Legitimation Code Theory and Academic Writing, Reading & Thinking

by Namala Tilakaratna


Laetitia Monbec


Mark Brooke


With the recent focus of NUS on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, a question that you might be asking is how you can identify useful pedagogical theory to inform your teaching practices to make your students better writers, readers and thinkers. In order to answer this question in the spirit of SoTL inquiry, the following blog post will look at a social-realist approach to examining knowledge-practices, Legitimation Code Theory, which we have all found particularly useful in designing curriculum, creating classroom pedagogy and approaching pedagogical research in a core EAP unit, a core undergraduate FASS unit and an I&E unit. We hope to share some of our insights into how LCT can help you become better informed teachers and ask, and perhaps answer, an important question in academic literacy teaching: as academic literacy teachers, how can we equip our students with literacy skills that students can take beyond their CELC courses to their disciplinary areas and the workplace?

Legitimation Code Theory is a theoretical framework that is widely used in education research. It focuses on making the underlying principles of knowledge practices visible and on enabling lecturers to teach what counts as valued knowledge and skills in the disciplinary areas in which they work (see http://www.legitimationcodetheory.com/). This means that it is a particularly useful theory for both understanding academic literacy and designing curriculum and pedagogy based on the Scholarship of Teaching Learning.

Our blog post is guided by the following three questions:

  1. how does LCT theory inform our pedagogical practices?
  2. how has LCT theory enabled better teaching and learning of academic reading, writing and thinking?
  3. how can SoTL research be informed by LCT research and practice?

Curriculum design: Legitimation Code Theory to enable Transfer


ES1103 (English for General Academic Purposes), the module I coordinate, is taught to over 1000 students from a range of disciplines each academic year. Doubts have been expressed as to whether general EAP provisions can foster satisfactory transfer from the EAP to the disciplinary modules and whether there are in fact any ‘transferrable’ academic skills (see Hyland, 2002 and Flowerdew, 2014, for example). Nonetheless, with the LCT toolkit, I am able to address the traditional transfer challenge in English for General Academic Purposes and in Academic Writing provisions (Maton, 2013; Maton, 2014a). Much of the discussion on transfer from EAP modules has largely ignored the issue of knowledge in the EAP curriculum (the what we should teach), in particular knowledge about language and knowledge about disciplinary discourse practices. The LCT dimensions of specialization (what knowledge and discourse practices are valued in the disciplines) and semantics (in particular semantic gravity and its analysis of context dependence of knowledge items) enables us to bridge the specific vs general dichotomy and to propose new curriculum design principles for academic writing that foreground knowledge as a key factor in the transfer equation (Monbec, 2017).

Pedagogical Applications of LCT in the Academic Literacy Classroom: Clusters and their Function as Persuasive Strategies in Social Action Blogs


In the module I teach, a core Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences undergraduate unit, Public Writing and communication (FASS1102), LCT is used in a flipped classroom context. The main assessment requires students to write a social action blog focusing on a single social issue relevant to Singapore. In this module, I applied the LCT concepts of ‘clusters’ and ‘constellations’ (Maton, 2014b) in teaching students how to identify evaluative language in social action blogs drawing on Martin and White’s (2005) framework of “appraisal”. Using these LCT concepts allowed my students to move from understanding evaluation as an intuitive phenomena, to finding evidence for what constitutes evaluative language and how it clusters around groups of social actors and social organisations (Tilakaratna & Szenes, 2017). This classroom activity of exploring clusters of evaluative language in blogs has been transformed into an online format that allows students to use LCT tools to explore how social action blogs align readers to different perspectives. From this activity, I am able to make students aware of resources that construe knowledge practices using an explicit theoretical framework. This also allowed my students to identify practices used by successful authors in the academic and public domain. Most importantly, it allows students to not only be able to identify these practices but to apply them in their own public (and academic) writing over the course of the semester and transfer these skills to writing tasks they will encounter in the Faculty of Arts and beyond.

