TESL-EJ http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language Sat, 08 Jul 2017 06:17:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 From the Editors http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej81/ej81fromed/ Tue, 06 Jun 2017 08:00:13 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12393 Greetings,
Welcome to our 21st volume and 81st issue of TESL-EJ. As always, we have a high-quality collection of articles and reviews. This will be a particularly interesting issue if you are interested in children’s education. We have both articles and reviews relevant to the pre-K through secondary school levels.

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A Brief History of CALL-IS Webcasting in the New Millennium http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej81/ej81int/ Fri, 02 Jun 2017 14:38:41 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12333 * * * On the Internet * * *

May 2017 — Volume 21, Number 1

Christine Bauer-Ramazani
Saint Michael’s College
Colchester, Vermont, USA

Jennifer Meyer
Williamson County Schools
Franklin, Tennessee, USA

Abraham Reshad
Ohio University
Athens, Ohio, USA

Vance Stevens
Higher Colleges of Technology / CERT / KBZAC
Al Ain, UAE

Jack Watson
University of New Brunswick
Fredericton, NB, Canada


English teaching has had a natural affinity for the online environment, which grows with each new development in Web 2.0 connectivity and increasing ubiquity of social networking. Much has been written since the new millennium began about this trend, but this is not what this article is about. Instead, this article is about how teachers who experiment with putting their students in connected spaces for the purpose of promoting authentic and motivating communication have been sharing their expertise with these tools with colleagues in both online and face-to-face (f2f) conferences. Furthermore, as the internet has become increasingly available at f2f conferences, it has become apparent to attendees that they could be using these same tools to share their presentations in real time with colleagues not able to attend.

IATEFL has been increasing online access over the years, reaching by now the point where one can see recordings of about forty presentations from their 2017 conference in Glasgow. Elsewhere on the site you can find dozens of interviews recorded with speakers at the conference. In allowing open access to parts of the conference, IATEFL has taken significant steps in making rock stars of their main presenters and promoting connectivity with their membership. I argue in Stevens (2016; 2017a) that allowing audiences to access conference presentations online for free might serve not to suppress attendance at f2f conferences, but to incentivise people to come and meet their thought-leaders in person, which might in turn reverse declines in membership in TESOL, the American counterpart to IATEFL.

Fortunately, in TESOL, similar initiatives have been put forward over the past two decades by the members of the CALL Interest Section (CALL-IS). This article is crowd-sourced by leaders of that initiative in CALL-IS, and seeks to tell the story in first person of how this movement has been growing since the turn of the century.

The authors, in order of appearance, are first, Vance Stevens, a founding member of CALL-IS who has been experimenting with computer-mediated communications tools for the past twenty years in teaching EFL online and connecting colleagues in professional development. Next, we hear from Christine Bauer-Ramazani, who was instrumental in starting both the Electronic Village Online in 2001, and CALL-IS webcasting in 2006. Next, Jack Watson continues the story, with his taking over the CALL-IS Webcast Coordinator role from Christine and Chris Sauer. He is followed by the next CALL-IS webcasting coordinator Abe Reshad, who initiated a radical shift in our approach to webcasting through skillful utilization of YouTube Live. Abe then hands off to Jennifer Meyer, one of our most astute webcasting newbies, who explains how she learned the ropes well enough to take the baton of CALL-IS Webcast Coordinator from Abe forward to the TESOL 2018 conference in Chicago.

Let the stories begin…

Vance Stevens on precursors to CALL-IS webcasting

I started out in online teaching when I accepted an offer to teach courses through email late last century for Study.com, a website run by David Winet, who essentially put teachers in touch with students in online classes (Winet, 2015). Thanks to one of my students, my classes moved on to the Web 1.0, and eventually we met in The Palace, an avatar-based chat site giving the impression of 3-D mobility through clicking on a 2D screen and transporting to spaces seemingly behind doors. In this space I met two other teachers, Maggie Doty and Michael Coghlan, and eventually we formed Writing for Webheads (WfW), where we logged our online sessions within The Palace starting in 1998. Soon we were experimenting with a range of synchronous online spaces, including real-time voice chat which we implemented through a free browser plug-in called HearMe. We started taking our show on the road, participating first in online conferences where participants communicated with our students in real time, and then to TESOL conferences, where f2f participants there had a chance to meet our students.

Our first “webcast” from a TESOL conference was at a New York TESOL 1999 Web Faire in the CALL-IS Electronic Village. Maggie, Michael, and some of our students appeared at the Palace and chatted with passers-by from the conference, who were charmed by the novelty of the occasion. By the time of the 2000 TESOL Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, we had gained enough attention from teaching peers that I was invited to present a live online demonstration of our WfW class as part of an invited presenters session. Michael, Maggie, and two students from China performed online on a big screen set up to project my desktop before an audience of around 100 conference delegates, plus a few online colleagues who knew to stop in online.

Up to that point, we were bringing students and teachers into f2f conferences but not broadcasting the experience out to the online participants in a way that would scale. However, in 2002, at the TESOL conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, we mounted what might have been the first webcast from TESOL by streaming panelists’ presentations from the CALL-IS Academic Session event entitled “Theory Meets Practice in CALL” (an ‘academic session’ is a slot on the TESOL conference program given to each interest section so they can organize a symposium on a topic of timely interest to that interest section). The online audience listened to the panelists’ presentations and communicated with us via Yahoo Messenger voice and text chat. The breakthrough came when we took a question in the f2f session from the online text chat and relayed the answer from the presenter to the participant online. We felt truly connected at that moment, and the event is archived.

By then, EVO, or Electronic Village Online, had been “started as a TESOL Special Project in 1999 and then founded in 2000 by Christine Bauer-Ramazani, Tom Robb, and Susan Gaer” (according to academics.smcvt.edu/cbauer-ramazani/TESOL/EVOL/portal.htm; see also Hanson-Smith and Bauer-Ramazani, 2004). In 2001 EVO held its first sessions, and in 2002 I moderated a session called Webheads in Action (WiA), which modeled for teachers the techniques in community formation and connectivity which had been used with online students in Writing for Webheads.

Some participants in the WiA session came together both online and f2f at the 2003 TESOL conference in Baltimore, Maryland in a colloquium called a “Case study of a community of practice.” Because war had just broken out in Iraq, many panelists had decided not to travel to Baltimore, so we purchased a phone line from the Convention Center and brought the four missing presenters to our colloquium remotely using Wimba for voice presentations and Yahoo for webcam broadcasts. We also held two sessions in the CALL-IS Electronic Village (EV)1 where we webcast from the EV to those in our distributed community of practice worldwide.

In 2004 in Long Beach, Webheads presented a Pre-Convention Institute on Enhancing Online Communities with Voice and Webcams. This was a six-hour event, in which five colleagues and I arranged for participants to experience hands-on use of synchronous text and voice and webcam enhanced chat. Some online participants joined us (and one of our presenters joined us at a distance). We later gave an interactive webcast event from the Electronic Village. For this, we set up a webcam and used voice chat software to enable the local and distant participants to communicate and interact with one another in the EV.

By the time of the 2005 TESOL conference in San Antonio, Texas, Webheads in Action had hit a stride where we were using a robust TappedIn text chat, a presentation room in Elluminate (since purchased by Bb Collaborate) provided to us on a long-running grant from LearningTimes, plus Yahoo Messenger for webcams of multiple participants. There were many connected Webheads in Action events scheduled, including our webcast of a CALL-IS academic session entitled Future Visions of CALL, with Susan Gaer, Deborah Healey, Karen Price, and Jim Duber, and I, streamed out to the world using Elluminate.

I missed the 2006 conference in Tampa, Florida, where Christine Bauer-Ramazani initiated what turned out to be a regular recurrence of webcasting from CALL-IS events, so she takes the story from here.

Christine Bauer-Ramazani on CALL-IS Webcasting, 2006 – 2009

Christine has compiled a table with links to CALL-IS webcasts portal pages from 2006 to 2017, each with links to webcast spaces, instructions, archived chat scripts, and audio/video recordings (Table 1).

Table 1. Links to webcasts through the years (2006-2017)

Links to CALL-IS webcasts through the years













See Appendix 1 for full links to these webcast portals

The first webcasts for the CALL Interest Section (CALL-IS) were inspired by the online broadcasts of events at the Electronic Village Online (EVO), which connected participants from all over the world in online professional development seminars. For the first time in 2006, the CALL-IS in its capacity as an interest session reached out to participants who were unable to attend the sessions offered at the Electronic Village as part of the 40th Annual TESOL Convention and Exhibit in Tampa, Florida, USA. The goal of these webcasts was similar to that of EVO, namely to extend the professional development offered by the events organized by the CALL-IS at each TESOL convention to all ESL/EFL teachers in the world. As co-founder and lead coordinator of EVO until 2004, then CALL-IS Steering Committee member, Christine Bauer-Ramazani, saw a unique opportunity to connect these two branches of the CALL-IS by broadcasting sessions from the Electronic Village at the TESOL conventions and organizing the first of many CALL-IS webcasts.

The venue for these first webcasts was WorldBridges, managed and operated by Jeff Lebow (see Lebow, 2006). Presentations were delivered via Skypecast, and WorldBridges captured the feed and streamed it worldwide to teachers interested in using technology for teaching. The “Internet Fair Classics,” one of the main events of the Electronic Village, was chosen as venue for broadcasting four presentations that had had a large number of attendees the previous year. Each session ran for forty minutes and was broadcast in audio. In addition, moderators Chris Sauer and Christine Bauer-Ramazani also interviewed two leading experts in CALL, Randall Davis and Tom Robb, about their instructional uses of CALL. In that first year, the webcasts from the Electronic Village at TESOL counted 62 attendees in the online audience.

The following year at TESOL 2007 in Seattle, Washington, six presentations from the EV Fair Classics of the Electronic Village were webcast, using the now defunct audio platform Alado.net as the venue (Andrew Pincon of Alado had graciously donated use of this proprietary web conference space to WiA, EVO, and CALL-IS at no charge). The six sessions followed the schedule of the EV Fair Classics, with each presentation lasting thirty minutes, then repeated. Participants in the audience consisted mainly of Webheads community members as well as moderators and Electronic Village Online participants, but word of these virtual sessions from the Electronic Village at the annual TESOL conventions continued to spread, increasing audience participation significantly each year.

Although it was not on the CALL-IS webcast schedule, Vance Stevens streamed independently from Seattle in 2007, from a colloquium entitled: “CALL-IS Electronic Village Online Communities”. The event, which was itself about webcasting from EVO, was streamed live via Skypecast over the Worldbridges network.

As of 2009, programming for the webcasts was expanded to include major sessions held in the Technology Showcase, adjacent to the Electronic Village room at the TESOL convention, such as the CALL-IS Academic Session as well as InterSection sessions in which the CALL-IS participates jointly with other interest sections in TESOL. This expansion required careful scheduling, for the one virtual web conference room available for webcasts soon became too limited to accommodate the increase in programming of the CALL-IS.

For the 2010 webcasts, a more durable and permanent solution was found with Elluminate, now called Blackboard Collaborate. This was the web conferencing platform with audio/video which Webheads in Action had been using to webcast some of its events, such as its free online 36-hour Webheads in Action Online Convergences held in 2005, 2007, and 2009 (see Stevens, 2012). Our benefactor (LearningTimes) provided free and comprehensive support for all of these endeavors as a professional courtesy, considering the open and non-profit nature of EVO, WiA, and CALL-IS. As coordinator of the WiA community of practice, Vance Stevens acted as liaison with LearningTimes, to arrange the use of the Webheads Virtual Office, the Elluminate room dedicated to WiA, for use by the CALL-IS, and whenever asked, LearningTimes has provided additional rooms so that we could cover simultaneous events, a level of support that has always been highly appreciated.

Recordings of the presentations were vastly improved with this platform as they included the slides, audio, and video, as well as chat comments made by the online participants during the presentations. The use of this web conferencing platform in addition to continued promotion of the events increased participation by a worldwide audience to several hundred.

Although interest in webcasting was initially limited to a few members of the CALL-IS Steering Committee, the CALL-IS continued to see the value in extending its reach beyond the confines of the TESOL Convention. In 2011, a Webcast Development & Coordination Team was established to develop protocols for webcast organizing and moderating, and to conduct training during the year using the web conferencing platforms to be used at the annual convention. Since the beginning, webcast moderators-in-training have been shadowing more experienced webcasters who have continued on or stepped into other organizing roles within the CALL-IS. Webcasting has become an established component of Electronic Village events to be coordinated, with a Webcast Coordinator in the lead, and a Webcast Team to support the new role (see the Webcast Coordinator job description at CALL-IS.org).

The narrative continues with Jack Watson, CALL-IS Webcast Coordinator 2010-2016

Jack Watson took over the CALL-IS Webcast coordinator position from Christine in 2010. Here is his story.

2010, Boston, Massachusetts, USA–The way I remember it, I’m seated directly behind Christine Bauer-Ramazani, peering unobtrusively (I think) over her shoulder as she webcasts a session. Webcast audio is delivered directly through the presentation speakers, and the Wi-Fi connection delivers the message clearly and globally. Presenters speak to the f2f audience and shift their PowerPoint slides, and Christine advances the corresponding slides online in the Elluminate program, all the while engaging the online audience through questions and commentary in the chat function. And it works.

To me, the event was at once fascinating, challenging, and rife with potential for international access and participation. Twice more, I watched webcasters (Chris Sauer and Carla Arena) whose expertise belied the complexity of preparation and execution. I definitely wanted, and didn’t want, to do this.

2011, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA–We had four sessions webcast. The success of more experienced webcasters was not to be my fate. Ambient noise, speaker feedback, the error of having two Elluminate moderator rooms with active mics, and my own inexperience rendered some sessions unrecordable. We addressed the first three issues the following year with a dedicated audio line-in to the central webcasting computer.

2012, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA–Audio was vastly improved here, but by this time everyone in the convention center had discovered Wi-Fi, causing the network to slow to intermittent connection at best. Another lesson involved the importance of not trying to webcast animated slides–these transmit only part of the slide, with most unfortunate results. So it was that, henceforth, only static slides would be collected for webcast transmission. Prezi was not an option with Elluminate.

2013, Dallas, Texas, USA–By the time we got to Dallas, I was finally getting the hang of Elluminate. Gone were the animated slides (presenters had been warned not to include them), audio was markedly clearer at all times, and there was a dedicated DSL for the webcast machine. Finally, a consistent product was within reach. With eight sessions webcast, the need for more webcast volunteers and at least two webcast platforms was becoming clear.

In 2013, webcast audience members hailed from 24 different countries around the world (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Graphic display of CALL-IS webcast audience by country in 2013

2014, Portland, Oregon, USA–This iteration of CALL-IS Electronic Village and Technology Showcase saw fifteen sessions successfully webcast. Up to that point, the webcast team had used a system of paired teams consisting of a lead and an assist: one to follow the presenters and advance the corresponding slides, and the other to attend to the online audience, help to resolve any online technical difficulties, and act as moderator between the presenters, panel members, and online participants. For Toronto, Ontario, Canada, we added a third team member: a volunteer observer, who could watch the webcast team in action (as I had back in 2010), collect a record of online participants’ countries of origin, as shown in Figure 1 (and here), and find in-house technical help when needed. To help meet the need for additional web conferencing space, the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada, lent its Blackboard Collaborate system for webcast use in the EV Fair Classics from Portland and the following year in Toronto.

2015, Toronto, Ontario, Canada–Abe Reshad began training to take up the mantle of webcast coordinator, and we webcast eleven sessions. Since we now had cultivated a solid core of webcast volunteers, the challenge for the following year would be to webcast every session we could.

2016, Baltimore, Maryland, USA–With Abe down with a flu and having to miss the conference, I served as onsite webcasting anchor. Thank goodness for Abe’s foresight in having recruited sufficient volunteer webcasters, of whom there were sixteen. I chaired a live online CALL-IS Steering Committee meeting in August of 2016, because by now it was evident that we needed a new approach to webcasting. Abe Reshad took the helm of an ad hoc committee (comprising Heather Benucci, James May, Jennifer Meyer, and Ellen Dougherty) to investigate, develop, and institute that new approach.

2017, Seattle, Washington, USAAnd now it is time for Abe to tell the story.

Abe Reshad brings CALL-IS webcasting into the future with YouTube Live

Reflecting on the years of webcasting in CALL-IS, it seems clear that in the year 2016 there was reached a critical mass. TESOL 2016 marked a record number of webcast sessions since the CALL-IS started offering webcasts as a service to educators. This milestone brought with it the need to find a sustainable and customizable product that could meet the growing diversity in both the content being delivered and the web audience being served. To start this great adventure, the CALL- IS allocated steering committee resources in the form of the aforementioned ad hoc committee, and we began addressing this goal. The criteria for a webcast platform was for it to be free, customizable for our purposes, simple (in terms of content delivery), allow for some form of audience/webcaster interaction, and did I mention FREE? Google came to the rescue with its free and robust live streaming services through YouTube Live.

Free–in terms of any form of software or cloud platform–meant that we would have to put in the hours to tweak it for our purposes. We immediately learned that there are a great number of ways to use YouTube Live, but we chose to model our setup with that of many gamers on the web by using the encoder Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) in combination with YouTube Live (see Stevens, 2017b, for a detailed slideshow on how to configure these). After watching about a dozen video tutorials made by the growing YouTube broadcast community, we figured out what we thought would be the optimal setup and identified the hardware needed to get the job done for TESOL 2017. Members in our webcasting team and committee signed up to bring certain items in preparation for our plan plus any item we thought would be useful if we decided to scrap our plan at the last minute. Fortunately, we beta tested our webcast platform numerous times prior to TESOL, so we had already experienced issues we could anticipate and ways to counter them.

TESOL 2017 quickly came, and despite the many hours put into planning for the conference and preparing the team (with instructional videos and live meetings), we immediately encountered a good number of curveballs when we started setting up and testing equipment in Seattle. Not knowing the dimensions of the conference rooms and the location of power outlets makes webcasting preparation quite challenging. Fortunately, I have the pleasure of working with individuals who love a challenge. We eventually came up with a decent setup before the first presentation. However, by the time the third presentation came around, we had already improved upon the quality of what we broadcasted to the web audience. Webcasters came up with suggestions throughout our time in Seattle and our webcasting gradually became fine tuned.

What did we change from the original plan and why?

The original plan was to rely on webcams to relay both the live video of the presenter and whatever content was being displayed on the projector through a picture-in-picture broadcast. What we immediately noticed is that the projector webcam could not be calibrated to clearly view the small text in presentations. It was fine for the live audience, but the text was indecipherable in the reduced resolution of the webcast. It became very clear that we had to utilize software that allowed us to screen share with the presenter’s laptop, which was then sent to YouTube Live through the webcast computer. We used Zoom, a video conferencing application that allows users to screen share. Once we made this change, our webcasts started to work extremely well. However, when presenters brought in their own computers without the screen sharing software we had installed on the presenter desktop, we were forced to revert to the projector webcam, which worked for the most part, although with less clear image quality.

Fortunately, with OBS Studio, switching between feeds is extremely easy. OBS lets you preset a number of scenes and choose one to broadcast while cueing the next one you plan to use. Therefore, you see two scenes at any given time, one of which is streaming to the online audience. For example, one scene might be the slideshow (which we were getting via screen share from the presenter computer), with perhaps a thumbnail of the presenter’s webcam in its corner, and another might be a full webcam view of the presenters themselves. Webcasters could show the first scene when the presenter put up a slide, but if the presenter began to talk off the slide or take questions, we could easily switch to the full-view webcam and focus the online audience on the presenters.

Another aspect of the plan that was completely changed was how we covered the Electronic Village. Our plan initially was to use a similar configuration to that of the Technology Showcase. After running through the plans with the webcast committee and receiving feedback regarding how difficult they would be to implement in the vibrant context of the EV, we decided to start from scratch. Instead of using wired webcams and laptop computers, we decided it would be best to go mobile. We decided to take the reporter-in-the-field approach and stream live through mobile apps. This would allow for a lot more movement through the crowds of participants in the EV and a lot more interaction with presenters. James May spearheaded this approach by introducing us to Live for YouTube by Yatko (only for iOS, but there are plenty of similar streaming apps for the Android echo system), and he and Vance Stevens roamed the EV fairs with their mobile devices as roving reporters. This resulted in a record number of short presentations about useful tech tools and approaches to CALL available on the web. Check out our archives and our WordPress site.

Now, let’s describe what the webcasting team refers to as “the untamable beast,” the Mobile Apps for Education session. This session has always been a challenge to cover for both the web audience and those actually presenting at the big TESOL conference because one never knows what mobile device a presenter is going to bring for the presentation. This combined with the fast pace of the presentations usually leaves both moderators and webcasters sprinting to keep up. Our original plan for taming this session was to use webcams in combination with a document camera. The document camera would send a live image to the projector, and the webcams would broadcast that image to our web audience. However, on arrival the day before the big conference, we learned that we did not have access to a document camera. Like many challenges we encountered in 2017, this gave us an opportunity to think outside the box and provide both the live and online audiences with a better experience.

We decided to create a Wi-Fi network only for presenters to join and have them share their screens with the computer at the podium via Reflector 2, a robust screen mirroring app that works with both Android and IOS. Then we shared that screen with the webcasting computer, which broadcasted everything to the web audience. The webcasting team was sweating as all of this was falling into place, but it turned out to be the best mobile apps session in CALL- IS history. There were a lot of high fives.


The webcasting team is not finished processing this experience, and we are certainly not finished with improving what we offer to our web audience. We are pleased with the progress made this year, and we are ready to dive into other dimensions of this platform. As we gear up for TESOL 2018 in Chicago, Illinois, we hope to be utilizing the social media and branding potential of YouTube for the purpose of making our presence known to the CALL community around the world. Also, now that we will be creating even more content for our web audience, we need to consider different ways to make this available to everyone globally. Stay tuned for these developments and feel free to join our team.

Next CALL-IS Webcast Coordinator Jennifer Meyer on her build-up to 2018 and beyond

Incoming CALL-IS webcast coordinator Jennifer Meyer, wraps up our article.

In January 2016, I joined the webcasting team through a generic Call for Volunteers put out by TESOL. My name was forwarded to Abe Reshad, the Webcasting Team leader, and he contacted me about joining the group. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it sounded interesting, and I was up for learning something new. Shortly after that, I was invited to an online training session using the Bb Collaborate software. Initially, I thought I’d never be able to figure out how to even log in to the meeting, but it was actually very simple; and before I knew it, I was learning how to use the software. I had a lot of questions, but Abe and Jack and the other veteran webcasters were all very helpful and made me feel like my questions were being asked for the very first time, even though I’m pretty sure they had heard them several times over the years.

I’m the type of person who wants to try something out before I actually have to do it officially, like a dress rehearsal, to see how things are going to work in the moment and troubleshoot any difficulties that might come up. I volunteered to do some webcasting for TNTESOL, my local affiliate, at the annual meeting in March 2016 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA. Being part of the organization and a past conference organizer, I knew that for quite some time, the group had been looking for a way to broadcast the State Day sessions put on by the Tennessee State Department of Education. When I approached the organizing committee about webcasting the sessions, they were very receptive and put me in touch with the facility technology coordinator to line up the technology needs for the webcasting.

After two training sessions with Jack, Abe, Vance, and the other webcasting team members, I was about to webcast a six-hour conference day independently. I didn’t sleep much the night before. I knew the TNTESOL committee was depending on me to deliver the promised online access to the sessions, and we had publicized the webcast to school districts, administrators, and universities all across the state. Luckily, Vance was able to tune in from his location in the UAE to serve as my remote webcast support, and I needed him. After a few initial glitches were solved with Vance’s help, I was able to get the webcast up and running. Among several others who tuned in online, a colleague from Clarksville attended the webcast from her dentist office, where she was having an emergency dental procedure. Another colleague tuned in from Lewisburg, where he was busy implementing federally-mandated testing and unable to attend the conference in person. It was a success after all, and here are the recordings (file download which can be played on Bb Collaborate).

My experience having to set up the webcasting equipment in conjunction with the facility technology personnel and manage the webcast independently helped me understand the process from start to finish. I felt confident that whatever would be required of me at the upcoming TESOL conference in Baltimore, where I would have my debut as a volunteer CALL-IS webcaster, I could handle it.

Baltimore would be my second TESOL conference, and I was excited to see what the webcasting would bring. My first TESOL conference was in Toronto, Canada, in 2015, and it was very disappointing for me. My colleague and I walked around lost most of the time. Being a part of the webcasting team in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, in 2016 changed all of that for me. I truly enjoyed the social aspect of being involved with the webcasting team. It was an excellent opportunity to network and connect with colleagues from around the world in a smaller setting than I had been exposed to in Toronto the previous year.

As it turned out, my experience webcasting at TNTESOL had prepared me well for Baltimore. Several of the hardware and software problems that I had dealt with in Tennessee also came up in Baltimore. Because of my experience at TNTESOL, I was able to help troubleshoot and solve similar situations in Baltimore.

