It does little to help students build their active lexicon – the words they can use in their production of the target language.

- Collocational restrictions
Another important reason for teaching collocation is that “the way words combine in collocations is fundamental to all language use” (Hill, 2000). We do not speak or write as if language is “one huge substitution table with vocabulary items merely filling slots in grammatical structures” (Hill, 2000, p. 48). Knowing which words collocate and which do not is an important part of language competence. The following examples may serve to illustrate this point.

(1) Be careful. That snake is poisonous.
(2) *Be careful. That snake is toxic. (Conzett, 2000, p. 73)

The two sentences share the same grammatical structure. Conzett (2000) commented that the student who came up with sentence (2) obviously understands the meaning of the word toxic, but he makes a collocational mistake. The word toxic is not used to describe snakes like the word poisonous can be. This example shows that words combine in restricted ways. In English, some collocational relationships are strong, and therefore highly predictable, such as those found in shrug one’s shoulders, foot the bill and dead battery. Some are common collocationals – verbs such as dohave and get are often used in common collocations – but there are also restrictions. For example, we can say do one’s hairdo one’s best and do somebody a favour but not do a mistake. Morgan Lewis (2001) refers to this collocational characteristic of words as word grammar.

- Fluency
Theories in cognitive psychology support the positive role of learning collocation in improving language fluency. Wickens’ (1989) attention resource allocation theory uses the metaphor of a limited capacity channel to illustrate the point that the human brain, when engaged in a difficult task, may be required to tap on different resources simultaneously. When some of these resources are automatized, i.e. ready to be used without much processing, more attention can be focused on the more difficult components of the task. In the case of performing language production tasks, Raupach (1984) and Pawley and Syder (1983) pointed out that collocations or ‘language chunks’ serve as automatized resources that allow for fluency in production and faster processing. With a good storage of ‘chunks’ and the released attentional mechanisms in processing these chunks, a complex language task may be easier to complete. In other words, language fluency is more likely to be the outcome. Native speakers can express their thoughts rapidly and fluently because they have a huge stock of ready-made chunks available for use. It is thus believed that mastering collocation or word chunks plays a positive role in improving language fluency.

- Intermediate or advanced: Collocational competence
We assume that language students aim to become advanced speakers of the target language. The advanced students of a language normally have “a sufficiently large and significant phrasal mental lexicon” (Lewis, 2000, p. 177) readily available to them when they use the language. Possessing and having access to an immense pool of collocations constitutes their collocational competence that enables them to express themselves effectively. Without this collocational competence, students may “create longer utterances because they do not know the collocations which express precisely what they want to say” (Hill, 2000, p. 49). A comparison of the following two pairs of sentences helps illustrate the point.

(3a) That was a turning point in his life.
(3b) That was a very important moment in his life and everything changed afterwards.

(4a) One of the main ingredients of successful learning is setting yourself realistic objectives.
(4b) If you want to succeed in learning, you must set objectives which you can reach, because they are not too difficult or too easy for you. (Morgan Lewis, 2001)

(3b) and (4b) are grammatically correct and comprehensible but are clearly not as concise and effective as (3a) and (4a)Morgan Lewis refers to (3b) and (4b) as “intermediate” sentences. This is not because the grammatical structures in (3a) and (4a) are more complicated, or that these sentences make use of complicated words that are not in the intermediate students’ repertoire. Turning point, ingredients, successful, and realistic objectives are all words familiar to the intermediate students. The problem, according to Morgan Lewis, is that students have never noticed and learned the collocations associated with these items of vocabulary (i.e. turning point, ingredients of successful learning and set realistic objectives) so they rely on individual words and over-grammaticalized structures, which results in expressions that are “intermediate”. Students should not be satisfied with this level of accuracy if their target is to become more advanced speakers of English.

Collocation: A missing link in Chinese tertiary EFL
Regrettably, there is little awareness of collocation in vocabulary teaching and learning in the Chinese tertiary classroom. The most common approach to vocabulary learning at the moment focuses on memorizing individual words and studying their definitional meanings. Teachers explain and analyse the meanings of words in class. Tests on vocabulary use multiple choice options, in which students are asked to identify the word from a given set that is closest in meaning to the word tested. Some students memorize lists of words from dictionaries, or memorize words listed together with Chinese glosses. Some resort to the use of ‘Fast Translation Devices’ to input an unknown English word to retrieve its Chinese counterpart. Generally, there is a strong tendency for both teachers and students to neglect common words that they know the meaning of and their combinations. For example, if the word information appears in a reading text, intermediate students will usually not pay attention to this word because they think they already know its meaning. Teachers also do not usually introduce things like:

YY Figure 2

This exemplifies the kind of neglect in vocabulary teaching currently in China. For Chinese students of English, this neglect may affect their ability in language production and may lead to the following problems:

  1. Students do not know how to use certain words in context and rely on basic grammatical structures to produce “intermediate” sentences.
  2. They tend to use simple and general expressions, such as good to describe all positive things, and overuse common verbs such as dohave and get, regardless of the context, resulting in an unsophisticated style of writing.
  3. They use Chinese counterparts when they do not know a word’s appropriate collocations in English, and as a result Chinglish expressions abound. For example:
    1. It can be divided into two cases.
    2. To reach our desire, we must stop wasting fresh water.
    3. You must do a lot of problems of this kind to add your practice.

Strictly speaking, all three sentences are grammatical. However, while the underlined collocations are allowed in Chinese, they sound odd in English. Such sentences may not be intelligible to a native speaker of English.

A trial: Integrating the teaching of collocation into the existing reading-writing program
We therefore see the need for more collocational awareness in the Chinese tertiary EFL context and the importance of incorporating the teaching of collocation into existing reading-writing programs. Usually, a standard reading-writing program commonly implemented in universities in China comprises a few courses. One of these courses aims for the development of students’ extensive reading skills and their essay writing skills. This course is mandatory for all second year students majoring in English language.

 A theme-based textbook that is widely used in the course mentioned is Reading to Develop Your Ideas (Jiang & Yang, 2001), with three to four selected articles on each of ten topics, such as ‘The Internet and Our Life’, ‘Family and Marriage’ and ‘Men and Environment’. The teaching of the course basically adopts a process-oriented approach: Teaching starts from pre-reading questions to trigger students’ prior knowledge related to the issues under discussion, followed by a careful study of the reading texts for comprehension and language learning. Post-reading activities are conducted through student discussion on both comprehension-based questions and questions that draw on their own experiences and own opinions. Students look for more online articles on the same topics, and finally a group debate is organised for students to express their views. Students are also asked to write a summary or an argumentative essay.

 We started a trial program in the South China University of Technology to incorporate the teaching of collocation in the standard reading-writing program and introduced three important components into the course: (i) the introduction and use of collocation resources, (ii) the training of students’ proper note-taking of collocations and (iii) and incorporation of classroom tasks that promote students’ awareness and use of collocations.

The introduction and use of collocation resources
The textbook
The ‘input-rich’ theme-based textbook features articles mostly taken from magazines and newspapers published in native English speaking countries. The theme-based topics provided students with a core set of words sharing common semantic fields. This core facilitated our selection of which collocations to teach; we focused on theme-related keywords that were also specified in the word list of the National University Curriculum in order to set a clear experimental boundary. This boundary prevented students from being overwhelmed by an inordinate number of collocations.

Online resources
- The collocation dictionary
Most of the Chinese students have an English-Chinese/Chinese-English dictionary, but very few of them possess a collocational dictionary. To prepare them for the present course, we introduced to them an online collocation dictionary accessible at http://www.ozdic.com/ which focuses on lexical collocations, suitable for students who have basic grammatical knowledge but need to expand their active lexicon.

- Just the word
This resource (http://www.just-the-word.com/) provides more detailed lists of collocations from the British National Corpus, an authentic language database. Figure 1 gives an example of one of these lists for the word analysis. The length of the horizontal (green) bar to the right of each collocation indicates its frequency of use.

YY Figure 2a Figure 2: ‘Just the word’ collocation list for analysis

 Clicking on the word set on the left leads to the corpus from which the collocations are retrieved, as can be seen below when the collocation set complete analysis is clicked on:

YY Figure 3Figure 3: Corpus data for complete analysis

Once students were aware of the online collocation resources, they were keen to make use of these useful reference tools to find possible combinations they could then use in their own language production.

The training of students’ proper note-taking of collocations
Learning new vocabulary is important, but we also pointed out to our students another dimension of vocabulary learning: words that they may know the definitional meanings of (and are therefore not considered new), but whose collocations may be unfamiliar to them. Students were required to keep a collocation notebook for the course and to note down useful collocations.

We asked students to “leave as much language as possible in the form in which we find it”, as recommended by Morgan Lewis (2000, p. 19). As an example, we could consider a sentence from the text ‘Surfing the Web’: The measures taken only provided a short-term fix for the problem. Some students wrote in their notebook:

provide a fix
a short-term fix

Teachers suggested that students keep as much context as possible when they noted down collocations and avoid breaking it up, since “attempting to generalise may result in your losing, not adding, relevant information about how the language is actually used” (M. Lewis, 2000, p. 19). Here are some examples of what teachers might suggest:

YY Figure 5

The suggestions include more context and are therefore more “situationally evocative” (Lewis, 2000, p. 19). They are more likely to be remembered by students for use in future.

Incorporation of collocation-related classroom activities
A number of activities were used in the classroom to promote students’ awareness and use of collocations. Below we introduce three different types of tasks used in the trial program, namely the ‘digging deep’ task, preparation tasks, and student-generated tasks.

- ‘Digging deep into a word’
This was a task designed to enhance students’ awareness of word collocations. The task makes use of the aforementioned ‘weak-strong’ continuum to encourage students to ‘dig deep’ into a word. Students were given some core words from the reading text and asked to check online resources to find their collocations and arrange what they found on a scale. For example, with the given word resources from our text, students found the following:

YY Figure 4Figure 4: Weak-strong continuum for resources

Through the checking-noticing-recording stages, students gained an in-depth knowledge of the word resources by getting to know the collocations associated with it. Students also paid more attention to the fixedness of mid-strength and stronger collocations and tried to learn them as one fixed unit rather than as separate single words.

- Preparation tasks
Within the current reading course, there are five main types of post-reading tasks at the end of each theme. Three are normally completed in class: Group discussions on some given questions, collaborative tasks that require students to list and summarize the essential points presented in the articles, and a debate. The other two, library or online research and summary or essay writing, are completed outside class. We incorporated the collocation learning element into the preparation stage of some of the post-reading tasks. During the group discussion of questions, for example, students were discouraged from giving impromptu answers to the questions. We deliberately slowed the students down by breaking them into groups and assigned each group two to three questions, asking them to think of relevant words they might use and to check out the common collocations of these words before they answered the questions. Then, based on what they found, they could make a selective use of the collocations they had collected and work on the discussion questions. Here is an example of one student talking about his experience looking for information on the internet:

Once, I tried to log on to the internet to dig up some information about online resources for learning writing. First, it took me a long time to establish a connectionWhen I finally accessed the net, I was glad to find a lot of detailed information on the topic, I carefully retrieved some of it and decided to share the resources with my classmates…

Students may fall back on the invariable use of find with information rather than using dig upretrieve or they may use connect rather than establish a connection. In this task, the students’ attention was drawn to the means through which their ideas were expressed, and they did not make use of the readily available simple expressions in their current repertoire. This process of searching and using word collocations improved their collocational competence.

The same was done with essay preparation. The use of collocational dictionaries and online concordances can help Chinese tertiary students write better essays. With our reading course, at the end of the theme ‘Internet and Our Life’, students were told to write an argumentative essay on ‘The Pros and Cons of the Internet’. Instead of only giving them a set of individual words, we encouraged the students to think of ideas and keywords that they can use in the essay with their group members. The students then searched the collocation resources to find collocations of these keywords. For the above topic, students came up with key words like information, internet, service, advantage, disadvantage, network, issue, position, communication, and argument. They then searched and found the following collocations: access the internet, a decided advantage/ disadvantage, to offset/outweigh a disadvantage, a clear/obvious advantage, information service, communications network, a key/main/critical/complex/fundamental/particular issue, to raise/settle/deal with/address the issue, clarify one’s position, an appalling position, an argument erupted over, and advance/support/resolve an argument. The search process itself was helpful, as new ideas were generated through reading sentences and longer chunks in the online resources. It was a more useful way of essay preparation than giving them individual words alone or letting them go to a Chinese-English dictionary to search for individual words that were not in their repertoire. This way of preparing for essay writing helped the students to choose precise combinations of words for their language production, and the resulting essays contained more informational content than if they had only resorted to the grammatical structures and vocabulary in their current repertoire.

- Student-generated tasks: Substitution tasks
All students’ essays were reviewed by their peers before finally being submitted to the teacher. One type of activity used in the reading course was to have students work on their problems with collocations. Students used time after class to read their peers’ essays and pick out sentences from the essays that

  1. contained collocational errors, such as do these problems
  2. used very general collocations such as using good invariably on anything positive
  3. were long and ineffective

Below is a sample of problematic sentences students found in their peers’ writing:

(5) I went into google, searched and found a lot of good information on learning to write.
(6) What we should do is to work hard to make success.
(7) There are much more advantages than disadvantages in using the internet.

 Students made use of these sentences to create substitution exercises on their own. This means that they worked collaboratively, using collocation dictionaries and online searching to find ways to replace the original word combinations or find a more effective expression. Such tasks proved to be quite helpful as the students generated tasks that better motivated them to be responsible for their own improvement. They were also more likely to remember and avoid the problems since collaborative search, peer discussion and feedback provided opportunities for more in-depth learning.

- Student generated tasks: Translating your way to collocation awareness
As mentioned, students often translate word for word from the mother tongue into the target language, ignoring collocational differences between the two languages. To address this problem, we encouraged our students to create mini-translation tasks for their peers. When the students read texts under a certain theme, they were told to select some sentences with collocations new to them, particularly those that did not fit in a word-to-word pattern with a Chinese expression, discuss with their group members to translate the sentences into Chinese. Two groups exchanged their Chinese translations and let the other group translate them into English. They then compared the translations with the original to “find the gap/differences” between the original and what they had translated. Students’ awareness of collocational possibilities and restrictions in the target language was greatly enhanced through this type of contrastive activity when they saw the possible discrepancies between their translated versions, which often contained ‘Chinglish’ combinations, and the original Standard English text.

Solution to problems and future research
This paper discusses the important role of developing collocational competence in English language learning and introduces resources and activities to teach collocations in foreign language classrooms. To teach collocations, teachers can introduce students to collocation resources, train them to record collocations and organize classroom activities to help students learn collocations.

In the course of our attempts to incorporate the teaching of collocations into the reading course, we encountered some difficulties and challenges caused by the scope of the task, which are illustrated below.

Due to the pervasive nature of collocations in the language input we encounter every day, it is obviously impossible to learn everything within the limited class time. It is essential that students do not stop learning outside class. However, exactly how to encourage students to continue learning outside class remains a challenge.

Another challenge is the process of selecting what to record and to learn. Our tentative solution is to base the selection on the principles of immediacy, relevance and frequency. By the principle of immediacy, we mean that we give priority to words that are in the wordlist of the national syllabus (to suit the immediate needs for students to cope with the College English Test Band 4, a degree requirement test). By relevance, we mean that we select collocations with keywords generally relevant to the ten themes under discussion and to the content area covered in a specific learning task. By the principle of frequency, we ignore rare collocations and pay attention to words that are more often used. Here, both the statistic frequency provided by the Just the Word and students or teachers’ instincts regarding which collocations are more frequently used play an important part in the choice we make. These principles help make the teaching and learning of collocations more manageable.

The purpose of incorporating collocation teaching into the reading course is to raise students’ awareness of words and their collocations, and to improve their production in the target language. So far, we have made positive and encouraging observations in our classrooms in terms of students’ active participation and enthusiasm for collocation learning. The current work, however, needs to be supported by future research into the effectiveness of each type of collocation task on learning outcome. A survey of students’ evaluations of the changes brought about through this course and a longitudinal study to understand the effect of teaching collocation on the development of students’ overall language proficiency might help.


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Benson, M., Benson, E., & Ilson, R. (1986). The BBI Combinatory Dictionary of English: A Guide to Word Combinations. (1st ed.). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Conzett, J. (2000). Integrating collocation into a reading and writing course. In Michael Lewis (Ed.) Teaching collocation: Further developments in the lexical approach (pp. 70-87). Hove, England: Language Teaching Publications.

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About the authors
yy blog
Yang Ying is a senior lecturer at the Centre for English Language Communication, National University of Singapore, where she has taught both undergraduate and postgraduate students language proficiency and writing courses. Her research interests are in collocation teaching and learning, learner autonomy, language pedagogy and materials development.

jyj blogJingyi Jiang is associate professor at the School of Foreign Languages, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, China, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate students. Her research interests are second language acquisition, language teaching pedagogy as well as materials development.

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Interview with Alan Maley: Exploring Creativity in the Language Classroom http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/08/27/interview-with-alan-maley-exploring-creativity-in-the-language-classroom/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/08/27/interview-with-alan-maley-exploring-creativity-in-the-language-classroom/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 09:22:43 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4673 by Flora Debora Floris
Petra Christian University, Indonesia

Alan Maley
Professor Alan Maley has been involved in English Language Teaching (ELT) for over 50 years. He worked for the British Council in Yugoslavia, Ghana, Italy, France, China and India. For 5 years he was Director of the Bell Educational Trust in Cambridge. He worked in universities in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia as well as in his native country, UK. For 25 years Alan was Series Editor for the OUP Resource Books for Teachers series. He has published over 40 books and numerous articles.

Alan has been privileged to work with some of the ‘greats’, well-known people such as Michael Swan, Robert O’Neill, Ron Carter, Earl Stevick, and N.S. Prabhu. He has also derived great pleasure and happiness from working with all manner of teachers worldwide, ranging from primary teachers in Ghana, secondary school teachers in France, MA students in Thailand, and teachers in private language schools in a whole variety of contexts.

But apart from the people, Alan says, “I have also received great satisfaction from the way ideas and new approaches have evolved over the years, and the passion which drives that process. As part of this I have felt encouraged by the growth in self-esteem among us deriving from the way we have to a large extent established ourselves as a profession.”

Alan has written and presented extensively on creativity in language classrooms because he believes that creativity is an essential component of effective teaching and learning process. “The creative spark is what ignites the fire of learning. Without it, we are left with dull, de-motivating, routine teaching – the kind of instructional treadmill we see all too often in classrooms around the world,” he explains.

Having curricular and administrative constraints is probably one of the common reasons why classroom teachers are often reluctant to bring and develop creativity in their language classrooms. “But creativity can permeate everything we do,” says Alan. In his words, creativity does not have to be a major, epoch-making change. Creativity can simply mean “do the opposite,” as proposed by John Fanselow in his book Breaking Rules (1987). “These may be quite small things. If we usually allow students always to sit in the same places, we can ask them to sit in a different place in each lesson, and see what happens. We can vary the way we take the attendance register, the way we set homework, etc. There is an infinite variety of ways to be creative which does not require us throw out the whole curriculum; and this includes ways of adapting the material in the course book.”

What is more interesting is the fact that creativity shall be developed within constraints. In teaching creative writing, for example, the constraints may come in the form of word-limits (for example, a mini-saga is a story told in exactly 50 words) or in the formal constraints of a particular form of poetry (for example, the haiku, which traditionally, has to have 3 lines, of 5, 7 and 5 syllables). According to Alan, “these constraints also scaffold and support the learner, because they impose limits on the language needed.”

Alan firmly believes that creative writing activities are highly effective in developing the full range of language skills, especially vocabulary, and the sense of rhythmic patterning as well as improving students’ self-esteem, motivation, and self-discovery. He further asserts that creative writing can be taught for all students in all levels, including those who study for their master degree. “I put this to the test at Assumption University, Bangkok, where I set up a creative writing module on one of the MA modules I was running,” says Alan.

The Aesthetic Approach
In the past few years, still in the light of creativity in language classrooms, Alan has developed what he calls as the Aesthetic Approach. This is an approach which, in his opinion, “gives far more prominence to the art and the artistry of teaching” because what he is proposing is more than just “a narrow and rigid set of procedures to be applied in a mechanical way”. The Aesthetic Approach is more an attitude of mind, which favors certain kinds of materials and ways of doing, within a certain kind of atmosphere. It has three areas for implementation: The Matter, the Methods and the Manner.

