March 2016
ALIS Forum



Ben White

Monika Ekiert

Greetings, ALIS Members!

Welcome to the spring issue of AL Forum. As we look toward April and the TESOL convention, we have three short articles from upcoming presentations in Baltimore. In the first, Eli Hinkel tackles construction grammar and its connections to L2 production skills. She encourages teachers to target collocations and formulaic expressions when teaching speaking and writing across proficiency levels. In our second article, Stephanie Link, Elena Cotos, and Sarah Huffman share their work on the development of pedagogical materials for graduate-level, academic writing courses. They use discipline-specific corpora to establish cross-disciplinary moves and steps within the discussion/conclusion sections of research articles. Finally, Harisimran Sandhu discusses the concept of learner autonomy. He explores the advantages to and the teacher’s role in autonomous learning.

We encourage you to check out the letters from the chair and from the chair-elect in this issue. They are full of information about the upcoming TESOL convention. Nihat describes what looks to be a fascinating InterSection session, which he has helped organize with the Teacher Education IS. He also has some good news about an ALIS reception on the evening of 6 April. David introduces what is sure to be an equally fascinating academic session, which he has put together around L2 pragmatics and pedagogy.

As David notes in his letter, Baltimore will be an opportunity to continue to discuss ways of spurring more communication and involvement within our ALIS community. If you are coming to the convention, please do consider attending the ALIS open meeting on Wednesday, 6 April, 6:45 pm–8:15 pm, in Room 326. There are sure to be fresh ideas and a lively discussion on how to improve our community!

Best wishes for 2016!

Ben & Monika


Dear ALIS Members,

I wish you and your family a happy and healthy 2016! It is my pleasure to welcome you to the ALIS family and thank you for your continued support. I just wanted to take this opportunity to describe some of the upcoming ALIS activities and update you about a few exciting changes that are going to occur in the new year.

First, our Chair-Elect David Olsher will be taking over as the chair of ALIS at the convention in Maryland. Like many of you who have read David’s letter in our previous newsletter, I, too, look forward to the many wonderful activities that ALIS will engage in under David’s leadership.

Second, I am very pleased to report that our search for the next leader has been successful. Please join me in congratulating Olga Griswold as the ALIS chair-elect. Olga is not new to ALIS, and soon we will learn more about her and her vision for ALIS in the upcoming newsletters.

Third, our application for funds for a reception during the convention was approved by TESOL. Thus, I am very happy to invite you all to the ALIS reception on Wednesday, 6 April, between 8:30 pm and 10 pm in the Calloway room in the Hilton Baltimore.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not reiterate my invitation for your participation in ALIS’s academic and InterSection sessions. David will provide information about the academic session in his letter. Here is some information about the InterSection. The ALIS InterSection, with the Teacher Education Interest Section (TEIS), is going to tackle a very interesting area of research, as evident in its title “Age Factor in SLA: Current Research and Implications.” We have invited four scholars who are on the forefront of cutting-edge research on this topic: David Singleton, David Birdsong, Alene Moyer, and Emanuel Bylund. I cannot wait to see you all at this wonderful session!

I look forward to our annual convention, held this year on 5–8 April 2016 (Tuesday through Friday), in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. I am very excited about the ALIS academic and InterSection sessions, and the many other fascinating talks, discussions, and meetings at TESOL 2016.

Last but not least, I would like to thank our newsletter editors, Monika Ekiert and Ben White, for their wonderful contributions to ALIS.

Please contact me or David if you have any questions or suggestions.

Best wishes!

Nihat Polat


Dear ALIS Members,

Greetings to all at the start of 2016. I am very glad to be serving as chair-elect of the interest section and look forward to serving as chair in the coming year. We are a large and diverse interest section, representing many facets of applied linguistics as well as many parts of the global TESOL community, and it is my hope that I can help to represent your interests in the coming year.