After our successful webcasting in Baltimore, the team sat down to discuss some of the limitations and problems we had encountered, both with hardware and software. Abe put together a committee to explore other options for webcasting for Seattle, Washington, 2017. James May, Heather Benucci, myself, and Abe started researching different solutions and met several times to hash out the details. We finally settled on using OBS Software to encode videos to webcast using YouTube Live. Some of the reasons we chose this configuration were ease of use, wide accessibility, and best of all–it is free of charge: free to stream, free to record, free to archive, free to promote, free to watch.

Now that we had established how we were going to manage the webcasting at TESOL 2017 in Seattle, we had to roll out the new system to our webcasting team. We did this through several methods. Abe recorded several training sessions using the new software and sent out the links to the YouTube Live videos to the webcasting team. We also held live online meetings using Google Hangouts on Air (which can stream to YouTube Live as well), where Abe was able to demonstrate live how to use the new software.

Even though I was involved in the entire process this time around, I still wanted the opportunity to try out the new system before having to implement it in Seattle. So I called up my TNTESOL colleagues and arranged to do the webcasting of our annual State Day sessions in Memphis in March 2017. In addition to the State Day sessions, the TNTESOL organizing committee also prepared a breakout session room for webcasting.

I arrived at the conference in Memphis a day early to meet with the facility technology coordinator to discuss the setup that was required and to have access to the rooms I would be webcasting in. The new webcasting system we had decided on involved additional pieces of hardware that needed to be connected and tested before the webcasting could start. It took us almost three hours to work out all the kinks. Again, this was an extremely helpful process because it would help shorten the initial setup time later in Seattle to two hours.

After working out all the kinks and being satisfied that the new system was going to work better than the old, I slept peacefully that night in Memphis. The next morning, I planned for a 1.5 hour setup window and was amazingly surprised to have everything ready to go in 30 minutes. That’s not to say that there weren’t more kinks. One webcam, which had communicated just fine with my laptop the previous day, suddenly didn’t want to talk anymore. I solved the problem by using the webcam integrated in my laptop as the camera that captured the speaker for the webcast. This made it difficult to use my keyboard; I had to sit sideways and be sure to keep my head away from the camera. Additionally, the facility in Memphis had not provided a direct ethernet connection, so I had to stream using the Wi-Fi. By the afternoon sessions, the bandwidth available to me was so limited that I had trouble maintaining the live stream. In spite of the glitches and kinks, the webcast was a success.

Here are:

Since I was also giving presentations of my own, and was not able to webcast from the breakout room for all the scheduled sessions, the TNTESOL organizing committee had arranged for two volunteers to assist me, Aaron Thomas and Howon Lee. Hopefully, the webcasting team for TNTESOL is now expanded to three people for the next conference in Franklin in September 2018.

The Sunday after the TNTESOL conference, the CALL-IS webcasters lined up for Seattle had a Webcasting training meeting, where I was able to share my experiences from Memphis with the team. This information and information from others who had been beta testing the new system enabled the team to make plans and decisions to best optimize the setup and implementation in Seattle. Soon we were all on our way to Seattle, where we met in the webcasting room the day before the conference started to explore the various setup options. After two hours of connecting and arranging, we had the cameras and audio configured and functioning. This process involved problem-solving and brainstorming to get everything to work exactly as we expected for optimal streaming and recording.

The following day, we gave ourselves a 30-minute setup window to get everything connected and ready for our first webcast from TESOL 2017 using the new configuration. We structured it so that we had three people sitting at the webcasting table:

  • Person One is the lead webcaster. This person’s responsibilities include soliciting information about the session to be webcast, as well as the presenters’ bios, and uploading this information to the Wiki about the session. At the time of the session, the lead webcaster sits at the lead computer and is responsible for starting and stopping the stream, as well as changing cameras and views as needed for the flow of the presentation. One camera is focused on the presenter podium and the other camera is focused on the presentation screen. Furthermore, we have developed bumpers, brief text segues between segments, to run at the beginning and end of the stream, and these need to be blended in at the appropriate times as well. Any other feeds we need, such as screen sharing from the podium computer, need to be managed by the webcast lead too.
  • Person Two is the webcast assistant. This person is responsible for monitoring the live stream on YouTube and facilitating any online discussion or comments. Should the stream health deteriorate, the assistant informs the lead, who can troubleshoot for the cause. In addition, the assistant monitors the audio quality and indicates if any adjustments need to be made to the sound in the room or the sound on the webcast.
  • Person Three is the webcast support. If any issues appear that neither the webcast lead or assistant can solve, or if a facility technology specialist needs to come to the room to solve a larger issue, the webcast support is available to provide help or go and get it. This way, the lead and assistant can remain with the equipment and maintain the stream in spite of problems, while the support person can concentrate on troubleshooting.

In some cases, it is not a matter of solving a problem, but of rearranging the hardware and software to accommodate different types of presentations. Occasionally, we had speakers who preferred standing on the floor instead of at the podium. This required a camera adjustment, which the webcast support could accomplish, while the lead and assist maintained the live stream from the webcasting table, switching cameras until the new configuration was ready to go live.

Another session which requires a different configuration of equipment is Mobile Apps. In order to demonstrate the mobile apps, different software and hardware are necessary to demonstrate what is happening on the screen of a mobile device, as Abe Reshad describes above in his remarks about the ‘untamable beast’.

I think our numbers of online viewers from the Seattle conference in 2017 are the highest they have ever been; or it could be that now that we are using YouTube Live, we have better access to statistical information about viewers. While we feel we had a low real-time live viewing audience this year, thanks to YouTube Live, we are now able to track the statistics of viewers during the conference and historically over time. Not knowing what to anticipate exactly, Abe created several channels but in the end we used just two. During the conference from March 21-25 we had 507 views on the Tech Showcase channel and 225 views on the EV channel. From March 26 through May 20, we had 411 views on the Tech Showcase channel and 444 views on the EV channel.

During our webcasting team meeting following the conference, we discussed possible reasons for the low live viewing numbers. The most widely acknowledged reason was that the webcasting was not sufficiently advertised. Most of the presenters whose presentations were webcast were not even aware that they would be webcast. Of course, we gave them the YouTube channel information so they could inform their friends and colleagues at home to watch their sessions, and this could explain the large number of viewers we had during the conference, even though the number of live viewers was below expectations. On our agenda for the 2018 conference in Chicago is how to improve our advertising of the webcasting so we can improve our live viewing numbers.

Conclusion – Looking ahead to Chicago

At the end of the conference in Seattle, Abe stepped down as Webcast Team Lead and Jennifer took on the responsibility. An online meeting was held a month after the conference to reflect on the experience using the new webcasting system and to plan for optimization for next year’s conference in Chicago. Some major points from this discussion included budgeting for hardware needed to webcast most efficiently and professionally. Also discussed were the organization of sessions and reorganizing these to more easily facilitate the different hardware configurations needed to live stream the different sessions most successfully. Finally, we discussed branding our webcasting with the development of graphic designs to use on our YouTube channels and as graphics as a part of the live streams that we webcast.

As the contributors here suggest in their personal stories, webcasting from face-to-face conferences presents unique challenges. Problem-solving requires part technical skill, part creative engineering, and part je ne sais quoi. As we were planning this article, and one to follow in the CALL-IS Newsletter, Larry Udry, the newsletter editor, wrote us to interject this observation (personal communication, Apr. 24, 2017):

I remember four years ago- setting up [a webcast via] Blackboard Collaborate and we had a problem with the sound. After numerous tries to no avail, Vance walks in the room. Vance is told of the problem and produces from his ever-present backpack a small extendable microphone. In order to get the sound from the speaker in the room to audience Vance takes two chairs, inverts one of them upside down, places his extendable mic up to the speaker in the room and once again … rescues the day.

It is this kind of on the job ingenuity that drives CALL-IS webcasting forward and will certainly continue. As Jennifer says in the conclusion she submitted for this article, “it is the contributions of the entire team that make us so successful and make the collaboration enriching and enjoyable.”


1. [The Electronic Village is a physical area where CALL-IS bases itself at annual TESOL conferences. Usually there are two rooms, one stocked with computers and used for kiosk presentations and hands-on training events, and the other room is used for presentations and CALL-IS seminars, such as the annual CALL-IS Academic Session. These rooms have long been provided with Internet, even before Wi-Fi became commonly available throughout our conference convention centers, which is how we have been able to webcast from there since 2006 – but had to purchase dialup phone connectivity in 2003. EVO, or Electronic Village Online, was a concept that Christine Bauer-Ramazani and others in CALL-IS implemented in 1999 as a virtual space emulating, between conferences and in an online environment, what CALL-IS had been doing and still does f2f in the EV at annual TESOL conferences]


Hanson-Smith, E., and Bauer-Ramazani, C. (2004). Professional development: The Electronic Village Online of the TESOL CALL Interest Section. TESL-EJ 8, 2 (n.p.). Available: http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume8/ej30/ej30int/.

Lebow, J. (2006). Worldbridges: The Potential of Live, Interactive Webcasting. TESL-EJ 10, 1 (n.p.). Available: http://www.tesl-ej.org/ej37/int.html.

Stevens, V. (2012). Learning2gether to teach one another about learning online. Learning2gether. Available: https://learning2gether.net/2012/03/30/learning2gether-to-teach-one-another-about-le/.

Stevens, V. (2016). Can a paradigm shift in conference business models reverse declining attendance at face to face conferences. AdVancEducation. Available: http://advanceducation.blogspot.ae/2016/04/can-paradigm-shift-in-conference.html.

Stevens, V. (2017a). Learning2gether with IATEFL 2017 Glasgow. Learning2gether. Available: https://learning2gether.net/2017/04/07/learning2gether-with-iatefl-2017-glasgow/.

Stevens, V. (2017b). Configure encoders, stream YouTube Live, and record lesson materials on-the-fly: A manual in progress. Google Slides presentation given at TESOL Conference, Seattle, March 22, 2017. Available: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/12KL1390JLzBsopdsMLMi6ZHNC23CEzT2biNp0mCOV3M/edit?usp=sharing.

Winet, D. (2015). Reflections on StudyCom. TESL-EJ 19, 1 (1-18). Available: http://tesl-ej.org/pdf/ej73/int.pdf.


Appendix 1

Full links to CALL-IS webcasts 2006-2017 (including archives from http://Learning2gether.net)






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]]> Teaching Children How to Learn http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej81/ej81r3/ Fri, 02 Jun 2017 13:32:53 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12329 May 2017 – Volume 21, Number 1

Teaching Children How to Learn

Authors: Gail Ellis & Nayr Ibrahim (2015)  
Publisher: Peaslake, UK: Delta
Pages ISBN Price
176 pages 978-1-905085-86-6 $21.99 USD

Teaching Children How to Learn is a practical guide to assist language instructors of young learners in effectively imparting metacognitive knowledge and learning strategies. Overall, it is based on the ‘plan do review’ learning cycle (Hohmann, Weikart, & Epstein, 2008), where students are made aware of the purpose of the lesson, learn the material, and then practice to reinforce their understanding. The cycle is expanded and is a crucial aspect not only of ten pedagogical principles that recur throughout the book, but also of the book itself. These principles form the backbone of the lessons and are key to helping children recognize features of the learning process. By applying them in the classroom, students will gain the skills to understand how they are learning and will then possess the tools to use that knowledge for more effective scholarship in the future.

The book is well-organized, and both the design and format help with locating important information. Section headings are bolded, in larger print, and have a light gray background so as to stand out when scanning the page. Subheadings are also in bold, and there are many bulleted lists. These features make it very easy to find specific information without having to skim through a large amount of text. For a teacher without a lot of free time, this is key to being able to quickly brush up on a concept. There is no index, but a meticulously organized table of contents helps with locating information, activities, or areas for self-reflection.

A key feature of Teaching Children How to Learn is a class mascot in the form of a likeable worm named Wilbur. Wilbur is a guide who gives instructions or advice to students as they complete review activities. In addition, worksheets and activity records that correspond to each lesson are included in a section called ‘Wilbur’s toolkit’.

Many resources (lesson plans and teaching strategies) can be photocopied directly from the book. Materials in two additional sections (‘Wilbur’s toolkit’ and the ‘Teacher’s toolkit’) are shown four to a page, and full-sized (A4) PDFs are available as free downloads on the publisher’s website (www.deltapublishing.co.uk/resources).

The book is divided into three main sections (Parts A, B, and C), which, from the teacher’s viewpoint, correspond with ‘Plan’, ‘Do’, and ‘Review’. Part A (‘Plan’) provides a comprehensive, but concise theoretical background on learning how to learn. This is necessary in order to effectively design and carry out lessons. Important concepts are defined and discussed (e.g., metacognitive awareness and learning strategies), and a number of characteristics and examples are given. In stating the case for children to learn how to learn, teachers’ opinions and concerns are provided, along with comments and responses to them. The chapter also details explicit roles the teacher should play at various times (affective, procedural, behavioral, interactive), and Wilbur the Worm is introduced and personified to assist with some of these roles. There is a detailed explanation of the ten pedagogical principles (e.g., English Language Portfolio, children’s voices, informed activities) upon which the lessons and activities in the following section are based. All information is presented in a brief, easy-to-read format, with a bibliography for further reading.

Part B (‘Do’) provides examples of lesson plans that utilize the concepts and principles from the first section, while incorporating different types of learning strategies (metacognitive, cognitive, and/or socioaffective). There are verbal (listen and respond) and non-verbal (read and respond) activities, which correspond to one of the pedagogical principles. Each lesson plan is presented on a double page spread with clear headings for the different parts. The left side of the double spread includes information for the teacher and steps for carrying out the lesson. While lessons are based on the ‘plan do review’ learning cycle, they also include an optional ‘do more’ step that can serve to increase students’ learning, allow them to work individually, and encourage originality and creativity in completing the tasks.

The right-hand page is comprised of review activities that help the teacher to establish a routine (one of the pedagogical principles), as each is centered on the following five questions:

  • What did you do?
  • What did you learn?
  • How did you learn?
  • How well did you do?
  • What do you need to do next?

These are followed by the ‘Share’ step, which not only encourages children to show their work to family members (another pedagogical principle), but the worksheets (included in ‘Wilbur’s toolkit’) also have a space to write family members’ comments. This takes the learning process beyond the classroom and into the home. Moreover, students are encouraged to complete this step in the home language, thereby reinforcing content learned in school in one language by discussing it in another.

The ‘Review’ section (Part C) is dedicated to professional development by assisting the teacher with self-reflection on the pedagogical principles, teaching strategies, ongoing development strategies, and self-assessment. Hohmann et al.’s (2008) learning cycle is revisited, however, it is now in a ‘plan do review share’ format. Just as students are encouraged to share their work with parents, teachers can reflect and discuss outcomes with colleagues. This additional step facilitates collaboration between professionals in order to gain innovative ideas. Finally, the ‘Teacher’s toolkit’ includes possible keys, as well as various templates.

Even though the book is dedicated to teaching children, many of the principles, strategies, and areas for self-assessment are applicable to language teachers of any age or level, from preschool through higher education. Teaching principles are generally the same at any level, and while some of the questions or points of reflection might need to be adapted for older or more advanced students, this section provides a useful basis to think about one’s own teaching and further improve through reflection and cooperation.

While the authors are aware that access to technology varies throughout the world, worksheets for students and teachers are only available online. Therefore, ‘Wilbur’s toolkit’ activities could only be used by teachers with access to the internet and a printer. While many Asian countries are technologically advanced, schools (especially elementary) lag far behind in terms of available technology. Therefore, it would be more useful to include the worksheets on a full page or in an accompanying text.

Overall, Teaching Children How to Learn is an excellent resource for any language instructor. In implementing the strategies and activities, teachers are able to equip children with the knowledge of how learning occurs, which can then extend beyond the classroom and travel with them into the future. Metacognitive awareness is therefore key to the continuous process of language acquisition. In addition to being able to communicate in English, second language learners are able to discuss their learning, as they are centralized and are given a voice. Finally, the book is important not only in teaching children how to learn, but also in teaching ESL teachers how to teach through innovative self-assessment activities. The reflective section makes the book especially useful for a language instructor’s professional development, indirectly helping future students to become even better learners.


Hohmann, M., Weikart, D. P., & Epstein, A. S. (2008). Educating young children: Active learning practices for preschool and child care programs (3rd ed.). Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.

Reviewed by
Robert J. Werner
Ryutsu Keizai University, Japan

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Narrating Their Lives: Examining English Language Teachers’ Professional Identities within the Classroom http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej81/ej81r2/ Fri, 02 Jun 2017 13:26:32 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12325 May 2017 – Volume 21, Number 1

Narrating Their Lives: Examining English Language Teachers’
Professional Identities within the Classroom

Edited by: Lia D. Kamhi-Stein (2013)  
Publisher: Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press
Pages ISBN Price
168 pages 978-0-472-03499-4 $26.95 USD

The edited book Narrating Their Lives: Examining English Language Teacher’s Professional Identities within the Classroom presents fascinating autobiographical narratives written by six ESL teachers enrolled in the M.A. TESOL program at California State University, Los Angeles. The book consists of a forward by Stephanie Vandrick, an introduction, and five chapters. The introduction discusses two central topics for the book: language teachers’ identity and narrative research. The editor succinctly reviews prior study in these areas, legitimatizing the use of autobiographical narratives to explore teachers’ professional identities.

The book devotes its first chapter to the editor’s own language learning experiences in an EFL context and how these experiences affect her pedagogical strategies as a teacher educator. The vivid account of these experiences raises the readers’ awareness of the close link between teachers’ language learning experiences and their teaching practices.

The second chapter consists of three autobiographies written by three master students who grew up in the Expanding Circle (Kachru, 1992). Since the number of M.A. TESOL students from the Expanding Circle is burgeoning, the editor’s inclusion of their voices is truly imperative for teacher educators to realize their students’ diverse identities. All of the three autobiographies problematize several entrenched notions in TESOL. The first narrative, written by Veneza Angel Pablico, serves as a convincing example to challenge the notion of ‘native speakers of English’ because such notion silences multilingual speakers like her. Before immigrating to the US, Angel skillfully code-switched between Tagalog and English to suit her communicative needs. After graduating from high school, Angel immigrated to Los Angeles where she fit in well. Nevertheless, Angel later on moved to Oklahoma and was surprised by the local linguistic norms. During her five-year stay in Oklahoma, she gradually developed her pragmatic capability through acculturation. Based on her experience, Angel proposed three implications for language teachers. She advocates for including various Englishes in the curriculum, choosing materials that emphasize successful learners, and valuing students’ first languages. The second autobiographical narrative is written by Hee-Jin Kim, who discusses her language learning experience in South Korea, the US, and Germany. Hee-Jin’s story also questions the notion of ‘native speakers of English.’ In particular, in the job market in South Korea, professionals like her are often discriminated as incompetent teachers. Instead of treating teachers as native speakers or nonnative speakers, Hee-Jin proposes that teachers should be evaluated on their expertise and knowledge. Jessie Chen wrote the third autobiography. Compared to Angel and Hee-Jin, Jessie’s narrative mainly discusses racial discrimination. Jessie reveals her childhood experience of being insulted due to her race as a Korean American, which made her the invisible Asian girl in school. Such an excruciating experience allows her to construct an empowering classroom for marginalized ESL students.

After presenting the narratives by authors from the Expanding Circle, the third chapter includes three narratives written by M.A. TESOL students from the Inner Circle. This chapter convincingly demonstrates that being a native speaker of English does not necessarily guarantee one’s legitimacy in English language classrooms. These challenges include speaking with certain American accents, being marginalized due to Caucasian ethnicity, and being essentialized as monolingual speakers. For example, Jeremy C. Kelley speaks South American English and describes himself as a second language learner of standard American English. In addition to issues such as accents, teachers from the Inner Circle also face the danger of being marginalized in the classroom due to their strikingly different ethnic backgrounds compared with their ESL students. To solve this challenge, Valerie J. Callet reassigns her identity from being a white teacher to a caring teacher for students. In addition, she adopts culturally responsive teaching by selecting reading materials relevant to students’ experience and creating a class library where books are written by authors with various cultural and ethnical backgrounds. Moreover, teachers from the Inner Circle are also confronted with the stereotype that they are monolingual speakers despite their multilingual competence. Although Shannon Ladymon knows multiple languages including Spanish, Latin, and Japanese, her appearance as a Caucasian frequently positions her as an outsider in Japan since people would identify her as a monolingual English speaker.

Chapter four nicely synthesizes five pedagogical practices identified in all the narratives. The first practice is to value students’ first languages as resources and code-switch strategically in multilingual classrooms. The second strategy is to establish classroom communities by incorporating teachers’ own identities. For example, NNESTs serve as role models for students to emulate and they possess first-hand experiences of learning English. The third strategy is to integrate various types of Englishes into curriculum design. This is particularly evident in Jeremy’s class where he teaches students to appreciate the diversity of Englishes and to examine how English is used in students’ own communities. The fourth strategy is to embrace culturally responsive pedagogy by drawing on what students bring into the classroom. For instance, in Valerie’s class, the students are exposed to the novels written by African American and Latino authors. The fifth pedagogy is to teach linguistic identity. For instance, Shannon adopts a three-step approach to exploring identities. The students critically reflect on the influence of social relations in communication and claim their own right to use English.

The fifth chapter discusses how ESL teachers and teacher educators can use narrative inquiry to promote teacher reflection, presenting both advantage as well as challenges of utilizing autobiographies in TESOL. The author discusses the assignment expectations of autobiographies and selected readings, which are very helpful for instructors who would like to use autobiographies.

It is noteworthy that all the autobiographies of the book were chosen from students who are enrolled in an M.A. TESOL course. A follow-up step would be to collect narratives composed by the same students and track their identity formation trajectories. Additionally, there could have been a section addressing the distinction between writing autobiographies for a course and writing autobiographies for one’s own reflection. This distinction is important for teacher educators who would like to incorporate narrative inquiry into their course and for ESL teachers who would like to use narrative inquiry for their own professional development. The potential challenges to implement the five pedagogies recommended for ESL teachers could also have been discussed, such as limited resources and policy constraints.

Overall, the book is worth reading for its comprehensive coverage of experiences narrated by English language teachers. In particular, the intriguing autobiographical narratives demonstrate that being a nonnative speaker of English provides valuable resources for students, and being a native speaker of English does not necessarily entail legitimacy as an English teacher. This book will be most appealing to ESL teachers and teacher educators. For ESL teachers, this book convincingly demonstrates the close link between one’s previous language learning experience and one’s current teaching practices. Examining one’s own personal language learning and teaching history is important for one to become aware of how prior experience may shape current actions in language classrooms. Additionally, ESL teachers may implement the five pedagogical practices recommended by the English language teachers in the book when teaching their own students. They may also think about how to apply an autobiographical approach, to discover their students’ unique linguistic backgrounds as a guide for designing classroom activities that suit their students’ particular needs. For ESL teacher educators, this book offers an excellent example of incorporating autobiographies into the curriculum of TESOL. By asking teachers to craft autobiographies, teacher educators may identify challenges that teachers have encountered due to their prior experience. This will open up space for teacher educators to provide mediation to foster teachers’ professional development.


Kachru, B.B. (1992). Teaching World Englishes. In B.B. Kachru (Ed.), The other tongue: English across cultures (2nd ed.) (pp. 355-365), Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Reviewed by
Dingding Jia
The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, USA

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Voices of Experience: How Teachers Manage Student-Centered ESL Classes http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej81/ej81r1/ Fri, 02 Jun 2017 13:18:16 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12323 May 2017 – Volume 21, Number 1

Voices of Experience: How Teachers Manage Student-Centered ESL Classes

Author: Janet Giannotti (2015)  
Publisher: Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press ELT
Pages ISBN Price
224 pages 978-0-472-03614-1 $26.00 USD

I first came across Janet Giannotti’s Voices of Experience while completing my MA TESOL program and teaching as a teacher-in-training.  Despite my efforts to perform observations of experienced colleagues’ classes and speak with them informally about how they ran their classes, I too often found that busy schedules and life intervened.  In Voices of Experience, I not only discovered a wide-variety of helpful tips and tricks on effective classroom management from experienced TESOL professionals but also, crucially, valuable insights into the thought processes that inform an experienced teacher’s in-class decisions.  As such, the book became a meaningful part of my professional development, something that holds true to this day.  

The compendium of voices collected in Voices of Experience come from three sources.  First, Giannotti, while still imagining what shape her eventual book might take, gave several conference presentations and teacher training workshops on the topic of classroom management and used the conversations that followed, in person and online, to further investigate her colleagues’ insights.  After, Giannotti designed and distributed a lengthy 45-item survey about classroom management to 80 ESL professionals, most of whom were her colleagues at Northern Virginia Community College. Then Giannotti, who has 38 years of ESL teaching experience, used her voice to illuminate, reflect on, and organize the other voices in the text, resulting in a very readable, practical guide to 21st century classroom management.  

