March 2019
ALIS Forum



Natalia Dolgova

Heather Weger

Dear Readers,

Welcome to AL Forum, newsletter for the Applied Linguistics Interest Section (ALIS)! We are happy to announce that Dr. Heather Weger, who served as guest co-editor for the Fall 2018 issue of AL Forum, has agreed to join the editor team on a permanent basis! Heather holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics from Georgetown University and has most recently joined the Legal English faculty at Georgetown University Law Center. She has over 15 years of experience in the field as classroom educator, teacher-trainer, and international consultant. Her research focuses on effective teaching strategies as well as the social and co-constructed nature of language learning and language teaching. We are very excited to collaborate with Heather on preparing this and future AL Forum issues!

In this issue, we are sharing four articles that capture the breadth of the field and present various angles of current research foci and themes in applied linguistics. In the first article, Dustin Crowther, Peter De Costa, and Jeffrey Maloney provide a succinct synthesis of current themes in research literature on English as an International Language. In the second article, authors Linh Phung, Sachiko Nakamura, and Hayo Reinders report results of their study testing the effects of different pedagogic task types on student engagement. The third article, co-authored by Hoa Nguyen, Anna Ciriani-Dean, Ying Jia, and Hector Gonzalez, illustrates how advanced L2 learners in a first-year college writing course engage with and utilize peer review feedback. Lastly, Yu Tian and Marino Fernandes share a step-by-step corpus-assisted procedure for teaching reporting verbs and general practices for appropriate textual borrowing to international students. Presentations on all four of these articles will be part of the TESOL 2019 Convention program, so we encourage our readers to attend these sessions and connect with the respective authors for further details regarding their research.

Speaking of the TESOL Convention, our Chair-Elect Benjamin White shared the details of the ALIS academic session, which features presentations by two members of the ALIS leadership team.

Verbing Out with Cognitive Linguistics and Sociocultural Theory

This academic session explores the promise that cognitive linguistics and sociocultural theory hold for effective L2 English instruction. Andrea Tyler, Natalia Dolgova, James Lantolf, and Benjamin White share techniques and materials for teaching traditionally challenging areas of English—including phrasal verbs; conditionals; make, take, do, get, and have; and tense-aspect.

Please join the ALIS academic session on 14 March 2019, 11:30 am–1:15 pm in the GWCC, room A412.

Also in this issue our Chair Kathryn Howard highlights information about key ALIS sessions at TESOL 2019 and shares a call for volunteers interested in being nominated to ALIS chair-elect position. Details regarding the election of new officers will be sent this Spring through direct communication from ALIS.

We hope you enjoy the issue and look forward to seeing many of you in Atlanta!

Natalia & Heather


Greetings! We are looking forward to an exciting year as we approach the 2019 TESOL Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. We are also hoping to identify nominees for the 2019 chair-elect position: Nominate yourself or a friend by contacting me at

At the convention, please join us for three fascinating sessions organized by the ALIS leadership. We are proud to sponsor the ALIS academic session exploring both cognitive and sociocultural lenses on pedagogy in our field. We also have two collaborative InterSections to offer: First, an InterSection with the Second Language Writing Interest Section entitled, “Beyond 5-Paragraph Essays: Why Don’t Writing Textbooks Reflect Current Research?” on 13 March, 11:00 am–12:45 pm in A301 at the Georgia World Congress Center. The second InterSection was organized with the Refugee Concerns Interest Section and is entitled, “Discourses of Representation for Refugee-Background Learners: Empowerment and Collaboration.” This will take place on 13 March, 3 pm–4:45 pm in room A404 at the Georgia World Congress Center. Both sessions offer fascinating, interdisciplinary panels of scholars exploring critical issues that impact TESOL practice. We hope that you will join us for these sessions and for our business meeting this year!

For the 2019 Convention, TESOL has fully implemented its new strand structure for the first time. Under this structure, proposals were evaluated and scheduled by topic-based strands, rather than interest sections. As you explore the conference this year, please keep an eye out for your fellow ALIS scholars across a range of strands, including the Applied Linguistics Strand. We plan to roll out an ALIS twitter feed so that our members can stay apprised, in real-time, of presentations and events relevant to our members as they occur. Please use the hashtag #ALIS2019 to tweet about your conference experiences so we can connect as a community.