One way we can connect as an interest section is at the TESOL convention. Thanks to the leadership of our chair, Nihat Polat, we will have a TESOL-sponsored reception following the ALIS Business Meeting on Wednesday, 6 April, in Baltimore. I encourage all who are able to join for the Business Meeting on Wednesday, where we will continue discussions, started last year in Toronto, about ways to get involved, including but not limited to reviewing abstracts for the 2017 convention. Even if you are not able to join us at the Business Meeting, please come to the reception, where we will have more time to talk with each other and exchange ideas!

I also want to second Nihat’s encouragement to all to attend the panels organized by ALIS leadership for the Baltimore convention. Nihat has co-organized a great InterSection that will feature current insights into a highly relevant area of language acquisition research on the role of age in language learning, which will make a valuable contribution to the program.

Filling out our ALIS leadership-organized panels is the academic session I have put together, “Beyond Functions: Current Perspectives on Teaching and Learning Pragmatics,” which represents the intersection of sociolinguistics research on language use with language acquisition and pedagogy. This panel assembles leading scholars in the field of L2 pragmatics, including research on the social use of language for communication in English and other languages as well as the teaching and learning of pragmatics by English learners as part of their overall communicative competence. Topics will include research on development of conversation skills, teacher training in the area of pragmatics, and effective uses of technology for the development of English pragmatics skills. The panelists are: Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig (contributor to our ALIS February issue), Noriko Ishihara, Zohreh Eslami, Noël Houck, and Donna Tatsuki. This promises to be an exciting chance to spotlight an area of applied linguistics not often featured in major panels at TESOL, and one that will engage the interests of classroom teachers, teacher trainers, and materials developers as well as researchers in the field.

Of course, there will also be a great lineup of submitted presentations at the convention, so be sure to check the program for AL Interest Section offerings.

For those who are not able to attend this year’s convention, please consider participating in the listserv or even contributing to the newsletter. As you know, we have an email listserv that we only make occasional use of, and I am hoping we can find ways to instigate some timely exchanges in the coming year to bring more of our members into dialog. At the business meeting last year in Toronto, new members asked for ways they could get involved. Following their lead, and with input from our members, I hope to work with the rest of our excellent ALIS leadership to look for new ways to spur discussion and provide opportunities for engagement across our far flung global ALIS community.

I hope to get a chance to talk with many of you at the convention in Baltimore, and wish everyone a happy and successful 2016.

David Olsher



Since at least the 1970s, a number of innovative approaches to teaching English grammar have been developed and implemented. One of these is construction grammar, which focuses on the form-and-meaning connections in the structure of English. Construction grammar is usually associated with various linguistic theories and cognitive linguistics, and it presents a language model that is based on actual and real-life usage. This analytical perspective emerged primarily due to the inability of classical theories to account for linguistic formulas, idioms, and collocations (sequences of two or more words that are often used together in speech or writing), for example, do nothing, do business, get a haircut, have a drink, have a problem, have/take a vacation, see/call/get a doctor. Many studies of language and corpus analyses have demonstrated clearly that collocations and formulaic constructions dominate in language production and use. This article takes a brief look at the basic premises of construction grammar and its contribution to language teaching, and more specifically to second language (L2) production skills, that is, speaking and writing.

In language investigations, the term "construction" typically refers to a linguistic form with a particular grammatical function. Constructions can be as short as a phrase or as long as a sentence (Hilpert, 2014). Theoretical models describe grammar as an ordered arrangement of incremental linguistic elements, from which phrases or sentences are assembled. However, most current theoretical and pedagogical grammars have trouble explaining constructions that cannot be created (or generated) systematically in the process of language production (e.g., to give a hand, heavy fog/snow/rain, to do the heavy lifting, strong wind/feeling/argument, to keep one's job, to keep at it, to take a chance). To make a long story short (this is also a collocation), collocations and formulaic expressions are segments of language in which the meaning of the whole is not a sum of the meanings of their component parts (Wray, 2002).