The book contains five units: The Classroom Environment, Lesson Planning, Pair and Group Work, Classroom Interactions, and Classroom Trouble Spots.  These units are organized around the five sections of her teacher survey and, in turn, are further divided into two or three chapters that expand on survey responses.  As a result, the book does not need to be read sequentially.  Instead, a curious teacher can open the book to any unit or chapter that seems the most relevant or useful when trouble-shooting a class.  For instance, a teacher who wants to know more about creating a healthy classroom environment could turn to Unit 1, which Giannotti begins by reflecting on some challenging classroom realities, such as the fact that many students start a class expecting to have a relationship with their teacher but “… they probably do not come to an ESL class expecting to develop relationships with their peers” (p. 4).  Giannotti also elaborates on how “learner-centered” does not mean allowing students to run the show; rather, it entails a balancing act between teacher-led instruction and small group and pair work.  Such straightforward reflections on the actual realities behind running a classroom can be found throughout Voices of Experience.  

Chapter 1 of Unit 1 covers “Setting the Tone in the Classroom.”  The chapter begins by displaying the results of Giannotti’s related survey question in a bar graph form.  To the question, “How important is it to you to set the tone in your first class meeting?,” 66% of respondents said “very important,” 32% responded “I usually let the first week or so set the tone,” and 2% stated “Not so important; I usually let the class personalities emerge” (p. 5).  After commenting on these findings, Giannotti discusses strategies behind successfully using icebreakers and learning student names.  To further illustrate the thought processes of the ESL professionals she surveyed and spoke with, she strategically places several quote boxes throughout each chapter and expands on these quotes and survey findings with her own insights.  One such quote box in Chapter 1 reads: “I always make sure the icebreaker activity uses the skills in the class title.  For example, students do a reading and writing activity for a reading and writing class.  I always make sure the activity involves communicating with their classmates and sharing that information with the entire class” (p. 9).  This helpful reminder, along with Giannotti’s following commentary throughout the chapter, reinforces the message that Communicative Language Teaching means providing students with opportunities to communicate meaningful messages, even during an icebreaker and even on the first day of class.

Unit 1 continues with Chapter 2, “Class Rules,” which covers such topics as communicating the rules, following the golden-rule (treating others as you want to be treated),  and engaging with the controversy surrounding English-only classroom policies.  The unit then ends, like each unit, with a Making Connections section that offers numerous helpful suggestions for ways a teacher could use the book for reflection and discussion.  In the book’s introduction, Giannotti gives some helpful advice for how advanced and novice practitioners might approach the Making Connections section differently.  Giannotti makes it clear that teachers at different levels of experience might use of the book for different purposes.  While some might value the book as a tool for self-reflection, others might simply search for exciting teaching ideas to try out in their classes.  A key strength of the book is that its emphasis on spurring both self-reflection and inspiration does not feel imbalanced.  

Voices of Experience contains a multitude of teaching ideas capable of sparking your imagination in your own classroom.  Some ideas are funny, such as the way one teacher handles cellphones ringing in class: “usually the perpetrator brings food” (p. 15).  Other ideas make you pause and wonder why you had never heard that one before, such as beginning the semester with a syllabus speed dating activity or using i-Pads in class to record student presentations so they can later watch and critique themselves as a means of getting more out of the activity.  

On this technological note, one area in which I found myself wanting more from the text was in regards to technology in the classroom.  Much discussion occurs about phones ringing in class or being used to photograph or record lessons, but the phones as tools section misses many promising ways phones can be turned on in class in order to engage students.  The myriads of apps, websites, and gizmos out there which can be adapted for language classroom use are beyond the scope of this book, but nevertheless I would have appreciated more weight given to technology given the often important role it plays in our students’ lives and our own.

Ultimately, the moments in which the book inspires you to reflect on your own teaching practices are perhaps the most valuable.  One such instance is Giannotti’s explanation of the many-sided pitfalls of an information gap exercise.  There are always those two students who wind up looking at each other’s papers!  Giannotti argues that all ESL teachers should try out an information gap activity from a  student’s perspective.  Several times throughout her book Giannotti similarly encourages her teacher readers to actually do some of the activities they use in class in order to see them from a student’s point of view.  The practical wisdom of doing so seems obvious.  Students cannot be expected to not get confused if their teachers get confused by the same activities.   Yet, how many teachers have actually tried doing an information gap exercise in order to see exactly how, when, where, and why it might challenge students?

Having finished my MA TESOL program and started full-time teaching, I can continue to attest to how successfully Voices of Experience appeals to both teachers-in-training and experienced TESOL professionals.  Colleagues in both areas with whom I have shared the book have all reported finding their own ways to benefit from it, which supports Gianotti’s observation that, “Everyone wants a glimpse into how other teachers conduct their classes” (p. iv).  I can attest to this truism, and having the book handy, along with encouraging colleagues to read the text themselves, has exposed me to many diverse “voices of experience,” strengthening my practice as a reflective, aspiring TESOL professional as a result.

Reviewed by
Jeremy Cahill
Universidad del Norte, Universidad del Norte,  Barranquilla, Atlántico, Colombia

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Memrise http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej81/ej81m1/ Fri, 02 Jun 2017 12:57:44 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12318 May 2017 – Volume 21, Number 1
Title Memrise
Author Dr. Greg Detre and Ed Cook
Contact Information http://www.memrise.com/app/
Type of Product Vocabulary learning website
Current Compatibility The website can be used with computers and is compatible with Chrome, Firefox, and other common internet browsers.

Available on all Android tablets and smartphones, iPhone and iPad.

Platform Web-based
Registration Required for participation
Price Free; Pro version for $9 US/month, $19 US/three months, or $59 US/year


According to Nation (2001), an educated native speaker of English knows approximately 20,000 word families, while even well-educated English language learners (ELLs) know, perhaps, less than one-quarter of this amount (Laufer & Yano, 2001). Online language learning tools have incredible potential to close the lexical gap between native speakers’ and ELLs’ vocabulary because of their potential to provide learner autonomy. One of these tools that could assist ELLs in improving their vocabulary is a website called Memrise.

Memrise was launched in 2010 and was created by Ed Cook, a “Grand Master of Memory,” and Greg Detre, who received his PhD from Princeton University in computational neuroscience, specializing in the science of memory and forgetting (Memrise, 2016). The creators founded Memrise on the foundation of science, with the goals of facilitating enjoyable learning communities and providing learners with strategies that are entertaining, but also effective (Memrise, 2016).

Getting Started

Starting a Memrise account is easy and only requires a username, email, and password (see Figure 1). Users have the option to choose a free account or to pay either $9 US a month, $59 US per year, or $19 US for three months. Paid memberships allow learners access to the Pro version, which includes features such as audio reviews, personal statistics, additional listening practice, a video corpus of native speakers’ speech, audio examples and tests, and for those studying English, the ability to interact with videos and native-speakers via video chat.

Figure 1. Memrise homepage for starting an account

Upon creating an account, a user has the option to identify the language they speak natively, which determines the language in which users receive definitions for words they are memorizing (see Figure 2). Users can choose from 1 of 94 languages, including American and French sign language.

Figure 2. Language options for Memrise interface

Once learners have created an account and declared their language, they choose the course or courses they would like to start studying. There are multiple courses that Memrise users can choose from, such as arts and literature, math and science, the natural world, history and geography, and entertainment, although the majority of available courses are for language learners. According to Memrise producers, the program has over 200 languages available to learn and over 300,000 existing courses. Each course includes multiple levels that often cover different content topics or functions. For example, the “1500 Word Spanish Intro” course includes 32 levels and each level covers a different content topic such as love and romance, feelings, and politics (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Levels of “1500 Word Spanish Intro” Course

One excellent benefit of Memrise courses is that the learner can review the words that will be covered in each course and choose to ignore words (see Figure 4). This enables learners to avoid the frustrating experience of learning and reviewing words they already know, as is the case with many other online language learning tools such as Duolingo. Additionally, users do not have to complete one level to move on to the next, which affords the learner the ability to cover topics in which they are currently interested.

Learning Sessions

Each level contains a set number of words to learn, which varies depending on the course. However, the user has the option to determine how many words they will be exposed to per learning session, which can be any number from five to 20 (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Option to set number of words per review session

When users are learning a new word, they are initially provided a flashcard with the definition of the word accompanied by a mnemonic device of their choosing (called Mems) to help form sensory memories. These Mems can be videos, photos, example sentences, or anything to help learners make associations between new words and ideas with which they are already familiar (see Figure 5). Along with each flashcard and Mem, words are introduced with an audio recording so that users can hear how the word is pronounced.

After initial exposure to the target word, learners’ memory of the word is tested repeatedly within that same session through activities such as typing the appropriate word for a given definition, selecting the correct word for a given definition, or typing the correct word for the given audio recording. According to Folse (2011), exposing learners to a repeated, but limited number of words each session is a beneficial practice. Memrise creators’ decision to limit the number of words per session not only prevents boredom and cognitive overload, but also provides the learner multiple encounters with the target word.

Figure 5. New word with definition and mem

Review Sessions
Through the duration of the course, users are encouraged to review words that they have previously learned. Memrise’s creators based their review system on their research in cognitive science, which suggests that the brain must be challenged in recalling a word to strengthen the memory; this means learners should see a word often enough to form a memory, but not so often that their brain is not challenged. Therefore, the creators developed algorithms to be able to determine when and how often a learner needs to review a word to store it in their long-term memory (Memrise, 2016).

The frequency with which a word appears in a review session is dependent upon how recently the user learned the word and how often the word has been practiced. In other words, the more frequently the word is reviewed with success the less it shows up again for review. The review sessions are helpful, because users are not required to keep track of how often they should practice their words. The creators posit that “[b]y tracking when you should review and practise material, we do the hard work for you- making your learning as effortless and fun as possible” (“About,” n.d., para. 11).

During a review session, users may be given a definition and asked to supply the correct word in the target language or listen to an audio recording of the target word and be asked to type it. When users provide the wrong answer, the Mem that has previously been chosen for that word will appear along with the definition of the word and an audio recording, and users will be asked to supply the correct answer.

Memrise uses the illustration of a flower to help learners visualize the process of memorization (see Figure 6). They equate reviewing a word to a gardener doing the necessary work of growing a garden, and every time a word is reviewed correctly, a new piece of the flower is added to an icon that appears at the top of the page. This symbol relates to how frequently the word shows up in the review function of Memrise.

Figure 6. Flower illustration indicating how well a learner knows the target word

Community Engagement and Motivation

Memrise has attempted to create a virtual classroom through their community engagement efforts. These different methods of community engagement demonstrate the creators’ belief that learning with others inspires curiosity and creativity in the learning process, which results in more motivated learners and effective learning environments.

One of the most interesting aspects of Memrise is that users have the opportunity to create groups that are committed to taking the same course (see Figure 7). This feature is beneficial for teachers who want to supplement their instruction with online work or groups of friends who want to help each other learn certain topics. All that is necessary for a person to start a group is to choose a course and invite other users (see Figure 8).

Figure 7. Option to organize a group

Figure 8. Option to invite others in a group to participate in the same course

In addition to groups, users can create courses (see Figure 9) and mems (see Figure 10). While some courses and mems are created by Memrise staff, others are created by users in the community. When a course or mem is created by a user, it is made available to all other users. This is another positive feature of Memrise, because not only do users have the potential to learn through creating, but also the Memrise course and mem selection can continue to expand.

Figure 9. Option for users to create their own course

Figure 10. Option for users to create mems

Memrise creators have tried to utilize social media as much as possible in order to create a communal feel for their users. For example, users can create personal profiles so that they can interact with and “follow” other people to check their progress by seeing how many points other users have obtained. Memrise has also involved Facebook and Twitter and provides an on-site forum where learners can share ideas about learning, teaching, and their progress in the language. The staff members have also created a blog where they share ideas about language learning and update users on their current projects aiming to improve Memrise. These efforts to develop interconnectedness among users has the potential to motivate individual learners.

In addition to seeking to motivate learners externally through community, Memrise has also attempted to motivate learners intrinsically by providing users with opportunities to set individual goals. Users can set daily goals for each course and Memrise keeps track of their “streak,” or how many days in a row they have completed their goal.

Teacher and Learner Value

Memrise has a number of strong features that make it an appealing learning option for students and teachers. The site is built on the foundation of cognitive science, so learners can engage with the material in a way that enables information storage in the long-term memory. Memrise uses multiple methods for instructing and assessing learners on materials they are exposed to, so that several learning styles, namely, visual, auditory, and linguistic can potentially be engaged. Additionally, the fact that the site generates review lists for learners at appropriate intervals saves users the hassle of trying to determine when and what words to review. The various methods for connecting users has the potential to motivate individual learners and provide teachers with resources to supplement their classroom instruction and create collaboration among their students, even outside of the classroom. Lastly, providing users with several ways to personalize their learning enables them to have control of accomplishing their own goals.

Although Memrise is an effective site in terms of memorizing the definitions of words, it is only partially useful as a language learning tool. First of all, unless a user pays for the Pro version, there is no opportunity to hear these words in an authentic context. This means that, although learners may know the definition of the word, they may not be able to recognize the possible ways that the word can function in a sentence. However, this needs to be weighed against the fact that some courses offer more context than others. For example, many of the Spanish grammar courses that the author has used contain phrases in order to demonstrate verb conjugation in certain contexts, rather than single words alone. Still, when words do appear in context, to successfully fulfill the task for that session, a user simply needs to memorize the phrase rather than understand how the target word truly functions to create meaning. This lack of explicit focus-on-form (Long, 1991) is unlikely to provide the learner with necessary knowledge to analyze the sentence for deductive learning, and the lack of multiple occurrences of the same structure in a variety of contexts is unlikely to provide the kind of input required for inductive learning. Moreover, without the opportunity for learners to really practice using the words, it is possible they will not acquire productive knowledge of the target vocabulary considering that most second language acquisition research suggests interaction is a necessary component for learners to develop productive skills (see, e.g., Gass & Selinker, 2008; Long, 1996; Swain, 1985, 1995).

Taking the strengths and weaknesses of Memrise into consideration, the value of this site to teachers and learners is that it offers a wide range of repeated instances of vocabulary exposure in a manner that is engaging and competitive and can promote collaborative learning. Students can benefit from this site by learning the meanings of multiple words so that, as they are exposed to these words in other environments, they can begin to analyze the different ways the word functions to create meaning. Teachers can use this site as a supplement to classroom instruction by creating Memrise groups with their students. However, once students are exposed to words through Memrise, it will be important to provide them with the target word in context and opportunities to use the word productively.


Gass, S. & Selinker, L. (2008). Second language acquisition: An introductory course. New York, NY: Routledge. p. 350. 

Laufer, B., & Yano, Y. (2001). Understanding unfamiliar words in a text: Do L2 learners understand how much they don’t understand? Reading in a Foreign Language, 13, 549-566

Long, M. (1991). Focus on form: A design feature in language teaching methodology. In K. De Bot, R. Ginsberg, & C. Kramsch, Claire (Eds.). Foreign language research in cross-cultural perspective. (pp. 39–52). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Long, M. (1996). The role of the linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W. Ritchie & T. Bhatia (Eds.). Handbook of second language acquisition. (pp. 413–468). San Diego: Academic Press.

Memrise. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 24, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memrise

Nation, P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press

Swain, M. (1985). Communicative competence: Some roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development. In S. Gass & C. Madden (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition (pp. 235-253). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Swain, M. (1995). Three functions of output in second language learning. In G. Cook & B. Seidlhofer (Eds.), Principles and practice in applied linguistics: Studies in honour of H. G. Widdowson (pp. 125- 144). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

About the Author

Ryan Nicklas <rnicklaokstate.edu> graduated with a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language from Oklahoma State University in Spring 2017. His interests are content-based language instruction and training ESL teachers.

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

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Early Childhood: Language and Bullying in an English-medium School in China http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej81/ej81a5/ Fri, 02 Jun 2017 12:24:29 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12309 May 2017 – Volume 21, Number 1

Clayton Wayne Lehman


The purpose of this small-scale study was to examine whether language is a factor in the reporting of bullying behavior by young English language learners enrolled in an early childhood program of an English-medium school in China. Further investigated was whether an English-only language policy affects the reporting of bullying behavior. Participants of the study included eleven preschool students, their parents, five Chinese teaching assistants, and ten foreign teachers. Methods of data collection included student interviews and the completion of questionnaires by parents, Chinese teaching assistants, and foreign teachers. The results indicate both language and language policy are factors in the reporting of bullying behavior.

Keywords: bullying; early childhood; English-medium; English-only language policy; leadership


Although the definition of what constitutes an international school is becoming blurred, apparent is the almost insatiable demand for international or western education in China as a means for English language acquisition and preparation for study in western universities. Unfortunately, many schools with the agenda of reaping profits are filling demand. As for-profit schools seek to lure students through the doors, often pushed aside are ethics in education. As a selling point for enrollment, heralded to the parents is the curriculum of the school. However, many students do not receive the necessary support for developing the linguistic skills needed to gain meaningful access to the curriculum or teachers. This article intends to raise questions concerning language, language policy, discipline policy, bullying, and the social well-being of students enrolled in early childhood English-medium programs in China that employ foreign teachers.


In 2013, there were over 400 English-medium schools operating in China (Clark, 2014). As of 2015, that number had risen to more than 500 (Keeling, 2015). Due to the transient nature of foreign staff in English-medium schools, maintaining consistency in school policy is a continuing process and a carefully crafted and implemented discipline policy is required for prek-12 educational facilities to be successful. Further complicating matters is when there is administrative turnover that results in the lack of enforcement or a complete change of policy without regard given to the biopsychosocial makeup of the school body. Due to the cultural and linguistic diversity found within many English-medium schools, attention to cultural norms of the host country and varied parental expectations are paramount in the development and implementation of discipline policy. Developing a school culture that promotes student accountability and personal responsibility should be a priority.

Discipline Policy and Student Accountability

Particularly debatable is the administration of discipline policy in early childhood programs. Discipline policy in early childhood programs should take into consideration the age in which student responsibility becomes a factor. Moreover, teachers, parents, and administrators often have differing opinions on when to hold students accountable for their actions and methods of discipline. From a sampling of 40 early childhood teachers in cities in south-central China, Arndt and Luo (2008) reported that half of the Chinese teachers believed the age of three was an appropriate age for accepting responsibility. Other Chinese teachers reported the age of five or above. However, Arndt, and Luo found some Chinese teachers reported that student responsibility could occur as soon as students acquired oral language, which could be as young as 18 months. Complicating matters is the fact that a majority of the students in English-medium schools are learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and foreign administrators and teachers should provide accommodations for students classified as having Limited English Proficiency (LEP). In the process of establishing or reevaluating discipline policy in early childhood programs, schools should consider at what age student accountability becomes a factor. School discipline policy should be made transparent, explained to parents, and include signed agreements noting parental awareness.

Language Policy and Bullying

English-medium schools using an international or western oriented curriculum usually have a policy concerning language even though that policy may or may not be in writing. Usually this policy requires instruction to take place solely in English. In most bilingual schools, instruction for some classes occurs in the native language and others in English, which usually results in the segregation of the languages. In addition, English is often the prescribed language for socialization amongst the students in international and English-medium schools.

In international school communities and English-medium schools, the use or non-use of language is often a topic of contention and many of these schools tend to embrace an English-only policy if a language policy is in place. Frequently, school administrators assert that an English-only policy mandating the use of English throughout the school day aids in student acquisition of English. However, such a policy may not be in the best interest of the school community. Furthermore, such policy collides with recent theories of language acquisition.

All schools should be concerned with bullying and continually seek ways to address bullying via the implementation of measures towards prevention and intervention. In the process of developing and implementing preventions and interventions for bullying, schools should examine how language plays a pivotal role by contemplating the following:

  • Are students being provided with the necessary linguistic skills to report bullying behavior?
  • Are teachers receiving the professional development that allows them to develop the necessary skills to understand the biopsychosocial makeup of the student body to meet both the academic and social needs of all students?

Local English-medium schools, defined as being broadly international, usually consist of a majority ethnic group. International schools defined as being broadly international can experience both intracultural and cross-cultural bullying. Intracultural bullying can occur in international schools due to the different languages and dialects spoken. Students from different geographical areas attending schools often form cliques. For example, students from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China frequently differentiate themselves from one another. In a comparative analysis for reasons of intracultural bullying amongst Hispanic students in the state of Washington, Mendez, Bauman, and Guillory (2012) reported that students who were not able to speak English were more likely to be bullied and experienced isolation and exclusion because of a language barrier. In discussing how schools could reduce bullying, one student interviewed by Mendez et al. expressed, “How would I feel if I couldn’t approach a teacher or administrator?” As students acculturated and became more proficient in the dominant language, bullying tended to subside (Mendez et al., 2012). However, some students fall victim to the bully cycle and once bullied, some victims become bullies. Because school populations in international schools tend to fluctuate, schools should exercise diligence in developing language that allows students to avoid becoming victims of bullying behavior.

Native Language in the Classroom and Reporting Bullying Behavior

According to Krashen (1981), acquisition of language occurs through communication. Students who are unable to communicate in the dominant language become isolated and excluded and are thereby denied the communicative interaction needed to acquire language (Chang et al., 2007). Moreover, some students may lack the language skills needed to respond to verbal forms of bullying (Savage, 2005). In a study of Spanish-speaking pre-kindergarteners attending pre-kindergarten programs in the U.S., Chang et al. (2007) found that Spanish-speaking students were less likely to experience bullying when they received interaction from the teacher in Spanish. Interaction via language is vital to developing relationships within the classroom and communication between students and teachers is invaluable as an intervention and prevention to bullying. Furlong and Chung (1995) reported that non-victims of bullying were more likely to converse with teachers and discuss problems than victims of bullying. Administrators of English-medium schools should consider how teachers provide support to students and need to consider both the academic and social ramifications of this support when developing school language policy (Chang et al., 2007; Flaspohler, et al., 2009).

In a study of Dutch elementary students, Fekkes, Pijpers, and Verloove-Vanhorick (2005) reported that frequently bullied students were more likely to tell a parent instead of a teacher. However, as students get older students are less likely to report bullying to a teacher or parent (Naylor, Cowie & Rey, 2001; Oliver & Candappa, 2007). Furthermore, students with learning disabilities are less likely to report bullying behavior (Geisthardt & Munsch, 1996). Yet, Oliver and Candappa (2007) found that regardless of age, students were likely to inform their peers of bullying behavior. Reasons for not reporting bullying behavior to a teacher include retribution, loss of friendship, and fear of bullying getting worse because the teacher will not be able to stop the occurrences of bullying (Fekkes et al., 2005; Mishna & Alaggia, 2005, Oliver & Candappa, 2007; Smith & Shu, 2000). An intervention strategy commonly implemented is the encouragement of bystanders to intervene (Hawkins, Pepler & Craig, 2001). Intervention from bystanders can take the form of standing up to bullies or reporting bullying behavior. In the act of reporting bullying behavior to teachers, bystanders turned interventionists must have the linguistic ability to report bullying behavior to a teacher as do the victims.

Teachers and Schools

Teachers are often unaware of bullying taking place and a large portion of bullying takes place away from the eyes of teachers. In addition, teachers are sometimes unaware of the seriousness of observed bullying behavior (Alsaker & Valkanover, 2012). Unfortunately, failure of teachers to intervene can seemingly provide tacit approval of bullying behavior and can prevent students from informing teachers (Mishna & Alaggia, 2005). Further complicating matters is the fact that teachers in English-medium schools abroad lack knowledge of student native language (L1). As a result, teachers are often unaware of oral bullying occurring even in an overt manner.

Schools and teachers are viewed in a multitude of ways depending upon the culture and country. In China, school administrators and teachers are authoritarian figures and Chinese parents often look towards them for guidance and support (Arndt & Luo, 2008). Educational organizations should be proactive and strive to foster a relationship with the community, seeking ways to develop and communicate a school culture that meets the needs of all stakeholders. Administrators, teachers, and parents need to be informed about, and agree to, planned strategies to prevent bullying behavior and actions to intervene if bullying does occur. A poorly conceived or implemented intervention can exacerbate the occurrences of bullying behavior (Smith & Shu, 2000).

Research Questions

  • Is language a factor for students in the reporting of bullying behavior?
  • Does an English-only language policy affect the reporting of bullying behavior to foreign teachers in English-medium schools?

The Study

The researcher, at the time of the study, was a Junior Kindergarten (JK) teacher at a Canadian international school in China aspiring to utilize Ontario, CA curriculum. JK is the equivalent of preschool in the United States. The school is a broadly international school and at the time of the research project, approximately 150 students, the majority of which were Chinese nationals, attended the school. Although the board of directors has stayed intact, the school has had a short, tumultuous history with high administrator and staff turnover. Due to lack of consistent leadership and administrative support, teachers often implemented classroom policies of their own design. Although the researcher was a teacher, he provided no contribution to data as a participant.