The Matter, according to Alan, concerns the content. The Aesthetic Approach advocates a wider use of images from art, moving images, music and song, a wide range of non-referential texts from literature and elsewhere, and student-made input. “This is the art,” he says.

The Method involves both art and artistry. In this case, Alan suggests teachers to “use more project work, ensemble work (for performance, etc.), more autonomous engagement by students, more multi-dimensional activities engaging all the senses, problem-solving and critical thinking, and playfulness through exposure to humour, games and creative writing.”

The last area is Manner, which needs all the artistry that can be mustered. This involves “the need to create a learning atmosphere encouraging ‘flow’ states, an attitude of openness to experiment and risk, offering choice, and developing a learning community bound together by mutual trust and support.”

When asked to give one or two examples on how to use the aesthetic approach in language classrooms, especially in Asian context, Alan unhesitatingly states, “Asian ELT classrooms could use a lot more texts written by Asian authors in English. The quantity and quality of writing in English in Asia is extraordinary. Yet very little of it is drawn on. Another area which could usefully be developed is story-telling, using local stories and the whole range of story types, ranging from jokes and anecdotes to wisdom stories and urban myths. Stories are such a powerful way of attracting the interest of students, and of developing language skills.”

Teacher training courses
For many people, enrolling in a teacher education or teacher training course is often seen as the first step of becoming ‘real’ teachers. To this, Alan recommends strongly modifying the existing programmes to offer novice teachers more enormous help in two particular areas. “The first would be to include components to do with the content and skills needed for a creative approach, for example, training in using drama techniques, the use of the voice, story-telling techniques, using images, using music and song, etc. The other would be to develop sessions to help teachers become more skillful at improvisation and spontaneity.”

Alan further explains that classrooms are an arena of unpredictability, but he continues by stating that what pre-service teachers often receive is a set of toolkit of knowledge and skills supposed to work in most circumstances. In other words, novice teachers receive no training to meet the unexpected. “Usually, the problem is swept under the carpet by claiming this is something only experience can teach. But there are many ways we could help put teachers into a state of preparedness. That would be a real plus, not just to prepare teachers for the expected but to put them in a state of preparedness for the unexpected,” Alan asserts confidently.

This is actually applicable for service teacher trainings as well: “The best way to encourage service teachers to try out some of these things is to demonstrate that they work and that they are not so difficult to do. So, I would include hands-on sessions on drama, voice-work, story-telling, creative writing etc. on teacher courses.” Many years down the road from when he first started, Alan has witnessed how a cooperative and non-threatening training atmosphere would successfully transform teachers’ reluctance into enthusiasm and willingness to try using creative works in their classrooms.

ELT: The past, present and future
When Alan started his teaching career with the British Council in 1962, behaviourism was the psychological theory of choice while audio-lingualism and the memetics movement were riding high and the Structural-Situational Approach was favored. In the 1970’s and 80’s, Alan says he saw and experienced how the Functional-Notional Approach was transforming itself into the Communicative Approach, which has since morphed into Task-Based Learning.

In those days, Alan also had the privilege “to have a ringside seat as the so-called designer methods broke cover: The Silent Way, Suggestopoedia, Community Language Learning, Psycho-drama, Total Physical Response, and so on.” Recently, Alan has seen the rise of the Dogme Approach, the development of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and the expansive introduction of technology as a necessary component of ELT.

Apart from this, Alan has observed what he calls as ‘control culture’ in education, which is the result of “a results-oriented, measurement-driven system of education, obsessed by ‘objectives’ and driven by examinations, tests and assessment.” He further adds with conviction, “One of the results is that materials are now virtual clones of each other, so the creativity of materials writers is being stifled by risk-aversive publishers. Another is that teachers are given less and less freedom to exercise autonomy and creativity in what they do, and stifled by the weight of extra administrative duties and various forms of bean-counting.”

Alan also has paid attention to the value of research. Alan observes that there has been a growing number of teachers furthering their studies to earn an MA or PhD. However, he remarks that “this flies in the face of the evidence that there is no necessary connection between research and teaching, that there are few instances where research is of any practical use, and even when it is, it is routinely ignored by administrators, that doing research for a PhD rarely if ever improves the teaching quality of the candidate, and that most teachers are not well-equipped to carry it out anyway.”

In the future, Alan would like to see more teacher development programmes focusing on creativity and that teachers be given more opportunities to exercise their initiative and creativity. Alan also wishes that teachers would eventually move back from an excessive addiction to testing and conformity.

Current projects
In 2003, Alan set up The Asian Teacher-Writer Group, which operates with the belief that Non Native Speaker Teachers (NNSTs) in the Asia region are capable and uniquely well-placed to write literary materials for use by their own and other students in the Asia region. This is based on the conception that these teachers share their students’ backgrounds and contexts and that they have an intuitive understanding of what will be culturally and topically relevant and attractive for both teachers and students in Asia.

The group is independent of any institutional support and is entirely voluntary. Each year, a volunteer takes on the responsibility for finding local sponsorship and organising a creative writing workshop in a different venue in Asia. The group has also published some original stories and poems and resource books for use with students in the Asia region. Some of the materials and resources developed by the group are available at http://flexiblelearning.auckland.ac.nz/cw/.

Alan is passionate about sharing The Asian Teacher-Writer Group’s substantial achievements to others: “The group has been restricted to Asian countries purely for reasons of practicality. Imagine trying to run something like this on a global scale with zero financial resources and no administrative support. But there is no reason why others, elsewhere in the world, should not use the same model to develop their own groups. This is boot-strapping at its best.”

In 2013, at The 48th Annual International IATEFL Conference, Alan introduced The C Group (Creativity for Change in Language Education), a group of ELT professionals with a shared belief in the value of greater creativity. The group exists to give support and encouragement to teachers who have creative ideas of their own.

He elaborates saying, “Our C Group is not going to tell people what they should do to solve their problems, or implement creative change. It is not there to act like a wet nurse for helpless teachers. There is too much ‘learned helplessness’ around already. What we want to do is to foster independent initiatives coming from the membership, not to impose solutions on them. ‘Therefore, ask not for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee.’”

The C Group’s manifesto states as clearly as possible what the group is about (refer to http://thecreativitygroup.weebly.com/). “This group is open to membership to anyone who feels comfortable to subscribe to these points,” Alan adds.

… and beyond
Alan is an avid reader; and he reads promiscuously – newspapers, novels, current affairs books, popular science and sociology, biography, travel writing, crime writing, horror writing – certainly not just in applied linguistics, methodology and the like. Teachers, in his opinion, should read about things that are over the “ghetto wall of ELT” because this will open their minds.

Alan also writes a lot, especially poetry, as he finds that poetry offers him new insights into the world and new ways of looking at it and making sense of it. He has also started to write memoirs about his childhood and professional career.

In his spare time, Alan loves to listen to music (mainly Western classical, but also jazz, Indian classical & some folk traditions) for all its redeeming qualities, and he likes preparing and having good food and drink, especially wine. He also enjoys walking as he considers it a psychological as well as a physical activity, and a machine for thinking. Interestingly, Alan further says, “And I am getting quite good at doing nothing. Idleness has great virtue.”

To end our interview, Alan harkened back to the topic of creativity, stating that he would recommend teachers to check a list of the following readings and video, and yes, after that, “Just get on with it.”

Recommended readings & video

Maley, A. (2012). Creative writing for students and teachers. Humanising Language Teaching, 14(3). Retrieved from http://www.hltmag.co.uk/jun12/mart01.htm

Maley, A. (2009). Towards an aesthetics of ELT. Part 1. Folio: Journal of MATSDA, 13(2).

Maley, A. (2010). Towards an aesthetics of ELT. Part 2. Folio: Journal of MATSDA, 14(1).

Underhill, A., & Maley, A. (2012). Expect the unexpected. English Teaching Professional, 82.

Underhill, A., & Maley, A. (2013) From preparation to preparedness (Video File). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIBhUVhmYOo


Asian Teacher-Writer Group. (2012). Creative writing: Asian English language teachers’ creative writing project. Retrieved from http://flexiblelearning.auckland.ac.nz/cw/

Fanselow, J.F. (1987). Breaking rules: Generating and exploring alternative in language teaching. New York: Longman.

The C Group. (2013). Creativity for change in language education. Retrieved from http://thecreativitygroup.weebly.com/

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to my MA lecturer, Prof. Alan Maley, for his valuable participation in this interview. He has been my guru, and a source of inspiration; and I hope that ELTWO readers will enjoy reading this interview piece and be intrigued by his insightful ideas.

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About the author

Flora Debora Floris is a lecturer in the English Department of Petra Christian University, Surabaya, Indonesia. She teaches English, education and business subjects. She has published and presented internationally on teachers’ professional development, technology in language teaching, and English as an International Language. Flora also serves as a member of review or editorial boards of some national and international journals.

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Theory to practice: An easy-to-follow book on teaching vocabulary http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/08/27/theory-to-practice-an-easy-to-follow-book-on-researching-vocabulary/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/08/27/theory-to-practice-an-easy-to-follow-book-on-researching-vocabulary/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 09:22:26 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4638 by Feng Teng
Nanning University, China

Lessard-Clouston, M. (2013). Teaching Vocabulary. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.
ISBN 978-1-93118-597-4, 46 Pages.

The psycholinguistic and corpus-based research concerning the core issue of vocabulary has received significant attention over the past two decades. Although the research on vocabulary cannot be equated with the breadth of research on syntax, the central role of vocabulary in language learning, both theoretically and practically, has received much attention. In addition, the pedagogical application of vocabulary research and activities has undergone much discussion (e.g., Hiebert & Kamil, 2005; Nation, 2008; Nation & Gu, 2007; Nation & Webb, 2011; Zimmerman, 2009; Ur, 2012). Recently, there has been a surge in publications on researching vocabulary in terms of both pedagogy and practice. Teaching Vocabulary, Lessard-Clouston’s new book, written in accessible language, is a note-worthy and thought-provoking work. It can inform experienced teachers who want to probe more deeply into the area of vocabulary as well as novice teachers who want to apply theories derived from vocabulary research within classroom practices.

Teaching Vocabulary is composed of a brief overview and five chapters. Each chapter starts with a pertinent pre-reading question, which is then answered within the respective chapter, and ends with a column labeled ‘Reflective Break’, which provides an opportunity for the reader to reflect on related vocabulary research and its pedagogical applications.

The first chapter, “Vocabulary and Its Importance in Language Learning,” and the second chapter, “Understanding Vocabulary: An L2 Perspective,” primarily summarize decades of mainstream vocabulary research, which provides procedural guidelines and explanations for understanding L2 vocabulary. The third chapter, “Research into Practice: Tips for Vocabulary Teaching,” presents a theory-to-practice approach to help English teachers interact with vocabulary teaching materials and reflect on their teaching practices and curriculum development. In this Lessard-Clouston points out that textbooks seldom address vocabulary sufficiently (p. 21) and the importance of deliberate vocabulary learning (p.22). The fourth chapter, “Getting to Know Your Students and Their Vocabulary Needs,” is concerned with  understanding students from the perspective of their learning needs. The espoused approach provides a platform for teachers to develop a practical vocabulary teaching course and a better way of understanding and satisfying the learners’ needs (p.25). The author’s consistent inclusion of simple exercises sheds lights on understanding how the learners’ needs are assessed and how the teaching materials for vocabulary instruction are developed. The fifth chapter, “Putting It Together: Vocabulary Teaching Guidelines,” successfully contributes note-worthy studies of Nation’s four strands (p.32) and Zimmerman’s word consciousness approach in the pedagogical application of vocabulary (p.34).

Teaching Vocabulary can be recommended for many reasons. One is that although the text has only 46 pages, it refines and clarifies the very concept of “vocabulary” in a principled and thoughtful way. In this manner, teachers will find it helpful, whether they are developing curriculum materials or updating their knowledge of current theory, or simply looking to improve the way they conduct vocabulary assessments.

Another useful feature of the book is its review of current vocabulary research, from work on the concept of vocabulary, learner levels, vocabulary testing and assessment, vocabulary knowledge, and the theory-to-practice approach. All is simplified and written in plain language. The book’s pedagogical implications and concrete ideas may be easily understood by English teachers so they can apply the knowledge in practice.

Teachers who are conducting needs-based vocabulary programs will also benefit from reading this book. It provides detailed methods for determining students’ receptive vocabulary knowledge level (p.24) and offers insights on what vocabulary teachers should focus on based on students’ vocabulary level (p.26).

Unfortunately, Lessard-Clouston does not cover all the issues one might expect discussed in such a serious volume. For example, while the text presents one chapter on analyzing the learners’ needs and the importance of learning vocabulary, it fails to address in detail what such learners might employ in the way of strategies (Nation, 2008), even though these are major determinants in learning vocabulary. In addition, because the author convinces us that the text should be used as a guide for practical application of vocabulary, his very omission of what Nation calls ‘contextualization’ (2001) makes the book less than sufficiently inclusive.

These problems aside though, as a teacher and researcher in vocabulary, I can benefit tremendously from the lists of vocabulary research resources and the teaching guidelines and procedures presented in this book. Therefore, I strongly recommend it to any practitioner looking for an efficient guide to new ways to apply the theory of vocabulary to practical classroom practices and to those who want to supplement existing curricula in the hope of building a needs-based vocabulary-teaching program.

Hiebert, E. H., & Kamil, M. L. (Eds.). (2005). Teaching and learning vocabulary: Bringing research to practice. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Lessard-Clouston, M. (2013). Teaching vocabulary. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.

Nation, I.S.P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, I. S. P. (2008). Teaching vocabulary: Strategies and techniques. Boston, MA: Heinle.

Nation, I.S.P., & Gu, Y.Q. (2007). Focus on vocabulary. Sydney, Australia: National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research.

Nation, I. S.P., & Webb, S. (2011). Researching and analyzing vocabulary. Boston, MA: Heinle.

Ur, P. (2012). Vocabulary activities. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Zimmerman, C.B. (2009). Word knowledge: A vocabulary teacher’s handbook. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

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About the author
Feng Teng blogFeng Teng is a lecturer and researcher in English language teaching with the Department of English, Nanning University, China. He has done intensive research on language teaching methodology, especially the teaching and learning of vocabulary.


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Teacher Voices: A Virtual Forum for ELT Professionals http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/08/27/teacher-voices-a-virtual-forum-for-elt-professionals/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/08/27/teacher-voices-a-virtual-forum-for-elt-professionals/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 09:22:23 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4629 by Fenty Lidya Siregar
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Teacher professional development (TPD) is fundamental since effective teaching comes from a teacher who actively constructs his or her knowledge and skills through different means and is reflectively engaged in exploring his or her own teaching development  (Richards, 2002). In the past, we might have thought that institutions or government agencies were responsible for providing training for TPD. However, Richards and Farell (2005, p. 15) argue that “[t]eachers can plan many aspects of their own professional development.” In other words, TPD can be carried out by individual teachers who take the initiative.

Although TPD can start with individual teachers’ initiative, it does not mean teachers have to do it alone. ELT professionals can certainly find teacher support groups to enhance their professional development. Nowadays, these support groups are mushrooming on the Internet. Teacher Voices is an example of a virtual English teacher support group that enables its members to virtually meet like-minded colleagues across the globe and at the same time provides a forum for TPD.

Teacher Voices: Language Teacher Professional Development Group, usually known as TV for short, is a Facebook group which was started and is moderated by Handoyo Widodo, an English lecturer at Politeknik Negeri Jember (State Polytechnic of Jember), Indonesia. Besides Handoyo Widodo, TV is also run by two other moderators, namely, Willy A. Renandya and Flora Debora Floris. The former is a language teacher educator at the English Language and Literature Department, National Institute of Education, Singapore, and the latter is a senior lecturer at the English Department of Petra Christian University, Surabaya, Indonesia. Figure 1 below is a screenshot of TV’s Facebook page.

Fenty Figure 1Figure 1: TV’s Facebook page.

Specifically, TV was designed as a site for the professional development of classroom teachers, textbook writers, curriculum specialists, and researchers in English language teaching or applied linguistics and not for improving its members’ English competence. However, many of the members come from English as a foreign language (EFL) countries and seem to have benefitted from being exposed to the English language used on TV, which is lexically and grammatically rich.

TV has a large membership and provides readers with a wide circle of contacts, including ELT scholars who are teaching in Asia and other continents. In 2012, this relatively new Facebook group had less than 1500 members but as of July 2014 the number has gone beyond 7000. Some of the members are established Asian ELT scholars such as Ahmar Mahboob (a senior lecturer in the Department of Linguistics, Sydney University, Australia), Masaki Oda (Director of the Center for English as a Lingua Franca (CELF), Tamagawa University, Japan), Gana Subramaniam (Director of Studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham, Malaysia), and Melchor Tatlonghari (a retired RELC language specialist and an adjunct professor at the University of Santo Tomas and the Philippine Normal University in Manila, the Philippines).

Becoming a TV member is very easy. First, a person just needs a Facebook account. Then, one only needs to access the Facebook group and request to join. Once a Facebook account holder has been approved by one of the TV moderators, he or she can directly enjoy a plethora of information about free teaching materials, free journals and upcoming conferences, including reminders of the abstract submission deadlines. Also, members can exchange teaching and learning ideas within minutes. A third and the most valuable experience is that members can build up a network of connections for help and advice for their research.  If you are a novice teacher or researcher, you can learn how to conduct research from other members who have already become experts in ELT and published papers and books extensively.

Nevertheless, the second and third advantages mentioned above can only be enjoyed maximally if both expert and novice members are active in joining discussions, as well as following or starting a thought-provoking topic. TV moderators usually initiate the latter and tag experts in the field for the topic to get involved in the discussion. However, it is individual members’ initiative that plays a big role in bringing and elevating the dialogue to the next level and making the most of the dialogue. Figure 2 below is a screenshot of TV that illustrates a discussion on members’ perception about TV initiated by one of the moderators, Willy A. Renandya:

Fenty Figure 2Figure 2: Discussion on members’ perception about TV.

As a free support group for language teachers, TV appears to be managed well. It has regulations which were conceptualised to provide a conducive and friendly platform for all members. One of the regulations is related to an overt language policy which requires its members to carry on discussions in a collegial, informal manner but still employ formal English. Thus, members are expected to avoid the use of slang and colloquial language, such as ‘i’ for ‘I’, ‘r’ for ‘are’, ‘u’ for ‘you’, ’4′ for ‘four’, etc. Another regulation is related to file and questionnaire distribution. For the former, members are allowed to share useful articles, PowerPoint slides, or other visual or non-visual materials related to English teaching and learning. They should not share any files for business and self-promotions. Circulating any copyright-protected journal articles, books, or materials is also prohibited.  To be able to distribute a survey questionnaire for research or other purposes, members have to obtain prior ethical clearance from relevant authorities in their institution.

To sum up, transforming an online support group into a community requires moderators who have passion in developing others and members who are self-motivated to learn, share, and support one another. TV seems to have been successful in this transformation.

My recommendations are based on my personal experience of actively participating in TV and inspiration drawn from the guidelines of TPD suggested by Richards and Farell (2005, pp. 15-17).

  1. Before joining any discussion in TV, “decide what you would like to learn about your teaching and about the field” since we need to “set realistic goals and establish a time frame”. We do not want to stare at the computer or phone screen all day long and neglect other responsibilities.
  2. Before initiating a topic, “identify a strategy to explore the topic you are interested in” and try to prepare a thought-provoking topic that will enthuse others to contribute to the discussion.
  3. When you find interesting occurrences or challenging experiences in your classroom, “decide what kind of support you will need” to make the most of your experience and “talk to people who have taken part in a professional development activity” who are TV members.
  4. When you learn, read, listen to, and write something new related to ELT, “evaluate what you have learned, [read, listened to, written] and share the results with others”.
  5. If you need another researcher to collaborate with in your research, “select a [member] or [members] to work with wisely”.

In conclusion, TPD is a never ending journey for ELT professionals who strive to be effective teachers and TV is a good example of a virtual platform for them to embark on. However, it is an individual member’s active and well-prepared participation that can make his or her professional development and interaction on TV meaningful as well as beneficial.

Richards, J. C. (2002). 30 Years of TEFL/TESL: A personal reflection. RELC Journal, 33(2), 1–35. doi:10.1177/003368820203300201

Richards, J. C., & Farell, T. S. C. (2005). Professional development for language teachers: Strategies for teacher learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Teacher Voices. https://www.facebook.com/groups/teachervoices/

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About the author
Fenty blogFenty Lidya Siregar is an Indonesian English teacher who is currently pursuing her PhD studies at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. Her research interests include teachers’ beliefs, intercultural communicative competence, and language policy.