For many L2 users, one of the major problems—even at advanced levels of proficiency—is that they have limited access to formulaic language. Because collocations and prefabricated expressions cannot be pieced together from their component parts, unidiomatic constructions can and often do simply sound "wrong" (Wilkins, 1972), even when they are often entirely comprehensible (e.g., *to agree to/on the argument, *to differ the points, *to concentrate the essay).

Numerous studies of learner language have shown that formulaic sequences and prefabricated expressions are almost always underused, overused, or misused in L2 production (Hinkel, 2015). In addition, research has also demonstrated that, for most learners, mastering and using L2 formulaic sequences tends to lag far behind the development of other production skills. A few explanations of this phenomenon have been proposed, and two seem to be cited more frequently than the rest (Schmitt & Carter, 2004):

  1. Collocations and formulaic expressions may not be effectively addressed in teaching, and in some cases, hardly at all.
  1. Such constructions are often left out of spoken or written language addressed to learners, and thus their exposure to collocations can be noticeably reduced.

The central aspect of construction grammar is that a great deal of language usage consists of prefabricated and collocational constructions. In this light, constructions represent meaningful units of language that characterize spoken and written discourse. A construction is a unit that connects grammatical structures and their meanings. Proficient users of the language by definition have the knowledge of grammar that allows them to link specific structures to express certain meanings. For instance, How are you today? or How's everything going? are not actual questions, despite their interrogative form, but rather they have the interactional function of casual greetings.

Based on a large body of research, it has been established that language-in-use consists primarily of recurrent collocations and formulaic expressions that are accessed and employed as if they were single words, rather than structures assembled according to the rules of grammar. According to analyses of written and spoken corpora, collocations and prefabricated phrases can number in hundreds of thousands. It goes without saying that language instruction, however detailed, cannot cover the entire range of these expressions. However, many can be useful for learners and particularly so in the context of productive skills.

Given that language teaching almost always takes place under great time and curricular constraints, it seems essential to maximize language gains, develop fluency, and make learning as efficient as possible. A range of research-based and time-tested techniques for using constructions and formulaic expressions can prove to be highly fruitful and practical in both language teaching and learning.

A few examples of constructions that can be taught at practically any level of proficiency are presented below. It is important to note, however, that there are probably dozens of these that can be taught, learned, and produced in real-life language uses.

  • A few constructions for formal situations and academic speaking (professional conversations, presentations, meetings, and interviews):

Giving an Example

Let me give an example (of)…
To illustrate this point, let us consider…
I'd like to mention/bring your attention to xxx, as an example
A case in point is…
By way of illustration…/To illustrate, simply (take a) look at…
An example includes/A few examples include

    • A few constructions for formal or academic writing (course assignments and papers, professional emails, job applications, documents, and reports):

    Thesis/Topic Statements

    The purpose of this essay/paper/analysis/overview is to xxx
                 e.g., take a look at/examine/discuss yyy.
    The main emphasis/focus/goal/purpose of the/this essay/paper/project is to xxx
                 e.g., is to analyze/provide an overview/discussion of xxx
    This paper describes and analyzes…xxx.
    This paper discusses/examines/investigates xxx.
    This paper claims/shows that xxx is/is not yyy.


    Hilpert, M. (2014). Construction grammar and its application to English. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.

    Hinkel, E. (2015). Effective curriculum for teaching L2 writing: Principles and techniques. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Schmitt, N., & Carter, R. (2004). Formulaic sequences in action: An introduction. In N. Schmitt (Ed.), Formulaic sequences (pp. 1–22). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Wilkins, D. (1972). Linguistics in language teaching. London, England: Edward Arnold.

    Wray, A. (2002). Formulaic language and the lexicon. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Eli Hinkel has taught ESL and applied linguistics, as well as trained teachers, for almost thirty five years and has published numerous books and articles on learning second culture, and second language grammar, writing, and pragmatics in such journals as TESOL Quarterly, Applied Linguistics, Journal of Pragmatics, and Applied Language Learning. She is also the editor of the Routledge ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series of books and textbooks for teachers and graduate students.In her spare time, she walks on water and occasionally on a tight rope between two skyscrapers.