The research process involved gathering data through recorded interviews and written questionnaires. Acquisition of data from students occurred through interviews. During each interview, a translator whom the students knew was present. Data obtained from parents, Chinese teaching assistants, and foreign teachers were gathered through questionnaires. Responses to the questionnaires were of yes/no, Likert scale, and open-ended types.


Parents of all sixteen students in a pre-kindergarten class received permission forms in addition to a parent questionnaire. The consent form and questionnaire were in both English and Mandarin. Of the sixteen students, eleven parents provided consent. The data from one questionnaire was removed from the research project as the consent form was not signed.

Of the eleven students participating in the research study, five were male and six were female. Mandarin is the native language for all students. Although two students had passports from European nations and had one non-Chinese parent, their primary language is Mandarin. The participants had the following passports: five China, two Hong Kong, two Taiwan, one Britain, and one France. The five students not participating in the study maintained passports from China and Hong Kong. All students participating in the study began the school year in September at four years of age.

Five native Mandarin speaking Chinese teaching assistants working in the early and elementary years through grade five took part in the study. All Chinese teaching assistants had degrees from Chinese universities and most had teaching credentials issued in China. Ten foreign teachers working in nursery (reception) through grade five took part in the study. Of the ten foreign teachers, six maintained government issued teaching qualifications in their home country and three possessed TEFL certificates. Foreign teachers were from Canada or the United States and most foreign teachers had previous international teaching experience. All foreign teachers possessed at least a college degree. All teachers and teaching assistants had a choice of receiving the questionnaire in either English or Chinese.

Data Collection

Data collection occurred from May through August of 2015. Collection of permission forms and parent questionnaires occurred at the beginning of May. Data obtained from students occurred in the last week of May. Collection of both Chinese teaching assistant and foreign teacher questionnaires occurred at the end of June and early July. During the months of July and August, clarification of data with some of the teaching participants took place via email and Skype in order to ensure accuracy.

During individually recorded interviews, students responded to the following questions in English and through a translator as needed:

  • Do you feel safe in school?
  • Did you or could you tell a parent; Chinese teaching assistant; foreign teacher when or if someone treated you badly?
  • Is it hard for you to tell a foreign teacher [when bullying occurs] because the teacher does not speak Chinese?

Through written questionnaire format, parents responded to the following questions:

  • Do you feel the school has adequate disciplinary policies? Circle: Yes No
  • Has your child complained to you about being hit, pushed, or kicked? Circle: Yes No
  • Has your child complained to you about having something taken (theft) from them? Circle: Yes No
  • Has your child complained about being called bad words by another student? Circle: Yes No
  • Has your child complained about being socially excluded from activities or playing by other children? Circle: Yes No

Through a written questionnaire, Chinese teaching assistants and foreign teachers responded to the following questions:

  • Is there a disciplinary policy in place in the school? Circle: Yes No
  • Is there a policy concerning language use in the school? Circle: Yes No

Further, teachers were asked to identify the language(s) of the policy. In addition, teachers were asked on a scale of 0 to 5 with 0 being never, 1 being very rarely, 2 being rarely, 3 being occasionally, 4 being frequently, and 5 being very frequently, to estimate the following:

  • How much an English-only policy affects student reporting of bullying behavior to foreign teachers?


School Discipline Policy

Four out of five of the Chinese teaching assistants believed there was a discipline policy in place at the school. Eight of the ten foreign teachers believed there was not a discipline policy in place. In describing the discipline policy, one foreign teacher wrote, “Unclear.” Another foreign teacher wrote, “I’m really not sure if we actually have one.” A foreign teacher who stated there was a discipline policy wrote, “But it seemed there were various ones ‘in place’ but nothing consistent or enforced.” Lastly, a foreign teacher who answered stating there was a discipline policy wrote, “Students and parents never received a copy of the formal discipline policy.” Ten out of eleven parents believed there were adequate disciplinary policies in the school. The dissenting parent stated, “At school, has corner time but I think that’s not severe punishment.” Table 1 reflects the perceptions of school discipline held by parents, Chinese teaching assistants, and foreign teachers.

Table 1. School Discipline Policy

Parents (n = 11)
Do you feel the school has adequate disciplinary
10 Yes 1 No
Chinese Teaching Assistants (n = 5)
Is there a disciplinary policy in place in the school?
4 Yes 1 No
Foreign Teachers (n = 10)
Is there a disciplinary policy in place in the school?
2 Yes 8 No

School Language Policy

Five foreign teachers reported there was a language policy in place at the school while the other five reported there was no language policy (see Table 2). Of the five foreign teachers reporting there was a language policy, two believed the policy was English-only; one of those teachers reported, “Although no follow through with policy.” A foreign teacher reporting there was a language policy could not identify details of the policy because “It keeps changing.” Another foreign teacher stated that the language policy was “Not strictly defined.” Of the five Chinese teaching assistants, three reported there was a language policy while the other two did not answer whether there was a language policy in place. Of the Chinese teaching assistants reporting there was a language policy, one reported it was English-only, another reported it was bilingual, and the other believed that the policy was inclusive of all languages.

Table 2. School Language Policy

Chinese Teaching Assistants (n = 5)
There is a language policy in place in the school?
(Answering yes: 1 English-only, 1 bilingual, 1
*Two Chinese teaching assistants did not answer the
3 Yes * No
Foreign Teachers (n = 10)
There is a language policy in place in the school?
(Answering yes: 2 English-only, 1 bilingual, 1 English
& bilingual, and 1 could not identify the details
of the language policy)
5 Yes 5 No

Student Well-Being

Table 3 reflects student perceptions of their well-being at school. Seven students reported being the victims of bad behavior at school while four reported otherwise. None of the students reported a teacher treating them badly. Of the eleven student participants, ten students reported they felt safe at school while one student reported feeling unsafe. During the interview, the student who felt unsafe at school said in English, “Somebody hit me or I take a ball and somebody take me ball.”

Table 3. Student Well-Being

Students felt safe at school (n=11): 10 Yes 1 No
Treated bad at school (n=11) by another student: 7 Yes 4 No

During student interviews, students were questioned whether they informed a parent, Chinese teaching assistant, or a foreign teacher (see Table 4). If treated badly, six students reported having told a parent, two students reported having told a foreign teacher, and one student reported having told a Chinese teaching assistant. Students reporting to a foreign teacher did so during recess. Two students reported they would tell a foreign teacher. One student offered no response to questions presented in either English or Chinese.

Table 4. Students Reporting Bullying Behavior

Tell a Parent

Tell a Teacher

Told a parent: 6 Told a foreign teacher: 2
Would tell a parent: 2 Would tell a foreign teacher: 2
Did not tell a parent: 2 Did not tell a foreign teacher: 5
No response: 1 Told a Chinese teaching assistant: 1
No response: 1

On the parent questionnaires, parents responded whether their child reported bullying behavior (see Table 5). Four parents reported that their child had complained about being hit, pushed, or kicked. Two parents reported that their child had complained about something being taken (theft) from them. Three parents reported that their child had complained about being called bad words. Lastly, four parents reported that their child had complained to them about being socially excluded.

Table 5. Parents (n=11) Receiving Reports of Bullying Behavior

Hit, pushed, or kicked 4 Yes 7 No
Having something taken from them 2 Yes 9 No
Called bad words 3 Yes 8 No
Social exclusion 4 Yes 7 No

Documented during interviews were student concerns about reporting bullying behavior to a foreign teacher (see Table 6). Seven of the eleven students disclosed that they felt reporting bullying behavior to a foreign teacher was hard because of language. Six students told a Chinese-speaking translator they were worried foreign teachers would not be able to understand them because the foreign teachers did not speak Chinese and they could not tell them in English. Four students reported they could tell a foreign teacher. One student offered no response to questions presented in either English or Chinese.

Table 6. Students (n=11) Concerns in Reporting Bullying Behavior

Hard to report bullying to a foreign teacher because of
Could tell a foreign teacher: 4*
No response: 1
*One student answered both. Able to tell a foreign
teacher, but concerned the teacher may not be able to
understand because of language.

Teacher Perceptions of an English-only Policy

Provided to foreign teachers and teaching assistants was the opportunity to report their perceptions of an English-only policy and student reporting of bullying behavior to a foreign teacher (see Table 7). Teaching assistants (TA) and foreign teachers (FT) were asked on a scale of 0 to 5 with 0 being never, 1 being very rarely, 2 being rarely, 3 being occasionally, 4 being frequently, and 5 being very frequently, to estimate how much an English-only policy affects student reporting of bullying behavior to foreign teachers. Four of ten foreign teachers reported that an English-only policy very frequently affects students reporting bullying behavior to foreign teachers and two of ten foreign teachers reported that an English-only policy occasionally affects students reporting bullying behavior to foreign teachers. One foreign teacher responded that an English-only policy would very rarely affect a student reporting bullying behavior to a foreign teacher. Unfortunately, three of the ten foreign teachers chose not to answer the question. One of the five participating Chinese teaching assistants reported that an English-only policy very frequently affects students reporting bullying behavior to foreign teachers and another Chinese teaching assistant responded that an English-only policy occasionally affects students reporting bullying behavior to foreign teachers. One Chinese teaching assistant reported that an English-only policy very rarely affects students reporting bullying behavior to a foreign teacher. Lastly, two of the five Chinese teaching assistants reported that an English-only policy never affects students reporting bullying behavior to foreign teachers.

Table 7. Teacher Perceptions of English-only Policy and Reporting of Bullying Behavior

FT (n=10) TA (n=5) Never Very Rarely Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently
Foreign Teachers (3 FTs chose not to answer) 1 2 4
Teaching Assistants 2 1 1 1


Although this study was limited to a single school with a small number of participants, the information provided is useful in understanding some of the complexities involved in early childhood programs in English-medium schools abroad, especially in China. Originally, this study started as an action-research project specifically studying a single class. After analyzing observational data taken both in and out of the classroom during months prior to the beginning of data collection from participants, the researcher decided to acquire data from participants outside of the class who were in a position to interact and observe the participating students during recess, lunch, after school clubs, and during time before and after school.

A first concern was raised when seven out of eleven students reported during student interviews that it was hard for them to tell a foreign teacher when someone mistreats them. For more than half of the student participants, language was a factor in the reporting of bullying behavior to a foreign teacher. In alignment with data reported by Fekkes et al. (2005), more students were likely to report mistreatment to a parent than to a teacher. As student interviews were taking place, follow-up questions through a translator occurred in an attempt to fully understand the reasons behind the answers provided by each student. A second concern arose from the realization that a limited number of students reported bullying behavior to a Chinese teaching assistant.

With a combined participating total of fifteen foreign teachers and Chinese teaching assistants, eight teaching participants reported that an English-only policy occasionally or very frequently affects student reporting bullying behavior to a foreign teacher. Although eight of fifteen represents slightly more than half of the teaching participants, unclear is whether or not an English-only language policy decisively affects the reporting of bullying behavior to foreign teachers in English-medium schools. Because of the limited number of participants, the subjective nature of the responses, and the numerous variables involved, further research in this area is recommended. Moreover, open to debate concerning participant subjectivity was the use of language in and out of the classroom. It was the understanding of the researcher that the board of directors for the school had mandated that teachers were to use only English in and out of the classroom. The school website and literature given to parents makes the statement that all instruction takes place in English. However, there was a wide discrepancy in individual teacher knowledge of whether there was a language policy in place within the school. Half of the foreign teachers reported there was no language policy and two of the five Chinese teaching assistants failed to report whether or not there was a language policy. Yet, five foreign teachers and three Chinese teaching assistants reported there was a language policy, but there were discrepancies in the language policy that was reported to be in place.

After reviewing data, it became very apparent that there was a lack of administrative leadership in implementing and following through with a whole-school discipline policy and in communicating a transparent school language policy. Within any prek-12 school, a discipline policy based upon sound research and reason must be in place. Discipline is closely associated with academic success in such a way that a high level of academic achievement in a school is almost impossible without discipline. The wide discrepancy in perceptions concerning discipline in the school held between parents, Chinese teaching assistants, and foreign teachers is an alarming issue. A possible explanation for parental satisfaction with school discipline policies may be reflective of the classroom management abilities of the foreign teachers and Chinese teaching assistants. Another interesting difference in perception was how the majority of Chinese teaching assistants believed there was a discipline policy in place. This may be because the Chinese teaching assistants are under the supervision of the foreign teachers and foreign teachers developed their own classroom discipline policy due to the lack of disciplinary support and guidance received from the school administration.

The intention of this research project was to focus on students reporting bullying behavior and to assess whether an English-only policy could affect the reporting of bullying behavior. Because the school administrative leadership had not implemented or maintained a transparent discipline policy, discipline issues were continuing to mount. In the process of answering whether an English-only policy affects students reporting of bullying behavior to foreign teachers, one teacher responded, “The students are also able to bully the teachers by continuously swearing and saying inappropriate things in their native tongue due to the lack of expectation.” Because the school administration had not developed, implemented, or maintained a transparent discipline policy, bullying not only occurred from student-to-student but also student-to-teacher.

In order to remedy such situations, schools need to implement and maintain a prevention or intervention model interwoven into the discipline policy, language policy, and curriculum. A possible remedy could be the employment of the School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports model, which is a research-based framework providing guidance to improve student outcomes in both academics and behavior. In addition, closely monitoring new students who lack command of the language(s) used for instruction and social interaction is important in preventing initial peer rejection and social exclusion (von Grünigen, Kochenderfer-Ladd, Perren & Alsaker, 2012). Support from the principal and other administrative leaders is essential in developing and implementing anti-bullying measures (Olweus, 1993). Moreover, school administrators should ensure the topic of bullying is part of the curriculum. Directors, principals, curriculum coordinators, department heads, ESL/EFL/EAL departments, and teachers should seek ways to enhance the curriculum by providing opportunities for students to develop linguistic skills enabling the reporting of bullying behavior in the language(s) used to teach the curriculum. At the very least, use of picture charts can be used as a starting point for providing young language learners with the means to communicate their needs with their teacher(s). Lastly, the implementation of carefully designed lessons and activities should enable students to actively participate and develop language pertaining to the reporting of bullying in a communicative instructional environment with a lowered affective filter.


Although this study took place in China, at the core are issues pertaining to ethics in education and social justice. School administrative leadership has a professional obligation to provide guidance in implementing and maintaining empirically supported policies for school management. Consequences, both positive and negative, should be consistently enforced throughout the school in a timely manner. In addition, school administrative leadership should strive to ensure all students feel safe in school and are equipped with the necessary means to report bullying behavior in order to be safe. The researcher implores owners, directors, and principals of English-medium schools abroad to implement and maintain school policies ensuring the safety of the students and teachers. Furthermore, the researcher encourages English-medium schools to provide services ensuring linguistic growth thereby enabling students to have access to both the curriculum and socially acceptable communication with English speaking teachers and peers.

About the Author

Clayton Lehman has taught in prek-12 public and international schools in the U.S., China, and South Korea.  Mr. Lehman is currently working towards an Ed. D. in Educational Leadership.  His areas of research interests include school policies, culture, and leadership.


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Teaching Iranian Elementary EFL Learners to Say ‘No’ Politely: An Interlanguage Pragmatic Study http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej81/ej81a4/ Thu, 01 Jun 2017 14:02:20 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12288 May 2017 – Volume 21, Number 1

Seyyed Hatam Tamimi Sa’d
Urmia University, Iran

Javad Gholami
Urmia University, Iran


This quasi-experimental study adopted a pretest/posttest design to investigate the effect of instructional intervention in teaching polite refusal strategies explicitly on Iranian EFL learners’ performance of the speech act of refusing. The participants, consisting of 24 male elementary EFL learners aged 12-18, responded to a discourse completion task (DCT) prior to and after they had been provided with explicit instruction concerning the polite performance of refusals in English. Adopting Brown and Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory and Beebe, Takahashi and Uliss-Weltz’s (1990) taxonomy of refusal strategies, the researchers found that the participants’ refusal semantic formulas in the pretest contained a variety of impoliteness markers including directness, lack of mitigation, and terseness of responses. The pedagogical instruction was directed at eliminating these inappropriacy elements, addressing the lengthening and intensification of refusal semantic formulas, use of adjuncts to refusals, titles, honorifics, apologizing, etc. The participants’ responses to the DCT in the posttest showed a high level of appropriacy in the semantic content of refusal utterances compared to their responses in the pretest. Furthermore, the findings demonstrated that significant differences existed in terms of the content, frequency and types of both refusal strategies and adjuncts to refusals between the pretest and posttest phases. In conclusion, the study revealed the positive effects of instructional intervention on the development of the pragmatic competence of learners with low linguistic proficiency levels.

Keywords: EFL learners, instructional intervention, (im)politeness, pragmatic competence, refusal


How to say something is as important as what to say. Simple enough, this statement points to a significant rule of speech which implies that the pragmatic conventions of the target language (TL) dictate rules of social language use. The failure to comply with the pragmatic conventions of speech (i.e., pragmatic failure) will, in all likelihood, lead to communication breakdown. In this regard, research evidence shows that while most language learners have little or no difficulty acquiring the linguistic aspects of the TL, the pragmatic rules of language use often go unnoticed. Previous research has revealed nonnative speakers’ (NNSs) considerable difficulty in realizing different speech acts, face-threatening acts (FTAs), such as apologizing, requesting and refusing politely. For instance, it has been evidenced that, most often, NNSs lack the pragmatic competence to refuse politely and appropriately when involved in interaction. Studies documenting this inability abound (see, e.g., LoCastro, 1997; Takahashi & Beebe, 1987; Umale, 2011).

The consequences of the inability to refuse politely are also of significance particularly in encounters between speakers from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Takahashi and Beebe (1987, as cited in Martínez-Flor & Usó-Juan, 2011) declared that the lack of sociolinguistic ability is most likely to lead to offence: “the inability to say ‘no’ clearly and politely … has led many nonnative speakers to offend their interlocutors” (p. 56). Similarly, in a discussion of encounters between native speakers (NSs) and Japanese speakers of English, LoCastro (1997) confirmed that NSs often feel uncomfortable with NNSs’ lack of linguistic politeness.

Kasper and Blum-Kulka (1993, p. 3) define pragmatics as the “the study of people’s comprehension and production of linguistic action in context”. The present study falls within an area that is referred to as Interlanguage Pragmatics (ILP) and defined as “the study of nonnative speakers’ use and acquisition of linguistic action patterns in a second language (L2)” (Kasper & Blum-Kulka, 1993, p. 3). Research into ILP has focused on the linguistic realizations of different speech acts in a variety of languages. On the other hand, it is often hypothesized that NSs have unconscious access to pragmatic rules (Kasper & Blum-Kulka, 1993). As a result, some researchers have attempted to bring these pragmatic rules of appropriate language use to NNSs’ conscious attention through teaching them. The current study seeks out to achieve such a purpose by exposing Iranian learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) to polite refusal strategies.

Politeness and Face

Politeness is a major social notion. One of the major works on politeness is Brown and Levinson’s (1987) theory of politeness which comprises five politeness superstrategies as follows (see Figure 1 as well):

  1. Bald on record politeness strategy: the speaker does the FTA without any mitigating devices as in: Give me that book!
  2. Positive politeness strategy: the speaker uses such mitigating devices as in-group markers like ‘honey’ and ‘dear’: Give me that book, dear!
  3. Negative politeness strategy: the speaker employs politeness markers indicative of social distance: Would you please give me that book?
  4. Off record politeness strategy: the speaker uses hints, allusions, etc.: I have an exam!
  5. Do not do FTA: the speaker chooses not to do the FTA with the hope of preserving the hearer’s face.

Figure 1. Possible strategies for doing an FTA (Brown & Levinson, 1987, p. 69)

A notion that is central to Brown and Levinson’s (1987) theory of politeness is that of ‘face’ which refers to one’s “public self-image” and consists of two types: negative face and positive face. While negative face deals with one’s “freedom of action and freedom from imposition”, positive face is associated with one’s feelings being appreciated and approved of.

Refusal strategies and Adjuncts to Refusals

Refusals are of remarkable importance in everyday social life as individuals refuse offers, requests, suggestions and invitations on a regular basis. However, refusals are notoriously difficult to manage and lead to disruption in harmony in relationships. Classified as a dispreferred type of FTA (Félix-Brasdefer, 2009), refusals risk the addressees’ positive face by restricting their freedom of action (see Brown & Levinson, 1987). In this connection, one of the most common classifications of refusal strategies is Beebe, Takahashi and Uliss-Weltz’s (1990) taxonomy which divides these strategies into two broad sets, namely, direct and indirect, as well as adjuncts to refusals (see Table 1 below).

Table 1. Taxonomy of refusal strategies

Semantic Formulas



I refuse

A) Performative

I) Direct

B) Non-performative statement

1) “No”

I can’t; I won’t; I don’t think so.

2) Negative willingness/ability

I’m sorry; I feel terrible.

A) Statement of regret

II) Indirect

I wish I could help you.

B) Wish

I have a headache.

C) Excuse, reason, explanation

D) Statement of alternative

I’d rather do…; I’d prefer

1) I can do X instead of Y

Why don’t you ask someone else

2) Why don’t you do X instead of Y

If you had asked me earlier, I would have…

E) Set condition for future or past acceptance

I’ll do it next time; I promise I’ll…; -Using “will” of
promise or “promise”

F) Promise of future acceptance

I never do business with friends.

G. Statement of principle

One can’t be too careful.

H. Statement of philosophy

I. Attempt to dissuade interlocutor

“I won’t be any fun tonight” to refuse an invitation

1. Threat or statement of negative consequences to the

waitress to customers who want to sit a while: “I can’t
make a living off people who just order coffee.”

2. Guilt trip

Who do you think you are?; That’s a terrible idea!

3. Criticize the request/requester, etc. (statement of
negative feeling or opinion); insult/attack

4. Request for help, empathy, and assistance by
dropping or holding the request.

Don’t worry about it; That’s okay; You don’t have to.

5. Let interlocutor off the hook

I’m trying my best; I’m doing all I can.

6. Self-defense

J. Acceptance that functions as a refusal

1. Unspecific or indefinite reply

2. Lack of enthusiasm

K. Avoidance

1. Nonverbal

a. Silence

b. Hesitation

c. Do nothing

d. Physical departure

2. Verbal

a. Topic switch

b. Joke


c. Repetition of part of request, etc.

I’ll think about it.

d. Postponement

Gee, I don’t know; I’m not sure.

e. Hedging

That’s a good idea…; I’d love to…

1. Statement of positive opinions/feeling or agreement

Adjuncts to refusals

I realize you are in a difficult situation.

2. Statement of empathy

uhh; well; uhm.

3. Pause filler

4. Gratitude/appreciation

Review of Literature

The significance of refusal behavior has sparked a considerable proportion of scholarly attention among researchers due to the face-threatening nature of this speech act. In this regard, most studies have been comparative, investigating realizations of refusals in different languages and cultures. Nelson, Carson, Al Batal and El Bakary (2002), for instance, compared the use of refusal strategies in Egyptian Arabic and American English, finding out that a similar trend was followed by both groups of speakers. In another study, the realizations of refusals by speakers from three different cultures (i.e., American, Arab and Japanese) in English indicated that regret, excuse, reason and explanation were the most frequent refusal strategies (Al-Kahtani, 2005). More recently, Al-Shboul, Maros and Yasin (2012) compared the use of refusal strategies among Jordanian and Malay learners of English. While the pattern of refusal strategy use was found to be similar in the case of refusing requests, the two groups utilized different refusal strategies when declining invitations. In the Iranian context, Allami and Naeimi (2011) focused on refusal behavior in terms of the frequency, shift and content of semantic formulas among a group of Persian speakers and Persian learners of English and compared the findings with data elicited from English NSs. In line with a large number of previous studies, Allami and Naeimi (2011) found that ‘direct refusals’, ‘statement of regret’ and ‘excuse, reason and explanation’ were the most frequent strategies. In another cross-linguistic study of refusal strategies among Iranian EFL learners, Hassani, Mardani and Dastjerdi (2011) found out that higher social status contributed to the use of more indirect strategies in Persian but to more direct strategies in English.

Other studies have dealt with a variety of issues surrounding refusals. In a study of linguistic politeness in refusal, Félix-Brasdefer (2006) found out that male speakers of Mexican Spanish drew on formulaic and semi-formulaic expressions to negotiate face. Wannaruk (2008) focused on the role of pragmatic transfer in the refusal behavior of Thai EFL learners in both American English and Thai. This study demonstrated that learners with low proficiency were more susceptible to pragmatic transfer. Abdul Sattar, Lah, and Suleiman (2011) focused on how Iraqi Arabic native speakers studying in Malaysia refused suggestions in their L1. The findings indicated that interlocutors’ status was the most influential factor in formulating the content and frequency of the semantic formulas. Martínez-Flor and Usó-Juan (2011) took a methodological approach toward ILP by discussing and comparing the benefits of three data collection tools, namely oral role-plays, written DCTs and awareness tests, concluding that these can be used for both research as well as pedagogical purposes.