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Choosing the Right International Journal in TESOL and Applied Linguistics http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/06/18/choosing-the-right-international-journal-in-tesol-and-applied-linguistics/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/06/18/choosing-the-right-international-journal-in-tesol-and-applied-linguistics/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 06:52:52 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4426 by Willy A Renandya,
National Institute of Education
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Choosing the right international journal for your research paper can be a daunting task and the process may seem complicated. This is particularly so if you have had little or no experience publishing in an international journal. This paper provides practical guidelines that could help novice writers find answers to questions such as these: What types of journals are available in the field of TESOL and Applied Linguistics? Which types of journals are the most suitable for their papers? What are some of the key criteria that institutions use to assess the quality of a journal? What is the review process like? How long is the wait time? What is the rejection rate of the journal? Are there journals that have lower rejection rates for novice writers? The paper also lists a number of journals that novice writers could aim for in order to increase the acceptance rates of their submissions.

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You have just completed your research and are now thinking about writing it up and submitting it to a journal.  Since publishing in an international journal will get you more credit points for your career promotion and reach a broader reading audience, you decide to submit it to an international journal. However, you are not sure about how to do this. You have numerous questions swirling in your head: How do I get started? Which journal should I send my paper to? Do I just send it to any journal as long as it is ‘international’? Do I send it to TESOL Quarterly (I’ve seen my professor’s articles published in TESOL Quarterly, so perhaps I can follow his lead)? How do I find the right journal for my paper? What is the probability of my paper being accepted by a journal? Which journals are likely to be ‘recognized’ by my institution and the local ministry of education?

In this paper, I will address these and other related questions that novice writers normally ask. The main target audience of this paper is those who have had some research and writing experience and have presented papers in academic conferences. They are interested in having their work published in an international journal but have little knowledge about which journals are best suited for their papers. I describe in detail the kinds of journals that novice writers should focus on and provide practical tips that would increase the chance of their papers being favorably considered by an international journal.

It is a jungle out there
It is really a jungle out there. There are so many journals in TESOL and Applied Linguistics. No one knows exactly the number but it certainly runs in the hundreds. According to Michael Lessard-Clouston of Biola University, USA, there are 710 periodicals in the fields of Applied Linguistics and TESOL (and related fields). Lessard-Clouston (2014) has compiled the names and web addresses of these journals and made them available in:


The number could easily exceed 1,000 if we include newer (and less known) journals. Some say that this whopping number can be both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because you can always find one out of this vast jungle of journals that is most suitable for your paper, or a curse, especially for novice writers, because the number can be formidable and choosing the right one can be a nightmare.

A smaller list containing more familiar journal names can be found in a TESOL publication:

http://www.tesol.org/docs/default-source/books/how-to-get-published-in-applied-linguisti cs-serials.pdf?sfvrsn=4

The list here contains some 45 journals that ELT professionals like us are more familiar with, including the ELT Journal, English Teaching Forum, RELC Journal and TESOL Quarterly. Note however that newer journals that many of us have become familiar with recently such as Asian EFL Journal, ELTWO, International Journal of Innovation in English Language Teaching and Research and Language Education in Asia are not included.

Types of journals
What I have found useful when choosing a journal is to first find out whether the journal is primarily a teaching (pedagogical) journal or an academic (research) journal.  A teaching journal publishes articles that are intended for classroom teachers, textbook writers, curriculum developers and other language professionals. Articles published in this kind of journal tend to be shorter (around 3,000 – 4,000 words) and written in a teacher-friendly style with fewer references. The topics are normally those that are of immediate concerns to classroom practitioners. Although theoretical or research papers may be included in this type of journal, they are written with a clearer focus on classroom applications.  Examples of this type of journals include the following:

An academic journal, in contrast, is more research-oriented and directed more towards researchers than teachers. Articles published in this type of journal tend to be long (5,000 – 7,000 words or longer) and written in a more formalized academic style. The articles contain technical language and include a lot of references. In addition, the topics tend to be mainly of interest to researchers and other specialized academics. Occasionally, there are some practical papers included in academic journals, but these papers are still not practical enough for those interested in real classroom issues. Some of the flagship journals in TESOL and Applied Linguistics belong to this category:

Another useful thing to know about journals is whether they are generalist or niche journals. The former are more broad-based and include a wide range of topics within the broad areas of Applied Linguistics. Journals such as RELC Journal, Language Teaching Research, ELT Journal fall under the generalist category. Niche journals, on the other hand, are more specialist in nature and publish articles on certain niche topics within Applied Linguistics. Examples of niche journals include Journal of Second Language Writing, Reading in a Foreign Language, and Journal of Pragmatics. Although it is difficult to generalize, generalist journals tend to have a lower rejection rate than niche journals.

Knowing which type of journal is the most suitable for your paper is an important first step.  If your paper is a practical piece and you send it to an academic journal, chances are that your paper will be immediately returned to you by the editor with a note “We regret to inform you that your manuscript doesn’t fit with the aim, scope and target readers of our journal.” In other words, you have just received a straight rejection from the editor. Unfortunately, novice writers are prone to making avoidable mistakes like this one.

What is the rejection rate of the journal?
Rejection rate simply refers to the percentage of manuscripts rejected relative to the total number of submissions received by a journal in a given year. A journal with a rejection rate of 90% means that 9 in 10 submissions are rejected. Most established journals in our field probably have a rejection rate of about 70%; thus, only 3 in 10 submissions have a chance of being included in the journals.

Although information about the rejection or acceptance rate of a journal is not normally publicly available, you can get a sense of how hard/easy it is to get published in the journal by visiting its website and reading its publication policy, author submission guidelines and other relevant information. Here are a couple of paragraphs taken from the website of Language Learning, one of the top tier journals in our field, which has a high rejection rate:

Author Guidelines
Language Learning is an international journal that publishes rigorous, original empirical research as well as systematic critical literature reviews and innovative methodological contributions. Domains covered include first and second language acquisition in naturalistic as well as tutored contexts, including second, foreign, and heritage language, bilingual education, immersion programs, and study abroad. All disciplinary perspectives are welcome, from linguistics and psychology to education, anthropology, sociology, cognitive or the neurosciences.

As one of the premier peer-reviewed journals in the field of applied linguistics, established in 1948 at the University of Michigan, Language Learning strives to promote research of the highest quality, from thorough literature reviews and solid theoretical frameworks to rigorous data analysis, cogent argumentation and clear presentation.

(Source: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/lang.12035/full)

I have put in bold some of the key words that provide an indication of the highly demanding requirements to get published in this journal. It is perhaps one of the most difficult mainstream language journals to get published in.  Not surprisingly, the acceptance rate of this journal is below 20% (see Table 1 below).

Compare the description above with the one found in the English Teaching Forum, a pedagogically oriented journal for language teachers. I have emboldened some of the key words that indicate that the journal is looking for more practice-oriented papers which reflect current thinking in the field but do not necessarily have to be based on original empirical research studies. Naturally, the rejection rate of this journal is not as high as that of Language Learning.

English Teaching Forum Guidelines for Authors
English Teaching Forum is an international, refereed journal published by the U.S. Department of State for teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL). The mission of English Teaching Forum is to contribute to the professional development of its readers around the world by offering articles that reflect current theory and practice in English language teaching.

English Teaching Forum accepts submissions of previously unpublished articles from English teachers, teacher trainers, and program administrators on a wide variety of topics in second/foreign language education, including principles and methods of language teaching; activities and techniques for teaching the language skills and subskills; classroom-based studies and action research; needs analysis, curriculum and syllabus design; assessment, testing, and evaluation; teacher training and development; materials writing; and English for Specific Purposes. Most of the articles published in English Teaching Forum are submitted by its readers.

(Source: http://americanenglish.state.gov/submission-guidelines)

Other sources of information about a journal’s rejection rate can come from your more senior colleagues, especially those who have had their fair share of publishing in international journals, and former professors with whom you did your postgraduate studies. Do consult them as they should be able to give you a rough idea about the rejection rate of a journal.

Alternatively, you can write to the journal editors and ask about their rejection rate. I recently wrote to two journal editors asking for information about the rejection rates of their journals. For example, this journal, ELTWO, a five-year old teaching journal published by the Centre for English Language Communication/National University of Singapore, reported a rejection rate of about 50-60%. RELC Journal, an international journal published by Sage (UK), reported a rejection rate of over 90%, which puts itself in the same league as the other internationally acclaimed journals such as the ELT Journal, Applied Linguistics and TESOL Quarterly.

Research papers that look at journal quality can also be a reliable source of information. Egbert (2007), for example, recently published a paper in TESOL Quarterly that looked at a number of indicators that could be used to assess the quality of a journal. Although rejection/acceptance rate is listed as one of the quality indicators, Egbert was quick to point out that it was not the most important indicator of the quality of a journal. Table 1 provides a list of top journals and their acceptance rates.

Table 1. Acceptance rate of journals in TESOL and Applied Linguistics.


    (Data from Edbert, 2007, pp 165-7)

Using a number of quality indicators (opinions from members of TESOL Research Interest Section obtained through a survey, rejection rate, impact factor, publication timeliness, availability and accessibility of the journals, etc), Egbert (2007) listed the following as the top seven journals in TESOL and Applied linguistics.

Table 2. Top seven journals according to Edbert’s (2007) quality indicators (in alphabetical order).


If you are a novice writer, you would probably not want to send your papers to these top journals, nor would you want to send your manuscripts to other journals with high rejection rates. Not quite yet! You may instead consider sending your papers to journals with a lower rejection rate so as to increase your chance of getting accepted. Once you have had enough experience of journal publishing and have developed more self-confidence, you may want to try to submit to those journals that have a higher rejection rate. In a later section of this paper, I will list a number of journals that novice writers might aim for.

What is the review process like?
Most established journals employ a blind review process. There are two types: a single-blind or double-blind review. In a single blind review, the reviewers know the identity of the author of the manuscript, but the author does not know who the reviewers are. In a double-blind review, neither the author nor the reviewers know the identity of each other. The double-blind review is more common nowadays, as this process ensures that manuscripts are more fairly and objectively reviewed by reviewers. Thus, a manuscript is accepted or rejected based on its own merit, and not because of any other factors that have nothing to do with the quality of the manuscript.

It is important to know that manuscripts are first screened by the editor before they are sent out for review. Manuscripts that are poorly written, contain language errors, do not match the aim and scope of the journals, do not follow the submission guidelines will most likely result in a swift rejection. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that you make sure that you have written your manuscript according to the author/submission guidelines (available in the journal’s website) and that you have carefully proof-read your manuscript before submitting it to a journal. Failure to do so would cause unnecessary delay in getting your work published.

Are the journals ‘recognized’ by my institution?
Getting published in an international journal is often linked to promotion or reappointment purposes. Because of this, the question of whether a journal is ‘recognized’ or ‘approved’ often arises. It is however not easy to answer this question as institutions often have their own lists of ‘recognized’ or ‘approved’ journals, which are created based on a set of criteria.

Listed below are some of the relevant criteria that institutions often use to determine the quality of a journal:

  1. The journal has an international editorial board whose members are leading experts in their fields;
  2. It has an international review board whose members are respected scholars in their areas of specializations;
  3. It publishes papers contributed by people from different countries;
  4. It has a reasonable rejection rate;
  5. It has a reasonable impact factor;
  6. It is published regularly and in a timely manner;
  7. It enjoys a wide readership and is read and cited by scholars in the field.

One criterion that is not often stated explicitly but that is commonly understood as being important is that the journal should be registered in an internationally recognized indexing organization. Internationally recognized indexing organizations include EBSCO, Scopus, SSCI, MLA and Thomson Reuters. Internationally recognized journals usually publish this information on their website. The ELT journal, for example, subscribes to the following abstracting and indexing services:

Arts and Humanities Citation Index
British Education Index
Linguistics & Language Behavior Abstracts
PROQUEST DATABASE : Arts & Humanities Full Text
Social Sciences Citation Index (from 2009)

(Source: http://www.oxfordjournals.org/our_journals/eltj/about.html)

Another criterion of vital importance for writers to consider before submitting their manuscript is the availability of detailed information about the journal and its publication policy. Reputable journals publish the following information on their website:

  1. Aim and scope of the journal (research or practice-oriented, topic coverage, etc.)
  2. Submission guidelines (e.g., length, format, font type and size, spacing, referencing style, spelling)
  3. Review policy (e.g., refereed or non-refereed; review wait time)
  4. Frequency of publication (e.g., three times a year)
  5. Other pertinent information (e.g., research ethics guidelines, copyright, etc.)

If this information is not readily available, there is reason to suspect that the quality of the journal may be questionable and you may not want to publish with this journal.

It is important that writers follow the submission guidelines as closely as possible. One of the most common reasons for a rejection is that the manuscript does not follow the guidelines (Worsham, 2008). Many people whom I have spoken to are in full agreement with Worsham’s observation.  Just to give an example from my own experience, the ELT Journal, a top teaching journal in our field, is very particular about its submission guidelines.

Articles of around 3,500 words in length are preferred. It is not possible for us to accept articles over 4,000 words long. Please give a word count at the end of your article. Word counts should include tables and appendices, but may exclude the abstract and the list of references.

Title and abstract
Please give your article a brief, clear, and informative title. Titles should preferably be no more than 50 characters long, with an absolute maximum of 70, including spaces. Begin your article with an abstract of no more than 150 words summarizing your main points. Please do not make reference to other publications in the abstract; any abbreviations defined in the abstract (other than those listed above) should be spelt out again on first mention in the text.

(Source: http://www.oxfordjournals.org/our_journals/eltj/for_authors/)

The editor will not be too happy if you send a manuscript that is longer than 4000 words with a very long title. If he happens to be in a good mood, he might drop you a nice note to say that you should trim your paper and shorten your title and then send the revised manuscript to him. If he happens to be in a bad mood, he might send you a terse rejection note right away.

Tips for novice writers
Choosing the right journal for your first manuscript can be daunting, but it is by no means an impossible task. As I mentioned earlier, there are so many journals in our field that we are actually spoilt for choice. We should look at this as a blessing. Just look at our colleagues who teach other foreign languages (e.g., German, Japanese or Korean). Many have a hard time getting their work published because there are not that many journals that cater for these languages.  If we invest sufficient time and effort, and if we are diligent enough to do a bit of research on the kinds of journals that are available, we will definitely find the right one for our paper.

The following tips, which I have put together based on my own experience and also from talking to many colleagues who have served as journal editors and reviewers, should be of great help to those who wish get themselves published in an international journal.


For a novice writer, getting published in an international journal may seem like a very long journey with no end in sight. But as the Chinese proverb goes: A journey of a thousand mile begins with the first step. Reading this article is like taking the first step towards that long journey; the next step would be for you to invest time in familiarizing yourself with the different types of journals that you plan to send your manuscript to, understanding the submission requirements of the journal that you have selected, preparing your manuscript according to these requirements (making sure that you follow the submission guidelines as closely as possible), and then submitting it to the editor.

And the next step? Wait until you hear from the editor whether your paper is accepted without revision (extremely rare), accepted with minor revisions (quite rare), accepted with more than minor revisions (quite common), accepted with major revisions (common), or rejected (also common).

I’m grateful for the comments and suggestions from numerous colleagues on the earlier drafts of this paper, in particular to Flora Debora Floris and Herwindy Tedjaatmadja of Petra Christian University, Sisilia Halimi of Universitas Indonesia and Linda Hanington of the National Institute of Education.

Beall, J. (2012). Beall’s List of Predatory Open-Access Publishers. Retrieved 31 August 2012 from http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/.

Egbert, J. (2007). Quality analysis of journals in TESOL and applied linguistics. TESOL Quarterly, 41(1), 157-171.

Lessard-Clouston, M. (2014).  Periodicals of Interest in Applied Linguistics & TESOL. Retrieved 8 June 2014 from https://www.academia.edu/1743072/Periodicals_of_Interest_in_Applied_Linguistics_and_TESOL

Renandya, W. A. (2012). Writing for international publication. A workshop delivered at the English Department, Universitas Indonesia (UI), Indonesia, 4 June 2012.

Tardy, C. (2008). De-mystifying the publication process. Retrieved 20 June 2012 from http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~eslgo/pdf/TardyPublicationGuide.pdf .

TESOL Journal. (2014). How to get published in Applied Linguistics Serials. Retrieved 5 June, 2014 from http://www.tesol.org/docs/default-source/books/how-to-get-published-in-applied-linguistics-serials.pdf?sfvrsn=4 .

Worsham, L. (2008). What editors want. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 20 June 2012 from http://chronicle.com/article/What-Editors-Want/45909.


About the author
Renandya_3Dr Willy A Renandya is a language teacher educator with extensive teaching experience in Asia, currently teaching at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published extensively, including an edited book Methodology in Language Teaching: An Anthology of Current Practice (CUP, 2002, 2008). His latest publications include Teacher, the tape is too fast – Extensive listening in ELT (ELT Journal, 2011)  and Essential factors affecting EFL learning outcomes (English Teaching, 2013). He is a frequent speaker at international conferences and conducts frequent workshops on Writing for International Publications for universities in Indonesia. He can be contacted at: willy.renandya@nie.edu.sg.

]]> http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/06/18/choosing-the-right-international-journal-in-tesol-and-applied-linguistics/feed/ 1 Get the Picture: Teaching with Multimodal Texts http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/05/12/get-the-picture-teaching-with-multimodal-texts/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/05/12/get-the-picture-teaching-with-multimodal-texts/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 14:42:20 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4374 by Philip McConnell
English Language Institute of Singapore

Our students encounter many texts in their daily lives which combine linguistic, auditory and visual modes of representation. Such rich, multimodal texts can serve in the classroom as authentic and engaging materials that allow learners at any level to explore how meaning is created. They can also be used as the basis for many kinds of learning activities, providing additional means of engagement for teachers to help students develop skills for critical thinking, speaking and listening. Furthermore, these texts might be used to give students the opportunity to interact more effectively in different contexts for a variety of audiences and purposes. This paper offers a research-based rationale for teaching with multimodal texts. It also gives examples of multimodal texts and a set of strategies for the English classroom which are intended to enrich the experience of learning.

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To be literate in the 21st century, learners need to be able to interpret their increasingly prevalent and complex media environment, understanding that all media messages are, sometimes despite appearances, merely representations of reality, not ‘reality’ itself. That is, such messages are inevitably selective, partial and incomplete. They are constructed to entertain, to inform and to persuade, often with a political or economic purpose. Different types of media and forms of text have their own unique features which viewers must be able to understand so that they can respond discriminately. Increasingly, texts such as websites and videos are non-linear, that is, messages are presented simultaneously and viewers are expected to make their own choices about what to view and in what order. The messages often use stereotypes as well as emotive language and images, which are open to different interpretations and may be misleading. 21st century learners should therefore be able to interpret and evaluate meanings expressed in multiple modalities and use multiple modalities themselves to create meaning.

Pictures can be used very effectively to engage students at any level in many kinds of learning activities, including higher order thinking, speaking and listening, literary methods such as irony and metaphor, and grammar and vocabulary. They are also a powerful stimulus for speaking, writing and representing. This paper offers a research-based rationale for pedagogies using pictures and other multimodal texts and a set of teaching strategies for the English classroom which are intended to enrich the experience of learning.

Theoretical frameworks
According to cognitive psychology, learning occurs when individuals interact with people, objects and events and then reflect on their interaction. The learner actively constructs understanding by deciding what these experiences mean, thus building a personal set of mental models which in turn determine how new experiences are understood.

About a quarter of the brain is occupied in processing visual information, far more than for any other sense. Arnheim (1969) showed how, from infancy, we learn to recognise and classify all kinds of objects, people, actions and phenomena such as weather, colours or moods. Piaget (1926) showed that we learn from interactions with our physical environment, which comes to include not only its physical aspects but also their representations in images and signs.

Visual literacy includes everything from facial expressions and body language, to drawings, websites and films. It appears, on the basis of research into factors that motivate children to read and write at home, that children write and read as part of their imaginative play (Burnett & Myers, 2002). Eight pupils from Years 3 and 6 were invited to use disposable cameras to capture examples of the reading and writing they did at home. The results showed that the children used shared books and writing as a way of building friendships. They used computers to explore school topics or research areas of personal interest; created displays of pictures, certificates, religious texts, or prayer calendars; wrote notes to themselves or made props for make-believe play situations.