    Stephanie Link
    Oklahoma State University
    Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA

    Elena Cotos
    Iowa State University
    Ames, Iowa, USA

    Sarah Huffman
    Iowa State University
    Ames, Iowa, USA

    Genre studies and the use of disciplinary corpora for teaching the art of research writing have received much attention throughout the years as postgraduate students continuously seek pathways toward acculturation into the academic discourse community. A long research tradition in academic writing pedagogy has been well informed by contributions from Swales’ (1981) work on the creating a research space (CARS) model for introductions to research articles (RAs). In his genre-based approach, he conceptualizes moves and steps as overarching communicative goals and specific units of functional meaning. His seminal research has translated pedagogically to focus on learning tasks that raise students’ awareness of rhetorical structure within genres and discourse communities and develop means of analyzing texts both structurally and linguistically for discipline-specific genre conventions. This genre-based pedagogical approach is now broadly used in advanced academic writing courses.

    While move/step concepts have held wide implications for the analysis and teaching of all RA sections, research has fallen short of developing further pedagogical approaches, similar to the CARS model, that have been validated using interdisciplinary corpora. Of particular pedagogical importance are discussions/conclusions (D/C), as they prove challenging in graduate students’ creation and support of research claims.

    Our research demonstrates how corpus-based move analysis can directly inform genre-based research writing pedagogy. We first present a cross-disciplinary model for D/C sections. The authorial intent, content construction, and language realizations of select discourse elements are exemplified before we illustrate how the results of our analysis translate to corpus-based pedagogical materials and tasks employed in a postgraduate writing course.

    Corpus-Based Move Analysis and Descriptors of Moves and Steps

    We conducted an extensive move analysis of a corpus of 900 RAs from 30 disciplines, the details of which are described in Cotos, Huffman, and Link (2015). In brief, we employed a top-down corpus analysis (see Biber, Connor, & Upton, 2007) that resulted in a comprehensive model containing move and step descriptors, which were reviewed by faculty in each discipline and refined using existing D/C models.

    The resulting model consists of four moves and fourteen steps, which are named in parallel with the CARS metaphor. To summarize, the model specifies four rhetorical moves occurring in D/C sections, which aim to ground the discussion of findings (Move 1), provide interpretation of the findings (Move 2), draw comparisons to previous relevant works (Move 3), and elaborate on the commentary (Move 4). Here is a sample of one particular step in Move 3 from a biomedical science publication:

    Move 3: Step: Countering with evidence

    Earlier studies have found inconsistent hippocampus-dependent learning deficits in Fmr1-knockout mice [14, 31, 32]; however, we saw robust behavioral changes.

    Given that a primary end-goal for developing a D/C model was corpus-based genre pedagogy, we offer learner-friendly descriptors that clarify the rhetorical intent and content realizations for each step. These descriptors will be provided in a forthcoming article in Writing and Pedagogy (Cotos, Link, & Huffman, in press).

    Pedagogical Application

    Our D/C model has been utilized as instructional material for graduate-level, academic writing courses at Iowa State University. In one such course centering on instruction of the RA genre, interactive, corpus-focused tasks supplement the genre-founded instructional approach. Students partake in hands-on analysis of authentic corpora to equip them with tools for analyzing research discourse and producing their own texts. The D/C model also informed the composition of written texts, which were supplemented with video tutorials. Knowledge consolidation exercises for paired activities and D/C peer review guidelines integrating the rhetorical concepts were also developed and then utilized in the course.

    In our presentation at the 2016 TESOL International Convention, we intend to outline tasks integrated into the course. By illustrating our corpus-based genre pedagogy, we hope to motivate a discussion about a genre-driven agenda that continuously promotes the direct transfer of research results to the classroom.


    Biber, D., Connor, U., & Upton, T. (2007). Discourse on the move: Using corpus analysis to describe discourse structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Cotos, E., Huffman, S., & Link, S. (2015). Move analysis of the research article genre: Furthering and applying analytic constructs. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 19, 52–72.