Numerous scholars have called for pedagogical intervention to enhance language learners’ pragmatic development and to foster their sociolinguistic awareness rather than to leave the pragmatic aspects to develop on their own (see, e.g., Al-Kahtani, 2005; Blanche, 1987; Kasper & Blum-Kulka, 1993; King & Silver, 1993; Linde, 2009; Martínez-Flor & Usó-Juan, 2010; Vásquez & Fioramonte, 2011). Some researchers have also attempted to reveal the positive effect that can arise as a result of instruction delivered to language learners in various speech acts (Kondo, 2008; Lingli & Wannaruk, 2010; Silva, 2003). Such attempts, however, have not always been successful. LoCastro (1997), for instance, examined the effect of pedagogical intervention on the development of pragmatic competence among Japanese learners of English. LoCastro’s (1997) study was not very promising, revealing that Japanese learners did not make adequate use of the politeness markers taught to them.

It can be seen from this brief review that most studies have focused on the learners’ refusal strategies and few have attempted to examine the effect of the explicit teaching of polite refusal strategies in general and on elementary learners’ performance, in particular. The present study is motivated by the scarcity of research into the effect of the instructional intervention in teaching refusals to elementary language learners. More specifically, the study was an effort to find answers to the following research questions:

  1. What refusal strategies and adjuncts to refusals do Iranian EFL learners utilize prior to and after receiving pedagogical instruction in refusing?
  2. Is there any significant difference in the use of refusal strategies and adjuncts to refusal by Iranian EFL learners prior to and after receiving pedagogical instruction in refusing?
  3. What politeness markers characterize Iranian EFL learners’ refusal strategy use prior to and after receiving pedagogical instruction in refusal?
  4. Does explicit pedagogical instruction in refusal contribute to the learners’ polite performance of this speech act?


Participants and Setting

The sample of the study consisted of 24 male Iranian EFL beginners studying in one of the most prestigious and popular language institutes in Ahwaz, Iran. The participants were selected out of the whole ‘elementary’ population in the institute which comprised 220 learners. The selection procedure was convenience sampling in which the participants who were available and who comprised one intact class were chosen. There were no female participants as the study was conducted in the males’ department of the institute. Certainly, this constitutes a major limitation. The participants’ proficiency level was determined based on the in-house placement test administered by the institute. The purpose of choosing beginner level students was to examine the extent to which instruction in pragmatics can accompany linguistic achievement in incipient stages of language acquisition. The participants, whose age ranged from 12 to 18, were school students who attended their English class after their school classes. As for their language background, 19 participants (79%) spoke Persian natively, 2 participants (8%) spoke Arabic as their mother tongue and 3 others (12%) were fully bilingual in both languages. It is worth noting that all the participants had complete familiarity with Persian, speaking it either as a native or second language. Therefore, Persian was selected as the shared language for instruction. As confirmed by the participants, they did not have any access to further sources of instruction outside the classroom setting which would interfere with the process of pragmatic instruction of the study. This was assured by asking the participants to which they responded in the negative.


The data were elicited by means of a purpose-made discourse completion task (DCT). As a type of questionnaire, a DCT includes a set of scenarios which describe certain situations. Each situation is followed by a blank space which the respondent is required to fill out (Mackey & Gass, 2005). DCTs have been used extensively in research into the pragmatic aspects of L2 learning in general and politeness conventions in particular (e.g., Al-Shboul et al., 2012; Kasper & Dahl, 1991; Wannaruk, 2008; Zhang, 2012). The use of DCTs for generating data on pragmatic competence has been associated with numerous advantages including ease of administration and the feasibility to manipulate factors like age and status differences between interlocutors (Mackey & Gass, 2005). After the DCT had been prepared and before it was used to gather the data, two assistant professors, who held doctoral degrees in applied linguistics at Urmia University, Iran, were asked to review the DCT and provide comments on it. The initial DCT was examined in terms of content and face validity and underwent some modifications. Moreover, the DCT was devised and administered in English; however, owing to the participants’ low proficiency, the Persian translation of each situation of the DCT and that of the instructions was provided (see Appendix A). A description of the DCT situations and the relative interlocutor power (P) of the speaker (S) and the hearer (H) is given in Table 2.

Table 2. Description of the refusal situations on the DCT




(S=H; =P) Equals

Declining a friend’s invitation to dinner


(S=H; =P) Equals

Refusing to lend one’s book to a friend


(S˂H; -P) Low-High

Refusing one’s teacher’s call for help


(S˂H; -P) Low-High

Refusing one’s father’s request to sleep


(S˃H; +P) High-Low

Refusing to help a lower grade student


(S˃H; +P) High-Low

Refusing to take one’s younger sister to shopping


Note. S: Speaker (i.e., refuser); H: Hearer (i.e., addressee; refusee)

One final comment is in order. While one of the strategies proposed by Beebe et al. (1990) is the use of non-verbal language, the participants were not provided with an opportunity to use or choose non-verbal language in refusing. It was assumed that non-verbal communication would provide the participants with the opportunity to avoid giving any verbal answers. Non-verbal communication was therefore eschewed so that the researchers could evaluate the extent to which the participants were able to successfully realize linguistic politeness in refusing.

Instructional Targets

The participants were provided with instruction in the areas of refusal behavior summarized in Table 3. Each session of instruction lasted for 15 to 20 minutes. To identify the instructional targets for inclusion in the treatment, the researchers selected those refusal strategies that the participants had utilized most frequently in the pretest, for example ‘the use of excuses, reason, explanations’ and ‘statement of regret’. It was assumed that the participants were more inclined and willing to use those strategies, and therefore they would be more open to receiving instruction in such strategies. Refusal sub-strategies were counted as data whenever they appeared in the participants’ answers as well. However, they were not taught for several reasons. First, teaching them required much effort on the part of the researchers who were limited by time. Second, teaching such sub-strategies would make the process of instruction too complicated for the learners. Furthermore, the participants’ low proficiency level was taken into account as a limiting force which would not allow, for example, the teaching of ‘wish’, a refusal strategy that is not easy for beginners to handle. This issue is particularly relevant from the viewpoint of grammatical complexity inherent in expressing wishes in English. Another instance is the strategy of ‘set condition for future or past acceptance’ which required the teaching of conditional sentences. As a result, some strategies were found to be considerably difficult for the participants and were thus not included among the instructional targets. However, it is noteworthy that the instructional targets were not limited to those used the most frequently by the participants. Those strategies that were used the least frequently and politeness markers such as ‘intensifiers’ (e.g., so, very, really) and ‘thanking’ (as a positive politeness strategy) were also included. Finally, the researchers found it more economical not to focus on all the refusal strategies but on certain aspects of this speech act.

Table 3. Instructional targets

No. Instructional targets Session
1 Intensification by use of ‘so’, ‘very’, ‘ terribly 1
2 Lengthening the semantic formulas 2
3 Providing reasons, excuses and explanations 3
4 Use of ‘sorry’ to show regret 4
5 Use of honorifics and alerters such as ‘Sir’, ‘ Teacher’, etc. 5
6 Use of in-group markers such as ‘my friend’, ‘ dear’, etc. 6
7 Thanking and promising; expressing interest 7
8 Use of adjuncts especially ‘pause fillers’ 8
9 Discussion of interlocutor relative power and politeness 9
10 Review of the above targets 10

Allocating 10 sessions for the teaching of refusal strategies was mainly based on two main assumptions. First, it was assumed that instructional sessions longer than half an hour would be tiresome. Therefore, a decision was made as to allocate only up to, at most, 20 minutes of the class time to teaching one refusal strategy and to focus specifically on that strategy throughout the refusal training time. Second, the researchers were able to maintain the longitudinal nature of the research by dividing the training periods into different sessions instead of condensing the whole training into one or two prolonged (and most presumably tiring) sessions. The aim of the pretest was to evaluate the extent to which the participants’ responses were sociolinguistically appropriate prior to the instruction and to improve their appropriacy through training.

Procedure and Data Analysis

The present study is quasi-experimental (i.e., without random assignment of participants) with a pretest/posttest design through which the researchers aimed to measure the effect of instruction on pragmatic performance in refusing politely. The pretest was administered before the pragmatic instruction was delivered while the posttest was administered after 10 sessions of teaching the participants how to refuse politely in English. The instruction began on the session in which the pretest was administered. This issue requires some clarification. The researchers did not need to calculate and interpret the pretest data before they started the instruction. In fact, while most of the instruction focused on the most frequently used strategies, some instructional targets had already been specified by the researchers prior to the pretest. These latter strategies did not need to be necessarily based on the participants’ responses in the pretest and included intensifiers (e.g., so, very, terribly, etc.) and expression of sorrow (e.g., I’m sorry) as politeness markers. In other words, a decision was made to include some politeness markers whether or not the participants had used them in their pretest answers. During each instructional session, the participants were provided with numerous examples of polite and impolite refusal semantic formulas. The reasons for the politeness or impoliteness of these formulas were discussed as well. The classroom techniques consisted of role-plays, elicitation of examples from the participants and the joint discussion of the politeness and impoliteness of the examples given by the teacher and students. The students were also asked to take notes of the explanations, write down the examples of both polite and impolite refusals and finally review them at home as outside-classroom assignments. The students found these activities to be very appealing. Due to the participants’ low proficiency, the explanations and awareness-raising/meta-talk about the target features were conducted in Persian to ensure full comprehension on the part of the learners. However, most of the given examples and instances were in English and the participants were exposed to a good number of instances for each target feature. Persian examples were offered for comparability. The participants demonstrated high motivation to know about how they can be polite in English. Aside from the discussions about how to improve the linguistic politeness of one’s refusal utterances, the participants were also provided with information about how the addressee’s power should be dealt with when refusing. The interlocutor relative power (abbreviated as P in the paper) is highly important in this study since politeness (i.e., the main subject of the study) and power are closely linked. As specified in Table 3, the discussion of interlocutor relative power and politeness was done in session 9. To this end, the researchers drew mainly on Brown and Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory. Indeed, the discussion was done in a very simple language to ensure that it was understandable to teenagers as young as 14-17 years of age. More specifically, the discussion revolved around how and why individuals in society have varying degrees of power relative to each other due to such factors as age (e.g., old people or adults vs. young people or kids), sex (e.g., male or female), relationship (e.g., parents and children), wealth (e.g., rich people vs. poor people), etc. The participants’ awareness was also raised as to the fact that individuals might have equal degrees of power as in the case of close friends. Table 2 describes the power of the addresser (i.e., speaker) as opposed to that of the addressee (i.e., hearer) in each DCT scenario. The same DCT was used for both the pretest and the posttest phases. Nonetheless, the order in which the DCT items were presented in the pretest was different from that in the posttest. The memory effect was assumed to be negligible, considering the duration of the treatment which lasted for 5 weeks. The participants were asked to provide their answers only in English as the objective of the study was not to compare their use of refusal strategies in Persian and English but the extent to which they had improved after having been exposed to pragmatic instruction in refusal strategy use in English. The instructions were provided in both Persian and English so that the participants would not have any difficulty understanding the scenario being described.

The collected corpus was analyzed by two trained raters specialized in applied linguistics to identify the refusal strategies and adjuncts to refusals following Beebe et al.’s (1990) classification of refusal strategies. The raters’ codings of the refusals showed a high level of inter-rater reliability in this regard, i.e., an average of 86% of agreement. Having been coded, the data were entered in Statistic Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS 20) for analysis. Descriptive statistics and frequency counts were presented and paired samples t-tests were run to examine if there were any significant differences between the pretest and posttest in the use of the refusal strategies and adjuncts to refusals. The data were then analyzed qualitatively to evaluate the refusal semantic formulas in terms of their degree of sociolinguistic appropriacy. In this phase, the analysis drew mainly on Brown and Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory.


Refusal Semantic Formulas: Type and Frequency

The present study set out to examine the possible effect of the explicit teaching of polite refusal strategies on the Iranian EFL learners’ performance of this speech act. The first research question addressed the refusal strategies as well as adjuncts to refusals that the participants used prior to and after receiving the instruction in refusing. The results are summed up in Tables 4 and 5 below. Due to space constraints, the refusal sub-strategies have not been included here.

Table 4. Refusal strategy use across power in the pretest

Type Refusal strategy Power
=P (Equal)
I) Direct A. Performative 0 0 0 0 0
B. Non-performative statement 29 22 34 85 31
II) Indirect A. Statement of regret 26 20 16 62 22.7
B. Wish 0 0 0 0 0
C. Excuse, reason, explanation 43 41 35 119 43.4
D. Statement of alternative 0 0 0 0 0
E. Set condition for future or past acceptance 0 0 0 0 0
F. Promise of future acceptance 0 2 3 5 1.8
G. Statement of principle 0 0 0 0 0
H. Statement of philosophy 0 0 0 0 0
I. Attempt to dissuade interlocutor 0 2 1 3 1.1
J. Acceptance that functions as a refusal 0 0 0 0 0
K. Avoidance 0 0 0 0 0
Total 98 87 89 274 100

Note. The labels in the parentheses at the top of the table (equal, higher and lower) show S’s relative power compared to H’s.

As can be seen from Table 4, overall, the participants used the refusal strategies 274 times. Table 3 also indicates that, all in all and without considering the role of the relative power, the most frequently used refusal strategies in this stage are ‘excuse, reason, explanation’ (119), ‘non-performative statement’ (85) and ‘statement of regret’ (62). Interestingly enough, nearly the same results are obtained when the role of the relative power is taken into account. That is to say, the distribution of the refusal strategies is nearly the same for all power levels. As can be seen, the results show no effect of interlocutor power on the Iranian EFL learners’ use of refusal strategies at this phase, i.e., prior to the instructional intervention.

Moreover, the results of the use of adjuncts to refusals in the pretest stage are summarized in Table 5.

Table 5. Adjuncts to refusals use across power in the pretest

Adjunct Power Total
=P (Equal)
-P (Higher)
+P (Lower)
No. Percent
1. Statement of positive opinions/feeling or agreement 1 0 0 1 6.7
2. Statement of empathy 0 0 0 0 0
3. Pause filler 6 3 2 11 73.3
4. Gratitude/appreciation 3 0 0 3 20
Total 10 3 2 15 100

Note. The labels in the parentheses at the top of the table (equal, higher and lower) show S’s relative power compared to H’s.

According to Table 5, the total number of adjuncts to refusals used in the pretest stage is 15. The most frequent adjunct is ‘pause filler’ (11), followed by ‘gratitude/appreciation’ (3) and ‘statement of positive opinions/feeling or agreement’ (1).

Table 6 presents the frequency of the use of refusal strategies after the instruction (i.e., in the posttest).

Table 6. Refusal strategy use across power in the posttest

Type Refusal strategy Power
I) Direct A. Performative 0 0 0 0 0
B. Non-performative statement 19 21 31 71 22.7
II) Indirect A. Statement of regret 35 27 21 83 26.6
B. Wish 0 0 0 0 0
C. Excuse, reason, explanation 53 46 43 142 45.5
D. Statement of alternative 1 1 2 4 1.3
E. Set condition for future or past acceptance 0 0 0 0 0
F. Promise of future acceptance 0 3 3 6 1.9
G. Statement of principle 0 0 0 0 0
H. Statement of philosophy 0 0 0 0 0
I. Attempt to dissuade interlocutor 0 1 3 4 1.3
J. Acceptance that functions as a refusal 0 0 1 1 0.3
K. Avoidance 0 0 1 1 0.3
Total 108 99 105 312 100

Note. The labels in the parentheses at the top of the table (equal, higher and lower) show S’s relative power compared to H’s.

According to Table 6, overall, the participants used the refusal strategies 312 times in the posttest stage; hence, there is an increase in the number of the strategies in this stage (312) compared to that in the pretest stage (274). Table 6 also shows that, as was true of the pretest stage, the most frequent refusal strategies are again ‘excuse, reason, explanation’ (142), ‘statement of regret’ (83) and ‘non-performative statement’ (71). Furthermore, compared to the pretest stage, the strategies used in this stage are more varied as ‘statement of alternative’ (4), and ‘acceptance that functions as a refusal’ (1) and ‘avoidance’ (1), which are utilized in the posttest, had not been utilized in the pretest stage.

The adjuncts to refusals used in the pretest stage are presented in Table 7.

Table 7. Adjuncts to refusals use across power in the posttest

Adjunct Power Total
=P (Equal)
-P (Higher)
+P (Lower)
No. Percent
1. Statement of positive opinions/feeling or agreement 2 0 3 5 17.8
2. Statement of empathy 0 0 0 0 0
3. Pause filler 10 6 6 22 78.6
4. Gratitude/appreciation 1 0 0 1 3.6
Total 13 6 9 28 100

Note. The labels in the parentheses at the top of the table (equal, higher and lower) show S’s relative power compared to H’s.

Table 7 indicates that the participants used all adjuncts to refusals, although not by any means with the same frequency, except for ‘statement of empathy’ which was not used at all. The most frequent adjunct was ‘pause filler’ (22) followed by ‘statement of positive opinions/feeling or agreement’ (5) and ‘gratitude/appreciation’ (1). As was the case with refusal strategies, the results showed that the overall number of the adjuncts used in the posttest stage (28) increased compared to that of the pretest (15).

Paired-samples t-tests were conducted to examine if there are any statistically significant differences in the use of refusal strategies and adjuncts to refusals in the pretest and posttest phases. The results concerning this issue which was addressed in the second research question are offered in Tables 8 and 9 below.

Table 8. Paired samples test of refusal strategy use

Paired Differences t df Sig. (2-tailed)
Mean Std. Deviation Std. Error Mean 95% Confidence Interval of the Difference
Lower Upper
Pair 1 Refusal-Pretest – Refusal-Posttest .120 .836 .051 .021 .220 2.383 273 .018*


As Tables 8 and 9 indicate, the numbers of both refusal strategies (t (273) = 2.38, p<.018) and that of adjuncts to refusals (t (14) = 3.21, p<.006) differ significantly in the pretest and posttest.

Refusal Semantic Formulas: Directness

An important characteristic that contributes greatly to the extent that a semantic formula sounds sociolinguistically appropriate is the element of indirectness. Figure 2 below presents the number of direct and indirect refusal semantic formulas as utilized by the participants in the pretest and posttest.

Figure 2. Refusal directness

Figure 2 shows that while direct refusals constitute 23.6% (85 of 359) of the overall number of refusals in the pretest, they comprise 18.5% (71 of 383) of the corpus of refusals in the posttest. This is suggestive of 5.1% of decrease in the use of direct refusals in the posttest. Likewise, while 76.3% (274 of 359) of the refusals were indirect in the pretest, this figure increased to 81.4% (312 of 383) in the posttest.


The findings concerning the pattern of use of refusal strategies and adjuncts to refusals are in line with the results of most previous similar studies including Nelson, Al Batal and El Bakary (2002), Nelson et al. (2002), Al-Kahtani (2005), Wannaruk (2008), Félix-Brasdefer (2009), Morkus (2009), Allami and Naeimi (2011), Abdul Sattar et al. (2011), Hassani et al. (2011), Umale (2011) and Al-Shboul et al. (2012), to name but a few. What nearly all these studies, including the current one, have in common is the learners’ marked preference for ‘excuse, reason, explanation’ and ‘statement of regret’ as the most favorable refusal strategies. As a positive politeness strategy, providing reasons and excuses can possibly contribute to keeping the interaction in harmony by reducing the social distance between the refuser and the refusee. Another explanation might deal with the participants’ preference to delay giving a refusal by lengthening the semantic formula (see Félix-Brasdefer, 2009). As for the use of adjuncts to refusals, the following pattern was found in the posttest: pause fillers>statement of positive opinions/feeling or agreement>gratitude/appreciation. The use of such strategies might be indicative of Iranian EFL learners’ tendency and inclination towards increased harmony through discursive strategies which are based on solidarity rather than power. One of the most important features of refusal is the use of adjuncts although they do not constitute the refusal acts by themselves. Chances are that intercultural communication is mostly driven by cultural similarities rather than differences.

Refusal Semantic Formulas: Qualitative Changes

In addition to the quantitative changes reported above, the findings were clearly indicative of significant qualitative changes which contributed substantially to the politeness of the refusal semantic formulas in the posttest. The factors that contributed to the im/politeness and impoliteness of the refusal utterances which were addressed in the third research question are dealt with here. These were most evident in the length and intensification of the semantic formulas as exemplified. Examples of the participants’ own responses in the pretest and posttest are presented for purposes of comparison and to provide a clearer picture of the effect of treatment on refusal behavior.

Example 1: Length of semantic formula:

a. Pretest: No teacher. I’m sorry.
b. Posttest: Sorry Sir. I can’t help you because I have a hard exam tomorrow. (situation #3, S<H)

By refusing the request, offer or invitation of a higher-status person (here, a teacher), a lower-status person (here, a student) is most likely to cause offense to H particularly if the refusal utterance is not mitigated. The above example of the posttest stage is sociopragmatically appropriate thanks to S’s expression of regret (‘Sorry’), the use of ‘Sir’ as an honorific as well as to his provision of a reason for declining the teacher’s request. These politeness devices have helped soften the force of the refusal, resulting in its politeness. The importance of such linguistic devices cannot be overlooked. For example, the use of the honorific ‘Sir’ in the above refusal not only shows S’s deference but also his adherence to social distance conventions. The above semantic formula is polite from another aspect: it is long enough to be regarded as polite by the addressee. Normally, long statements are deemed as sociopragmatically more appropriate. Willis (2003) remarked that, “In English there is a broad generalisation that longer is politer”, providing the following example to explicate this generalization:

Open the door.
Please, open the door.
Would you open the door, please.
Please, would you mind opening the door? (pp. 19-20).

By extension, Willis’ formula of requests is applicable to refusals and subsequently one can adequately account for the impoliteness of refusal 1(a) and the politeness of 1(b) on the basis of the former’s shortness and the latter’s length.
Another aspect of speech act strategies is their intensification by means of such intensifiers as ‘so’, ‘very’, ‘terribly’ as evident in the following examples:

Example 2: Intensification 1:

a. Pretest: No, I need it.
b. Posttest: I’m so sorry. I need it because I have a test. (situation #2, S=H)

Example 3: Intensification 2:

a. Pretest: No, sorry.
b. Posttest: I’m very sorry. I need the book for exam. I want to study it. (situation #2, S=H)

Regarding the use of intensifiers, Alfattah’s (2010) study of Yemeni EFL learners’ apologetic behavior indicated that the participants’ use of intensifiers in their apology utterances resulted in their sociopragmatic appropriateness. Although Alfattah was concerned with intensifiers in apologies, his discussion can be generalized to different speech acts like refusal. The above refusal semantic formulas can be considered polite on the same basis. It is worth noting that using intensifiers such as ‘so’ or ‘very’ is not the only means of intensifying a speech act strategy; intensification can also be achieved by providing a lengthy utterance like example 2(b) above. On the other hand, it seems that the instruction has led to an overuse of intensifiers as in the following example:

Example 4: Overuse of intensification:

a. Pretest: Sorry my friend. I don’t have time.
b. Posttest: I’m very very sorry my good friend but I don’t have time. (situation #5, S>H)

In effect, by overusing intensification to such degree, refusal strategies like example 4(b) are likely to be interpreted as obsequious or even sarcastic. The other change observed was the use of honorifics and titles such as ‘Sir’ and ‘teacher’. It is possible that the participants had intended these to act as ‘alerters’ as these are frequently used in the Iranian culture with this intention. The results are in line with those of Nor and Aziz (2010) whose study of politeness in meetings confirmed that negative politeness was employed where the relations were asymmetrical (i.e., differing relative power statuses). Brown and Levinson (1987) also note that negative politeness strategies are utilized with the aim of preserving social distance and expressing deference. Furthermore, according to Johnstone (2008), honorifics or address terms are used to preserve the addressee’s (i.e., H) negative face and hence enhance negative politeness.

Example 5: Honorifics:

a. Pretest: No, I’m very tired.
b. Posttest: I can’t. I’m very busy. Sorry, teacher. (situation #3, S<H)

Also, in many cases the participants used all of the above strategies in one single refusal response. For instance, consider example 6 (b):

Example 6: Length, honorifics and intensification:

a. Pretest: Sorry, I can’t help you.
b. Posttest: I’m very sorry, Mr. I can’t because I have a headache. (situation #3, S<H)

Another significant factor that contributed to the performance of polite refusals was the use of adjuncts such as ‘gratitude/appreciation’, ‘pause fillers’ and ‘statement of positive feelings’:

Example 7: Gratitude:

a. Pretest: No, I’m very tired.
b. Posttest: Thanks but I can’t come. (situation #1, S=H)

Example 8: Pause filler:

a. Pretest: Sorry I think my father doesn’t allow me.
b. Posttest: Oh well, I’m very sorry. I can’t help you. I have work and I can’t. (situation #3, S<H)

Example 9: Positive feeling:

a. Pretest: No, I’m very tired.
b. Posttest: Oh sorry my friend. I like to give my book but I give [gave] my book to my another [sic] friend. (situation #2, S=H)

Refusal 8(a) above is not appropriate from several aspects. First, the utterance is considerably short in a way that it sounds abrupt and terse. Expressing negative politeness through such semantic formulas as ‘I’m sorry’ can be suggestive of ‘subjectification’ (Fetzer, 2007). Thus, the participant, an equal in this situation, might have felt that he would be belittled if he apologized. In fact, he has negotiated his power by refraining from apologizing directly and explicitly. On the other hand, refusal 8(b) is sociopragmatically appropriate on the ground that it contains the same mitigating devices that refusal 8(a) is lacking in. All in all, the findings reveal that the instruction had a considerable effect on Iranian EFL learners’ use of adjuncts to refusals. This can be a strong point as Kwon’s (2004) study demonstrated that using adjuncts is characteristic of refusals in American English.