We will be holding elections for new officers this Spring, so we are looking for folks who are interested in stepping up to leadership roles in our interest section. This is a great opportunity to organize panels, network with colleagues across interest sections, and build your leadership skills. If you are interested in serving in a future role, please contact Kathy Howard.




Dustin Crowther

Peter I. De Costa

Jeffrey Maloney

We situate our discussion within the paradigm of English as an international language (EIL).1 We use the term pedagogical inquiry to refer to empirical research conducted that directly impacts students, teachers, and classroom practice, while also informing future pedagogical discussion. Given the growing contemporary emphasis in methodological practice in both the larger field of applied linguistics (Phakiti, De Costa, Plonskly, & Starfield, 2018) and more specifically within World Englishes (De Costa, Crowther, & Maloney, in press), we here consider the methodological practices of EIL-inspired pedagogical inquiry. Following, we highlight common approaches to pedagogical inquiry and primary themes of interest. We conclude by making suggestions for future inquiry.

Addressing the Global Spread of English in the Language Learning Classroom

The driving force behind the current discussion is a need for greater research-based discussion on how EIL is addressed in the language learning classroom. Currently,

discussion remains largely at the theoretical level and there is both a scarcity of research at the practical level and a scarcity of resources for those who wish to act on such proposals and bring a more [EIL] perspective into the classroom. (Galloway & Rose, 2014, pp. 386–387).

Theoretical considerations are plentiful, as attested by the wide range of EIL-inspired pedagogical volumes that have been published in recent years. Such volumes generally consist of proposals representing a how-to guide for implementing EIL-inspired themes and activities into the language learning classroom, with authors often providing a description of their specific practice. However, far fewer scholars have engaged in actual pedagogical inquiry in regards to classroom-based EIL practices.

Methodologies Common to English as an International Language Pedagogical Inquiry

The analysis included is based on 23 empirical studies drawn primarily from the journals World Englishes, Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, and ELT Journal. A larger database, drawing from additional journals (e.g., Applied Linguistics, English Today, Language Teaching, TESOL Journal, TESOL Quarterly), will be discussed at the TESOL 2019 International Convention & English Language Expo, after which the entire dataset will be made available. Of the studies considered here, there exists an emphasis on three methodologies: ethnographic tools (N = 11), questionnaires (N = 10), and to a lesser extent, corpus analysis (N = 3). Though space constraints do not allow us to delve into the intricacies of each methodology identified, readers are referred to De Costa et al. (in press) for an in-depth discussion of each. Of interest is the number of studies that employed a mixed-methodology approach (N = 10), with the primary emphasis being the collaborative use of ethnographic tools and questionnaires (N = 7). This is not surprising, as we continue to see an increase in the use of mixed-methods research designs to bridge the mutually informative benefits of the postpositivist and postmodernist paradigms.2

Common Themes of Inquiry

From the previously referenced dataset, three themes of EIL-based pedagogical inquiry emerged: student and teacher attitudes, pedagogical targets, and policy implementation concerns.

Student and Teacher Attitudes

Attitudinal studies have investigated how both students and teachers view variation, ownership, and international usage of English. Drawing upon the range of aforementioned methodologies, with emphasis on questionnaire and interview data, findings indicate that both students and teachers show variability in their beliefs. In one example, Matsuda (2003) investigated how high school Japanese learners viewed the ownership of English. She found that while students did perceive English as an international language, they still conceded ownership primarily to American and British speakers. However, it is important to recognize that when considering results across studies similar to Matsuda’s (2003), teacher and student beliefs appear malleable when provided with awareness-raising pedagogical intervention.

Pedagogical Targets

In reference to pedagogical classroom targets, EIL literature has advocated against a norm-based approach, though teachers and students may not always be in agreement. A specific example of the aforementioned ethnographic/questionnaire mixed approach is Timmis (2002), who was able to gather data from 400 students (across 14 countries) and 180 teachers (45 countries) using a questionnaire. Timmis (2002) additionally conducted 15 student interviews to further his data. Drawing on the two sets of data, Timmis (2002) highlights a greater desire for a specific native norm among students than teachers, with a specific emphasis on pronunciation. Though pronunciation has been a popular focus of such research (with Jenkins, 2000, being the most well-known), similar scholarship can be found for syntax, morphology, and pragmatics.