There is also reliable evidence to show that the use of visual images, such as videos, DVDs and photographs, was effective in motivating boys and increased the quantity and quality of their writing (United Kingdom Literacy Association, 2004). Using visual literacy can also develop boys’ ability to articulate their understanding of the writing process using metalanguage. A follow-up research project by the Department of Education and Science (Younger & Worthington, 2005) showed that the boys saw themselves as being more in control of their own writing. In summary, visual literacy can lead to:

  • increased quantity of writing
  • increased quality of writing
  • wider use of vocabulary
  • greater use of imagery
  • increased fluency
  • more adventurous writing
  • improved attitude to writing
  • greater engagement with writing
  • greater commitment to writing
  • improved motivation, self-esteem and enthusiasm.

The project also had a significant effect on the boys’ reading and speaking.

A theory of how individuals develop the ability to construct meaning from visual art was developed by Abigail Housen, the co-founder of Visual Understanding in Education and co-author of the Visual Thinking Strategies Curriculum. She defined five incremental stages of aesthetic development:

  1. Accountive
    Viewers make simple observations of surface features of the subject usually in the form of a narrative. These are heavily influenced by their own experience and memories.
  2. Constructive
    Viewers construct a framework for observing art using their knowledge of the world and personal values. They tend to reject works which do not correspond to their world view. Also at this stage viewers show an increased interest in the artist’s intentions.
  3. Classifying
    Viewers begin to analyse works of art, identifying place, period and style by using their knowledge of art history.
  4. Interpretive
    Viewers infer levels of meaning for example from symbolic elements. They are open to alternative interpretations and changes in their own ideas.
  5. Co-creative
    Viewers combine “… personal contemplation with views that broadly encompass universal concerns. Here, memory infuses the landscape of the painting, intricately combining the personal and the universal” (DeSantis & Housen, 2007, pp.12-13).

DeSantis and Housen’s theory of staged aesthetic development closely corresponds with the idea of the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1934):

The teacher’s role is not so much to impart fact, or manage drill and practice, but to facilitate the learner’s process of discovery. The teacher enables development by creating and managing a supportive learning environment that encourages learners to discover new ways to find answers to their own questions, to construct meaning, to experience, and to reason about what they see. The act of constructing meaning cannot be something taught; the learner must discover his meaning on his own (DeSantis & Housen, 2007, p 7).

Yenawine, a prominent Museum Educator and one of Housen’s collaborators, argued that the two theories – the importance of peer interaction in constructing meaning and the advantage of teaching viewing through articulating responses – should be combined by having peers grouped together to discuss works of art:

In other words, it can be persuasively argued that structured discussion among peers of art that intrigues them will produce observations, insights and exchanges that spur not only thorough, rigorous examinations of works of art but also significant skill development in individuals (Yenawine, 1999, p 5).

Together, Housen and Yenawine developed Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) to teach thinking and communication skills, as well as promote aesthetic development. VTS is now used in many schools in the USA and Europe and continues to expand. Briefly, using VTS provides opportunities for students to explore paintings and photographs and to build and share their interpretations. At the same time, the teacher should use positive body language and facial expressions to create an atmosphere in which students feel comfortable responding to questions.

The teacher’s questions follow a sequence: What do you see? What do you think? What makes you say that? What else do you see? In response to their comments, it is important that the teacher listen carefully to understand accurately what they say and point precisely to what they mention regarding the painting or photograph shown in the slide. The teacher paraphrases each comment, carefully preserving the meaning of what was said. In reformulating the students’ comments, the teacher demonstrates proper sentence construction and rich vocabulary to assist students with language.

The strategies are intended to promote a pattern of thinking, rather than eliciting right answers, so the teacher accepts each comment without judgment. Students are learning to make detailed observations, analyse their responses and articulate their thoughts. The teacher explicitly links students’ answers that are somehow related, points out how one idea leads to another and emphasises how their thinking changes and deepens during the lesson. The teacher concludes by thanking students for their participation, explaining what s/he particularly enjoyed and encouraging them to think of viewing art as an ongoing, open-ended process. No summary should be offered as this would defeat the point – that exploring a work of art is never completed.

A similar co-constructivist view of learning developed by the New London Group has also been influential in shaping thinking about the teaching of literacy:

…the human mind is embodied, situated, and social. That is, human knowledge is initially developed not as “general and abstract,” but as embedded in social, cultural, and material contexts. Further, human knowledge is initially developed as part and parcel of collaborative interactions with others of diverse skills, backgrounds, and perspectives joined together in a particular epistemic community, that is, a community of learners engaged in common practices centered around a specific (historically and socially constituted) domain of knowledge (2000, p. 41).

The New London Group’s first concern was to reform traditional literacy pedagogy for teaching the standard forms of the national language based on the written word because it was restricted to “formalized, monolingual, monocultural, and rule-governed forms of language” (2000, p. 20). Their aim was to widen understanding of literacy to include the huge diversity of texts, contexts and cultures which are found in the contemporary globalised world:

…literacy pedagogy now must account for the burgeoning variety of text forms associated with information and multimedia technologies. This includes understanding and competent control of representational forms that are becoming increasingly significant in the overall communications environment, such as visual images and their relationship to the written word – for instance, visual design in desktop publishing or the interface of visual and linguistic meaning in multimedia (New London Group. 2000, p.20).

Their proposed new pedagogy is a four-stage process which can be summarised as follows:

  1. Situated Practice: immersion in a wide range of multimodal texts taking into account the range of cultures students are exposed to in everyday life
  2. Overt Instruction: explicit instruction in the design and terminology of multimodal texts
  3. Critical Framing: a detached, critical interpretation of the meaning of the text in its social and cultural context
  4. Transformed Practice: using the design elements to create new texts for different contexts.

Translating theory into practice
Using pictures to teach critical thinking
All the theories of learning and pedagogy outlined above share certain beliefs about learning which have significant implications for teaching:

  • it is a process of co-construction
  • it builds on the learner’s prior experience
  • it requires structured guidance
  • it engages the learners affectively as well as cognitively
  • it must be interactive
  • it must be made relevant to the real world

In my own teaching at secondary level and pre-university level in Singapore, I have found that these beliefs can be incorporated into practice very successfully by using pictures and multimodal texts as stimuli to develop thinking skills, oracy, vocabulary, grammar, writing and representing. I have also used the pedagogies to teach terms concepts and technical terms for English Literature.

To encourage students new to this kind of viewing and thinking, the images should be striking and open to interpretation. Pictures should be grouped around a theme and presented in sequence. For beginning viewers, familiar themes such as family can be used to introduce inferential thinking. As they become more experienced, images which are more complex and subtle encourage speculation, questioning, and divergent interpretations. The following simple sequence of questions derived from Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956 as cited in Anderson & Krathwohl, et al., 2001) can be used to develop thinking skills: What do you see? What do you think? What do you feel? What do you wonder? What makes you think/feel/wonder that?

A sequence can be used to raise the issue of definition and ambiguity. Taking the theme of the family, for example, one can move from representations of the conventional nuclear family to those of less conventional families – single parents, fostering, gay couples, street children, a congregation – while continuously questioning the idea of what constitutes a family.

I have often used the painting below, Allegory of the World Wide Web, by Vicente Collado Jr., as an introduction to teaching higher order thinking skills. The aim of the activity is to develop students’ metacognitive skills by facilitating reflection on their mental processes as they view the picture and co-construct meaning. At first sight, Allegory of the World Wide Web (retrieved from http://camearound.blogspot.sg/2011/02/allegory-of-world-wide-web.html) is a realistic still life painting of a room with a desktop filled with a miscellany of objects. It is strangely atmospheric and very appealing. Closer viewing uncovers an allegorical meaning disguised in a series of visual puns which the casual observer may not notice. Typically, once one student notices an unexpected item and realises it is a visual pun, the others become increasingly curious and motivated to find more puns.

At this stage, one can explain that their curiosity is being caused by the feeling of cognitive dissonance. The human brain has evolved to solve problems and seeks to reduce the discomfort of dissonance by finding an explanation. Learning by solving problems is therefore a very natural way to learn and can be more effective when undertaken in collaboration with others – learning is social.


Aso at this stage, the students are engaged in higher order thinking as defined in Bloom’s taxonomy, analysing and synthesising to interpret the meaning. As they realise that the visual puns all relate to the Internet in some way they experience the pleasure of solving the problem, with the brain secreting endorphins. The final task of creating names for the painting and deciding on the most appropriate one completes the task. By reviewing their thinking processes with a diagram of the Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking skills, they gain insight into how they arrived at a solution by working together to co-construct a meaning. This is a very memorable experience and one that can be referred to in the future to remind them of how to set about solving a messy problem or interpreting a poem.

Teaching and assessing students’ inferential thinking can be achieved by asking them to add speech or thought bubbles to a picture to reflect how each person is reacting to the situation. Stills from film or stage plays are very useful for this as they often feature dramatic situations with diverse and conflicting reactions from characters. Another way to develop thinking skills is to crop a picture which enables the teacher to show one small section at a time as students predict what it might eventually show.

Using pictures to teach 21st century literacy
Pedagogy is always more likely to succeed when it draws on authentic, topical material and relates to big ideas, and the New London Group’s pedagogy is a very effective structure for teaching students about the importance of the concepts of purpose, audience, context and culture in effective communication.

Students’ interest can first be stimulated by movie posters. Tracing their evolution reveals how consumers of popular culture today are so much more sophisticated, at least in terms of their visual literacy, than they were some decades ago. For example, the posters promoting Batman movies have changed strikingly over the years, revealing a great deal about how attitudes to good and evil have changed (see Appendix for links to sample posters). They reflect the transition from the amused scepticism of the 60s, which represented superheroes such as Batman and villains such as the Joker ironically as one-dimensional caricatures, through the darker mood of the 80s and 90s inspired by Tim Burton’s more complex vision to the profoundly more conflicted and ambiguous figure of the trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan. Students find viewing the sequence of movie posters for these films from the 60s through to the present a revealing and thought-provoking experience which leads to rich discussion of how much tastes have changed and why.

Advertisements are also rooted in everyday experience, an advantage which teachers have been benefiting from for many years. The advent of classroom projectors can transform teaching and learning about advertising, especially when structured around the pedagogy of the New London Group. The first stage is to immerse the students in examples of print and non-print based advertisements, examples of which are readily available through Google images and YouTube. Using these images and TV commercials is also a very powerful way to develop awareness of changing social norms and values. For example, students are both amused and intrigued to discover how prevalent attitudes towards such products as cigarettes have transformed over the years. A 1950s advertisement for Camel carries the slogan, ‘More doctors smoke Camel than any other cigarette’ above a picture of the stereotypical doctor, grey-haired and wise in a white coat, smoking the product with evident satisfaction and no signs of anxiety over the implications for his health. Similarly, students are astonished by the transformation in representations of gender. A 1960s advertisement for Tipalets shows a dominant male blowing cigarette smoke into a young woman’s face, behind the slogan, ‘Blow in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere’. There is a TV commercial for Tipalets available on YouTube which students find almost incredible and which prompts lively discussion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIL-rd90cGU.

Situated practice is combined with overt instruction to explore the methods of advertising. Advertisements largely rely on arousing emotional or psychological responses in order to persuade consumers or build brand loyalty. The specific emotion targeted by an advertisement is known as its appeal, which may be to glamour, peer approval, natural goodness, celebrity endorsement, etc., or some combination of appeals. The variety of appeals can be demonstrated effectively through immersion supported by explicit instruction and quizzes to consolidate and assess students’ ability to identify the nature of the different appeals in a sequence of examples.

Advertisers also make claims which are, of course, often quite spurious. Following the combination of immersion and explicit instruction, the teacher introduces the third element, critical framing. At this stage students apply critical analysis, at first simply to identify misleading phrases. For example, what does the claim that a detergent gets dishes so clean they are ‘virtually spotless’ really mean? Inviting students to paraphrase – ‘virtually’ means ‘almost’ – leads to the realisation that another way to phrase the claim would be that the product actually leaves dishes a little dirty.

Going beyond the verbal elements of the advertisements the teacher guides the students to a critical awareness of the visual elements, features such as colour, lighting, contrast, the degree of realism, character and setting, etc., uncovering the reasons for the choices made and relating these to the cultural assumptions and values underlying them. Finally, they consider how all of these are designed to appeal to the intended consumers.

The fourth and final stage is transformed practice. Now the students apply their new knowledge to the creation of their own persuasive multimodal text. To make this more authentic, they should choose a subject and target audience from within their own situation, for example, to promote a sport or society or the school library to new students. These posters can then be displayed around the classroom so students can get feedback from a real audience.

Using video to teach critical thinking
Greenpeace have produced a series of very striking videos which parody advertisements for popular brands such as Nestle and Dove. One effective way to develop critical listening and viewing skills of students at upper secondary or pre-university level is to compare these parodies with the original TV commercials, adapting the strategy known as Question the Author (QtA). A detailed explanation of how QtA is applied to the analysis of written texts can be found at http://lb2.readingrockets.org/strategies/question_the_author.

To help students identify and evaluate opposing points of view, show them an advertisement for the New Zealand Sealord brand of fish and seafood products. Sealord claims that its fishing is environmentally sustainable. The advertisement features employees in marine settings around the globe delivering sound bites which support the company slogan, ‘We live for the sea.’

Students are first provided with a template to focus their attention on key features of the original advertisement as they take notes. Questions based on QtA principles follow this basic sequence:

  • Who produced the advertisement?
  • What is its key message?
  • Who are the intended viewers?
  • What is the purpose of the advertisement, i.e. what effects on the viewers’ thoughts and feelings are intended?
  • What methods are used to achieve these effects?
  • How successful are these methods in persuading you of the truth of the claims made in the advertisement?
  • What might you change about the advertisement?

Next, the students view the Greenpeace parody which shows the same advertisement but with new sound bites dubbed over the original soundtrack which accuse Sealord of misleading the public. Following up on the viewing, students can be guided towards a deeper appreciation of the effect of tone on an audience by comparing the very different tones used in the original and the parody.

The students complete the same set of QtA questions on the parody, which lays the ground for discussion of the opposing claims and Internet research to discover the impact of the Greenpeace campaign. The Sealord site http://www.sealord.com/nz/environment/issues-and-facts is a good place to start. Another video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rwl vbuVer MI, features celebrity chef Tom Kime, who has a reputation as an advocate of sustainable fishing, defending Sealord’s efforts to adopt more sustainable methods of fishing.

Teachers often report that students find the transition from writing narratives and personal recounts to writing expositions very challenging. One approach is to show how issues and argumentation embedded in narrative form can be uncovered and become the basis for a discussion prior to writing. Another Greenpeace video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9 q3pZVDHUJU, provides an excellent example of an issues based-narrative. The learning sequence is:

  1. Activation of prior knowledge through viewing of the video
  2. Co-construction of meaning though comparison of understandings of the video
  3. Deepening of knowledge through Internet research
  4. Composition of an exposition in the form of an information report outlining the Greenpeace campaign and explaining its success.

Below is an example of a simple template which can be used to scaffold students’ understanding of how the various elements of the video combine to persuade the viewer to take action. The number and kind of prompts provided will depend on the students’ profile. In this case, I have included quite detailed prompts for lower secondary students with little prior experience of critical viewing. After completing the template, the students should work in groups to compare each other’s responses and modify their understanding.


As a homework assignment, to prepare students for writing an exposition, they should visit http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/cool-it/ITs-carbon-foo tprint/Facebook/. This will reveal the basis of Greenpeace’s claim in greater detail using multiple formats and how it affected opinion throughout the world and ultimately changed Facebook’s policy on energy use.

I believe the use of these videos offers students invaluable insights into real world issues and the vital importance of effective communication in shaping opinions and policies.

Using pictures to teach literature
Teaching literary terms and concepts through pictures has the advantage of freeing the students to respond to the effects of certain devices without at the same time having to wrestle with unfamiliar language. According to Siegel (1995), there is evidence that articulating the meaning of a picture creates deeper learning:

The gradual shift to constructivist models of teaching and learning implies that students need more than words to learn. Transmediation, i.e. the act of translating meanings from one sign system to another, increases students’ opportunities to engage in generative and reflective thinking because, where no prior connection exists, learners must invent a connection between the two sign systems (Siegel, 1995, p. 455).              .

Hence, deeper learning is achieved.

It is not very hard to find pictures to illustrate literary concepts. The most direct way is simply to search Google images using the target word, for example, irony. A huge number of images will pop up (not all appropriate, so your judgment will be required). By viewing a sequence of pictures the students can be led to understand the different types of irony and come to an understanding of how tone can vary from mild to bitter. Other target words which have provided me with useful images are: satire, juxtaposition, hyperbole, simile, metaphor, personification, dramatic irony and exposition.

Another strategy to search for suitable pictures for the literature classroom is to enter a theme into the search engine, such as family, plus the word movie or drama.


The picture above (http://davidbarrie.typepad.com/david_barrie/2007/06/) is from the play, The Pain and the Itch, by Bruce Norris (2004). Pictures such as this can be used to teach many concepts in drama. The usual sequence of questions can be used to prompt students’ analysis (What do you see? What do you think? What makes you say that?). Questions can be developed to explore such issues as why some characters have radically different reactions to what is happening and thence on to how and why generations have different perspectives, leading to conflict, with comedic or tragic consequences. The discussion can be used to introduce many important dramatic strategies and terms, such as characterisation, point of view, intention, the nature of conflict, comparison and contrast, motive, mood, genre, setting, satire, dramatic irony, mise en scene and theme, etc.

Using pictures to teach grammar
There is a renewed emphasis in the Singapore Ministry of Education’s English Language Syllabus (2010) on teaching grammar at both primary and secondary levels:

Pupils will learn grammar and vocabulary in explicit, engaging and meaningful ways. They will reinforce such understanding in the course of listening to, reading, viewing, speaking, writing and representing different types of texts (p. 10).

One of the desired outcomes stated in the syllabus is to raise the language competency of every student:

All our pupils will be able to use English to express themselves. All should attain foundational skills, particularly in grammar, spelling and basic pronunciation. They should be able to use English in everyday situations and for functional purposes, such as giving directions, information or instructions and making requests (p. 6).

The most frequent question teachers ask about teaching grammar is how it can be made ‘more fun.’ Pictures can help to provide some answers. Googling ‘children’s playground illustrations’ will provide many pictures filled with different children engaged in lots of different activities. Googling ‘happytown illustrations’ will link to  particularly good pictures to use at primary level.  These illustrations provide the basis for simple question and response activities to focus on word classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, etc.)  Basically, all the teacher needs to do is ask students to describe actions, positions and the appearance of characters, etc., using details from the picture. Prepositions can be taught by asking a student to give directions from one point in a picture or map to another, or to explain where a person or object is.

Computer games in which the player has to locate objects half-hidden among a plethora of others are another source of useful pictures. Many examples can be found by googling ‘games find the hidden objects.’ The element of game playing certainly helps to create enjoyment and engagement. The added advantage of all these activities is that students can practise basic oral skills as well, for example, by describing scenes or characters in detail.

Even with older students, pictures can be used to teach more subtle aspects of grammar such as the distinction between different types of noun: common, proper, collective, gerund, abstract and concrete, countable and uncountable. At the same time, the students are developing their inferential skills. Renoir’s The Festival of Slorg (http://markarayner.com/blo g/archives/3559) portrays a lively and diverse group of people in conversation, drinking or stroking a dog, all displaying various kinds of feelings and attitudes. To take just one example, to teach the distinction between concrete and abstract nouns, the students are invited to name ten objects, each with an adjective describing its appearance. Next, they are asked to infer the feelings of some of the characters and to explain what it is about the appearance of the character that suggests the feelings. One prominent character’s posture and the angle of his head suggest he is proud or disdainful. The students speculate why this may be the case. The teacher then points out that they can use adjectives to describe the features of the man’s body language which suggest his pride as they did with the common nouns identified earlier, but not to describe the appearance of pride itself. Hence, pride is an abstract noun.  In fact, the possibilities for teaching word classes through pictures seem limitless.

Using pictures to teach and assess
Using dramatic or emotive pictures to stimulate speaking and writing is an effective strategy which teachers have used for so long it may be regarded as traditional. There are other ways of using pictures and visuals, however, which are also effective yet do not seem to have the same currency. Pictures which are quite similar, for example, the same kinds of landscape, can be used to prompt descriptive writing, the idea being that the description will be sufficiently accurate and detailed to ensure that other students can pick out the picture being described from a range of possibilities.