Another significant factor that contributed to the appropriacy of semantic refusal strategies is indirectness. Indirectness has been closely linked to politeness in that the more indirect a semantic formula, the politer it is conceived to be (see, e.g., Blum-Kulka, 1987). The following examples demonstrate that more indirect refusal semantic formulas were used after the participants received pedagogical instruction:

Example 10: Indirectness 1:

a. Pretest: No, I can’t help you.
b. Posttest: I’m really sorry because I have [to] study. (situation #3, S<H)

Example 11: Indirectness 2:

a. Pretest: You can’t come with me.
b. Posttest: Excuse me my dear sister. The weather is awful. I take you with me another day. (situation #6, S>H)

Example 12: Indirectness 3:

a. Pretest: No, I can’t help you, Sir.
b. Posttest: I’m so sorry Sir. I should go to the my [sic] Spanish class. (situation #3, S<H)

The Effect of Pedagogical Intervention

The last research question, which is perhaps the most important one, enquired whether explicit instruction in refusal behavior results in Iranian EFL learners’ more polite performance of this speech act. The results were remarkably positive despite the fact that the focused instructional targets were limited in number due to the participants’ low proficiency and time constraints. The findings clearly suggest that both marked quantitative and qualitative changes were observed in the participants’ refusal behavior after the instructional intervention. For instance, it was evident that following the treatment and instruction in refusal behavior, the participants employed longer refusal utterances, more intensification devices such as ‘so’ and ‘very’, more titles and honorifics such as ‘Sir’ and ‘teacher’, amongst other politeness markers. Furthermore, they provided more plausible explanations for their refusal responses as well as in-group markers like ‘dear’ and ‘my friend’ compared to their use of these strategies in the pretest phase, that is, prior to receiving the instruction. The quantitative changes are reflected in the fact that number of refusal strategies and adjuncts to refusals used in the pretest and posttest differ significantly. The findings concerning the favorable effects of pedagogical intervention are supported by such previous studies as Lingli and Wannaruk (2010) and Silva (2003).

Despite the positive effects of pedagogical intervention reported in the current study, the results are not in line with LoCastro (1997) whose study of politeness markers produced little effect on Japanese learners’ polite behavior. It is likely that the different data collection tools have impacted on the outcomes in that while LoCastro (1997) used group discussions to accomplish pedagogical intervention, we took recourse in the actual teaching of refusals. Another reason might be concerned with the focus of the studies as LoCastro’s (1997) study concerned itself with politeness markers in general while the present study deals specifically with refusal behavior. This comment is not final and it warrants further investigation, though. Similarly, King and Silver (1993) also reported little effect as a result of teaching refusals on intermediate learners.


The current study sought to contribute to our understanding of the impact of the explicit instruction of refusal strategies on fostering sociolinguistic appropriateness among elementary learners of English. The outcomes were favorable and the instruction was found to be beneficial. The results of this and previous studies suggest that a universal pattern seems to exist in refusal strategy usage. The instruction was effective from a variety of aspects of refusal behavior, including directness, length and mitigation of the refusal semantic formulas, indicating that learners can simultaneously focus on several aspects while refusing. The findings indicated that learners’ proficiency level does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle in the path of teaching pragmatics as long as teachers take into account closely what aspects of the TL to include or exclude from the pragmatic instruction. In conclusion, the realizations of politeness conventions often vary from language to language. These differences are likely to lead to impoliteness and subsequently to pragmatic failure. It has been suggested that learners be made aware of these intercultural similarities and differences with the aim of fostering effective communication and avoiding breakdowns in communication (Kondo, 2008). Understandably, individuals are not born with politeness but acquire it gradually over time. Therefore, the teaching of politeness conventions as realized in various speech acts should be on the research agenda. As Márquez Reiter (2000) argued,

Politeness is not something human beings are born with but something which is acquired through a process of socialisation. Politeness in this sense is not a ‘natural’ phenomenon which existed before mankind but one which has been socioculturally and historically constructed (p. 1).

Implications for Practice

This study has clear implications for language pedagogy, particularly teachers and materials developers. Firstly, different speech acts can be taught to language learners so that they can acquire them more efficiently and appropriately. Research is indicative of teachers’ lack of the awareness of the need to teach students the politeness elements of the TL (Byon, 2004). Furthermore, the fact that the participants of the study were beginners suggests that language teachers can launch into the task of teaching pragmatics even when the learners have developed only a limited proficiency in the TL. Nonetheless, this statement should be taken with caution as since it seems that learners are more inclined to acquire more fully those pragmatic aspects which are similar both in the TL and L1. In addition, it is advised that textbook and syllabus designers include further L2 pragmatic content to familiarize learners with what constitutes politeness and impoliteness conventions and foster their pragmatic competence.

Limitations of the Study and Suggestions for Further Research

Exposing language learners to specific instruction with the aim of raising their pragmatic awareness of how to perform various speech acts politely is a promising area of research. The present study was limited from two fundamental aspects: theoretical and methodological. From a theoretical point of view, an impoliteness perspective can be taken by future research in which language learners’ awareness is raised as to what constitutes impoliteness and how to eschew it in interaction. Another theoretical issue is concerned with the fact that the refusal framework (Beebe et al., 1990) and politeness theory (i.e., Brown & Levinson, 1987) that were drawn upon in the present study to analyze the data constitute classic works while it is advised that future researchers base their work on more recent theoretical theories. On the other hand, from a methodological perspective, the scholarly literature has made it clear that other data collection tools such as role-plays can yield more purposeful and legitimate data than DCTs (Nelson et al., 2002). Furthermore, the present study lacked a control group and random assignment. Gender is another issue as the participants of the present study were only males. The findings could have thrown further light had the study been conducted with both genders. Last but not least, studies with larger sample sizes are recommended.

Note. An earlier draft of this study was presented under the title “Teaching language learners to say ‘No’ politely: The case of Iranian elementary EFL learners” at Alzahra University First Postgraduate Conference on Applied Linguistics held on May 21st, 2015 at Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran.

About the Author

Seyyed Hatam Tamimi Sa’d, MA in Applied Linguistics from Urmia University, Iran, is currently an English teacher in Iran Language Institute (ILI). A prolific researcher, he serves as a reviewer for nine international journals within applied linguistics including BJET, JOLT, JLLS, TESL-EJ, JAAS, CJNSE in Canada, USA, UK and Turkey and copyeditor for CJNSE.

Javad Gholami is an assistant professor in TEFL from Urmia University, Iran. He has been teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in TEFL as well as EAP courses especially English for medical purposes as for more than 15 years. His main publications have been on integrating focus on form instruction and communicative language teaching in Iran. Over these years, he also has been running pre-service and in-service teacher training courses and theme-based workshops in private language schools and Ministry of Education.


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Márquez Reiter, R. (2000). Linguistic politeness in Britain and Uruguay: A comparative study of requests and apologies. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

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APPENDIX A. DCT Refusal (with Persian translation)

نام: …………………….…. جنسیت: مونث مذکر سن: … سال

Name: … Sex: Male Female Age: … years old
لطفا” موارد زیر را با دقت مطالعه کرده و به سوالات پاسخ دهید.

(Please read through the following situations carefully and answer the questions.)

1. دوستتان شما را به شام دعوت میکند اما شما از برادر او خوشتان نمی آید.
(1. Your friend invites you to dinner but you do not like his brother.)
– Hey, how about coming over for dinner Sunday night?
1. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

2. دوستتان از شما میخواهد که کتابتان را به مدت یک هفته به او قرض بدهید.
(2. Your friend asks you to lend him your book for one week.)
-Reza, lend me your book for a week, please.
2. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

3. معلمتان از شما میخواهد که در برگزاری جشن مدرسه به او کمک کنید.
(3. Your teacher asks you to help him with throwing a party at school.)
– We need some people to plan the class party. Do you think you can help?
3. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

4. ساعت 10 شب است و پدرتان از شما میخواهد که زودتر بخوابید.
(4. It’s 10 o’clock and your father asks you to go to bed early.)
– Dear, it’s too late. You should go to bed now.
4. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

5. شما کلاس سوم دبیرستان هستید و دوستتان که کلاس اول دبیرستان است از شما در درس ریاضی کمک می خواهد.
(5. You are a third year student. Your friend, a first year student, asks you to help him with math.)
– Hey, sorry, can you help me with my math?
5. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

6. خواهر کوچکترتان از شما میخواهد که او را با خودتان به خرید ببرید.
(6. Your younger sister asks you to take her with you shopping.)
– I want to go shopping with you, Reza.
6. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

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Investigating the Effects of Planning Time on the Complexity of L2 Argumentative Writing http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej81/ej81a3/ Wed, 31 May 2017 13:14:32 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12277 May 2017 – Volume 21, Number 1

Mahmoud Abdi Tabari
Oklahoma State University, USA


Much research has investigated the role of planning time in second language writing; however, the results show that there are inconsistent findings about the effects of planning time conditions on the complexity of the EFL learners’ textual output. The current study attempted to consider the differential effects of planning time conditions in terms of the pre-task planning condition, the online planning condition, and the no planning condition on the complexity of writings composed by means of an argumentative task from 90 EFL learners. The results reveal that the pre-task planning condition had a marked effect on syntactic complexity and syntactic variety, but the online planning condition only benefited syntactic complexity. Rather unexpectedly, the three planning time conditions showed practically similar performance in lexical variety. The results indicate that pre-task and online planning had remarkable effects on the production of language that was more complex and syntactically varied, however, these two types of planning did not benefit lexical variety. In addition, through a consideration of Yuan and Ellis (2003) and Ellis and Yuan (2004), regarding the effects of planning on oral and written narratives, the researcher compared the results of the study to those previous and, finally, provided pedagogical implications on language practitioners and testers.

Keywords: Planning time conditions; second language writing; complexity


This study spotlights two different yet equipotential areas of research: task-based research and second language (L2) writing. Task-based research is predominantly concerned with the influences of task design and the implementation variables on different constructs of language performance in terms of complexity, accuracy, and fluency (i.e., the CAF triad). Writing research, which draws upon psycholinguistic aspects of language, is more oriented to the data collected and interpreted from think-aloud protocols in order to determine what strategies writers employ during the process of writing. Additionally, writing research uses data to portray the mental systems involved in producing a text. According to Ellis and Yuan (2004), these two areas of research act different; however, Kellogg (1996) points out it is logically acceptable to contend that processes, which are mainly tapping into oral and written production, share many commonalities. Therefore, the researcher notes remarkable results can be obtained through taking into account these two interrelated research areas.

Review of the Literature

Planning Time Conditions and Linguistic Performance

Many studies have examined the differential impact of planning time conditions on linguistic production (Abdi Tabari, 2016; Ahmadian, 2012; Baleghizadeh & Nasrollahi Shahri, 2013; Byrnes, & Manchón, 2014; Ellis, 2009; Ellis & Yuan, 2004; Geng & Ferguson, 2013; Gilabert, 2007; Li, Chen, & Sun, 2015; Markee & Kunitz, 2013; Ong, 2014; Skehan, 2009; Skehan & Foster, 1997, 1999; Tavakoli & Skehan, 2005; Yuan & Ellis, 2003). These studies demonstrate a general support for fluency and complexity, but there are still inconsistent findings regarding accuracy, which may be due to the investigations being different in “whether the task conditions allowed time for or encouraged careful online planning” (Yuan & Ellis, 2003, p. 1). Although Ellis (1987) reported that the pre-task planning condition had a positive effect on the accurate use of English regular past-tense verbs in oral narratives, Wendel (1997) did not discover any remarkable effects on the accuracy of Japanese EFL learners’ narrative production. Additionally, Ortega (1999) reported that the pre-task planning condition led to an increase in the complex use of noun modifiers in Spanish; however, it did not improve the accuracy of article usage. Therefore, the studies indicate that the pre-task planning condition provides an opportunity for learners to collect their thoughts and efficiently employ their attentional resources. The pre-task planning condition results in an improvement on fluency and complexity, but it does not have a significant effect on accuracy.

Although there is a growing body of research on pre-task planning in the area of task-based research, limited research has examined online planning. Ellis (2003, p. 347) defines online planning as “the process by which learners attend to form while planning speech acts in order to monitor their output. Online planning takes place while learners are performing a task.” Butterworth (1980, p. 159) states that online planning tackles both macro-level planning, which addresses “long range semantic organization of a sizable chunk of speech” and micro-level planning, which involves “purely local functions, like marking clause boundaries and selecting words.” When learners are provided with an opportunity to formulate their ideas and notions, and plan their performance within a task, they can produce more accurate language (Ahmadian, 2012; Baleghizadeh & Nasrollahi Shahri, 2013; Foster, 1999). What is more, when learners are provided with the space to direct their attention to the formulating and monitoring of their syntactic structures, they are further able to generate accurate language. However, if attention is directed to content rather than form, no significant effect on accuracy is perceived. Yuan and Ellis (2003) posited that the pre-task planning and online planning conditions had positive effects on the complexity of oral narratives. They also reported that the pre-task planning condition did not result in a heightened accuracy of oral narratives, while the online planning condition significantly enhanced accuracy. Overall, the results suggest that L2 learners who have limited English proficiency find it difficult to direct their full attention to all constructs of language performance; therefore, they direct more attention to form than meaning in order to produce more accurate language (Ahmadian, Tavakoli, & Vahid Dastjerdi, 2015).

On the one hand, the pre-task planning condition results in greater gains in fluency and complexity than in accuracy (Ellis, 2005; 2009). Pre-task planning affords learners the opportunity to have some forethought and plan their performance in advance. As such, they can develop a conceptual plan of what they want to generate, rather than focus on linguistic plans in detail (Ellis & Yuan, 2004; Geng & Ferguson, 2013; Guará-Tavares, 2016). On the other hand, the online planning condition highlights an increase in accuracy and complexity rather than fluency. Online planners, who feel no pressure to compose a text, have this chance to plan their performance within the task fulfilment. This ample time to complete a written task will enable online planners to edit and monitor their performance and compose a variety of grammatical and lexical items (Ahmadian, 2012). Therefore, the comparison between these two types of planning conditions shows that their effects on language performance are relatively different. Table 1 depicts the effects of the pre-task and online planning conditions on language performance.

Table 1. The Effects of Pre-task Planning and Online Planning Conditions on L2 Performance (Adapted from Ellis, 2003)

Construct of performance Pre-task planning On-line planning
Fluency Positive effect Negative effect
Accuracy Effects sometimes evident Positive effect
Complexity Positive effect Positive effect

Although a number of studies have examined the effects of planning time conditions on the three constructs of language performance in L2 oral and written narratives, very few studies explore the effects of planning time conditions on these constructs in L2 argumentative writing (Shin, 2008; Tavakoli & Rezazadeh, 2014). Koda (1993) stated that the impact of planning would be more robust with more complex tasks such as expository and argumentative tasks. She suggested tasks that have a complex structure gain more complexity at the price of fluency and accuracy because L2 learners who possess limited capacity of attentional resources are pressured to direct their attention to a certain construct of language performance. Tavakoli and Rezazadeh (2014) also investigated Iranian EFL learners’ argumentative writing under two types of the pre-task planning condition (i.e. individual and collaborative) and assessed their writing performance using the measures of complexity, accuracy, and fluency. They found that collaborative planning resulted in greater accuracy, whereas individual planning improved fluency. However, neither type of the pre-task planning condition promoted complexity. Unlike Ellis and Yuan’s (2004) study, this study focused on an argumentative task with a more complex structure than a narrative task. An argumentative task requires L2 writers to produce more ideas and information, making it more challenging than a descriptive or narrative task (Foster & Skehan, 1996). An argumentative task also raises L2 learners’ awareness of rhetorical norms and conventions, which are essential for writing argumentative texts, in addition to requiring an ability to generate abstract concepts (Dellerman, Coirier, & Marchand, 1996). More importantly, an argumentative task is cognitively more difficult than a descriptive or narrative task because it includes unfamiliar and unstructured information and requires more complex linguistic concepts. Révész, Kourtali, and Mazgutova (2016) stated that argumentative tasks place higher cognitive loads on planning processes, and due to the lack of ideas, learners should exert more mental effort to conceptualize the content of the essay. Therefore, task type seems to be an important factor in determining whether L2 writers can automatize particular characteristics of a writing task or process cognitive loads, which are inherent to the task.

A large number of studies have investigated the effects of planning time conditions on different constructs of language performance. However, few studies have explored the differential effects of planning time conditions on a specific construct of language performance, namely complexity. Mehrnert (1998) conducted a ground-breaking study to assess different variables of complexity in L2 context. Further, the present study set out to explore the effects of planning time conditions on the complexity of learners’ argumentative writings in an EFL context. In particular, this study aims to shed light on the relationship between a complex task type—an argumentative task and a certain construct of language performance—complexity under different planning time conditions.

Modality and Task Performance

With reference to a series of publications, it is clear that many studies have shown increasing interest in the speaking modality and have examined the effects of task structure and planning time in L2 oral production. However, the role of the writing modality has been left unexamined in the literature. L2 writing research (Chenoweth & Hayes, 2001; Grabe, 2001; Grabe & Kaplan, 1996; Hyland; 2009) has provided evidence to show that, similarly to the speaking modality, the writing modality is of both theoretical and practical importance because each has its own conditions and requirements. Although there are a number of major differences between speaking and writing (Hyland, 2015), the most important ones from a psycholinguistic view are that writing is not normally limited by time and that it follows a cyclical process, through which learners linguistically encode their written plans and edit them recursively (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996, p. 243). Compared to speaking, writing is less constrained by time: writers often feel less pressure to marshal their attentional resources between formulating their message and linguistically encoding it, encouraging ample online planning (Ellis & Yuan, 2004). According to Kormos and Trebits (2012), “In writing, the time spent on planning the message (i.e., pre-task planning) is also integrated in the writing process because writers can devote considerable time to planning the content before starting to write” (p. 446). In addition, the writing modality, as opposed to speaking, enables learners to devote more attentional resources to revising and editing their performance, on top of encoding it.

Few studies have examined how modality affects learners’ language performance in particular language learning tasks. In a pioneering study, Ellis (1987) reported that L2 learners produced more accurate past-tense forms in their written than in spoken narratives. In contrast, Granfeldt (2008) discovered that Swedish learners of French showed more accuracy in speaking than in writing, but that modality had no remarkable effect on syntactic complexity. In addition, he found that learners produced more lexically varied language in writing than in speaking. More recently, in a study conducted with Dutch learners of Italian, Kuiken and Vedder (2011) reported that performance in writing was syntactically more complex than in speaking, but lexical variety was not significantly different in the learners’ oral and written output. The general patterns of these findings point to the issue that writing modality, as an under-researched aspect of task-based planning, requires more attention and may lead to different results in task-based research–as an implementation variable–and task design features.

Research Questions

In light of the foregoing summary of theoretical and empirical investigations, two hypotheses follow: (a) given that task performers who work with the task under the pre-task planning condition have sufficient time for planning the task in advance, it is more likely to produce language which is relatively more complex; (b) task performers who complete the task under the online planning condition have ample time to formulate and monitor their textual output; hence, they may improve accuracy at the expense of complexity because they may allocate a longer duration of their time to address grammatical structures rather than encode more complex ideas. By considering these hypotheses, the current study aims to address the following research questions:

  1. What effects does the pre-task planning condition have on the complexity of EFL learners’ argumentative writing?
  2. What effects does the online planning condition have on the complexity of EFL learners’ argumentative writing?



Participants for this study were 115 full-time undergraduate students (25 males and 90 females) who studied in an English program at an Iranian university. Their ages range from 19 to 23 years old. Their mother tongue was Persian. At the time of data collection in 2016, the majority of the participants had been learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at the university for two and a half years. They had taken two writing courses, namely Paragraph Writing Development and Introduction to EFL/ESL Academic Writing Skills. Based on demographic information of participants, none had lived in an English-speaking country. In an Iranian EFL context, teachers are typically viewed as the major source of authentic input learners have exposure to and they have little to no opportunity to use English for communicative purposes outside the classroom. Hence, participants had very limited opportunities to use English in a real-life situation. The final number of participants who participated in the experiment was 90 individuals, 21 males and 69 females. They were selected for the experiment based on their scores on an English proficiency test, which was later standardized in the study. Standardizing the English proficiency test allowed the researcher to have participants who were fairly homogenous in that regard. Then, the participants were placed at random into three planning time conditions involving 30 individuals apiece. The gender dynamics of the participants in each condition reports the following: 6 men and 24 women for the no planning condition; 8 men and 22 women for the pre-task planning condition; and 7 men and 23 women for the online planning condition.


At the time of data collection, the participants were studying Advanced Academic EFL/ESL Writing in the English program at Islamic Azad University (IAU), North Tehran Branch. Prior to this unit, they had taken Paragraph Writing Development unit in the third semester of their sophomore year. The Advanced Academic EFL/ESL Writing offers expository composition with a focus on organization, style, and technique where students are expected to master writing descriptive and argumentative summaries of academic texts. As assessments of the unit, students are required to produce an academic article using the APA referencing style as well as a mini research paper as their final product.


Pre-test Material
The pre-test material was an English proficiency test. The participants in three planning time conditions were asked to take the test in order to ensure that they were homogenous at the outset of the study. The test consisted of three sections: Structure and written expressions (40 items), Vocabulary (40 items), and Reading comprehension (30 items).

The type of task utilized in the present study was a written argumentative task. The participants were asked to compose a text based on an argumentative topic: Elimination of the National Entrance Exam to Universities in Iran (Konkoor). This topic was chosen to serve as the basis for the argumentative task because the national entrance exam is one of the main challenges that Iranian candidates grapple with to be admitted to university. The participants had already experienced this controversial issue; therefore, it was reasonable to assume that they would have much to say and present their arguments and counter-arguments about the topic. Additionally, the researcher strived to ensure that the argumentative task was reasonably difficult for the participants so that they would extract their lexical and grammatical resources. The researcher provided some instructions in Persian before participants began to write their texts. This allowed the researcher to ensure that they understood the writing prompt. The participants in the pre-task planning and no planning conditions were requested to write at least 15 sentences for the topic, while those working under the online planning condition felt no pressure to write down a minimum of 15 sentences. The participants working under the pre-task and no planning conditions received the same prompt in order to produce the argumentative writing task, “In my opinion…”

Two weeks prior to the experiment, a pilot study was used to determine how much time was needed to perform the written argumentative task. Thirty students who were part of the intended sample participated in the pilot study. The students composed the argumentative texts and the exact amount of time they devoted to the task was recorded by the researcher. Before they started writing, some instructions were given in Persian to help them understand the writing prompts. During the pilot study, the participants performed the task over the course of 15 to 20 minutes. Therefore, the researcher considered the mean time to be the time limit, and chose to set the task completion for 17 minutes. The time limit was assigned to the participants in the pre-task planning and no planning conditions.

As the pre-task material, a language proficiency test was used to determine the learners’ knowledge of English. The learners were assigned 70 minutes to complete the test. Their performance on the test was coded and scored and then entered into SPSS version 16.0 for statistical analysis. Given that the language proficiency test was neither officially approved nor administered to the participants by the approved language testing organizers, such as the British council or ETS, the researcher decided to standardize the English proficiency test. An item analysis procedure was carried out and the characteristics of individual items, including item facility (IF) and item discrimination (ID) indexes, were determined for the three components of the test. Items with facility indexes beyond .30 and below .70 (3040) were considered acceptable. Then, the poor items were discarded; as a result, the number of items was reduced from 130 to 110 items for data analysis. Later, on the basis of remaining items, all the papers were rescored and re-entered into SPSS version 16.0. Using the newly obtained scores, the means and standard deviations of the test—in three different classes—were estimated, and in each class the students whose scores fell between one standard deviation above and below the mean were included in the study. The final number of participants who took part in the experiment was 90 (21 male and 69 female) students. To see whether there were any significant differences across different classes, a one-way ANOVA (with the alpha set at .05) was performed. The results of ANOVA revealed no significant differences across the three classes in their proficiency scores (F= .017(112, 2) p > .05). Therefore, the three groups were equivalent in terms of their English proficiency (see Table 2).