Policy Implementation Concerns

Inquiry into policy concerns in regards to English-medium instruction exists across education levels (primary, elementary, secondary, postsecondary), though most studies consider policy in light of how English now serves as a lingua franca for academic study. As an example, Jones (2016), employing a range of ethnographic tools, considered the 2009 Bruneian policy shift that placed greater emphasis on English language learning across educational levels, with a specific emphasis at the primary stage. Of interest is that Jones conducted interviews/group discussions with both teachers and ministry officials (in the process highlighting the cautious responses of the latter as a potential methodological concern). This approach enabled an in-depth understanding of the current status of English language instruction in Brunei. Beyond ethnographic tools, such inquiry has also frequently relied upon the use of questionnaires (e.g., Bolton & Kuteeva, 2012).

Directions for Future Consideration

As indicated at the outset, there has been a greater emphasis on theoretical considerations compared to empirical-based investigation into EIL classroom practice. Though we have indeed seen an increase in actual pedagogical inquiry in recent years, there is clearly room for growth in this regard. Though current inquiry has focused on awareness, beliefs, and policies, there are additional key areas that require focus. Specifically, what is needed is information from within the classroom itself. Studies that promote increased student/teacher awareness of EIL (the most common in our dataset) do not comment on how this awareness may transfer to language development in the English language classroom. For example, how might an increased awareness of EIL impact learners’ ability to produce, comprehend, and negotiate meaning in multilingual/multicultural interactions, generally seen to be the setting of EIL usage?3 Aside from potential usage-oriented learning outcomes to be considered, what is seemingly limited at this time is detailed observations of the classes themselves, combined with student and teacher reflections that are gathered throughout the entire learning process. As a final comment, we would also suggest the following considerations for future pedagogical inquiry:

  • Given the global status of English, pedagogical inquiry must extend to how EIL is addressed in second as well as foreign language multilingual classrooms.

  • Most EIL-themed, assessment-based scholarship suffers from the same theory versus practice divide identified for classroom approaches. Given the link between classroom practice and language assessment, more work in the vein of Kang, Thomson, and Moran (in press) would be of benefit.

End Notes

We acknowledge the sometimes less than precise relationship between EIL and its commonly associated paradigm English as a lingua franca (De Costa, Maloney, & Crowther, 2018). We feel comfortable drawing on an umbrella term (in this paper, EIL) for our discussion based on both paradigms’ general concern with similar subject matter (for our purpose, how to incorporate a global perspective into the English language classroom).

2 Scholars who subscribe to a postpositivist paradigm seek an objective reality and single truth, achieved through testing hypotheses or looking for cause-effect relationships. Those who subscribe to a postmodernist paradigm place a greater emphasis on subjective realities and multiple truths, as they search for an understanding of how experiences, abilities, perceptions, and performances impact language use and development (both individual and societal).

3 Because of space limitations, we have avoided an in-depth discussion of language learning, acquisition, and development and how such constructs are viewed from the paradigms of EIL and second language acquisition. Those interested are referred to the 2018 special issue of World Englishes (“World Englishes and Second Language Acquisition”) for a starting point.


Bolton, K., & Kuteeva, M. (2012). English as an academic language at a Swedish university: Parallel language use and the ‘threat’ of English. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 33(5), 429–447.

De Costa, P. I., Crowther, D., & Maloney, J. (Eds.). (In press). Investigating World Englishes: Research methodology and practical applications. New York, NY: Routledge.

De Costa, P. I., Maloney, J., & Crowther, D. (2018). World Englishes. In A. Phakiti, P. I. De Costa, L. Plonsky, & S. Starfield (Eds). The Palgrave handbook of applied linguistics research methodologies (pp. 719739). London, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Galloway, N., & Rose, H. (2014). Using listening journals to raise awareness of global Englishes in ELT. ELT Journal, 68(4), 386396.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Jones, G. M. (2016). Policy and practice in the use of English in Brunei primary school classes. World Englishes, 35(4), 509–518.

Kang, O., Thomson, R., & Moran, M. (in press). The effects of international accents and shared L1 on listening comprehension tests. TESOL Quarterly.