Having a student use language to describe a visual, such as the one below, clearly enough for another student, who cannot see the visual, to draw the items accurately, is a good way to surface how explanations should be structured. The exercise raises questions such as: Where to begin? How to orientate the listener? Is it better to give an overview first? Or to give one feature at a time in a sequence, left to right? How to convey relative scale and position? What technical words would help to convey familiar shapes? How do we handle the unfamiliar?


These questions demonstrate very effectively the need to communicate in ways which the audience can understand. Questions of orientation, overview, sequence and use of language can then be applied to teaching writing skills, such as how to write effective introductions, the logical sequencing of points in sentences and paragraphs and the use of appropriate language.

Student presentations are being used increasingly as a means of assessment, both of subject content knowledge and of speaking and representing skills. In the teaching of literature, having students make presentations using visuals can be a more effective way of assessing students’ knowledge and skills  than the traditional examination style question, in which evidence of their understanding and personal  response to a text may be limited by their ability to write essays.  In the case of responding to poetry, for example, I find students enjoy the challenge of matching imagery to pictures and find explaining the thinking behind their choices through a PowerPoint presentation more natural and less daunting than writing a critical analysis. This is on-the-spot formative assessment as both teacher and peers can provide immediate feedback and probe for further explanation. Students also appreciate the opportunity to be creative and take great pride in producing striking multimodal texts, even adding music to enhance the impact.

Despite their sophisticated technological skills, when asked to present using PowerPoint, students tend to rely very heavily on cramming slides with text and reading it back to the audience. Thus, they do not establish any rapport with their audience as eye contact is virtually impossible while they are reading. The whole purpose of the task as an assessment of speaking skills is lost. An effective solution is to set a maximum word limit per slide and encourage students to use visuals, including pictures as metaphors for ideas, allowing them to use the slides only as cues. The slides build confidence while enabling the speaker to face the audience and communicate in a more engaging manner. A very amusing and effective video Death by PowerPoint, available on YouTube, provides a memorable warning against the pitfalls of PowerPoint.

Having the technology to display pictures, show videos and design multimodal presentations for the classroom has facilitated an approach to teaching which integrates traditional literacy with the skills of thinking, viewing and representing in ways which open up possibilities for student-centric, values-driven teaching and learning. This approach can be made more relevant to students’ personal experience and the real world. By activating the brain’s capacity for visual processing and collaborative problem solving, the learning is also deeper because it is more natural.

Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M. C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Anderson LW and Krathwohl DR. New York: Addison Wesley Longmann.

Arnheim, R. (1969). Visual thinking. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Burnett, C., & Myers J. (2002). Beyond the frame: Exploring children’s literacy practices. DOI: 10.1111/1467-9345.00187

Campbell, R. L. (2002). Jean Piaget’s genetic epistemology: Appreciation and critique. Retrieved from http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/piaget.html

DeSantis, K., & Housen, A. (2007). A brief guide to developmental theory and aesthetic development. New York, NY: Visual Understanding in Education.

Norris, B. (2007). The pain and the itch. London: Nick Hern Books.

Piaget, J. (1926). The language and thought of the child. London. Rutledge & Kegan Paul.

Siegel, M. (1995). More than words: The generative power of transmediation for learning. Canadian Journal of Education, 20(4), Autumn, 1995.

Singapore Ministry of Education. (2010). English Language Syllabus.

The New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. In Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2000), Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. Florence, KY: Psychology Press.

United Kingdom Literacy Association. (2004). Raising boys’ achievements in writing. Joint Research Project, United Kingdom Literacy Association. Supported by Primary National Strategy. Royston, UK: UKLA.

Yenawine, P. (1999). Theory into practice: The visual thinking strategies. The Journal of Museum Education, 28.

Younger, M., & Worthington, M. (2005). Raising boys’ achievement. Research Report 636. London: Department of Education and Science.

Xie, X. (2010). Why are students quiet? Looking at the Chinese context and beyond. ELT Journal, 64(1), 10-20.

Visual literacy





http://www.iste.org/docs/excerpts/MEDLIT-excerpt.pdf (For children w/ learning differences & unique needs)

http://www.eslflow.com/Picturelessonsandteachingideas.html (For students of Advanced Level Literature in English)


Batman posters
http://filmschoolrejects.com/features/26-things-we-learned-from-the-batman-the-movie-commentary-jkirk.php (Batman, 1966)

http://www.filmsquish.com/guts/?q=node/3941 (Batman, 1989)

http://posterwire.com/batman-begins/ (Batman Begins, 2005)

http://ms8760a.wordpress.com/page/2/ (The Dark Knight, 2008)

http://collider.com/the-dark-knight-rises-imax-poster/ (The Dark Knight Rises, 2012)

About the author
McConnell_2Phil McConnell came to Singapore in 1991 after teaching in the UK for 17 years, where he had served variously as Discipline Master, Head of Department, Head of Faculty and Head of Sixth Form. After three years as acting Head Of Department at Chung Cheng High School (Main), he moved to Anderson Junior College as Subject Head for Literature in 1994, and then, in 1998 to Raffles Junior College, where he was in charge of the Raffles Humanities Scholarship Programme. He was appointed Master Teacher for Literature in 2008, and is currently attached to the English Language Institute of Singapore (ELIS).

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Second Language Teacher Contributions to Student Classroom Participation: A Narrative Study of Indonesian Learners http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/05/12/second-language-teacher-contributions-to-student-classroom-participation-a-narrative-study-of-indonesian-learners/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/05/12/second-language-teacher-contributions-to-student-classroom-participation-a-narrative-study-of-indonesian-learners/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 09:42:42 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4358 by Nugrahenny T. Zacharias
Satya Wacana Christian University, Indonesia

One major factor determining student classroom participation is the classroom teachers because they are the ones who control the turn-taking in the classroom. Despite the significant role of classroom teachers, to date there is a lack of studies focusing on the role of classroom teachers in specific EFL contexts such as those in Indonesia. The purpose of the present study is to explore how teacher talk contributes to student classroom participation patterns. Data was collected through 85 student narratives written as part of a Cross Cultural Understanding (CCU) course assessment in an English teacher preparation program in a private university in Indonesia. From the student narratives, the factors related to teacher talk cited as contributing to student classroom participation were teachers’ lecturing styles, teachers’ lack of modified input, unfavorable past teacher feedback and teachers’ pedagogical stories. The study points to the critical role of teacher talk in shaping student classroom participation patterns.

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Studies into Asian student classroom participation patterns in the second language classroom have been pervasive in various contexts. According to Swain (1985), active participation provides learners with the opportunities to practice the target language. He further found that learners who are passive, make slower progress. Swain speculated that this may be because passive learners are less aware of the gap between what they want to say and what they are able to say in the target language and, therefore, they are less likely to challenge themselves to improve. For the classroom teacher, student silence gives no indication on how the lesson is understood and/or processed by the students. In other words, students’ active participation is a window through which teachers can evaluate students’ language and cognitive development.

Student silence in the classroom is often viewed negatively (Liu, 2001; 2005; Tsui, 1996). The negative view ascribed to students’ silent behavior might be drawn from a sociocultural theory of learning (Vygotsky, 1978), which sees talk as an indication of cognitive development. Similarly, Swain and Lapkin (1995) see learner verbal contribution as a “move from semantic processing prevalent in comprehension, to the syntactic processing needed for production” (p. 375). From this perspective, an absence of student talk can be interpreted as a lack of cognitive development. Due to the significance of students’ active classroom participation, studies into ways teacher can create conditions to facilitate student talk are necessary.

Studies on student classroom behavior have often aimed at identifying factors contributing to such silence with the aim to mitigate student silence. Earlier studies on classroom participation cited students’ L1 culture as one major factor contributing to student silence (Cortazzi & Jin, 1996), although this has been recently challenged (Cheng, 2000; Kumaravadivelu, 2003; Marlina, 2009). Other factors contributing to learner reticence, according to Tsui (1996), are learners’ inability to understand teacher talk, teachers short wait-time and learners’ fear of embarrassing themselves by making mistakes. Moreover, aspects such as students’ target language competence, previous speaking experience in class, confidence level, personality traits and/or learning cultures are all possible reasons contributing to learners’ classroom participation in the language classroom (Liu & Jackson, 2009; Tani, 2005). Studies conducted on Asian students studying in English-speaking countries also identified native speaker peers (Jones et al., 1993) as a significant factor leading to student silence.

Originally, it was intended for the present study to focus on factors affecting student classroom participation. However, when I analyzed the data, teacher-related variables were found to be recurring themes in a majority of the student narratives. Thus, the present study aims to focus specifically on how teacher talk affects student classroom participation. Swain’s (1985) study shows that language learning is far more effective when learners are “pushed” to use the target language in productive tasks and more often than not, the teacher is the one who has the authority to do so. The teacher is always the one who controls and directs classroom talk (Burns & Myhills, 2004; Garton, 2002; Seidlitz, 2003; Walsh, 2002). In other words, the teacher controls who speaks and who remains silent (Philips, 1994). The teacher is the “director” (Lee & Ng, 2009), controlling “both the content and [classroom] procedure, discussion topic, and who might participate” (Lee & Ng, 2009, p. 303). Through teacher talk, classroom teachers project the kinds of discourse roles students should take to be a successful member of the classroom (Rex, Murnen, Hobbs, & McEachen, 2002).

In Indonesia, where teachers are viewed differently from their Western counterparts and perhaps those in other EFL contexts, studying the extent to which teachers contribute to students’ participation patterns is even more important. Widiyanto (2005) notes that the Indonesian society sees teaching as a high status profession. Guru, the Indonesian word for a teacher, stands for “sing digugu lan ditiru” or “to be modeled after.” A teacher is viewed as an “ideal model of a member of the society” (Widiyanto, 2005, p. 107). Therefore, teachers play a significant role in modeling the kinds of participation patterns that are desirable in a classroom setting.

Unfortunately, to date, there are not many studies exploring the role of classroom teachers in student classroom participation in EFL contexts. Among these limited studies, many were conducted in Chinese contexts (Lee & Ng, 2009; Tsui, 1996; Xie, 2010) with very few in other EFL learning situations such as Indonesia. This scarcity calls for more explorations on the role of classroom teachers in student classroom participation patterns in various EFL situations. Additionally, the absence of such studies might result in “harmful homogenization” (Kumaravadivelu, 2003) by which the role of Indonesian teachers is assumed to be somewhat similar to that of Chinese teachers.

My analysis on how teacher talk contributes to student classroom participation is built on two assumptions. The first is based on Fairclough’s (1995) belief that teacher talk powerfully projects a message about “who students think they are, who they think they can be, and who ultimately they can become” (cited in Rex et al., 2002, p. 2). Second, because teacher talk is a changeable variable compared to unchangeable variables such as teachers’ sex and ethnicity, if teachers can be made aware of how teacher talk contributes to student classroom participation, they can better manage their instructional talk and eventually improve student classroom participation patterns.

To account for the role of teacher talk in student classroom participation, the present article took students’ perspectives as a point of departure. The present study is situated in a teacher-preparation program in the Faculty of Language and Literature in a private university in Indonesia. The data for the present article is drawn from a larger project exploring factors contributing to student classroom participation patterns. The data was gathered from 85 Indonesian pre-service learners’ narratives following a prompt documentation of their feelings and opinions when they were silent and/or silenced in the classroom. The research question guiding this study is: what aspects of teacher talk contributing to student active participation were reflected in the students’ narratives? The findings from the present paper will be of interest to Indonesian teachers in particular, but may also be of use to teachers from other backgrounds espousing similar teaching practices.

Data collection and procedures of data collection
Data for the present article was taken from student narratives relating their experiences when they were silent or being silenced in the classroom. The narratives were part of a course assessment in Cross Cultural Understanding (CCU) courses. There were four CCU courses altogether and I was one of the class instructors. This course was selected for the present study because it requires a high level of student participation. In each class, there were 35 students. Participation in the study was voluntary. Among the 140 students taking the CCU course, 108 students (77%) decided to participate in the study.

At the beginning of a session discussing classroom participation, students were instructed to reflect on their classroom participation by writing a narrative on a classroom situation in which they were silent or being silenced by factors beyond their control. To provide organizational scaffolding, the following prompt was given as guidance:

Write an event or situation in the classroom in which you (NOT other people) were silent or being silenced. Write the journal by answering the following guiding questions:

Think of a critical incident/event where you were silent. Describe and reflect on the event by answering the following questions:

  • When did this happen? What course was this? What was the topic of the lesson (e.g. studying simple tenses, writing a narrative, etc).
  • What made you silent? Mention the factors that made you silent at that time.
  • How did you feel when you were silent? Why did you feel this way?

All narratives were written in English. Students were given approximately two weeks to write the narratives and submitted them by email. The narratives are not intended to be taken as a representative sample with the aim of systematically generalizing the results to a larger population.

Initially the present study was intended to explore the phenomena associated with the silent behavior of students. However, one factor affecting student classroom participation recurring in the narratives was the classroom teacher; this result is well-supported in the literature (see, among others, Cayanus, 2010; Fassinger, 1995; Lee & Ng, 2009; Walsh, 2002, 2006). Therefore, I decided to focus exclusively on student narratives that positioned the classroom teachers as the factor affecting their classroom participation. Among the 108 narratives, 85 (78.7%) narratives were used for the purpose of the present study.

When studying student silent behavior, instruments of data collection such as interviews (Marlina, 2009), questionnaires (Green, 2008; Karp & Yoels, 1976), observations (Xie, 2010) and mixed methods (Morgenstern, 1992; Mustapha & Rahman, 2011) have generally been utilized. To understand this issue, I believe it is crucial to start from student experiences (Duranti & Goodwin, 1992). Therefore, in the present study, I chose student narratives as the instrument of data collection.

Data analysis
The narrative data in the study was analyzed using content analysis of factors contributing to student classroom silent behaviors where the narratives were coded according to “emerging themes, trends, patterns, or conceptual categories” (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). For each theme, I assigned different colors and each time I identified accounts referring to the themes, and I highlighted them accordingly. For the purpose of the study, only the qualitative results of the analysis are presented here, as quantitative information about the number of occurrences to particular theme would be meaningless in this type of narrative analysis.

Students’ narratives illustrated various dimensions of teacher talk that contributed to student classroom silent behavior. The elements of teacher talk cited are (a) teacher lecturing styles, (b) teachers’ lack of modified input, (c) unfavorable teacher feedback, and (d) teachers’ pedagogical stories.

Teacher-lecturing styles
The most cited factor mediating student silent behavior is teacher-lecturing styles. According to Mason (1994), lectures provide “the setting where the subject matter of a course is explained, discussed or otherwise taken up in a meeting between lecturers and students” (p. 203). Recently, with a move towards the development of active and student-centered learning, lecturing is increasingly being considered unfavorable (Cheng, 2000). This concern is also reflected in the narratives of S51 and S68:

Narrative 1
One hour just for teacher to explain the materials, and every students only have one minute to speak. “Who is studying, actually?” I had come to speaking class, just listen to the teacher, and have only one minute to speak, and then I have to wait again. That’s it [S51].

Narrative 2
The way a teacher teaches contributes to my silence. Like one of my teacher tended to ‘lullaby’ students by talking all the time and after that asked a question to the whole class. I think it’s better if they nominate a student to contribute an answer [S68].

The narratives of S51 and S68 are clearly very much in line with the well-established findings concerning the need for meaning or knowledge to be negotiated, rather than transmitted, in the L2 classroom (see, among others, Cheng, 2000; Lee & Ng, 2009; Walsh, 2002). Through their narratives, it is obvious that these students were aware of the limiting learning opportunities provided by excessive teacher talk time (Walsh, 2002). S51’s narrative shows a struggle for a more egalitarian distribution of talking time between students and teacher. S51’s rhetorical question (“Who is studying anyway?”), in particular, seems to project frustration because of limited speaking turn by the teacher.

In her narrative, S12 wrote that in addition to the lecturing style, classroom participation can be influenced by teacher personality:

Narrative 3
My lecturer was a kind of “killer” lecturer who explained straight from the handbook. In the class she only discussed and explained the exercises in the handbook without question-answer session. Every time I came to class I just need to sit and listen to the teacher reading the book … In this class, of course, I keep silent all the time because I did not understand the material, I felt afraid of the “killer” lecturer, and I thought the lecturer did not really care of students participation so I did not have any duty to participate actively during the class” [S12].

From S12’s narrative, it can be inferred that when classroom teachers adhere strictly to the textbook, they communicate to the students that their roles in the classroom are to merely “sit and listen to the teacher reading the book.” In S12’s case, this was made worse with the teacher’s “killer” personality, which communicated a message to students that their active participation was unwelcomed (“I did not have any duty to participate actively during the class.”). Dufficy (2005) notes that such a restricted student role conditioned by teacher lecturing styles should be avoided because it “give[s] teachers little insight into language development and virtually no insight into thinking” (p.67).

Teachers’ lack of modified input
One way to facilitate active student involvement is teacher modified input (Tsui, 1995). Indeed, teacher modification strategies are a significant aspect of teacher classroom talk. In the narrative of S80 below, she shared her experience of being silenced when a teacher did not modify the question:

Narrative 4
In my opinion, I was an active student. I always actively speaking and giving idea in group discussion. However, my teacher can make my silent. I remember one time my teacher asked some questions. I remember the topic was about Phonology. I was silent because … I did not know the answers to her questions. I did not even have the slightest ideas the kind of answers she expected. I was totally blank. I felt uncomfortable of being silent. I wanted to participate, being silent made me felt like I was stupid. [S80]

Tsui (1996) notes that the teacher needs to be aware that when a response to his/her question is not forthcoming, the question needs to be modified. The narrative of S80 illustrates that teachers’ lack of techniques in modifying the question might result in S80’s reluctance to venture for an answer, perhaps, for fear of being wrong. According to Rahman (2013), fear of being wrong is one of the significant factors causing student silence in Indonesian classrooms. When a teacher asks a question without adequate modification, to a certain degree it heightens learners’ risk of contributing wrong answers. This might be the reason why S80, a self-proclaimed active student, made a conscious decision to be silent, a position he unwillingly took. S80’s narrative challenged the finding of previous studies by Mustapha and Rahman (2011) and Karp and Yoels (1976). Both of these studies found that students who perceived themselves as active were relatively consistent in their participation patterns in terms of frequency and length of participation; this finding is contrary to S80’s narrative.

In addition to teachers’ lack of modification strategies, many participants wrote in their narratives that the reasons for their present classroom silence was because of the unfavorable attitudes that past classroom teachers expressed when students did not respond to their question accordingly:

Narrative 5
When I was in senior high school, my [English] teacher asked me to read a narrative text aloud [in English]. Afterwards, my teacher asked me questions. I was silent because I really did not understand the question. She repeated the question again in English without translating it to Indonesian or using gestures to make it clearer. I thought I was silent because of my teacher’s lack of approach to make me understand the question. She even was angry at me for not being able to answer her question. [S89]

The narrative of S89 reminds us that for many students, being active in the classroom is not merely a matter of cognitive act but more of an affective one. According to Cortazzi and Jin (1996), Chinese students would not likely venture an uncertain reply for fear of making mistakes and being laughed at because of their learning culture, which views the importance of saving one’s public image among peers (Rahman, 2013; Tsui, 1996). S89’s narrative seems to corroborate Cortazzi and Jin’s (1996) findings. In her narrative, S89 construed active participation as an anxiety-charged activity, which many teachers might not be aware of.

Unfavorable past teacher feedback
Many studies found that student classroom participation is constituted by contextual factors (Cao, 2011; Phillips, 1994) such as teacher’s teaching and interactional styles, and unfamiliarity with topics and materials, among others. However, this is not the case with many students in the present study. In fact, they wrote that the present classroom participation patterns were, in fact, a result of past learning experience:

Narrative 6
When I was high school, I was an extremely silent student. I was actually afraid of being wrong and scolded by the teacher. It was my safety. I hate being scolded by the teacher so I prefer to be silent. Silence prevented me from being the object of teacher’s wrath. [S27]

Narrative 7
Teacher’s response toward the students’ answer affects me to be active in class. Some teachers responded kindly and accept students’ answers but sometimes the teacher responses were confusing, unfriendly and some even mock the students’ if their answers were wrong. [S42]

Narrative 8
During my childhood my parents & teachers scolded me if I did something wrong. I think it brings psychological impact to my personality. So I thought it would be better to be silent so your mistakes won’t be noticeable. [S73]

Together these narratives point to the lasting effect and determining role of unfavorable past teacher feedback in student classroom participation patterns. Edwards and Westgate (1994) remind us that when students contribute an answer in the classroom, it involves myriad cognitive and affective risks because they need to undergo several filtering processes, which include “locate[ing] a potential juncture, make[ing] a bid, gain[ing] the floor, quite possibly challenge[ing] the topic, and have[ing] the topic accepted as relevant” (p.145).