Table 2. Descriptive Statistics for Three Different Classes Followed by ANOVA Results

Class 1 39 39.5897 16.3477 Df Mean
F Sig.
Class 2 38 39.6053 14.7273 Between
2 2.343 .017 .990
Class 3 38 40.0263 15.3455 Within
112 240.120
Total 115 39.7391 15.3606 Total 114

In order to estimate the numerical value of the reliability of the test subparts, the Kudar-Richardson (KR-21) formula was used.

Table 3. The Mean, Standard Deviation, and Reliability of the Test Sub-parts

Items Mean Std. Deviation KR
Structure and written expressions 40 25 10.159 0.93
Vocabulary 40 24 9.750 0.92
Reading 30 19 8.013 0.90

Since the evaluation of content validity of the test was subjective, and the collected data from the content validity of the test was not numerical, the construct validity of the proficiency test was measured by factorial analysis. The researcher examined the language proficiency test in order to see whether the different sections measured the language proficiency ability of the participants. As Table 4 indicates, there was a strong factor loading for different sections of the test on factor 1. Therefore, factor 1 (language proficiency ability) was considered as an important underlying factor for each section of the test, and the researcher concluded that the different sections of the test were related to the language proficiency ability identified by factor 1.

Table 4. Factor Analysis of the Language Proficiency Test

Factor 1
Structure and written expressions 0.79580
Vocabulary 0.79166
Reading 0.77245

In order to see whether there was a significant difference between the students’ writing, 50 participants were selected at random out of a pool of 90 English language students who participated in the experiment. They were requested to perform an argumentative task. The written data produced by the participants were graded by two native English-speaking evaluators who had professional experience teaching writing in L2 classrooms. The papers were subsequently scored based on the rating scale introduced in Heaton (1990) for intermediate-level learners. The results revealed that the inter-rater reliability was above .85 (see Table 5).

Table 5. Inter-rater Reliability for Writing Composition

g1 writing composition rater 2
g1 writing composition rater1 Pearson Correlation .87**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 50

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

The main experiment was conducted two weeks after the standardized English proficiency test had been administered. In the present study, planning time was operationalized under three different conditions: the pre-task planning condition (PTP), the online planning condition (OLP), and the no planning condition (NP) (see Appendix). Planning time conditions utilized in the study were summarized as follows:

  1. No planning (NP)
    Participants in the no planning condition were required to perform the task immediately after reading the argumentative prompt for a brief span of time (0.5 minute). They had extremely limited time for task preparation and/or task planning in advance and had to complete the task within the designated time limit (17 minutes). Also, to enhance the amount of cognitive effort on the part of learners, they were asked to compose at least fifteen sentences to complete the argumentative task within the time limit.
  2. Pre-task planning (PTP)
    In this planning condition, participants were assigned 10 minutes to think about the task and plan their argumentative writing. This provision of time for organizing and planning the task was based on other previous studies such as Baleghizadeh and Nasrollahi Shahri (2013), Ellis and Yuan (2004), Li, Chen, and Sun (2015), and Wendel (1997). The participants were not offered any detailed guidance; however, they were asked to formulate their argumentative texts regarding form, content, and organization. Again, this part of the study followed Ellis and Yuan (2004), Foster and Skehan (1996), and Tavakoli and Rezazadeh (2014). The participants were provided with paper to record their notes and then these notes were taken away before beginning the writing task. Similar to the no planning condition, the participants should produce at least fifteen sentences in 17 minutes. In this condition, they were allotted sufficient time for pre-task planning, albeit they had to write their arguments within the time limit.
  3. Online planning (OLP)
    For the online planning condition, participants inspected the argumentative prompt for a short duration of time (0.5 minute) and immediately performed the task. However, they were given enough time to plan and monitor their textual performance, while they were completing the task. The researcher recorded the time the participants invested in their argumentative texts. This was to ensure that this duration was longer than the elapsed time by the pre-task planners and the no planners. Unlike the other two planning conditions, the participants in the online planning condition were not pressured to produce at least fifteen sentences within the time limit. They had ample time to finish the written argumentative task. The task conditions were summarized in Table 6.

Table 6. Task Conditions

Task Conditions Pre-task Planning On-line Planning
No Planning (NP) n=30 0.5 minute Limited
Pre-task Planning (PTP) n=30 10 minutes Limited
N=90 n=30 0.5 minute Unlimited

The study applied a one-factor between subjects design. One-way analysis of variance (one-way ANOVA) was used to analyse participants’ argumentative texts under the three planning conditions. The texts were segmented, coded and analysed in terms of a certain construct of language performance, namely complexity.


Planning Variables

There were three variables for assessing planning time conditions: a) length of time, b) the number of words, and c) the number of syllables. Table 7 depicts the means for the three variables. Further, it shows that the online planners spent an average of 21 minutes to complete the task and took longer to perform it compared to the pre-task planners and the no planners, who fulfilled the task in 17 minutes. The amount of time allocated to the task was identical to the pre-task planners as well as the no planners. The results reveal that there was a significant difference in the time given to perform the task for the online planners as compared to the pre-task and no planners who used less time. With regard to the number of words and syllables, there was a significant difference across the three planning groups. The Scheffe’ results illustrate that the pre-task planners composed more words and syllables than the no planners, and that this difference reached statistical significance. The online planners also produced more words and syllables than the no planners; however, the difference was not statistically significant. In summary, the results show that the online planners were different from the pre-task planners and no planners in terms of the mean time devoted to the task, as we expected. Additionally, the pre-task planners and online planners showed a different performance in the amount of writing produced as compared to the no planners, although the differences were only statistically significant to the pre-task planners.

Table 7. Descriptive Statistics and Results of ANOVA and Scheffe’ Procedures for Independent Variables

Means of
planning conditions
ANOVA Location of significance :
Scheffe’ p
Independent variables NP PTP OLP F P NP-PTP NP-OLP PTP-OLP
Length of time (min.) 17.00 17.00 21.00 47.98* .000 .020 .000 .000
Words 181.4 231.1 206.9 7.65* .002 .002 .146 .177
Syllables 213.14 277.21 242.64 6.74* .003 .003 .253 .155

* p<.05.

Reliability of Complexity Measures

Polio (1997) asserted that at least a portion of the data must be rated to establish the inter-rater reliability. Therefore, the texts produced by the no planning group were corrected by two English-speaking evaluators in order to establish an acceptable level of inter-rater reliability. Thirty argumentative texts were corrected three times, each for a single measure of complexity. The present study used three measures to assess complexity: 1) syntactic complexity, 2) syntactic variety, and 3) lexical variety. The evaluators were asked to assess the argumentative texts according to the complexity measures. Then, the two sets of data were entered into SPSS software and Pearson correlations were then used in order to test the inter-rater reliability for the complexity measures. The results indicate that there was a high correlation between syntactic complexity scores in the argumentative task. The inter-rater reliability was calculated to be .92 for the argumentative task (p<.01). Table 8. Inter-rater Reliability for Syntactic Complexity

g1 syntactic complexity rater 2
g1 syntactic complexity rater 1 Pearson Correlation .920**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 30

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

Figure 1. Scatter Diagram for Syntactic Complexity

Figure 1. Scatter Diagram for Syntactic Complexity

The Pearson correlation coefficient for syntactic variety scores also reveals a high inter-rater reliability between the first and second ratings. For the syntactic variety of argumentative writings, the inter-rater reliability pointed to .94 with a significance level of 0.05 (see Table 9).

Table 9. Inter-rater Reliability for Syntactic Variety

g1 syntactic variety rater 2
g1 syntactic variety rater1 Pearson Correlation .942**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 30

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

Figure 2. Scatter Diagram for Syntactic Variety

Finally, the results show that there was a high reliability for lexical variety. The inter-rater reliability for lexical variety scores tabulated .94 at 0.01 significance level (p<.01). Table 10. Inter-rater Reliability for Lexical Variety

g1 lexical variety rater 2
g1 lexical variety rater1 Pearson Correlation .948**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 30

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

Figure 3. Scatter Diagram for Lexical Variety

In sum, the inter-rater reliability was relatively high for the three variables of complexity. After establishing indexes of the inter-rater reliability, the rest of the participants’ argumentative texts, which were related to the pre-task planning and online planning groups, were rated.

Measurement of Complexity

There are different measures available to examine complexity (Ellis, 2003, 2005, 2009). Given that a specific construct of language performance is intricate and multifaceted, multiple measures have been utilized to assess it. However, using multiple measures will not guarantee a more evident and valid picture of this dimension of language performance. As Ahmadian, et al. (2015) argued, these measures should assess different facets of the dimension in question. Thus, to assess each specific facet or sub-dimension of complexity, three different measures were utilized: a) syntactic complexity, b) syntactic variety, and c) lexical variety (i.e. Mean Segmental Type-Token Ratio).

  • Syntactic complexity: the proportion of clauses to T-units in the participants’ written performance. Since the task was monologic in nature and included fewer omitted structures, T-units were used rather than C-units in the study (Ellis & Yuan, 2004).
  • Syntactic variety: “the total number of different grammatical verb forms used in the task. Grammatical verb forms included tense, modality, and voice” (Ellis & Yuan, 2004, p. 72).
  • Mean Segmental Type-Token Ratio (MSTTR): The participants’ argumentative texts were divided into 40-word segments and the type-token ratio of each segment was measured by dividing the sum of different words by the sum of all words in the segment (Ellis and Yuan 2004). The MSTTR was calculated for every participant by adding the mean scores for their segments and dividing the whole by the sum of segments in the argument. This procedure was used to account for the impact of text length on the type-token ratio.

Data Analysis

Table 11 illustrates the results for the complexity measures. In the case of syntactic complexity, the pre-task planners and online planners outperformed the no planners with differences reaching statistical significance. However, the pre-task planners and online planners produced almost identical results in terms of syntactic complexity. The three planning groups had the same hierarchy for syntactic variety and the differences were statistically significant. The difference in scores between the pre-task planners and the no planners reached a statistical significance level (p<.01). The online planners composed argumentative texts including more syntactically varied language than the no planners; however, the difference did not approach significance (p=.130). The difference between the pre-task planning and online planning was not statistically significant (p=.180). As regards lexical variety, a similar range of lexical variety was observed in the three planning time conditions. Lastly, the results show that the participants in the pre-task and online planning conditions produced language that was more complex and varied syntactically; however, they did not show any significant improvement on lexical variety. Table 11. Descriptive Statistics, Results of ANOVA and Scheffe’ Procedures for Complexity

Mean(SD) of
planning conditions
ANOVA Location of significance:
Scheffe’ p
Complexity variables NP PTP OLP F P NP-PTP NP-OLP PTP-OLP
Syntactic complexity 1.67
11.74 .000** .000** .002 .713
Syntactic variety 16.20
19.58 .001** .001** .130 .180
Lexical variety 0.86
.180 .837

Note. Dashes indicate the Scheffe’ procedure was not performed.
* p <.05.
** p <.01.


In order to verify whether the participants in the three planning conditions acted as initially assumed, the length of time designated to the task and the number of words and syllables produced in different conditions were calculated. The online planners took a longer span of time to complete the task than the pre-task planners and the no planners who had the same time to produce argumentative texts. With regard to words and syllables, the pre-task planners produced more words and syllables than other planners because they took advantage of the time to gather their thoughts, arrange lexical items, and plan the content of their language. The online planners could compose more words and syllables in their argumentative texts than the no planners; however, the difference did not approach statistical significance.

The first research question directly addressed the effects of pre-task planning condition on the complexity of EFL learners’ argumentative writings. The results reveal that the participants in the pre-task planning condition showed an increased progress on syntactic complexity. This finding corresponds with other findings within similar studies (Foster & Skehan, 1996; Wendel, 1997; Yuan & Ellis, 2003). In the case of syntactic variety, the pre-task planners used more subordinate clauses and a larger number of verbs in their argumentative texts than the no planners. However, the pre-task planners did not approach statistical significance with regard to lexical variety, despite producing language that was lexically varied. While many studies have reported positive effects of pre-task planning on syntactic variety, there continues to be inconsistent results regarding the effects of pre-task planning on lexical variety.

The results of this study for pre-task planning were comparable to those of Yuan and Ellis’s (2003) study and Ellis and Yuan’s (2004) study in a number of ways. Yuan and Ellis (2003) reported that pre-task planning had stronger effects on syntactic complexity than no planning. However, this type of planning time condition could not show significant effects on syntactic variety and lexical variety, in spite of larger mean scores in both of these two measures. The major difference between the present study and Yuan and Ellis’s (2003) study arises from syntactic variety. While this study reported larger mean scores for syntactic variety in the pre-task planning condition, Yuan and Ellis (2003) reported no significant difference between the pre-task planning and no planning conditions.

Ellis and Yuan (2004) found that the pre-task planners outperformed the no planners in terms of syntactic complexity, but the difference did not reach statistical significance. They also reported that the pre-task planners showed an improvement on syntactic variety and the difference was statistically significant (p<.01). In the case of lexical variety, Ellis and Yuan (2004) posited that the pre-task planners did not approach significance, as reported in this study. The main distinction between the present study and Ellis and Yuans (2003) study is that pre-task planning had a positive effect on syntactic complexity, while the effect on syntactic variety was little. Overall, pre-task planning appears to result in an improvement in some variables of complexity in L2 argumentative and narrative texts.

The second research question set out to explore the effects of online planning on the complexity of EFL learners argumentative texts. The results reveal that the online planners produced language, which included more complex sentences than the no planners. Thus, online planning had a remarkable effect on syntactic complexity. Yuan and Ellis (2003) reported similar results regarding syntactic complexity and further suggested that the provision of an opportunity to plan within the task can advantage syntactic complexity. However, the online planning did not aid syntactic variety and lexical variety; hence, the differences did not reach a statistical significance level. Results show that syntactic variety appeared to increase as learners were afforded the opportunity to formulate their ideas and plan their performance in advance. L2 learners especially those with limited English proficiency who have to perform the task within the designated time limit often direct their attention to edit and revise their textual performance. In other words, they utilize the available time for the online planning in order to process and monitor their internal input before composing their texts.

Yuan and Ellis (2003) claimed that online planners showed remarkable progress on syntactic complexity; however, they did not improve in terms of lexical variety. Surprisingly, the online planners experienced a decrease in the mean segmental type-token ratio (MSTTR) compared to the no planners. The major differences between the present study and Yuan and Ellis (2003) study stems from syntactic variety and lexical variety. The present study reveals that the mean of syntactic variety in the online planning group (M=18.89) was higher than that found in the no planning group (M=16.20), but lower than that contained in the pre-task group. However, Yuan and Ellis’s (2003) study shows that the mean of syntactic variety in the online planning group (M=11.00) was higher than that in the no planning group (M=8.71); yet the means of syntactic variety in the online and pre-task planning groups were identical (M=11.00, M=11.00). Regarding lexical variety, the present study indicates that the MSTTR of the online planning group was higher than that of the no planning group (M=.86), while Yuan and Ellis’s study illustrates the MSTTR of the online planning group was lower than that of the no planning group (M=.63).

Ellis and Yuan (2004) outlined that online planning had a positive effect on syntactic complexity and syntactic variety compared to no planning; however, it did not approach significance in either case. Concerning lexical variety, the online planning group displayed equal performance compared to the pre-task planning and no planning groups. All three groups acted in a similar manner and showed no significant effect on lexical variety. The major distinction between the present study and Ellis and Yuan’s (2004) study arises from syntactic complexity. This study indicates that online planners improved syntactic complexity and, in turn, produced language that was more syntactically complex. Therefore, the present study supports the findings reported for oral narratives by Yuan and Ellis (2003). In contrast, Ellis and Yuan (2004) posited that online planning did not result in greater syntactic complexity and the difference in scores between the online planning and no planning groups was not statistically significant.

In summary, the pre-task planners showed remarkable improvement on syntactic complexity and syntactic variety. Considering the learners notes in the pre-task planning time, it was reasoned that the 10-minute planning time prior to performing the task helped pre-task planners improve their confidence, while they were completing a task. They noted key words for arguments and counter-arguments, formulated their ideas, drew concept maps to figure out how the ideas act for or against one another, and sequenced and organized them. However, pre-task planning did not seem to improve the editing and revising processes, especially when learners were pressured to perform the task immediately. Therefore, as Hayes and Gradwohl Nash (1996) pointed out, it is difficult to strongly contend that the opportunity for pre-task planning results in more effective textual output than that for online planning because the provision of time to plan within the task may benefit linguistic output of L2 writers, but in a different manner. Online planning, on the other hand, had some effects on syntactic variety and lexical variety, but the differences did not approach statistical significance. This can be justified by explaining that no planners used their time to attend to the linguistic and propositional content of the task, although they had to compose their texts within the designated time limit. Further, the similarity in lexical variety scores in the three groups might result from the fact that the participants under the planning time conditions used their time for lexical searching, and also focused more on this aspect of verbal processing. Table 12, below, summarizes the results of the present study and compares them with other relevant studies.

Table 12. Summary of the Effects of Pre-task Planning and Online Planning on L2 Writing Performance

Task type Task medium Planning type Complexity Source
Narrative Oral Pretask Increased syntactic complexity Yuan and Ellis (2003)
Online Increased syntactic complexity
Narrative Written Pretask Marked increase in syntactic complexity and variety Ellis and Yuan (2004)
Online Some increase in syntactic complexity and variety but not
statistically significant
Argumentative Written Pretask Increased syntactic complexity and variety The present study
Online Increased syntactic complexity and some increase in
syntactic variety but not statistically significant


This study attempted to explore the effects of planning time conditions on the complexity of argumentative writings produced by EFL learners. It did not discuss the strategies and techniques, which are frequently used in the pre-task planning and online planning conditions; however, this study shed light on L2 writing processes under the three planning time conditions. Additionally, the present study compared the results for argumentative writings to those for oral and written narratives in two significant studies (Yuan & Ellis, 2003; Ellis & Yuan, 2004). It also provided pedagogical implications for practitioners and language testers. Language practitioners can direct learners’ attention to the three variables of complexity in L2 writing through manipulating planning time conditions such that L2 writers are sometimes provided with the opportunity for pre-task planning, sometimes for online planning, and in some cases for both. Given that L2 learners, specifically those with limited language proficiency, usually cannot fully attend to all constructs of language performance and prioritize accuracy or sometimes fluency over complexity, manipulating planning time conditions helps them improve the complexity of their textual performance. In particular, L2 learners can develop the syntactic complexity of their texts if they are given the opportunity to formulate their ideas and plan their textual output prior to performing the task. They can improve the syntactic complexity as well as syntactic variety of their argumentative writing if they are provided with sufficient time to complete the argumentative task. More importantly, there is the issue of L2 learners’ confidence. The notes of the pre-task planners before performing the task showed that they attempted to produce more accurate texts than complex ones. Even when they had the opportunity to look at the writing prompt, L2 learners spent less time working on the lexical variety of their textual output. They used limited lexical items to consider arguments and counter-arguments in their texts, while the scope of their lexical knowledge was wider than what was represented. Therefore, teachers can encourage L2 students to venture beyond the production of less complex texts and show their real performance. L2 learners actually value scaffolding techniques from teachers because they will gain more control over skills of composition.

Overall, teachers and language practitioners can help L2 learners enhance the complexity of their texts by manipulating planning time conditions and giving enough time to learners to plan their textual output in advance. In addition, they can create a non-threatening situation in which L2 learners can present their actual performance with confidence and comfort. Yuan and Ellis (2004) stressed that testers should give L2 learners equal access to the pre-task planning and online planning conditions in order to present their best performance. In particular, given that the overall effects of planning time conditions on the complexity of L2 learners’ writing are significant, testers can have a better evaluation of learners’ writing progress, particularly the complexity of their written production by providing equal opportunity for pre-task and online planning.

About the Author

Mahmoud Abdi Tabari is a Ph.D. candidate in English with the emphasis on TESL at Oklahoma State University, USA. His main research interests center on second language acquisition, task-based language instruction, and second language writing.


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Section 1: Personal information
First name: ——————————————— Family name: —————————————
Age: —————————————————– Grade: ———————————————–
Gender: ——— Male ——— Female Overseas learning experience: ——————–

Section 2: General Instructions (all instructions were given in Persian).
You will be presented with a topic and will be asked to write an argumentative text. The topic centers on a controversial issue that you already experienced before being admitted to university, ‘Elimination of the Iranian University Exam.’ To what extent do you agree or disagree with it? Discuss the topic and give your own opinions.

Instructions for each planning group

Group 1: No planning

Look at the topic, identify possible solutions, and support what you write with reasons, arguments, and relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience. You should write at least 15 sentences about the topic within 17 minutes. You can begin like this; “In my opinion, …..”

Group 2: Pre-task planning

Look at the topic, identify possible solutions, and support what you write with reasons, arguments, and relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience. You will be given a sheet of paper to write your notes; however, the sheet will be removed before performing the argumentative task. You will be assigned 17 minutes to write at least 15 sentences. You can begin like this; “In my opinion, …..”

Group 3: On-line planning

Look at the topic, identify possible solutions, and support what you write with reasons, arguments, and relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience. You can take as long as you need when writing the argumentative text. If you write something wrong or something you do not like, you can change and correct it as many times as you wish. You can begin like this; “In my opinion, …..”

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Editor’s Note: The HTML version contains no page numbers. Please use the PDF version of this article for citations.
How Does Australian-based Digital English Resource Stack Up? Chinese University EFL Teachers’ Perceptions http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej81/ej81a2/ Tue, 30 May 2017 13:09:24 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12268 May 2017 – Volume 21, Number 1

Yifeng Yuan
The University of Sydney

Huizhong Shen
The University of Sydney

Robyn Ewing
The University of Sydney


For a long time, Australian English and culture have not been viewed in China as an equal to its American and British counterpart. This is reflected in teachers’ choice of destination when it comes to English teaching and learning resources. This paper examines Chinese English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers’ perceptions of the contents and pedagogical design of Australian-based digital English learning resources through an interactive process. The teachers’ beliefs regarding language teaching and learning as well as materials selection were challenged due to the application of current technologies in the language education. A total of 24 EFL teachers from different universities across China participated in focus group interviews. The teachers worked with website designers and content writers to refine the design of the English language learning (ELL) website and digital English resources. Data showed that respondent teachers were highly receptive towards the newly designed ELL website as well as its content that were developed by incorporating the key features of a popular ELL website proposed by previous studies (Kettle, Yuan, Luke, Ewing & Shen, 2012; Shen, Yuan & Ewing, 2015; Yuan & Shen, 2013, 2014). In the interactive process of this study, participating teachers learned to appreciate Australian-based digital English resources, particularly the Australian culture, language and pedagogy embedded. A reflective process was also triggered in which Chinese EFL teachers showed willingness to re-examine their instructional practices and utilize the digital resources by adopting a more learner-centered pedagogy for optimal learning outcomes.

Key words: Chinese EFL teachers’ perceptions, Australia’s role digital English resources, language pedagogy


English has been the most important language in foreign language education in China since the 1980s (Chang, 2006) with the largest English learning and using population in the world: around 440-650 million (Bolton, 2003; He & Zhang, 2010). English education in China is undergoing a dramatic reform with the integration of new technologies into classroom teaching since the early 2000s. By the end of December 2015, China’s population of internet users had reached 688 million, and mobile phones had exceeded personal computers, taking the top place among all internet equipment with a usage share of 90.1% (CNNIC, 2016).

This presents both opportunities and challenges for curriculum innovation and pedagogical experiment in the Chinese English classroom. It is particularly so when face-to-face classroom language instruction remains a major medium of instruction for Chinese English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners to develop linguistic knowledge and communicative competence. Although new technologies appear to have been incorporated into the instructional process, a phenomenon which was observed over a decade ago as “textbooks on screen” (Zhong & Shen, 2002), current instructional practices still place teachers at the centre of all learning activities. It was a phenomenon caused by a deep-rooted hierarchical order inherent in Chinese education that revered a culture of knowledge and scholarship. It appears that real changes will not take place unless there is a change in teachers’ perceptions and understandings of the nature of teaching and learning, which is reflected in the language pedagogies they adopt in their classroom practice (Borg, 2003).

The application of new technologies, for example, computing equipment and the Internet, in English teaching and learning requires teachers to fundamentally change their beliefs of language learning and teaching pedagogies by integrating technologies and digital resources into their teaching not only as a means to viewing technologies as integral to the language curriculum, but also to affecting changes in a pedagogy that is predominantly teacher-led and product-oriented (Hubbard, 1998, 2006; Levy, 2009). This is reflected in the current College English Curriculum Requirements (Chinese College English Education and Supervisory Committee, 2007) in China, requesting EFL teachers to set up a student-centered classroom by employing recent technologies and appropriate digital resources.