Matsuda, A. (2003). The ownership of English in Japanese secondary schools. World Englishes, 22(4), 483–496.

Phakiti, A., De Costa, P. I., Plonsky, L., & Starfield, S. (Eds). (2018). Palgrave handbook of applied linguistics research methodology. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Timmis, I. (2002). Native-speaker norms and international English: A classroom view. ELT Journal, 56(3), 240–249.

Dustin Crowther is a visiting assistant professor at Oklahoma State University, and conducts research on the attainment of mutual intelligibility in multilingual and multicultural contact.

Peter De Costa is an associate professor at Michigan State University, jointly appointed at the Departments of Linguistics & Languages and Teacher Education. He is the coeditor of TESOL Quarterly.

Jeffrey Maloney is an assistant professor and director of the ESL academy at Northeastern State University. His research interests include language teacher training, computer-assisted language learning, and language learner identity.



Linh Phung

Sachiko Nakamura

Hayo Reinders


Much like motivation, engagement is a ubiquitous term used to describe a desirable quality in many contexts, including in the workplace, at school, and in college. Companies attempt to measure and improve employee engagement with the purpose of increasing productivity. Schools and universities administer surveys to assess student engagement. Materials writers aim to develop engaging materials. Teachers strive to design engaging classroom activities and tasks. In second/foreign language (L2) learning, learner engagement has recently attracted more attention with attempts to define, operationalize, measure, and investigate the construct. Engagement has long been conceptualized as the manifestation of motivation, which is often measured in the amount of student participation in learning activities or, in the context of a task, language production.

A recent article by Philp and Duchesne (2016) expands the conceptualization of learner engagement beyond the behavioral dimension (i.e., participation). These scholars recognize learner engagement as having multiple dimensions: behavioral, cognitive, social, and emotional. They define engagement as “a state of heightened attention and involvement, in which participation is reflected not only in the cognitive dimension, but in social, behavioral, and affective dimensions as well” (p. 3). They suggest some interdependence and overlap of these dimensions, which are also manifested differently in various contexts. Therefore, measures of engagement need to take into account all dimensions and the interaction among them.

In the context of a task, attempts have been made to measure engagement in its four dimensions through learners’ linguistic behaviors on task and their subjective responses to the task (Lambert, Philp, & Nakamura, 2017; Phung, 2017). The study reported here used somewhat similar measures on the four dimensions of engagement, which will be described in detail in a later section of this article.

Apart from the thorny issue of how to measure engagement, another important question is what factors contribute to higher learner engagement in task performance. Previous research has indicated that when learners have more control or choice over what tasks to perform, topics to discuss, or ideas to bring up, they are more engaged in performing tasks (Lambert et al., 2017; Phung, 2017). In addition, when learners find the topics or content familiar, personally relevant, and not too difficult, they are more likely to have a positive affective disposition to the task (Phung, 2017; Qui & Lo, 2017). Regarding choice as a variable, theoretically (i.e. according to Ryan and Deci’s Self Determination Theory) it is reasonable to assume that when learners are offered choice that supports their sense of control or autonomy, they will feel more intrinsically motivated and will be more engaged in performing a task. These empirical findings and theoretical reasoning provided the motivation for the present study, which compared the effects of choice (+constraint vs. -constraint) on learners' engagement and subjective responses to tasks. Below are the two research questions in the study.

RQ1: Were there differences in the levels of learners’ behavioral, cognitive, and social engagement in the -constraint and +constraint tasks?

RQ2: Were there differences in learners’ subjective responses to the -constraint and +constraint tasks?


Twenty-four students enrolled at a Thai university completed two opinion-gap tasks and a questionnaire after each task. In one task, they were asked to discuss and agree on three items among given options (+constraint). In the other task, they discussed and agreed on three items among the options they themselves generated (-constraint). Specifically, working in a group of three, the learners were asked to come to an agreement on three new buildings that their university should construct to make it the number one university in the country for international students. Eight groups of three performed one task on one day and another task three weeks later. After they finished each task, they were asked to complete a questionnaire to report their subjective responses to the tasks. The questionnaire was developed by the researchers of the study based on existing questionnaires on enjoyment and anxiety and findings from prior research into affective responses to tasks. It used 23 six-point Likert-scale items (1 = strongly disagree, 6 = strongly agree) with six components: enjoyment (5 items), anxiety (4 items), freedom of expression (4 items), focus (3 items), task difficulty (3 items), and task familiarity (3 items).