    Cotos, E., Link, S., & Huffman, S. (in press). Studying disciplinary corpora to teach the craft of Discussion. Writing & Pedagogy.

    Swales, J. (1981). Aspects of article introductions. Aston ESP Reports, No. 1. Language Studies Unit, University of Aston: Birmingham, UK.

    Stephanie Link is an assistant professor of TESL/applied linguistics at Oklahoma State University. Her primary research interests are in the development and evaluation of emerging technologies for computer-assisted language learning with a special focus on L2 writing, genre analysis, systemic functional linguistics, and automated writing evaluation.

    Elena Cotos is an assistant professor in the Applied Linguistics Program at Iowa State University. She investigates genre writing in the disciplines and automated writing evaluation to improve writing pedagogy. Elena is also the director of the Center for Communication Excellence of the Graduate College and the principal investigator on the Research Writing Tutor project.

    Sarah Huffman is a postdoctoral researcher for the Graduate College’s Center for Communication Excellence at Iowa State University. Her research interests include genre analysis and academic writing instruction, best practices for training graduate student writing tutors, and systemic functional linguistic approaches to language development.


    By its very nature, learning implies some autonomisation through the “interdependence of the cognitive and social-interactive dimensions,” wherein the teacher's role is “to create and maintain a learning environment in which learners canbe autonomousin order to become more autonomous (Little, 2003, para. 5).


    The term learner autonomy(LA) was coined by Henri Holec in 1981(Smith, 2003, p. 395). Although there have been numerous definitions since, Holec essentially refers to LA as “the ability to take charge of one's own learning” (as cited in Nunan, 2003, p. 193) rather than be dependent on the teacher. It can be viewed both as a means to an end—as in learning a foreign language—or as an end in itself, in striving to make people autonomous or lifelong learners.

    The autonomous learner is characteristically expected to construct knowledge from direct experience rather than respond to someone’s instruction, and, in this respect, LA is congruent with the theory of constructivism. Indeed, the cognitive dimension forms the core of the learning experience because, as Holyoake (as cited in Thanasoulas, 2000) put it, “knowledge lies everywhere to hand for those who observe and think” (Conclusion, para. 1). However, as a social process, LA does imply the redistribution of power, attending both the construction of knowledge and the roles of the participants in the learning process.

    LA is often obfuscated with an array of related terms such as independence, self-direction, self-instruction, self-access learning, or andragogy. In reality, LA is all these and more and this, perhaps, explains the name change of the IATEFL “Learner Independence” Special Interest Group (SIG) to the “Learner Autonomy” SIG some years ago (Smith, 2003, p. 395).

    Its key principles include self- and peer-assessment, optimal differentiation or individualization of learners, student logbooks to document learning and as a tool of reflection, and the use of interactive communicative technology to empower students by connecting them with the real world—transferring them outside the structures of the classroom, and vice versa—bringing the outside world into the classroom (Lacey, 2007).

    Teacher’s Role

    Far from being “teacherless learning,” as LA is often misconstrued, in effect, it endorses the crucial role of teachers in supporting and scaffolding learning, alongside fostering the development of LA. In this respect, it in no way threatens the power structures of pedagogy, instead encouraging the teacher to take “more responsibility than in a traditional class” (Lacey, 2007, p. 8). Indeed, it is difficult to visualize the growth of autonomy without the stimulus, insight, and guidance of a good teacher.

    This nuanced, rehashed role of the teacher in an autonomous learning environment also helps address the ostensible paradox of learning and pedagogy, viewed in a zero-sum relationship: The more powerful the pedagogy, the less space for good learning. LA does not undermine the value of teachers but, instead, casts them in a critically supportive role in which they are also expected to model and embed reflective practices into daily learning. According to research, this not only helps create the appropriate environment, but also positively motivates learners, encouraging collaboration and social interaction. There are indications that “teacher autonomy eventually permeates into LA” (Smith, 2003, p. 6).