Teachers’ pedagogical stories
Other than teachers’ teaching techniques, another teacher-related factor contributing to student classroom participation found in some student narratives is teachers’ pedagogical stories Rex, Murnen, Hobbs, and McEachen (2002) note that teacher pedagogical stories, even when they are not explicitly instructional, represent a view of what counts as “classroom appropriate social and academic knowledge and performance” (p.3), and thus, they project the kinds of discourse roles students need to take in a particular classroom. As S11 puts it:

Narrative 9
I think I become silent because of my elementary school teachers always said to me that a good student always pay attention and silent when the teacher explains in front of the class. [S11]

In understanding S11’s silence fully, Wenger’s (1998) discussion on imagination is a useful one. According to Wenger, ‘imagination’ is “a process of expanding our self by transcending our time and space and creating new images of the world and ourselves” (p.176). Here, S11’s elementary school teacher is central in shaping S11’s imagination of good students as those who “always pay attention and (are) silent.” The central point is that teacher talk creates an imagined identity of a good student and a learner’s classroom silence in the target language might be understood within this context. The notion presupposes that when language learners speak, they are not only expressing ideas, but they are also constantly and concurrently organizing, reorganizing and aligning themselves with the identities of good learners constructed from their previous educational experience (also in Liu, 2005) and being silent is a large part of an attempt to fulfil those mental constructs.

One student, S28, encouragingly wrote how teachers’ encouragement could significantly transform her participation pattern:

Narrative 10
I am now more active. With the help of my teacher from elementary school, I can participate differently. He always told me no use of being silent all the time because you never get any progress and knowledge. Don’t be afraid of asking stupid questions and [making] mistakes because those are a part of learning. Gradually by his encouragement I can be an active student and never afraid of making mistakes anymore. I think the encouragement from the teacher gave a big impact toward my participation. [S28]

From this narrative, we learn the significant role of the teacher’s classroom narratives in shifting S28’s participation patterns. He advised her on the kind of discourse roles she needed to take up to be a successful learner (“no use of being silent all the time” and “Don’t be afraid of asking stupid questions and [making] mistakes”). This encouragement appears to have established S28’s future participatory role in the classroom.

Discussion and conclusion
This study has attempted to identify how teacher talk contributes to student classroom participation patterns. Data was collected from 85 student narratives documenting their feelings, opinions, and perspectives when they were silent in the classroom and factors contributing to their silence. The study found that student classroom silent behaviors were a result of a complex interface between ‘on-site pedagogy’ (E.g. teacher lecturing styles, teachers’ lack of modified input, past teachers’ feedback and teachers’ ‘past pedagogy’ such as in the case of S89 (Narrative 5), S27 (Narrative 6), S73 (Narrative 8 respectively).

From the student narratives, students seemed to be more willing to participate when they sensed the teacher valued active students’ participation patterns and projected it through teacher talk and teaching techniques utilized in the classroom. However, teachers need to be aware that their expectations for active student participation might collide with past student learning experiences such as in the case of S27 (Narrative 6), S73 (Narrative 8) and S11 (Narrative 9). Therefore, at the beginning of a course, teachers should make clear what they expect from the students with regard to classroom participation (Liu, 2005). Johnson (1995) notes that when students have a clear idea of what is expected of them, they can have a better idea of the participative roles they need to take in the classroom. Teachers also need to design teaching techniques or pedagogical strategies that allow for a transition from passive to active learners and ensure that students’ prior exposure to certain pedagogical strategies does not lead to stagnant classroom participation patterns that provide comfortable and safe zones (see the narratives of S42, S27, S73, and S89) but fail to provide learners with the opportunities to achieve their full potential as learners.

Many researchers (Cheng, 2000; Lam, 1994; Xie, 2010) point out that students who were educated in a teacher-centered environment are more likely to develop reticent classroom behaviors. Guitterrez (1994) and Johnson (1995) argue that excessive teacher control over content and direction of classroom interaction can produce fewer participation opportunities. Although S51 and S68, for example, were exposed to teacher-centered learning in earlier education stages, they were fully aware of the limiting effect of teacher-fronted discourse on their willingness to participate in the classroom. S51, particularly, felt that teacher-dominant talk limited students’ learning opportunities, a notion that is widely supported by many researchers (Guttierrez, 1994; Johnson, 1995; Xie, 2010). To this end, Nystrand, Wu, Gamoran, Zeiser, and Long (2003) recommend the use of high-level evaluation when the teacher responds to student contribution. To increase the quality of teacher interactional styles, Xie (2010) encourages teachers to gather data about their own interaction styles and analyze them with regard to the participation opportunities they provide.

The most encouraging finding from the students’ narratives was that many students appear to be willing to participate in the classroom although such desire does not automatically translate into active classroom participation. Therefore, it is important for teachers to find ways to stimulate students’ active participation in the classroom. There needs to be more in-depth research in different contexts focusing on the kinds of pedagogical techniques that can facilitate active student engagement. Further, studies might also explore the concept of silence from the students’ perspectives to give more insights into what classroom teachers as well as institutions can do to foster and cultivate more active students.

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About the author
Zacharias_2Nugrahenny T. Zacharias is a teacher-educator at the English Teacher Education (ETE) Department of Faculty of Language and Literature at Satya Wacana Christian University. Her research interests are in the area of identity, second language acquisition and EIL pedagogy. She has recently co-edited a book (with Christine Manara) entitled Contextualizing English as an International Language: Issues and Challenges (Cambridge Scholars Publishing).

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Emotionality and Language Learning: Forging Bonds by Sharing Emotions http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/05/08/emotionality-and-language-learning-forging-bonds-by-sharing-emotions/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/05/08/emotionality-and-language-learning-forging-bonds-by-sharing-emotions/#comments Thu, 08 May 2014 13:28:26 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4328 by Toshinobu Nagamine
Kumamoto University, Japan

Introductory remarks
Properly speaking, “language learning” refers not only to the cognitive activity that takes place in the mind of the student but also to a physical activity accompanied by a range of emotions (such as frustration, unease, worry, disappointment, excitement, etc.) (Imai, 2010). Students will experience a range of emotions while engaging in verbal and non-verbal communication with other students, particularly in classes in which cooperative learning activities such as pair work or group work are frequently used. While students’ emotions have not been ignored per se, many researchers in the fields of second-language acquisition and applied linguistics have nevertheless treated the matter as unimportant (cf. Hanauer, 2012). This disregard of students’ emotions suggests that students are perceived by many researchers as impersonal, computer-like cognitive entities.

This situation may emerge in part from two extremely difficult issues of research methodology: How should emotions be conceptualized and defined? And even if we have an appropriate scheme for conceptualizing and defining emotions, what research methods should be employed to study them? However, these are ultimately researchers’ problems; unlike researchers, teaching practitioners are not able to disregard the emotions of their students or treat them as cognitive machines. Instead, they need to be sensitive to students’ emotions and to deal with students’ emotions and their own emotions appropriately (Corcoran & Tormey, 2012).

Students’ emotions represent a critical determining factor for their language learning outcomes. Emotions may sometimes inhibit learning and sometimes facilitate it. It is known that students’ emotions are strongly linked to the formation of motivation as well as to its quality and strength (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013). There has recently been an increasing number of academic works calling for a reconsideration of the relationship between emotionality and language learning (e.g., Chamcharatsri, 2013; Imai, 2010), and there has also been growing interest in teachers’ emotional intelligence (e.g., Yin, Lee, Zhang, & Jin, 2013). In view of this situation, in this paper, I would like to draw upon the practical knowledge formed through my own experience as a teacher in order to introduce sensible examples of the forging of bonds between students and teachers in the classroom by focusing on students’ emotions.

Sociocultural context
Students’ interactions with foreign cultures are complexly intertwined with their cognitive dispositions, styles of language learning, and other behavioral patterns (Valdes, 1986). In this section, I will consider the implications of this point for English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching in Japan, where I have spent most of my teaching career.

Almost all Japanese students study English for the purpose of advancing to higher-level education (preparation for entrance examination for high school, junior college, or university.) In recent years, there has also been an increasing tendency to study English for the purpose of career advancement—that is, to foster smooth promotion. There are many examples of Japanese companies referring to an employee’s English proficiency, as measured by Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) score, when considering promotion and other personnel matters. Thus, in terms of motivation, the majority of Japanese students study English for the purpose of either career advancement or educational advancement (or both). Particularly at the K–12 level, it is rare for anyone to study English with the aim of using it as a communication tool in everyday life (see Floris, 2013).

Therefore, in some respects, Japanese students are being coerced into learning English by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and leading figures in the business community (when they advance a policy of making English the official language inside a company). Some may consider this an overstatement, but it does describe the reality of at least compulsory levels of education (elementary to junior high level). Against this sociocultural background, it is extremely hard to come up with convincing answers to the fundamental question often posed by students themselves, which is “Why must I learn English in school?”

Nevertheless, the public awareness of the importance of English ability in society has grown, and there has been corresponding growth in the demand for communicative classes, actually taught in English, as opposed to classes that use the grammar-translation method, which are mostly conducted in Japanese (see Floris, 2013; Nagamine, 2013). These trends are putting pressure on students to switch their learning objective from English study as a tool for advancing to higher education or for career advancement to the new objective of gaining a good command of English as an international language and to modify their learning motivation accordingly.

The act of switching learning objectives and changing the type of motivation will have a substantial impact on learners’ emotions. Regarding students’ sense of purpose—the question “Why must I study English?”—it is crucial to respect the opinions of individual learners. Different students of course have many differing objectives for learning English. However, in practice, far from being respected, students’ opinions are actually stifled, particularly at the compulsory education stage, by a variety of environmental factors, including social climate, public opinion, and sociocultural context as mentioned above (one example might be MEXT’s foreign language education policies) (see Nagamine, 2013). If teachers ignore students’ emotions, unilaterally impose the new learning objective (“gaining a good command of English as an international language”), and attempt to forcibly engender motivation in students based upon this objective, then students’ hearts and minds will drift away from their teachers, weakening classroom bonds and perhaps breaking them entirely. In Japan, where English education policy is undergoing major reform (cf. Floris, 2013), teachers need first to build close relationships with their students and to be sensitive toward their emotions, and then to strive to create a learning environment that takes into account learners’ emotional needs and characteristics.

“Sensei, why do we need to learn English?”
I have more than fifteen years’ experience teaching, in both the United States and Japan; therefore, I am quite familiar with both the differences and the commonalities in the cultural and educational environment between the countries. At present, I am training English teachers at a Japanese university, but at various times I have taught English directly at the junior high, high school, technical college, and university levels.

As a teacher in Japan, every year I am asked by a number of my students, “Sensei (‘teacher’ in Japanese), why do we need to learn English?” Oddly enough, this question is posed most often by junior high school students and least by university students. I cannot prove it is so, but I suspect that as these students advance through the stages of their education, they abandon their attempts to find a convincing answer to this simple question.

So how should teachers working in an EFL environment such as Japan’s respond to a question like this? It may be possible for teachers to withstand this challenge in a unilateral, strong-arm fashion, with such responses as “If you drop out of this class, you won’t be able to graduate,” “It’s in the curriculum, so you have to study it,” “You’ll regret not studying when you find you’re unable to pass the test,” or “Nowadays, anyone who cannot use English will be put to shame, so you better use this time to study it.” However, even if these answers motivate students to start studying seriously, they may not continue to do so in the long run, because such an approach completely neglects students’ emotions. If a student gets the impression that “this teacher doesn’t listen to what I say,” then there will be no hope for a healthy relationship of trust between the student and the teacher. Forging bonds in the classroom will be completely out of the question.

Emotions do not arise by chance
A trusting relationship is not something that arises by chance. Instead, it is built up through the mutual efforts of fellow humans. Likewise, emotions can be considered to emerge out of mutual relationships between fellow humans (whether long-term relationships or brief interactions of a moment) irrespective of whether the parties involved are aware of it (Barrett, 2011; Boiger & Mesquita, 2012; Imai, 2010). If one takes the approach described above of responding to students in a unilateral or coercive way that does not take their emotions into account, students will have a negative emotional experience and present a negative emotional response. A negative emotional response may bring about a decline in learning motivation and lead to behavior problems in the classroom. Thus, teachers should strive to provide their classes with as many positive emotional experiences as possible. According to Fredrickson (2001), such experiences help broaden the sphere in which humans are able to exert their attention and awareness and to take actions. In addition, they also help build the physical, mental, and social attributes necessary for resilience, flexible thinking, and problem-solving ability.

One must not forget that students’ decision-making will relate to both their cognition (believing and thinking, and also reasoning) and their emotions (cf. Damasio, 1994). The question of whether, after independently initiating a learning action, a student will maintain it over the long term will depend on the quality of the emotionality accompanying the decision to take the action.

Activities that strengthen bonds in the classroom
It is possible to define a situation characterized by “bonds in the classroom” as follows: a situation where the social distance is reduced between fellow students and between teacher and students, and where students gain an increasing sense of belonging, that is, where they feel “I am part of this class.” It can also refer to the situation where the individual consciousness of each student and the group consciousness of the class as a whole are raised so as to create a space in which students can learn in a state of calm (as opposed to an abnormal state such as one of anxiety).

In light of this definition of “bonds in the classroom,” I will introduce some related activities that I have actually practiced in the past, in lessons that had as learning objectives, the development of English speechmaking, presentation, discussion, and debate skills. I have carried these activities out in research and writing classes, speech classes, and academic presentation classes. When students are required to speak in class in order to present an argument or explain something in English, the teacher tends to guide speakers closely from beginning to end, as it is of course important to instruct the speaker on what to say, how to say it, and why. However, the teacher must also provide instruction to students acting as listeners: not just what to listen to, how to listen, and why listen (cognitive aspects of listening), but also in how to consider the feelings and emotions of the speaker, imagine the emotions they themselves would be experiencing in the speaker’s position, consider the question “What should I do to achieve a listening style that is supportive of the speaker?” and implement their answer. In the next section, I will give a detailed explanation of a lesson using some of these activities.

Description of activities
Let us suppose that we are observing the very first lesson of a new school term. The title of this lesson is “Speech and Presentation.” Its purpose is to help the students master English speechmaking/presentation skills. In each lesson, one of the students will be required to deliver a speech in English. The first activity proceeds as follows.

1. Students break off into small groups.
2. Group members share their experiences of giving speeches and presentations in the past.
3. Each group member (on their own) reflects on what emotions they felt before, during, and after their speech or presentation.
4. Group members share the results of step 3.
5. Group members discuss what emotional response they expected of their audience while giving their speech or presentation, and whether they got the reaction they hoped for.
6. Groups share the new perspectives they gained, or things they learned for the first time as a result of the group discussion, with the rest of the class.

Once the above procedure has been completed, I ask the students to write a short essay detailing the kind of reaction they wish to receive from their audience when giving a presentation. In the following lesson, the students share their essays in groups and discuss how the reaction they wish to receive would be best achieved, focusing on emotional as well as cognitive aspects. Then, they carry out the following activity:

1. On their own, students consider speeches or presentations they have listened to in the past, and list those that left an impression on them emotionally.
2. In small groups, students discuss the reasons why these speeches/presentations left such an emotional impression.
3. Each student considers a topic and approach for a speech or presentation they would like to make before the end of term and what reaction they wish to receive from their audience.
4. Students share the results of step 3 with the rest of the class.

When one compares classes that carry out these activities at the beginning of term with classes that do not, one finds a difference not only in class solidarity at the end of the term but also in listening students’ attitudes or behaviors during speeches and presentations. This is likely because class members that carry out these activities become more mindful of cooperative ways of paying attention to the speaker and submitting useful feedback or comments that reflect not only the form, content, and delivery of the speech or presentation but also the speaker’s emotional needs.

If any students provide sensitive feedback of this sort without prompting from me—for instance, comments that express an “empathetic listening attitude” or an “empathetic response”—I share them with the class, keeping the name of the student giving feedback anonymous but mentioning the name of the presenter. For example, a student with an empathetic listening attitude might write “You were really nervous, weren’t you? You had a really anxious expression, which is a pity, because the content of your speech was excellent. You should speak more confidently without worrying so much.” Or: “You said that your pronunciation is bad and so we should try not to be prejudiced by your pronunciation while listening, and that if we agree with what you say we should nod our heads. Well, I listened to your speech bearing in mind what you said. When I agreed with something you said, I nodded my head. Did you notice?” An example of an empathetic response might be as follows: “After the part when you tripped over your words, you started speaking very quickly. I have also fallen into the same trap. After making a slip-up, you get flustered. That feeling then makes you start speaking quicker and quicker. I got a sense of your panic and it gave me a bad feeling inside.”

After these two activities have been carried out, I usually ask the students to explore the cognitive–emotional connection that takes place in learners when they speak in English. As mentioned above, English teaching in Japanese schools mainly uses the grammar-translation method. This method has been something of a boon for native-Japanese-speaking English teachers, who may not have a particularly great command of English but can lead the class in Japanese, focusing on explaining difficult grammatical terms and the grammatical appropriateness or inappropriateness of various phrases. In other words, in classes that use the grammar-translation method, the “provider of teaching”/“receiver of teaching” schema is explicitly expressed. This is where the flaw of this method lies: students who are taught using it become oversensitive toward grammatical errors and mistakes. This may be helpful when preparing for a test or exam, but it will cause one to hesitate to actually communicate in English due to lack of confidence in the “correctness” of one’s English.

This applies to pronunciation as well as to grammar; however, the matter of pronunciation involves a further troublesome sociocultural factor as well, namely, the “culture of shame” particular to Japan (see Benedict, 2006). This shame culture engenders an extremely troublesome tendency for students to believe that their spoken English has to be “completely correct,” particularly in classes that require them to speak extensively in English such as speech- and presentation-making classes. Such psychology or attitude becomes a stumbling block to active participation in class (for example, to the willingness to make autonomous utterances). Alongside the shame culture that inhibits students with less confidence in their ability exists the mentality that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down,” by which even students who are confident in both their grammar and their pronunciation may be misled. These students may think, “No, I should probably hold back from saying anything. It’s best not to make myself too conspicuous,” or “If I speak in a realistic English accent, my friends will probably make snide remarks,” or “I don’t want to be made fun of just for saying something in English.” I have encountered a number of returnees from English-speaking countries who, for a long period, deliberately spoke a broken “Japanese English” in class and recited English from textbooks in the same way. They claimed they did this for fear of standing out in class and being made fun of by their friends; however, they now lament the fact that they have lost the proper English pronunciation they once had as a result. It will be important for measures to be taken to address this complicating psychological factor, in which students’ cognition and emotion are intertwined; and it will be easier to overcome these barriers and engender solidarity in a class by implementing activities that encourage students to put themselves in each other’s position and understand each other’s emotions as speakers and listeners. Teachers who do this will be forging “bonds” for the long term.

Concluding remarks
In this paper, I discussed the importance of students’ emotionality, in other words, of their emotional state in class. I then introduced and described certain bond-forging activities. Learning is always accompanied by feelings or emotions, and in cooperative learning in the classroom, this is all the more so. The activities I introduced in this paper are designed specifically for speechmaking and presentation classes, and the positive outcomes I experienced may also have been related to the special environment of English teaching in Japan. As mentioned earlier, in Japan, students tend, on the whole, not to be emotionally invested in their English learning, but there are now calls for changes to foster more personally significant learning objectives and motivations. If it is acceptable for schools to teach English merely from the perspective of students’ university entrance exam preparation or career advancement, then only the cognitive side of learning will be relevant. However, in today’s Japan, where schools are shifting toward a teaching model that sets the goal of enabling all students to “gain a good command of English as an international language,” teachers have the unique responsibility and opportunity to draw closer to students and provide them with emotional support.

While I am sure that nobody would deny outright the importance of “sharing emotions” in this way, there will probably be differences of opinion regarding the question of what emotions should actually be shared and to what degree. Various countries or cultures may have sociocultural environments that are negative toward the idea of sharing emotions under some or all circumstances, or conversely, there are sociocultural environments in which sharing of emotions is largely taken for granted and where it is commonly understood that trusting relationships cannot be built without emotional honesty. In light of this reality, individual teachers in their respective contexts should explore and discuss these issues together with their students and find ways to reach a common understanding. I believe that this process has great intrinsic value in addition to its instrumental value for language learning. The problem currently is that many teachers only provide instruction with regard to the cognitive aspects of learning. By placing a new focus on students’ emotions, teachers will shine a spotlight on their students’ tastes, goals, and needs, and this in turn will form the foundation upon which strong classroom bonds may be forged.