All task performances were recorded and transcribed for coding. The following interactional variables were coded from the transcripts:

  • (1) the number of words per minute, (2) the number of turns per minute, and (3) the amount of time on task as measures of behavioral engagement

  • (4) the number of moves in sequences of negotiation of meaning and/or form per minute and (5) the number of self-repairs per minute as measures of cognitive engagement

  • (6) the number of overlaps and turn completions per minute and (7) the number of backchannels per minute as measures of social engagement

The average questionnaire score for each component was recorded for each learner after each task. The seven interactional variables and questionnaire scores were entered into SPSS 23 for data analysis. Descriptive statistics were generated. The data were explored to see if they met the normality assumptions. Many variables were positively skewed. Log 10 transformations were done for negotiation, self-repairs, overlaps and turn completions, and backchannels. After the transformations, they were negatively skewed, but the level of skewness is less serious. MANOVAs were conducted on the seven interactional variables and six questionnaire scores in the two conditions (-/+constraint).


Data analyses (MANOVA and univariate tests) showed that learners generated statistically more turns, more negotiation of meaning, and more self-repairs in the -constraint task, which indicated a higher level of behavioral and cognitive engagement. Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics for the seven interactional variables. The asterisk (*) indicates statistically significant differences.

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for the Seven Interactional Variables



Std. Deviation









































In other words, in the -constraint task, learners were more interactive (with more turns), made more conversation moves to clarify meaning and negotiate form, and paid more attention to or struggled more with language through self-repairs. These results suggested that when learners were less constrained in what they could bring to the group discussion, they showed more engagement in language use on task.

Regarding subjective responses, learners reported statistically significantly higher levels of enjoyment, focus, freedom of expression and, interestingly, task anxiety with the -constraint task. There were no statistical differences in the other two subjective components: task familiarity and task difficulty. Table 2 displays descriptive statistics for the six subjective components of the questionnaire with the asterisk (*) indicating statistical significance.

Table 2. Descriptive Statistics for the Six Subjective Components



















Freedom of Expression







Task Difficulty







Task Familiarity







Task Anxiety








Discussions and Conclusion

The study indicates a positive effect of choice on certain aspects of learners’ behavioral and cognitive engagement, and subjective responses to tasks, a finding consistent with Lambert et al. (2017). It has been acknowledged in the educational psychology literature that choice does not necessarily result in positive outcomes, but choice that supports the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness usually does (Katz & Assor, 2006). Choice in this study was operationalized as the ability to bring ideas to the discussion instead of discussing ideas that were given to the learners. With this choice, learners reported that they could more freely express their ideas, focused more, and enjoyed the task more. We argue that this choice supported learners’ autonomy-related need. At the same time, the learners in this study, when given more choice, also reported feeling more anxious although they did not find the -constraint task more difficult or less familiar than the +constraint task. This indicates that anxiety in this case did not necessarily negatively affect learners’ engagement and other subjective responses (i.e., enjoyment, focus, and freedom and expression). This might be due to the fact that the two tasks were designed with a topic deemed not too difficult or unfamiliar to the learners.

We concluded that to design tasks that encourage positive responses and engagement in language use, it is favorable to give learners choice in bringing their own ideas to a discussion or solve a problem in a way that supports their sense of autonomy. In addition, some anxiety might not deleteriously affect learners’ productive linguistic behaviors and engagement. The positive findings in the study are encouraging in that these communication tasks resulted in the kind of L2 use that indicated engagement and enjoyment. Theoretically, the results of the study show the multidimensionality of learner engagement and that both learners’ behaviors and subjective responses need to be taken into account in studying learner engagement.


Katz, I., & Assor, A. (2006). When choice motivates and when it does not. Educational Psychology Review, 19, 429-442.

Lambert, G., Philp, J., & Nakamura, S. (2017). Learner-generated content and engagement in second language task performance. Language Teaching Research, 21(6), 655-766.

Philp, J., & Duchesne, S. (2016). Exploring engagement in tasks in the language classroom. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 36, 50–72.