Research Applications of LCT: Semantic Gravity Waving for Demonstrating Critical Thinking


In guiding students to construct an IMR&D paper in an Ideas and Exposition unit, I have applied the LCT notion of Semantic Gravity waving (Brooke, 2017). The waving process demonstrates how meaning making shifts between levels of abstraction (Maton, 2013; 2014), and by explicitly focusing on this, students can be guided to notice how abstract theory relates to empirical evidence. Thus, Semantic Gravity waving can be used as an effective tool for guiding students to adopt a stance for their research papers and use it as a lens to analyze empirical data. I argue that this is one of the principle characteristics of critical thinking for research purposes and one that students can relate more effectively to than other more subjective abstract descriptions of what critical thinking is in this area (Szenes, Tilakaratna & Maton, 2015). Further, the focus on the Semantic Gravity waving process can be used to inform students about the writing of a cohesively developed theoretical framework section in an IMR&D research paper and can be linked to the knowledge of the general-specific-general paragraph model that undergraduates have often had exposure to prior to their teritary studies.

Come join us! 

We are also in the process of creating a CELC Special Interest Group on LCT and academic literacy which aims to meet and discuss LCT approaches to pedagogical research and SoTL on a fornightly basis. If you have a teaching problem you want an answer then please send it onto us so we can show you how LCT might help you find an appropriate solution. For further information on our LCT SIG and LCT activities please contact Namala  (elcnlt@nus.edu.sg) Laetitia (elclm@nus.edu.sg) or Mark (elcmb@nus.edu.sg)

Being a part of the LCT community has its perks! 

You can apply for associate membership at the LCT Centre for Knowledge-building at the University of Sydney which allows you to access a large community of international LCT scholars. Membership also gives you access to the ‘LCT roundtable’ sessions which are broadcast online on a fortnightly basis and you can submit articles and book chapters on LCT research for publication in the upcoming LCT Routledge journal and book series.


*This blog post is written based on a forthcoming presentation on LCT in the Symposium on Academic Reading Writing and Thinking held at NTU, where the authors showcase how LCT can be applied to three areas in academic literacy teaching: curriculum design, teaching practices and pedagogical research. For more information on the Symposium and the scheduled program please see http://blogs.ntu.edu.sg/chriskhoo/symposium-acad-writing-2017/



Brooke, M. (2017). Using semantic waves to guide students through the research process: from adopting a stance to sound cohesive academic writing. Asian Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(1), 37-66.

Flowerdew, J. (2014). English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) Writing: Making the case. Writing & Pedagogy, 8 (1), 5-32.

Flowerdew, J. & Peacock, M. (2001). The EAP curriculum: Issues, methods, and challenges. In J. Flowerdew & M. Peacock (Eds.), Research Perspectives on English for Academic Purposes (pp.177-194). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, K. (2002). Specificity revisited: how far should we go now? English for Specific Purposes, 21(4), 385-395.

Martin, J. R. & White, P. R. R. (2005). The language of evaluation: Appraisal in English. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Maton, K. (2013). Making semantic waves: A key to cumulative Knowledge-Building. Linguistics and Education, 24, (1), 8–22.

Maton, K. (2014a). A TALL order?: Legitimation Code Theory for academic language and learning. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 8(3), 34–48.

Maton, K. (2014b). Knowledge and knowers: Towards a realist sociology of education. London: Routledge.

Monbec, L. (2017). Enabling cumulative learning in an EAP module. Paper presented at the Second Legitimation Code Theory Conference (LCTC2), LCT Centre for Knowledge-Building, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney.

Szenes, E., Tilakaratna, N. & Maton, K. (2015). The knowledge practices of critical thinking in Davies, M. & Barnett, R. (Eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tilakaratna, N. & Szenes, E. (2017). ‘I confess and hope for redemption’: Axiological cosmologies in ‘self-reflective’ business and social work praxis. Paper presented at the Second Legitimation Code Theory Conference (LCTC2), LCT Centre for Knowledge-Building, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney.

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