    Advantages of Autonomous Learning

    I am in agreement with Little (2003), who cites three reasons why autonomous learning is generally considered to be more effective than traditional models of learning. One, reflective engagement invariably engenders analysis, which, being more personalized and focused, produces relatively more permanent learning. Two, proactively committed learners are, by the same stroke, more motivated because reflective and attitudinal resources can overcome temporary motivational setbacks. Three, because effective communication requires procedural skills that develop only through use, learners who enjoy autonomy should find it easier to engage and “master the full range of discourse roles on which effective spontaneous communication depends” (Little, 2003, para. 4). I might add that in allowing learners to make optimal use of learning opportunities in and out of class, LA also promotes democratic societies.

    Fostering Learner Autonomy

    As a perennial dynamic process—rather than product—amenable to educational interventions, LA involves the supportive engagementof learners’ existing autonomy, and includes several overlapping steps:

    • Step 1: Make lesson goals clear to learners.
    • Step 2: Allow them to create and set their own goals.
    • Step 3: Encourage learners to use their second language outside the classroom.
    • Step 4: Raise awareness of the learning processes.
    • Step 5: Help learners identify their own preferred styles and strategies.
    • Step 6: Encourage learner choice.
    • Step 8: Encourage learners to become teachers:This goal of teaching each other is important because it calls for greater responsibility and fosters increased motivation along with improved accuracy.
    • Step 9: Encourage learners to become researchers.

    (Nunan, 2003, p. 196–202)

    Developing LA also requires a specific approach, strategies, and reflection:

    • A multipronged approach would include a combination of resource-based, technology-based, classroom-based, curriculum-based, teacher-based, or learner-based dimensions.
    • Strategy training would involve teaching learners to use both cognitive and metacognitive strategies.
    • Reflection is key to LA and needs to be embedded in daily activities, focusing on such aspects as motivation, methodologies, and learning outcomes.

    While favoring autonomous learning, research evidence also tends to cast teachers in a new role, encouraging teacher autonomy, and without attenuating their importance in any way. Developing LA is a worthwhile goal, especially in language education, with several inherent benefits that together foster both permanent learning and create lifelong learners.


    Lacey, F. (2007). Autonomy, never, never, never. Independence, 42, 4–8.

    Little, D. (2003). Learner autonomy and second/foreign language learning. Retrieved from

    Nunan, D. (2003). Nine steps to learner autonomy. Keynote presentation, International Association of Teachers of Swedish as a Foreign Language. Stockholm: Sweden.

    Retrieved from!/menu/standard/file/2003_11_Nunan_eng.pdf

    Smith, R. C. (2003). Teacher education for teacher-learner autonomy. In J. Gollin, G. Ferguson, & H. Trappes-Lomax (Eds.), Symposium for language teacher educators: Papers from three IALS symposia (CD-ROM). Edinburgh, UK: IALS, University of Edinburgh. Retrieved from

    Thanasoulas, D. (2000). What is learner autonomy and how can it be fostered? The Internet TESL Journal, 6(11). Retrieved from

    Harisimran Sandhu is a freelance ELT professional with a special interest in teacher/trainer-training and evaluation.



    TESOL's Applied Linguistics Interest Section (ALIS) looks at language as a communicative system from both theoretical and practical perspectives, applies research and theory to real world contexts, and explores implications for the enhancement of language learning and communication. It draws on linguistic disciplines (e.g., linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics), as well as on studies of a broad range of language phenomena.

    ALIS explores implications for the enhancement of language learning and communication. It seeks to do so through the promotion of discussion, the exchange of information, and joint research.

    We congratulate Olga Griswold on being elected the next chair-elect and thank Nihat Polat for his service as chair of ALIS!

    The ALIS leadership team for 2016 is as follows:

    Chair: David Olsher
    Chair-Elect: Olga Griswold
    Past Chair: Nihat Polat
    Newsletter Editors: Monika Ekiert and Ben White
    Community Manager: Eli Hinkel