Phung, L. (2017). Task preference, affective response, and engagement in L2 use in a US university context. Language Teaching Research, 21(6), 751-766.

Qui, X., & Lo, Y. Y. (2017). Content familiarity, task repetition and Chinese EFL learners’ engagement in second language use. Language Teaching Research, 21(6), 681-698.

Linh Phung is director of the English Language and Pathways Programs at Chatham University. Her research interests include engagement in language learning and international students’ global learning.

Sachiko Nakamura is a doctoral candidate in Applied Linguistics at KMUTT, Thailand. Her research areas include the psychology of language learning and self-regulated learning.

Hayo Reinders is professor of applied linguistics at KMUTT, Thailand and TESOL professor at Anaheim University, USA. Hayo edits the journal Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching.


Hoa Nguyen
Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

Anna Ciriani-Dean
Fordham University, New York, New York, USA

Ying Jia
Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

Hector Gonzalez
Pearson Education, New York, New York, USA

This article reports data from a study on oral peer review in a college-level second language (L2) writing classroom. Peer review has been widely used in the process-oriented L2 writing classroom (e.g., Ferris & Hedgcock, 2013; Hyland, 2013; Tsui & NG, 2000), in which students produce written output in multiple drafts and engage in a recursive writing-revising process. Between drafts, students are often required to provide feedback on their peers’ drafts, making L2 writing development more interactive with input from not only the instructor but also peers. From a language learning perspective, such interactions induce noticing of features that learners might not normally attend to, which in turn facilitates interlanguage development.

With empirical evidence both supporting and advising against the use of peer review, it is essential to examine what happens in students’ interactions during in-class peer-review sessions. Few empirical studies have attempted to unravel the inner workings of peer review in the L2 writing classroom, probably because of the complex nature of learners’ interactions while providing and receiving feedback. Vorobel and Kim (2014) examined, among other data types, audio recordings of peer-review sessions by three advanced learners and found that students attended to organization and clarity of ideas, vocabulary, use of native language sources, and mechanics. In our study, analysis was data driven and findings were derived from emerging patterns relating to what aspects of writing learners attend to, the way learners use a peer-review form provided for them, and the quality of grammar-focused feedback.

Setting and Participants

The study was conducted in a first-year composition course at a large university in the northeastern United States. Participants were first-year college students who, upon completion of an institutional English writing placement test, were required to take an additional English as a second language (ESL)–focused writing course instead of mainstream English courses. The present report presents data from a larger project on the impact of reading, peer review, and explicit grammar instruction on L2 writing development.

Data Collection and Data Analysis

In this study, the researchers transcribed and analyzed the audio recordings of 14 advanced L2 learners as they provided feedback on the first draft of their partners’ essays. A total of 290 minutes of audio recordings were collected from three peer-review sessions throughout one semester, one for each of three essay assignments: a narrative essay, a summary-response essay, and an argumentative essay. Upon completing the first draft of each essay, students were paired with one or two partners and instructed to provide feedback to each other using a form with questions regarding (1) language and (2) content and organization, based on previous research suggesting that students need peer-review training in order to give feedback effectively (e.g., Kamimura, 2006).

Transcriptions of students’ conversations were analyzed inductively, and a 35-category coding system was developed to investigate what students noticed about language, content, and organization. Codes included grammar (sentence variety, conditional sentences, verb tenses, subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, passive/active voice, parallel structure, subordinate clauses, conjunctions, punctuation, run-ons, fragments, prepositions, parts of speech, merge/split sentences, spelling, wordiness and other uncategorized grammar issues); vocabulary (lexical variety, word choice, semantic transparency); coherence, cohesion, and organization (transitions, clear reference, supraparagraph organization, intraparagraph structure); and content (hook, background information, general thesis, general introduction, general topic sentence, quantity of evidence, quality of evidence, connection to source text, content of the conclusion, register).

Afterward, instances of grammar-focused feedback were further analyzed to evaluate the accuracy of the suggested corrections and the extent of students’ use of metalanguage. Because the dataset presented here comes from a larger study examining the impact of explicit grammar instruction, the quality of grammar-focused feedback was of particular interest.