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About the author
Nagamine_2Toshinobu Nagamine is Associate Professor of English teacher education at Kumamoto University, Japan, where he teaches English phonetics, research methodologies, and EFL teacher education courses. His research interests include foreign language education policy, language teacher cognition, and EFL teacher education and development.

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Making Lit a Hit: Using the BRAIN when Teaching Literature in an ESL or EFL Context http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/05/08/making-lit-a-hit-using-the-brain-when-teaching-literature-in-an-esl-or-efl-context/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/05/08/making-lit-a-hit-using-the-brain-when-teaching-literature-in-an-esl-or-efl-context/#comments Thu, 08 May 2014 01:03:33 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4283 by John Daryl B. Wyson
University of the Philippines Diliman

The Traditional Literary-Critical Method (TLCM) of literature teaching involves rote memorization of interpretations by literary critics and facts about the texts at hand (Afsar, 2011). Such a pedagogical approach can be disempowering since it does not help students develop their reading proficiency, develop critical thinking, relate to the socio-cultural context present in the text, or contextualize their interpretations. To help literature educators keep their lessons empowering and relevant, guidelines called the BRAIN (an acronym that stands for Balanced, Relevant, Appropriate, Integrated, and Nurturing) were developed by this writer for teaching literature. This innovation is a combination of the pedagogical principles identified by scholars as instrumental to effective literature teaching. Such principles are demonstrated through the lesson plan found at the end of the paper (see Appendix 1).

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Introduction The Traditional Literary-Critical Method (TLCM)
When the field of English studies was still at its dawn in the eighteenth century, no distinction was made between literature and language teaching (Bagherkazemi & Alemi, 2010). At the same time, this area of academic interest was taught only to native speakers of English, with the goal to introduce what the nineteenth century literary critic Matthew Arnold calls the best that has been said and thought in the world in order to redeem the English society from the moral evils of their day (Eagleton, 1983). During this period, language was taught using the grammar translation method (Brown, 1993), which involved the memorization of grammar rules derived from observing language samples from literature classics. At the same time, the literary texts themselves were studied using the Traditional Literary-Critical Method (TLCM), by which instructors appealed to the texts’ moral dimensions and discussed what many literary scholars had said about the texts, including the contexts in which they were created (Afsar, 2011). Thus, traditionally, literature teaching in the context of English studies did not aim to improve students’ communicative competence (Bagherkazemi & Alemi, 2010) since most of these students were already native speakers of English; it only sought to inculcate students with knowledge about the texts (Carter & Long, 1991).

Nonetheless, as the field of language teaching developed and spread globally, language and literature began to be taught as two separate subjects. Language courses were taught in order to enable students to effectively use and communicate using the English language, while literature courses were still taught using TLCM. Thus, when literature teaching was carried over to English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) contexts, it often constituted the memorization of facts about texts, authors, and commentaries made by literary critics. According to Afsar (2011), such an approach mainly gives students “a set of ready–made judgments for rote–learning” (p. 316). It is “a method aimed exclusively at preparing students to get through the examinations rather than developing language skills or literary competence of the students” (p. 315). This is similar to what Freire (1970) calls “the banking model of education,” a paradigm in which the teacher is seen as a depositor of knowledge to students who are presumably perceived as empty vessels that need to be filled.

TLCM may cater well to the needs of literature majors since its main goal is to transfer years of literature scholarship into the minds of the students. When it is used in ESL and EFL classes, however, this approach can actually be dis-empowering. In these contexts, the main goal for the typical university student in studying English is to improve communication skills in order to effectively adapt to a target environment in the case of travel or migration or to succeed in a new academic setting (Johnson, 2001).  The problem for many students though is that knowing facts about literature and reading canonical texts does not necessarily translate into better language proficiency. Such proficiency is needed not only to understand and interpret the texts these same students may encounter in class (Afsar, 2011) but also to effectively use the target language in real-life settings. Thus, the use of TLCM can be seen as ironic because, if literature courses are taught in such a manner, this could potentially impede the students’ language learning rather than improve it. In addition, instead of putting a text under intense literary scrutiny, students might tend to passively accept the interpretations of literary scholars while only having passing an examination in mind. What students actually need in order to develop better language proficiency, however, is a language-based model of studying literature that will enable them to both understand the linguistic nuances of a given text and derive meaning from it (Bagherkazemi & Alemi, 2010).

Moreover, the traditional approach to literature teaching when used in an ESL or EFL context does not establish a connection between the text’s context and the students’ prior knowledge. In the aforementioned approach, the students’ prior knowledge, which is very crucial in developing the students’ analytical skills used in exploring a text (Sandler & Hammond, 2012), is not activated or nurtured through scaffolding, a pedagogical strategy in which a teacher builds upon the students’ schemata through the artful setting of prior tasks and inquiry. As a result, the experience of studying literature does not necessarily become enriching for students because they may not be able to tap into their prior knowledge and relate to the world of the text. In such a case, meaningful learning may not take place since students are not encouraged to explore the world of the text and its sociocultural milieu. Connecting their reading with their respective contexts may prove difficult since they may not be able to “strategically check the text against their existing bank of images, associations, ideas, and information” (Sandler & Hammond, 2012, p. 60).

Unfortunately, TLCM has been adopted as a teaching philosophy in literature teaching in both ESL and EFL classrooms, which are the main types of English classrooms in Asia. This defeats the pedagogical purposes of using literature to teach ESL and EFL students, which are to provide students with authentic texts that they can read and analyze to improve their proficiency, to give them opportunities to analyze language set in real-world contexts, and to familiarize them with different varieties of English (Afsar, 2011). Using literary texts in a language classroom also exposes students to the cultures represented by such texts and provides avenues for personal growth (Carter & Long, 1991).

The BRAIN framework
If studying literature is to be empowering for ESL and EFL learners, it should not simply entail an unearthing of what others have said about certain texts, but rather, it should widen “learners’ understanding of their own and other cultures, create opportunities for personal expression and reinforce learners’ linguistic knowledge” (Divsar & Tahriri, 2009, p. 106). With this end in mind, ESL and EFL educators should make a conscious effort to maximize the opportunities a text presents by exploiting its cultural value, the linguistic elements featured in it, and the life lessons it communicates. Through this alternative approach, literature teaching becomes very much alive and dynamic since it provides students with an opportunity to learn more about the world, language, and themselves through an active engagement with the text at hand.

To address such a need, I would like to propose a literature teaching checklist to help literature teachers in ESL and EFL contexts make their pedagogy truly meaningful and enriching for their students. For literature pedagogy in these contexts to be effective, it should be BRAIN – that is, Balanced, Relevant, Appropriate, Integrated, and Nurturing. The formulation of this framework of principles is an attempt to synthesize what many scholars believe to be effective literature teaching practices. Each respective principle of literature teaching reflected in the BRAIN approach will be discussed in the following subsections of this paper. At the end of each section, I will explain how it can be applied in the teaching of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Man from Kabul, an Indian text.

B – Balanced
Carter and Long (1991) identified three models that frequently underlie the teaching of literature in an ESL or EFL context. These are:

  • the linguistic model – gives attention to the language features of a text;
  • the cultural model – focuses on the cultural elements reflected in the text;
  • the personal growth model – places importance on how students personally relate to the text.

These models are not mutually exclusive, although there is often a tendency for teachers to favor one model over the others depending on their bias. This, however, should not be the case. Literature teaching should strive to be balanced and integrated because language and culture are inseparable, interactive, and interdependent (Damen, 1986; Divsar & Tahriri, 2009; Kaplan, 1986). In literature, culture is represented through the language devices employed in the text, and the reader is the one in-charge of decoding and personally responding to whatever the text communicates.

Given such a premise, teachers of literature should consciously balance all three models when presenting a text to their students. Being skewed in favor of one model can undermine the richness of the text being studied. For instance, if one gives too much attention to the text’s language, the sociocultural milieu from which it originated might be largely ignored. If such is the case, then the students might fail to appreciate the text in light of the context from which it came, thus retaining an incomplete picture of the selection’s significance. Similarly, if too much attention is given to the cultural model, then the objective of developing the students’ reading proficiency and critical literacy might be left unfulfilled. Again, this is an extreme to be avoided since one of the main objectives of using a literary text in an ESL or EFL classroom is to develop the students’ language proficiency. In the same manner, giving too much attention to personal growth might lead readers to largely neglect the linguistic and cultural elements of the text, which are, in the first place, what constitute its very core.

The lesson plan for The Man from Kabul (see Appendix 1) illustrates how all three models can be present in the treatment of one text. To help develop the students’ reading proficiency, which is under the language component, worksheets and guide questions that will aid in their reading and involvement with the text were formulated (see Appendix 2). As they read the text, the students will encounter South Asian and Middle Eastern cultural elements; at this juncture, the teacher can guide the discussion into the sociocultural background in which the text is set so that the students can better appreciate its message. Finally, for a post reading activity, students will be asked to write a composition on parenthood. This activity contributes to the personal growth of the students by allowing them to examine the notions of parenthood found vis-à-vis the text and their own ideas about the topic.

R – Relevant
Fernandez (1998) strongly asserts the centrality of culture in the classroom. We teach within a cultural context, the texts we use come from a cultural context, and even the students’ cultural contexts greatly vary. It is the literature teacher’s task to make these cultures relevant and accessible to every individual in the classroom. If this is not done, students might not be able to fully appreciate a text’s cultural nuances. With the help of an effective teacher, literature serves to bridge not only writers and readers, but peoples and cultures as well.

In response to such a situation, literature teachers should adopt a culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) in their classrooms. CRP urges educators to set aside their prejudices and make the classroom environment welcoming for students from different cultural backgrounds (Brown-Jeffy & Cooper, 2011). This framework has been formulated as a response to the need of teachers in the United States, a multicultural society, to introduce students to new cultures while maintaining their own. Ladson-Billings (1995) enumerates the three propositions of this framework:

  1. students must experience academic success – academic skills such as literacy, numeracy, technological, social, and political skills need to be attained by the students in order to become productive members of the society regardless of their ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
  2. students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence – this happens when teachers use the students’ cultural backgrounds as the vehicle for learning; this  includes teachers’ encouraging students to exercise various modes of cultural expression such as allowing them to wear outfits characteristic of their background or bring in music, poetry, and other interests into the language classroom.
  3. students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the current status quo of the social order – students are encouraged to develop a sociopolitical awareness which enables them to critique norms and conventions that promote social inequity.

The principles of CRP have been used in designing the lesson plan for The Man from Kabul.

The lesson begins with a contemporary song presumably familiar to all or at least most of the members of the class, and connects the ideas found there to those of Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian writer and mystic (1861-1941). This activity both taps into the students’ prior knowledge and makes them aware of their current cultural context, thus setting the stage for comparing the milieu in which they belong with the one presented in the text.

In the body of the lesson, students will be asked to closely read The Man from Kabul and encouraged to practice their reading skills. Through scrutiny of the text, students will be engaged in the act of meaning-making, a process enabling them to gain more knowledge of the text (Carter & Long, 1991). This activity addresses the academic component of CRP.

In the lesson there will also be several opportunities for students to ask culture-bridging questions as a corollary to the ones stipulated in the lesson plan. For instance, in answering the second worksheet, the students might notice that although Mini is still a teenager, her wedding has already been arranged by her parents. For many contemporary Asian readers who will probably get to choose their own spouses – and only get married when they already have a stable source of income – this situation would raise certain questions regarding Indian culture, such as why Mini should be married despite her still being a teenager, and why her parents were the ones who arranged her wedding. This addresses the cultural component of the CRP.

The teacher can use the discussion opportunity as a juncture to discuss Indian culture and juxtapose it with the students’ own, in this way making the lesson more relevant to the students. Do the students belong to a society where arranged marriage is not practiced? If this is the case, then the lesson becomes an opportunity for them to learn about the cultural practices of other peoples. Or do the students happen to belong to an Asian culture where arranged marriage is still being practiced? If so, then the text becomes all the more relevant since it validates the students’ shared experiences. In both cases, however, the teacher should take the discussion to a higher level and ask the students to examine if such a practice promotes social inequity or empowers the marginalized, and if it is the former, ask them to imagine a better world for themselves and the future generations and suggest practical ways of realizing it. It is through this activity that the students’ critical consciousness is developed.

A – Appropriate
Lazar (1993) enumerates three criteria for evaluating the appropriateness of a text to be utilized in a literature classroom. All three have to be considered to determine whether a text is accessible to a particular group of students. These three criteria are (adapted from Lazar, 1993):

  • The Students’ Cultural Background: Is the culture presented in the text too distant from the culture of the students? Are there too many cultural symbols unfamiliar to the students? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then the teacher might want to reconsider whether a text should still be taught or not. If she still chooses to use the text in her class, she has to make sure that she will help the students navigate through such cultural complexities by providing them with cultural references familiar to them. If not, the students will not be able to fully appreciate and understand the text at hand. For instance, the novels Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice, and The Scarlet Letter, represent Western culture, specifically British and American, respectively, from the 18th and19th centuries, which today may be alien to Asian students.
  • The Students’ Linguistic Competence: Will the students understand the language of the text? Is the formation of the sentences too complex for the students to understand? Did the author use too many difficult words in the text? There are instances when the language of the text may be too unconventional for the students to understand. In such a situation, the teacher has to rethink whether her students would be able to access such texts. Once again, the novels Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and The Scarlet Letter present a style of English no longer in use today. The teacher might want to rethink whether texts will be linguistically appropriate for her students.
  • The Students’ Literary Background: Another important question to ask is whether students are able to understand texts that bear deeper meanings. There may be texts too difficult for students to understand because they contain several symbols unfamiliar to students. Examples of these include works of Shakespeare and other poets from the 16th through the 19th centuries. If pieces like these are still to be taught, then the teacher should explain the allusions present in them so that the students will be able to fully appreciate them.

The Man from Kabul is a text that is very accessible to ESL and EFL students. Since the plot takes place in India and features the Indian sociocultural milieu, there are clear points of commonality and difference between it and the milieu of other Asian nations. Discussing the story can be an opportunity for students to identify the similarities and differences between their culture and that of India and try to distinguish the elements that are uniquely Indian (or Afghan) from others. Aside from this, one main theme of the text is fatherhood, which is relevant to everyone. The use of such a theme is especially potent in the Asian context since a father is typically afforded the utmost respect by his children and families are often closely knit. If a student grew up without a father’s presence, he would still be able to relate to the text since his loss of a father is also discussed in the text. Lastly, the language is also contemporary and straightforward, making the text very accessible for contemporary readers especially for Asian ESL and EFL learners who might still be struggling with English.

I – Integrated
Integration involves the teaching of literature to ESL and EFL students using the principle of language-literature interfacing. This means that a literary text should be viewed as a vehicle through use of which second language learners can improve their linguistic competence (Ujjwala, 2013). To do this, the teacher has to direct the attention of the students to the linguistic features of a text and ask them how these features contribute to its general reading or interpretation. Examples of language-based activities in the classroom are paraphrasing, jigsaw reading, and style analysis.

How can a teacher execute this principle in the lesson on The Man from Kabul?

One way of doing it is by asking the students to pay careful attention to the narration of the speaker in the story to determine the correct order of events through jigsaw reading. The teacher can rewrite the key events in the story on strips of paper and ask the students to arrange them into their proper order. This activity may be used to reinforce students’ knowledge of verbs and familiarize them with the narrative mode of writing.

Furthermore, the lesson may also be used to orient the students with how adjectives function in narratives. The story largely deals with the profile of a father, so to develop such an image, adjectives are needed. The students may also take a closer look at the descriptions provided in the story, and from there, become able to develop their own.

Either way, language lessons can be created from the discussion of the literary text. In this manner, the primary goal of an ESL or EFL learner, which is to become more proficient in English is still addressed through engagement in activities related to the text being discussed.

N – Nurturing
One of the main objectives of education is to aid in the “full-flowering of the human potential” (Zhou, 2009, p.13). Likewise, Freire (1970) argues that education should be a tool for liberation and not subjugation and oppression. If these principles are to be applied in other subject areas, all the more that it should be applied to literature since literature embodies significant human experiences.

In this respect, students should be given opportunities to respond to literature either through speech or writing. Such an activity enables them to reflect on their own situation, empowering them to express their perspective to others; it may even invite them to do something about it. In this way, the study of literature is taken out of the classrooms and ultimately becomes a tool for emancipation and empowerment.

The post-reading activity of The Man from Kabul gives the students precisely these opportunities discussed in this paper. By letting them formulate their own opinions, they get to relate the concepts they learned in class to their day-to-day realities, thus giving them something to work on once they leave the classroom. In this manner, the teaching of literature is transformed from being a purely academic activity to being a genuinely transformative one.

The BRAIN framework of principles veers from the banking technique of teaching literature. It not only challenges students to fully exploit a text and improve their linguistic and literary competencies, but also enables them to address real-life concerns by incorporating the cultural and personal growth models in their readings and by allowing them to analyze texts that are appropriate to them. Such an approach is very adaptable because of the flexibility it lends both the students and teachers, thus making it a suitable pedagogical framework for both ESL and EFL contexts where students represent a vast range of linguistic and cultural identities. It does not rely on “official” or “correct” textual interpretations but rather, takes into consideration the students’ backgrounds and the innate characteristics of the text as a tool for improved language proficiency and cultural awareness. It also directs students to certain linguistic features of the text in order to further familiarize them with the use of the English language in the contexts provided by the text. If used in modern-day language classrooms, it can indeed be an effective tool not only for language teaching but for empowerment as well.

Afsar, A. (2011). Literary texts in language teaching. International Journal of Academic Research, 3, 315-320.

Bagherkazemi, M., & Alemi, M. (2010). Literature in the ESL/EFL classroom: Consensus and controversy. Linguistic and Literary Broad Research and Innovation, 1(1), 1-12.

Brown, H. D. (1993). Principles of language learning and teaching (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.

Brown-Jeffy, S., & Cooper, J. E. (2011). Toward a conceptual framework of culturally relevant pedagogy: An overview of the conceptual and theoretical literature. Teacher Education Quarterly, 38, 65-84.

Carter, R., & Long, M. (1991). Teaching literature. Essex, England: Longman.

Damen, L. (1986). Culture learning: The fifth dimension in language classroom. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Divsar, H., & Tahriri, A. (2009). Investigating the effectiveness of an integrated approach to literature teaching in an EFL context. Journal of Pan-Pacific Association of Applied Linguistics, 13, 105-116.

Eagleton, T. (1983). Literary theory: An introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Fernandez, D. (1998). Culture in the classroom. The ACELT Journal, 2, 3-9.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Seabury Press.

Johnson, K. (2001). An introduction to foreign language learning and teaching. Harlow, England: Longman.

Kaplan, R. B. (1986). Culture and written language. In J. M. Valdes (Ed.), Culture bound: Bridging the culture gap in language teaching (pp. 8-19). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally-relevant pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34, 159-165.

Lazar, G. (1993). Literature and language teaching: A guide for teachers and trainers. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Sandler, S., & Hammond, Z. (2012). Text and truth: Reading, student experience, and the common core. Phi Delta Kappan, 94, 58-61.

Ujjwala, K. (2013). English language teaching through literature. Golden Research Thoughts, 2 (11), 1-4.

Zhou, N. Z. (2009). ‘Learning to Know’ as a pillar of education in the twenty-first century: An interpretation of its meaning and implications. In L. Quisumbing & M. L. Baybay, (Eds), Learning to know for a peaceful and sustainable future. Mitcham, Australia: UNESCO-APNIEVE Australia Publishing.

Appendix 1: Annotated Lesson Plan for The Man from Kabul

Wyson Appendix1-1

Wyson Appendix1-2 Wyson Appendix1-3

Appendix 2: Worksheets for The Man from Kabul Wyson Appendix 2

About the author Wysonblog
John Daryl B. Wyson is a faculty member of the Department of English and Comparative Literature, College of Arts and Letters, The University of the Philippines Diliman. He is currently working on his master’s degree in English Language and Literature Teaching at  Ateneo de Manila University.