As an indispensable part in teaching and learning, teachers’ perceptions, beliefs and understandings of resources and pedagogies directly impact the process and outcomes, particularly when new technologies have been introduced to the English language education. Research of teachers’ beliefs has emerged as a major area of enquiry in the language teaching in the past decades (Phipps & Borg, 2009). It examines teachers’ thought processes while making decisions or judgments in a complex environment (Ellis, 2006; Shavelson & Stern, 1981). Teachers’ beliefs reflect their personal values, ideologies, and philosophies of teaching (Farrell & Bennis, 2013; Richards, 1996; Verloop, Van Driel & Meijer, 2001) because beliefs are derived from critical incidents in individuals’ personal experience (Nespor, 1987). Teachers’ learning experiences also significantly influence their cognitions about teaching and learning, impacting their career (Borg, 2003; Eisenstein-Ebsworth & Schweers, 1997; Holt-Reynolds, 1992), as they contribute to the teachers’ belief system informing teaching in a consistent manner (Birello, 2012). Furthermore, coupled with contextual factors, the teachers’ belief system will determine the degree to which they implement appropriate instruction in alignment with their cognitions (Beach, 1994; Tabachnick & Zeichner, 1986). Language teachers’ previous knowledge and learning experiences, to a great extent, shape their beliefs about language teaching and learning (Farrell, 1999). Such beliefs include a range of aspects in language practice as learners and teachers, for example, learning and teaching processes, materials and tasks, and instructional design, procedure and assessment (Birello, 2012; Borg, 2003).

For a long time, Australian English and culture have not been viewed as an equal to its American and British counterparts in China. This is shown in the process of sourcing language materials and making pedagogical choices, often with a visible North American or British orientation. This conception of teaches have influenced the materials they select for English teaching and learning. To date, authentic materials used in English teaching and learning in China come overwhelmingly from the UK and the US. Chinese EFL learners and users are familiar with the official news from VOA, BBC and CNN that is reported in formal languages and limited topics without introducing cultures in detail. American or British TV shows and English movies or movie clips, for example, The Big Bang Theory, Friends, and Sound of Music, are also used as other authentic resources for language teaching and learning. Other than that, Chinese EFL learners and users have limited exposures to other authentic digital English resources, especially those from countries other than the UK and the US.

Language teachers’ former language learning experiences, particularly learning a second language (L2) or a foreign language (FL), influence their beliefs and initiate their cognitions about learning and language learning, informing their conceptualizations of L2 or FL teaching throughout their career lives (Borg, 2003). Beliefs also affect teachers’ behaviors and assist to fully understand their performances in classroom practice (Birello, 2012). Nevertheless, beliefs and practices do not keep a direct and linear relationship, and they do not always coincide (Karavas-Doukas, 1996). It is evident that teachers’ beliefs and practices are mutually informing, with contextual factors playing an important role in mediating their relationship (Beach, 1994; Birello, 2012; Borg, 2003). These arguments, though derived from researching the traditional language classroom, could be further examined in a technology-supported language learning environment.

A recent study (Shen, Yuan & Ewing, 2015) examined teacher’s perceptions of web-based English resources focusing on key features of a popular English Language Learning (ELL) website, for example, pedagogically-oriented, tailored for users of varied language proficiencies, and with current and examination-oriented learning materials and tasks. However, there is little research investigating EFL teachers’ perceptions and understandings of what constitutes good practice in digital resources development and instructional design through the direct conversation with the website designers and content writers. In order to fill this research gap, the current study examines Chinese university EFL teachers’ perceptions and understandings of Australian-based English resources and pedagogies embedded as well.

The current study is broadly framed from a social-cultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978), particularly informed by the constructs of scaffolding (Hogan & Pressley, 1997), interaction (Ellis, 1985) and reflection (Loughran, 1996). It aims to examine Chinese EFL teachers’ pedagogical beliefs of Australian-based digital English resources that might specify what they believe, what they know, their attitudes and feelings to inform the refinement of the website and its content, which may help to optimize Chinese EFL students’ learning outcomes in a technology-supported environment. The study focuses on an innovative use of the newly developed digital resources within technology-enhanced learning environments and facilitates the refinement of the ELL website and related digital English resources development through interactive analysis, design, development and implementation.

The website designers and content writers worked closely with classroom teachers to develop and create appropriate digital English resources for EFL teaching and learning in Chinese universities. Analysis of communication between the designers and content writers and the teachers captured the transformative process in which the two parties were mutually informed by each other in the selection of digital English resources with a pedagogy that may impact Chinese teachers’ perceptions and practices.



A total of 24 EFL teachers from different universities across China were invited to participate in the interviews. All participating teachers were EFL classroom practitioners with over 10 years of English language teaching experience at the tertiary level in China. Prior to the interviews, the teachers were informed of the aims and the process of the research by one of the Chinese industry partners. All teachers showed interest and commitment to attend the interviews. As they came from various regions across China, the participants were divided into four focus groups, six in each group, in accordance with provided select interview timeslots for their convenience. All participants were informed of the research aims and procedures prior to focus group interviews.

Focus group interviews

Focus group interviews in this study aimed to collect data about Chinese EFL teachers’ opinions of the ELL website and digital English learning resources that were developed on the basis of the findings of previous studies (Kettle, Yuan, Luke, Ewing & Shen, 2012; Shen, Yuan & Ewing, 2015; Yuan & Shen, 2013, 2014). Teachers’ viewpoints of the ELL website and its digital resources were sought. As these teachers had played various roles as language users, mentors, and learners in English language practice in China, they were able to provide first-hand data on aspects of both teaching and learning. Interviews were conducted at a negotiated time outside normal teaching hours so as not to disrupt participants’ daily routines with each focus group interview lasting for 60 minutes.

Prior to the interviews, participants were shown the newly designed ELL website and sample digital English learning resources, and allowed time for questions. They were then encouraged to express their opinions of the website and the contents but not restricted to aspects of the language pedagogy (e.g., content and topics, materials and tasks), website design (e.g., webpage design, webpage informative and directive languages), and website usability). Comments and suggestions from the teacher respondents were taken into consideration by the website designers and content writers when refining the design of the ELL website and digital English resources. Participating teachers, in turn, were believed to take in website designers’/content writers’ advice on the pedagogical design in the development of digital resources that might facilitate changes in EFL classroom instructions and pedagogies in China.

All interviews were conducted in Chinese, as participants were able to use their first language (L1) to express themselves more freely and accurately. The back-translation approach (Brislin, 1970), that is, translating from Chinese to English and back to Chinese, was used to interpret interview written records, ensuring the reliability of the data. There was a convergence of interviewees’ opinions across the four group interviews; therefore, the collected raw data were compared and reported in one voice by removing the overlapping data to avoid redundancy. Ethical approval had been obtained from the Human Ethics Committee of the University of Sydney, Australia, before the researchers started conducting interviews. Accordingly, respondents were assigned different pseudonyms instead of their real names in data report and categorization.

Data results and analysis

English language editors and technical engineers from Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, Beijing, China, worked out a demonstration ELL website (illustrated in the form of a webpage in this paper) by incorporating the key features of a popular ELL website proposed by previous research (Kettle et al., 2012; Shen, Yuan & Ewing, 2015; Yuan & Shen, 2013, 2014). The ELL website was composed of four key content areas: Audio-visual learning, cultures and customs, celebrities, and English learning (see Figure 1). All audio-visual learning materials utilized in the website, including the learning tasks, were prepared by content writers. At the trial stage of website design, the audio-visual learning webpage, as the second webpage of the website, was developed for demonstration as well (see Figure 2). All participants were shown the homepage, the audio-visual learning webpage, and Australian-based audio-visual learning materials and tasks in order to elicit their views of this ELL website.

Figure 1. Homepage of the ELL website

More importantly, this process allowed a detailed documentation of the interactive process through which the select digital resources were being created as well as the reciprocal effect on the designer/writer and user/teacher in the design and selection of digital materials and tasks.

Figure 2. Audio-visual learning webpage

The collected data from the interviewees were grouped and presented through word description. As all participants attended the interviews anonymously, pseudonyms, for example, Gao, Wen, and Zhao, were used in data reporting and discussion. The data were reported in two broad categories:

  1. Chinese university EFL teachers’ viewpoints of the design of the ELL website;
  2. Chinese university EFL teachers’ opinions of Australian-based audio-visual learning materials and tasks included in the website.

The ELL website design

All participants were shown the ELL website and its functions. Respondent teachers were allowed several minutes to discuss with their partners in focus groups before being invited to express their general impressions of the website. Ann, He, Li, and Wang said that:

The ELL website looks different from those currently applied in China. The webpage design is simple and fresh with key learning materials or hubs displayed on the homepage, for example, audio-visual learning, cultures and customs, and English learning. It will be easy for Chinese English learners or users to track learning materials from the website.

Jiang, Wen, and Zhao indicated that:

The webpage design of the ELL website is content-oriented by applying user-friendly functions. Instead of piling up all stuffs on the homepage that might confuse website users’ choices of the learning materials, this website appears to be concise and focused with four major content areas.

Gao, He, and Yang claimed that:

The website users can obtain the learning materials from the website easily and conveniently as they are well embedded into the four content areas, such as cultures and customs, and celebrities.

All participating teachers (100%) showed their agreement to these statements in terms of the user-friendly design of the ELL website. Twenty-three participants (96%) believed that a language- and culture-oriented ELL website is better than an examination-oriented one. Alvin, Cindy, Jane, and Zhang stated that:

This ELL website is language- and culture-oriented, while the present ELL websites in China appear to be examination-oriented with lots of examination informatives exhibited on the homepage. Learning English includes learning linguistic knowledge and cultural knowledge, not setting the aim to pass examinations only.

Similarly, 22 out of 24 respondents (92%) preferred to employ their L1 as the informative and directive language in the website. Ben, Hong, Wang, and Yang acknowledged that:

As Chinese is used as the informative and directive language of the ELL website, it will be easy for Chinese English learners/users to acquire and retrieve information from the website as Chinese is their L1.

The teachers showed their positive attitudes towards the design of the ELL website which, to a large extent, has affirmed the effectiveness of the innovative web design and learner expectations of the study. As another important focus of this study, the development of Australian-based digital resources was examined in the interviews as well.

Australian-based audio-visual learning materials and tasks

Before showing the Australian-based audio-visual learning materials prepared by content writers, teachers were encouraged to express their views towards the English learning materials that they preferred to be included in an ELL website. Ben, Dong, Lin, and Huang indicated that:

Authentic learning materials from English native-speaking countries, especially the US and the UK, are popular in China. Overwhelming authentic materials from the US and the UK, for example, English movie clips, radio broadcast, newspaper or magazine articles, etc., are included in the current Chinese ELL websites.

Cindy, Hong, Jenny, and Wen added that:

Both Chinese EFL students and teachers commonly obtain authentic language knowledge from VOA (Voice of America), BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and CNN (Cable News Network) news, TV shows and English movies, for example, The Big Bang Theory, Sound of Music and Friends. However, the language employed in these learning materials is formal and official, and the content is lacking of diversities, focusing on politics and economics in particular. We also prefer authentic materials having local cultures from a variety of English-speaking countries.

All teachers (100%) showed their agreement to the statements proposed above. In the next stage, the Australian-based audio-visual learning materials, the song “Waltzing Matilda” with cultural notes and tasks (see Appendix 1), were shown to the participants (see Figure 3). All materials, including the video, notes, and tasks, were uploaded to the website for demonstration. Participating teachers were given time to reflect so that their suggestions would be more appreciated and useful for researchers and designers in developing digital English learning materials and tasks for Chinese EFL learners and users.

Figure 3. Webpage of “Waltzing Matilda”

Twenty-three respondents (96%) showed their interests in learning Australian English and culture after being exposed to the song. Ann, Flora, Li, Jing, and Zhao stated that:

The sample learning materials are quite interesting. We can learn typical Australian slangs and Australian culture from the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’, which arouses our strong interests in learning Australian English and culture.

Twenty participants (83%) began to reflect on their opinions of Australian English. Chen, Huang, Jane, Lin, and Yang added that:

We have been learning British English or American English since we started to learn English in our primary schools. We were advised by our English teachers that only British English or American English was the standard English. Having watched the video of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, we have realized that we had a misconception of Australian English. Australian English is one standard native English variety, and learning Australian English can help us enhance our knowledge on Australian culture as well.

In addition, 17 teachers (71%) expressed their positive attitude towards notes and tasks for the digital learning material “Waltzing Matilda”. Ann, Cao, Flora, and Zhang claimed that:

Notes to the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’ focus on local slangs and culture introduction, and three interrelated tasks with clear instructions assist learners to work out the implied meaning as well as significance of the song step by step. Compared with current ELL websites in China, which merely dip into the surface culture, this website has taken a great stride in managing cultural knowledge, deep culture in particular.

Cindy, Gao, and Jing raised a different voice on the task design:

Task 1 and 3 might be easy for Chinese EFL learners to complete. We should set up difficult tasks that learners need to spend time and efforts on.

Dong and Huang added that:

It might be better to include some pictures in the second task that could assist learners to acquire the meanings of unfamiliar local colloquial.

In communication with teachers, researchers and content writers explained their perceptions of the task design to participating teachers:

The task design considers scaffolding to help Chinese EFL learners understand the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and its implied meaning as well, such as Task 1 and 3 assisting learners to develop their understanding of the deep meaning of the song. Only those learners, who understand the lyrics and the culture embedded, can accomplish the set tasks. This is to facilitate a process of learning. Students can develop better understanding through repeated viewing and task completion. If tasks are too challenging for learners, they may lose interest and give up eventually.

Teachers believed that such scaffolding tasks could assist Chinese EFL learners in achieving better learning outcomes, whilst difficult tasks might make learners lose motivations in learning English, which might inform English pedagogies in classroom instructions in China. On the other hand, researchers and content writers agreed to the suggestion that employing pictures in Task 2 could make the vocabulary learning process interesting and efficient. That is, they agreed on the importance of maximizing the inclusion of digital learning materials.

Chen, Hong, Jane, Li, and Yin also suggested that:

It might be helpful to include some supportive learning materials of different genres centered around the same topic with tasks and notes. These materials can help Chinese EFL learners to understand authentic Australian-based audio-visual materials at both linguistic and cultural levels. Also, it will be better if these materials are recorded or shot in videos.

Researchers and content writers showed their agreement to what teachers had proposed:

Chinese EFL learners can be informed of various genres/text types that are neglected or unknown in the Chinese EFL classroom. A set of additional supporting materials on related topics will be prepared by professional writers and recorded by native-English speakers. Cultural notes and a range of tasks will be prepared as well.

Participating teachers provided constructive feedback on the development of English digital resources in interactive communication with researchers and content writers, which reflected their pedagogical beliefs of the EFL practice in China, contributing to the refinement to the development of digital English resources in the ELL website.


Data analysis indicates that the new ELL website design, developed in accordance with the findings of previous research (Kettle et al., 2012; Shen, Yuan & Ewing, 2015; Yuan & Shen, 2013, 2014), received favorable affirmation from the participating Chinese EFL teachers who were satisfied with the overall design concept. Different from the existing examination-oriented ELL websites in China, the ELL website design is user-friendly, focusing on a set of carefully selected Australian-based digital English resources covering authentic language and cultural knowledge. Unlike traditional Chinese ELL web pages which are often overcrowded with large amounts of materials, the new webpage design is concise and focused, displaying well-selected key content areas such as audio-visual learning, and cultures and customs, which are of general interest to students and teachers for understanding the target language and culture. The Chinese language is used as informatives and directives to provide shortcuts for the convenience for users when accessing the new website for language learning and teaching materials. It appears that the new design with these distinctive features has had an impact on Chinese EFL teachers in terms of the way they perceive and source materials and tasks for teaching in a technology-supported setting. This technology-induced change in teachers’ beliefs was further observed in teachers’ responses to the design of specific language materials and tasks.

It has been found in this study that the user-friendly webpage design (through effectively employing users’ L1 as the informative and directive language for the ELL website), though it still follows the Chinese pattern, has initiated innovations by considering users’ preference and convenience to the target audience in the competitive English education market. Most participating teachers noted that they preferred a language- and culture-oriented ELL website instead of an examination-oriented one. It could be implied that the focus of English teaching and learning in China has shifted from passing examinations to learning both linguistic and cultural knowledge to achieve language competence in communication with the support of advanced technologies, such as computers and the Internet (proposed in College English Curriculum Requirements, 2007).

Chinese EFL teachers have a refreshed perception of English teaching and learning. English learning and teaching does not merely occur in the traditional examination-oriented chalk-and-blackboard classroom. Integrating new technologies in a learner-centered classroom can facilitate students to better develop their linguistic cultural knowledge, which is a priority stipulated in the new Curriculum Requirements (2007). This was also much in alignment with the Chinese EFL teachers’ expectations described early in the results and analysis sections of this paper. New technologies provide a convenient platform for students to acquire a range of tailored learning resources and interact with each other that scaffold their language learning.

The analysis of teachers’ interview responses highlights a lingering preference for a particular variety of English by the participants. This preference is highly reflective of a general inclination of Chinese EFL teachers and learners to learn to speak British English or American English, which is often used as the benchmark for assessing the English proficiency of Chinese EFL learners (Shen & Yuan, 2013). It is evident that teachers’ deep-rooted intangible beliefs are shaped by their prior knowledge as language learners and affect how they teach in the language classroom (Farrell, 1999; Richards & Pennington, 1998).

Constrained by their previous learning experience, the respondents in this study initially appeared not too keen to consciously incorporate Australian English and culture into their curriculum design and classroom teaching. Teachers’ exposure to the Australian folk song with accompanying images “Waltzing Matilda” through demonstrations aroused their interests in Australian English and culture. “Waltzing Matilda”, though not a formal published teaching and learning material, exemplifies a local variety of language with aspects of culture, which is unique of Australia. Opportunities for engaging and exploring different English resources helped broaden the teachers’ understanding of a variety of English and cultures. Participating teachers responded positively to the Australian-based digital language resources. This was reflected in their active engagement and a desire for more Australian-oriented resources in their teaching practices, as they believed that exposure to Australian English as a native variety of English could help enhance Chinese EFL learners to be competent English language users in diverse contexts of intercultural communication.

Data also show that cultural notes and tasks to authentic materials are helpful to learners’ knowledge scaffolding in the learning process. Previous English language learning experience has limited Chinese university EFL teachers’ knowledge and understanding of Australian English and culture. They might not be able to completely understand Australian culture, local and deep culture in particular, as well as Australian local languages and slangs included in Australian-oriented materials. Relevant cultural notes and tasks could assist learners to better understand authentic materials, and at the same time, obtain language knowledge and develop language competence via practices. However, respondent teachers did not seem to like two tasks (task 1 and 3) designed for “Waltzing Matilda,” which sought for open answers. Impacted by examination-oriented pedagogies in China, they preferred to employ tasks with unique answers, for example, multiple choices and “True” or “False” questions. They believed that open-ended tasks were not as hard as close-ended ones designed for standard tests. They were interested in employing close-ended tasks in the teaching and learning practice.

It is evident that the teachers’ understanding of learning- and meaning-making focused on surface learning, that is, the purpose of learning to them seemed to be linked to finding the correct answer, overlooking the role of process for enhanced learning and developing strategies to work together through interaction. It might not be easy for students to accomplish open-ended tasks properly, as these tasks aim to examine their understandings and achievements in the learning process. The purpose of deep learning focuses on process and interaction while enhanced learning is derived from interaction and deeper learning engagement. There is obviously a contrast between two learning models, influencing classroom pedagogies, materials selection, and tasks design. Tasks designed for “Waltzing Matilda” provided a temporary scaffolding (Puntambeka & Hübscher, 2005; Reingold, Rimor & Kalay, 2008) for Chinese EFL learners to enhance deeper understanding of Australian English and culture through interaction with the lyricist. The engaging process also allowed Chinese university EFL teachers to reflect on their classroom practices when utilizing a more interactive model for classroom interaction. It was found that after direct communication with researchers and content writers, the teachers came to a realization that open-ended tasks were more appropriate for learner-centered and engaging learning, as the process of interaction and negotiation facilitated deep learning and better helped improve learners’ language knowledge and skills.

Suggested by participating teachers, including some more different text-type digital ELL materials with cultural notes and tasks on the same topic could consolidate learners’ both linguistic and cultural competence, which could be regarded as a duplicated learning process (Hyland, 2004; Hyon, 1996). Additionally, Chinese EFL learners were able to acquire genre knowledge that is usually neglected in the English teaching and learning in China. Considering Chinese university EFL teachers’ advice in refining the Australian-based ELL website design and digital materials development could favorably assist Chinese EFL learners in acquiring language knowledge and becoming competent English language users in intercultural communication.


This study showed that Chinese university EFL teachers, in general, were highly receptive towards the newly designed ELL website developed by incorporating key features of a popular ELL website in China, such as pedagogically-oriented, Anglophone countries topics and easy website accessibility (Kettle et al., 2012; Shen, Yuan & Ewing, 2015; Yuan & Shen, 2013, 2014). The ELL website design is user-friendly, with convenient accessible functions and users’ L1 being employed as the informative and directive language of the website. Besides examination materials, website users can obtain both linguistic and cultural knowledge, particularly Australian-based resources, which, to some extent, enable them to be competent English language users. It appeared that Chinese university EFL teachers began to reflect on and re-examine their language teaching and learning beliefs and practices influenced by the pedagogy of long tradition in the Chinese educational system. They were learning to appreciate Australian English, as a standard variety of English, and its rich culture for digital English resources. Together with sound language pedagogy, the digital resources will allow teachers to help enhance Chinese EFL learners’ language competence through suitable classroom practices. Chinese university EFL teachers may also consider employing some more learner-centered pedagogies or tasks to assist students in achieving optimal learning outcomes. As for the ELL website designers, they acquired the first-hand data to refine the ELL website design and content writing through the direct communication with participating teachers. Though further research is needed to investigate Chinese EFL students’ responses to the newly designed ELL website, findings of this study, which were generated from an interactive approach, will contribute to the development of a popular ELL website in China as well as other Confucius heritage contexts by enhancing Australia’s role in English teaching and learning, and in turn, facilitate pedagogical changes in EFL classroom practices in related contexts.

About the Authors

Yifeng Yuan is Research Associate and HDR Research Supervisor at Faculty of Education and Social Work, the University of Sydney. He is the member of International Applied Linguistics Association, Academic member of China Studies Center of the University of Sydney and Oral Examiner of KET, PET, FCE and BEC, the University of Cambridge. His research areas and publications have covered applied linguistics, pragmatics, teaching English to speakers as other language (TESOL), language and culture, cross-cultural communication and pedagogies, English as an international language, computers and language education, and social sciences.

Huizhong Shen is Associate Professor and Higher Degree Research (HDR) Supervisor at the Faculty of Education and Social Work, the University of Sydney. He is the member of International Applied Linguistics Association, Academic member of China Studies Center of the University of Sydney and Committee member of Australian Society of Technology and Science. His research expertise and scholarship lie in second/foreign language education, foreign language teacher education, ICT in language learning, cross-cultural issues in English language learning and researching Chinese English as an emerging variety of English.

Robyn Ewing is Professor and HDR Research Supervisor at Faculty of Education and Social Work, the University of Sydney. Her teaching, research and extensive publications include a focus on the use of drama strategies with literature to enhance students’ English and literacy learning. Teacher education, especially the experiences of early career teachers and the role of mentoring, sustaining curriculum innovation and evaluation, inquiry & case based learning and the use of arts informed, particularly narrative, inquiry in educational research are also current research interests.


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Appendix 1: Waltzing Matilda

Task 1
Watch the video of a popular Australian song “Waltzing Matilda” and try to work out the meaning of the title of the song.

Task 2
Watch the video again and try to work out the meanings of the following.

swagman        billabong        coolibah        tree        jumbuck

billy        tucker        bag        troopers        squatter

1. a can used to contain boiling water
2. a cut-off river bend found alongside a meandering river
3. policemen
4. a man who travelled the country looking for work
5. a land occupied by a person who has no legal title to it
6. a kind of eucalyptus tree which grows near billabong
7. a bag used to carry food
8. a sheep

Task 3
Watch the video again and try to briefly describe the story the song tells. Sing along if you can.

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me”,
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.
“Where is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me”,
“Where is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.
“You’ll never take me alive!” said he.
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me”,
His ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?”
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me”,
His ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?”
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

1. Waltzing, derived from the German auf der Walz, means to travel while working as a craftsman and learn new techniques from other masters before returning home after three years and one day. Matilda is a romantic term for a swagman’s bundle, referring to a bag slung over one’s back.

2. “Waltzing Matilda” is Australia’s most widely known bush ballad, which has been referred to as “the unofficial national anthem of Australia”. The original lyrics were written in 1895 by Banjo Paterson, a poet and nationalist. It was published as sheet music in 1903. The song was first recorded in 1926 as performed by John Collinson and Russell Callow, and this recording was added to the “Sounds of Australia Registry” in the National Film and Sound Archive in 2008. It was performed at the Closing Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games by singer Slim Dusty.

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