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When a Facebook Group Makes a Difference: Facebook for Language Learning http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/04/22/when-a-facebook-group-makes-a-difference-facebook-for-language-learning/ http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2014/04/22/when-a-facebook-group-makes-a-difference-facebook-for-language-learning/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 05:50:45 +0000 http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/?p=4224 by Adnan Al-Hammody
University of Nineveh, Iraq

This paper investigates what Iraqi students gain from interacting in English in a Facebook group in an EFL context. An online questionnaire of eight multiple-choice and two open-ended questions was provided to the participants, who are university students studying English. Thirty-five participants responded to the questionnaire. In addition, four participants and one teacher were randomly selected for phone interviews. For data analysis, mixed methods analysis was conducted since the data were both qualitative and quantitative in nature. For the qualitative data analysis, the “grounded” approach was used to identify “patterns” or “themes”, and an “a priori” approach for the focused questions and responses previously determined by the researcher. As for the quantitative data analysis, percentages of responses of each Likert-scale question were calculated. The outcomes of this study are potentially important to both students and teachers who want to expand learning opportunities for students outside the classroom.

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The use of Facebook is becoming increasingly prevalent in society today. For example, some students from the Department of English, Translation and Interpretation, College of Arts, University of Mosul, Iraq, keep a Facebook group for sharing ideas, translations, and other language-related aspects. A student in the group may, for instance, post an idiom and ask other members of the group to discuss its meaning. Another student may ask other students to give feedback on his or her translation, or offer corrections on the grammar used in a certain text.

Upon observing the increasing number of students joining this group and interacting in it, I thought it would be intriguing to look at what students believe they gain from it, especially when no one has explored the use of Facebook in the Iraqi context. This paper discusses the use of a Facebook group created for a group of students from the University of Mosul for English pedagogic purposes, and examines students’ perceptions of the benefits resulting from interacting in the Facebook group. It also highlights the factors that help learners engage or interact in English with their peers and teachers in this group.

Although other studies have focused on interaction and motivation in using Facebook for educational purposes, which overlap with my study, their focus was mostly on teacher perspectives and use inside the classroom. This study, on the other hand, focuses on the perceptions of a specific group of learners who have limited opportunities for language practice and use the Facebook group as a venue for practicing English outside the classroom. More specifically, this study attempts to answer the following research questions:

  • What do students believe they gain from using Facebook to practice their English communication skills?
  • What social, psychological, and linguistic factors contribute to students’ willingness to interact on a Facebook page?

Benefits of Facebook for the Learning of English
Facebook interaction can occur among learners in a specific group created by their teacher. Teachers can create private groups for their students to share knowledge within the group, give comments on posts and ask and answer questions (Baran, 2010; Richardson, 2010). Thus, Facebook may be used as an ELT supportive tool.

Students who use Facebook can notice improvement in their writing over an extended period of time (Najafi & Hashemi, 2011). One of the reasons is that posts and comments remain for a while, so learners can see them and compare old posts to new ones.

Additionally, Manan, Alias and Pandian (2012) report that Facebook activities increase the level of interaction among learners through providing a safe learning environment. Learners at a low proficiency level feel more comfortable and less threatened when they participate in online activities than face-to-face in-class discussions, which are mainly dominated by the high proficiency learners. Further, Facebook enables students to collaborate and engage in healthy competition with each other, which, as a result, increases their learning (Harris & Rea, 2009). For example, through engaging in discussions, asking questions, and requesting for feedback and opinions, learners can notice the progress their peers are making and feel motivated to do better.

Students’ Willingness to Use Facebook
According to MacIntyre, Burns, and Jessome (2011), willingness to communicate has to do with how likely it is that individuals will get involved in communication with others when there is no obligation for them to do so. As mentioned, this study looks at willingness to use Facebook. According to MacIntyre (2007, p.568), “Intergroup motives stem directly from membership in a particular social group, and interpersonal motives stem from the social roles one plays within the group.” If MacIntyre is right, learners’ motivation to use Facebook can come from their motivation to learn from each other and their perceptions of the individuals as belonging to a group.

Baran (2010) showed that learners believed that interacting with their peers on Facebook motivated them to learn due to the competition that occurs among learners of various language proficiency levels. Additionally, Hayashi (2011) suggested that what makes the students more willing to participate is that they control the information they share and the materials they post, and they decide on the difficulty of the subjects they discuss with others, which helps them avoid embarrassment, thus creating a safe environment.

The study was based on a questionnaire that was designed using Survey Monkey (see Appendix 1). Phone interviews were also conducted with the five participants to verify the findings of the questionnaire. The data collected from the questionnaire were analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively, while the data collected from the interviews were only analyzed qualitatively.

The first question in the survey was inclusive of most if not all constructs addressed in the research questions, including interactional, psychological, social, and linguistic factors. That same question overlaps with the rest of the questions, in particular question 4, because there was a need to see if there was consistency in responses. In this first question, respondents were asked to agree or disagree with certain statements on a scale of 1 to 6 with 1= strongly agree, 2= agree, 3= somewhat agree, 4= somewhat disagree, 5= disagree, and 6= strongly disagree. The responses with their percentages are presented in figure 2.

The 35 respondents in this study were undergraduates and MA students who study English at the Department of English, and Translation and Interpretation, College of Arts, University of Mosul in Iraq. The students were all members of the Facebook group, which had a membership count of 138. Most, if not all, the participants spoke Arabic as their native language and English as their second language, and most had had little or no contact with native speakers of English. The participants’ age range was 20-30 years old. The MA students represented 62.9% of the participants, fourth year students 17.1%, third year 14.3, and second year 5.7%.

Five male participants (four students and one teacher) were chosen for a follow-up interview due to their experiences with the Facebook group and also their high English proficiency levels; the teacher is the only one who did not participate in the questionnaire. The four students are Ayman, Muhannad, Yousif, all of whom are English MA students, and Hani, an English BA holder who had just finished university (2013) and is now planning to pursue an MA. The fifth participant, Furat, is an English MA holder, teacher and administrator of the Facebook page. All five participants started learning English in the fifth grade of primary school. The phone interview participants were all male because it is not culturally appropriate in Iraq for men to telephone women who are not their relatives.

Analysis of Questionnaire Data
The questionnaire data were analyzed using mixed methods analysis (qualitative and quantitative analyses). For the two open-ended questions (questions 9 & 10), qualitative analysis was used. Quantitative analysis was used for calculating the percentages and the number of respondents who responded to the rest of the questions. The assumption was that this study would showcase the students’ perceptions of interacting in English on the Facebook page. The results of each question will be discussed in order. However, question 1 will be discussed together with question 4 because they overlap.

Willingness was also interpreted roughly in terms of how many times students visit the page. Most participants reported in question 3 that they visit this page once a day. Some visit it more than once a day as we can see in Figure 1. Based on the responses, I believe that the number of visits to the page can somehow reflect a student’s willingness to communicate on Facebook. As we can see from Figure 1, the majority of respondents reported that they visited the page once a day at least. Further, other respondents stated that they visited the Facebook page more than two times a day.

Adnan Figure 1

Figure 1: Frequency of students’ visits to the page (question 3).

The responses from question 1 of the survey indicate that 54.3% of the participants mostly used the Facebook page for socializing in English, 48.6% used it for vocabulary learning, and 25.7% used it for seeking feedback and for improving translation skills. Otherwise, 31.4% acknowledged the importance of the page for course work and classes. As mentioned, question 4 was used to verify the results from question 1. Results from both questions were similar. The set of results from question 4 as presented in Figure 2 indicates that participants mainly used Facebook to practice using English, learning new vocabulary, and socializing. The category where the students had to explain “other” uses presents some interesting findings. One of the respondents reported, “I visit this page in order to know the level of education that the members of this page have reached.” Another response was, “I use this page to exchange different ideas and communicate with other students, and teachers.”

Adnan Figure 2

Figure 2: Uses of the Facebook page (question 4).

Figure 3 shows students’ responses to question 5, which asked them about their feelings about other members of the group. It shows that students commonly felt comfortable with other members. More specifically, 71.4% of respondents felt comfortable sharing their posts with others. Others felt motivated when they received positive feedback. In the “other” category, a student reported, “I feel comfortable when I make mistakes and one of the members correct it, because I feel that there is someone takes care of me.”       

Adnan Figure 3

Figure 3: Students’ feelings about other members of the group (question 5).

The learners’ perceptions of the effectiveness of using the Facebook page for learning are shown in Figure 4 (question 7). Over 50% of the respondents said that the page helped them learn vocabulary and motivated them to learn and practice English. Over 40% felt that the page improved their social networking.

Adnan Figure 4

Figure 4: Effectiveness of using the Facebook page (question 7).

Responses to the Two Open-ended Questions
Two open-ended questions were posed in the survey. The first question asked the students about their most enjoyable experiences they had had on the page. The responses varied. However, the most common themes that emerged from the data include learning from discussions about language, sharing ideas with others, and giving and receiving feedback. Figure 5 presents an example on how students may learn from discussion on Facebook posted by one of the teachers. On the other hand, some respondents replied with “nothing in specific,” indicating that they did not enjoy using the page. The other question asked about the most unpleasant experience that students had on the page. The responses also varied but the most common themes were discussions about unfavorable topics such as politics, and misunderstanding among the group members due to cultural and ethnic differences.

Adnan Figure 5

Figure 5: Learning from discussions on Facebook

Findings from the Interview
The interview questions were quite focused and the responses were categorized and labeled. For example, responses to Q1 (How do you think students can use this FB page to practice English and learn new vocabulary?) were categorized as English practicing or vocabulary learning. Data patterns from responses to Q5 (Do you think this page is useful in helping you communicate with other students as well as with teachers? If so, how?) were categorized as communication with teachers or others. Due to the space limitations, I will only focus on the recurring themes that the questionnaire did not cover, and also those that reinforce the findings. The themes are Facebook for vocabulary learning, Facebook for socializing, and Facebook and WTC.

Facebook for vocabulary learning
The data gathered from the interviews suggest that Facebook is useful for learning new vocabulary. Muhannad commented that “I learn new vocabulary mainly when other members of the page post a new word or idiom.” Yousif suggested that not only through others’ posts does he learn new vocabulary, but also through their comments on his posts. He said, “When they comment on my post, I learn new vocabulary from their comments.” The findings reveal that the Facebook page helped students learn new vocabulary through their posts and also their friends’ posts.

Facebook for socializing
The Facebook group is considered a friendly environment that allows learners to socialize in English and learn about the second language culture, which is important given the limited opportunities they have elsewhere. Using this page for socializing, Ayman reported that “I have got many benefits from joining this page. First of all, to know people who are specialized in English helps me improve my language and learn about others’ culture.” Hani added that:

You know, in Iraq, there are not many places to speak English. For me, I have no opportunity to speak English   because my brothers do not speak English. So this page helps me not only improve my language but also learn about the culture when somebody posts about differences between languages and cultures.

Furat, the page administrator, concluded that “what is important on this page is to socialize in English. One of the regulations of the page is to speak only about language in English. It also includes knowledge exchange and culture exchange.” An example of the learning through interaction and socializing is illustrated in Figure 6.

 Adnan Figure 6

Figure 6: Interaction on Facebook


Muhannad said, “one day, a member of the page posted about Halloween. I didn’t know in detail what Halloween is, but when I read the post, it was very interesting to me.” The following figure is an example of learning about the second language culture.

Adnan Figure 7

Figure 7: Learning about culture on Facebook

Facebook and WTC
As for willingness to give and receive feedback on posts, the participants expressed their willingness to use the Facebook page for sharing ideas and knowledge, and also to learn from others. Hani reported “It motivates me to post something to teach others about a certain subject.” Muhannad added that “sharing ideas with others even if they do not agree with you is important because it makes you understand the way others think and behave so that you can behave accordingly.” When asked about willingness to communicate on Facebook, Yousif viewed it from a psychological point of view. He reported that “Of course I feel happy and willing to communicate more on this page if I see more ‘Likes’ or ‘Comments’ under my post.”

I believe that the interview data supplemented the questionnaire data in the sense that they supported findings from the questionnaire, such as the usefulness of Facebook for practicing English, and socializing. The respondents provided further insights and specific examples on the patterns emerging in the analysis concerning using the page for learning and socializing.

This study investigated students’ perceptions of the benefits of using Facebook to practice their English communication skills. The results show that the students benefit mainly from using this page to practice their English, learn new vocabulary, and socialize with others. Additionally, students felt motivated and willing to learn more as a result of their interaction on this page, and also believed that the page is a place where they could give and receive feedback from others.

Research Question 1: What do students believe they gain from interacting in English on a Facebook page
Data from the interviews show that the page allowed the students to interact and learn new vocabulary from each others’ posts and comments. Participants also emphasized that this Facebook page was a good place to give and receive feedback on their language in general. Furthermore, students believed that the page gave them space to discuss topics of interest, socialize, and share knowledge. This view is consistent with Baran’s (2010) and Hayashi’s (2011) observations about Facebook as a forum for sharing knowledge in educational contexts. The students also reported that they could learn about other cultures, especially English culture, as discussed in Muhannad’s example earlier about Halloween.

Research Question 2: What social, psychological, and linguistic factors contribute to participants’ willingness to interact on a Facebook page?
The results of this study reveal that students interacted on this page and felt motivated to share knowledge with others and socialize in English. Baran (2010) suggests that learners are motivated to interact with their peers on Facebook. Motivation is reflected in students’ responses throughout the present survey. The findings show that a source of motivation lies in the prospects of learning about English culture, particularly when they could interact with a few native speakers of English who were members of the page, as Muhannad and Hani reported. They also reported that they made new friends with students from other levels.

As Yousif  reported, the number of likes and comments that a student receives from other members of the page also matters. One of the most interesting findings related to the psychological side was the fact that the more “likes” or “comments” are received, the more willing the student is to post and communicate on this page.

Another important factor that motivates students is the opportunity to learn new vocabulary. They also post questions about a certain text or any subject material, especially when they have an exam coming up, to learn.

Pedagogical Implications and Future Research
Using this Facebook page, learners became aware of the benefits resulting from interacting on this page. They could use it as a tool for sharing knowledge and discussing different academic language topics. Students can also use this page for peer evaluation through giving and receiving feedback on their academic material. It is also a place where they can practice their English and learn new words.

Teachers can use such a Facebook page as a platform for presenting and organizing their teaching materials. They can be members of the page and observe students’ improvement, strengths, challenges, and needs, and plan their lessons accordingly. The fact that teachers are members in the page can develop a type of interaction based on equality (Pittaway, 2004). Teachers can also post discussion topics and instructions for students. Students feel more comfortable and prepared if they are given the topic on Facebook and some time to prepare for class discussion (Hayashi, 2011). Furat, the group administrator, emphasized the importance of having teachers as members in the group. In fact, the students also wanted more teachers in the group to give them feedback.

For future research, one may take students’ various proficiency levels into consideration. This study did not consider proficiency. However, students of different proficiencies might have different perspectives or perceptions about the use of this page as a learning tool. What a low-proficiency student considers important might not be what a high-proficiency student considers important. This could explain why some students reported unpleasant experiences in addition to their enjoyable ones; they were more proficient. Further, the interviewees were all male members of the Facebook page. For future research, female members may be interviewed to investigate their perspectives on the page, taking cultural issues into consideration.

In summary, this study investigated the perceived benefits of interacting in English on a Facebook page. The results revealed that students think that there are benefits in using a Facebook page for socializing, sharing knowledge, giving and receiving feedback, and learning new words. Using this page also helped students become motivated and more willing to learn.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Kathleen Bailey, my Applied Linguistics Research professor, Professor Peter De Costa, Professor JoDee Walters, Professor Heekyeong Lee, and Jock Wong, for their patience, guidance, encouragement and comments on earlier versions of this paper.

I am also grateful to Ali Albaroody, a friend and the Facebook group admin, for his help in the data collection process, and also to all members of the group who participated in this study.

I would also like to thank the staff of the Higher Committee for Education Development in Iraq (HCED), for their encouragement and support during my study abroad.

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Harris, A. L., & Rea, A. (2009). Web 2.0 and virtual world technologies: A growing impact on IS education. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2), 137–144.

Hayashi, L. P. (2011). A learning story using Facebook. SiSAL Journal, 2(4), 309–316.

MacIntyre, P. D. (2007). Willingness to communicate in the second language: Understanding the decision to speak as a volitional process. The Modern Language Journal, 91(4), 564–576.

MacIntyre, P. D., Burns, C., & Jessome, A. (2011). Ambivalence about communicating in a second language: A qualitative study of French immersion students’ willingness to communicate. The Modern Language Journal, 95(1), 81–96.

Manan, N. A., Alias, A. A., & Pandian, A. (2012).Utilizing a social networking website as an ESL pedagogical tool in a blended learning environment: An exploratory study. International Journal of Social Sciences and Education. 2(1), 1–9.

Najafi, V., & Hashemi, M. (2011). Using blogs in English language writing classes. International Journal of Academic Research, 3(4), 599–604.

Pittaway, S. D. (2004). Investment and second language acquisition. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 1, 203–218.

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web ools for classrooms. California, CA: Crowin.

Appendix 1: Survey Monkey Questionnaire
*1. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following: 1= Strongly agree, 2= Agree, 3= Somewhat agree, 4= Somewhat disagree, 5= Disagree, 6= Strongly disagree.

  • I use this Facebook page to learn how to be more social in English.
  • I use this Facebook page to learn more grammar.
  • I use this Facebook page to learn more vocabulary.
  • I use this Facebook page to see if my friends will correct me.
  • My English would not be as good if I didn’t use this Facebook page.
  • Using this Facebook page helps me learn more about my errors.
  • Using this Facebook page helps me improve my translation skills.
  • Using this Facebook page helps me improve my paraphrasing skills.
  • I have learned things on the Facebook page that have helped me in my classes and/or course work.
  • This Facebook page helps me build my confidence.

Likert-scale questionnaire data presented in detail
Adnan Appendix 1

2. Which year in school are you?

  • Freshman (1st year of college)
  • Sophomore (2nd year)
  • Junior (3rd year)
  • Senior (4th year)
  • MA student

3. How often do you visit this Facebook page? (Choose one.)

  • I seldom visit this page.
  • I visit this page once a week.
  • I visit this page one time a day.
  • I visit this page twice a day.
  • I visit this page more than two times a day.
  • Other (please explain)

*4. What do you use this page for? (Check all that apply.)

  • I use this page just for fun.
  • I use this page to be social.
  • I use this page to improve my grammar.
  • I use this page to learn new vocabulary.
  • I use this page to get feedback on my English.
  • I use this page to practice my English.
  • I use this page to give feedback to my friends.
  • I use this page to improve my translation skills.
  • I use this page because it is one of the only places where I can practice my English.
  • Other (please explain)

*5. How do you feel about other members of the page? (Check all that apply.)

  • I feel comfortable sharing my posts with others.
  • I feel embarrassed when other members see my errors.
  • I feel frustrated when someone in the page corrects the errors I make.
  • I proofread my posts before I post them to the page.
  • I do not care if I make errors others can see.
  • I like to get feedback on my posts.
  • I feel motivated when others give me positive feedback.
  • Other (please explain)

*6. Aside from this Facebook page, what have you used to practice your English in the past? (Check all that apply.)

  • Emails
  • Blogs
  • Cell phone text messages with friends
  • Computer software
  • Skype with native speakers of English
  • Chat online with native speakers of English
  • Other (please explain)

*7. Using this Facebook page ____________ (Check all that apply.)

  • is effective in improving my grammar.
  • is effective in improving my vocabulary.
  • is effective in improving my networking and social attitudes.
  • has a positive effect on my class assignments.
  • increases my willingness to use and learn more English.
  • is effective in improving my paraphrasing skills.
  • is effective in improving my translation skills.
  • Other (please explain)

*8. Using this Facebook page does NOT help me _____________ (Check all that apply.)

  • improve my speaking skills.
  • improve my listening skills.
  • improve my interpretation skills.
  • Other (please specify)

9. Tell about the most enjoyable experience you have had on this Facebook page.

*10. Tell about the most unpleasant experience you have had on this Facebook page?

Appendix 2: Phone Interview Questions
1. How do you think students can use this FB page to practice English and learn new vocabulary?
2. How useful is this page to you as a place for socializing with others?
3. Do you think that this page is useful for sharing knowledge? If so, how?
4. Does interaction on this page make you willing and comfortable to share with others and give and receive feedback? If so, how?
5. Do you think this page is useful in helping you communicate with other students as well as with teachers? If so, how?
6. How useful is this page for you to observe your and others’ progress in English?

About the author
AdnanbioAdnan Al-Hammody is a native of Mosul, Iraq. He earned his BA in Translation and Interpretation in Arabic and English from the University of Mosul in 2009. In May 2013, he graduated with an MA in TESOL from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and then returned to Iraq to teach English to college students.

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