Finding 1

There was an overall balance between focus on content and organization and focus on grammar and vocabulary. Of a total of 447 codes, 210 (≈47%) are instances of grammar- or vocabulary-focused feedback, while 237 (≈53%) are about content and organization. This shows that advanced students can attend to a wide range of issues in their peers’ writing, including language-related ones.

Finding 2

The findings suggest that while some learners seemed to depend more heavily on the structured peer-review form without further elaborating on their comments (≈18%), others used it only as a basis. We decided not to code cases when students merely reiterated and confirmed the questions with a simple short answer, as seen in the following example, because students appeared not to actively notice the issue.

So for the first one what areas did your partner do well on. Like sentence variety? Simple compound and complex all have [pause] a this essay.

And the relative clauses noun clauses and adverbial clauses. conditional clauses and pronoun agreement and clear reference passive voice, parallel construction as…as comparative and superlatives, structures for comparing contrasting concession and counterargument. Also structure used to express [pause] purpose and cause and reason and general vocabulary are all good in his essay.

(0.8) (Peer Review 3, 08-12, part 1)

On the contrary, others seemed able to engage in a meaningful conversation, using the form as a springboard for providing substantive, elaborated feedback, as seen here:

…in this sentence according to several statistical data in the first paragraph um [pause] I am not sure if you are referring to this essay or the the author's argument so um yeah yeah you just specify again [pause] um

…in this sentence here this gives uh direct strike to me um I am not sure how to how to properly rephrase it but as of now it sounds awkward so yeah

um(::) and then here again you used the word nonjudgmental so [pause] um [pause] if you are going to use it again I think this as I said a while ago you need to define it the first time you mentioned it because you placed it in quotation mark [pause]

and then [pause] yeah and then here again you use “the” so I am not sure if you are referring to the students

and then uh here this sentence is a bit awkward to me so you are missing a word between the material and will because it sounds awkward again [pause]

and then here I have witnessed the big controversy over American education and Chinese education um I think you can rephrase this into I have witnessed this big cultural controversies with the American and Chinese education so you only need to say education once (Peer Review 3, 06-13, part 1)

These examples indicate a wide spectrum of abilities in providing meaningful feedback based on a structured peer-review form.

Finding 3

Approximately 76% of students’ language-focused feedback addressed grammar issues in their peers’ first drafts (160 out of 210 instances), which suggests that most advanced students are able to give grammar feedback to each other. In these cases, the accuracy rate was relatively high (≈92%), suggesting that language learners at an advanced proficiency level are capable of providing high-quality grammar feedback. Additionally, they exhibited an emerging ability to use metalanguage from prior explicit instruction as the basis for their comments and suggested grammar revisions. In 38% of the instances of grammar-focused feedback, learners used their metalinguistic knowledge, employing terminologies such as verb tense, subject-verb agreement, and passive voice. Following is an excerpt illustrating the student’s ability to use sophisticated metalanguage:

The main tense of the narration was uh past simple? As my essay? And uh it is used co.. like consistently like throughout the essay? The shifts in the tenses were always correct so there were no problems like understanding like the [pause] the timing of the narration. (Peer review 1, 03-12)

The student’s use of metalanguage in conjunction with an accurate description of the effect of tense on the reader suggests a thorough understanding of the form, possibly facilitated by the use of metalanguage.


These findings suggest the usefulness of peer review in L2 writing development for advanced learners, as they are capable of noticing a variety of aspects in their peers’ writing, related both to language and to content and organization. The study highlights that in order for peer-review forms to be maximally beneficial for students, instructors might need to require students to provide elaborations rather than simply provide short answers to the available questions. Finally, the results indicate that students are able to provide accurate grammar feedback, and that the use of metalanguage taught in the classroom may boost the quality of students’ feedback.


Ferris, D., & Hedgcock, J. (2013). Teaching L2 composition: Purpose, process, and practice. London, England: Routledge.

Hyland, K. (2013). Faculty feedback: Perceptions and practices in L2 disciplinary writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22(3), 240–253.

Kamimura, T. (2006). Effects of peer feedback on EFL student writers at different levels of English proficiency: A Japanese context. TESL Canada Journal/Revue TESL Du Canada, 23(2), 12–39.

Tsui, A. B. M., & NG, M. (2000). Do secondary L2 writers benefit from peer comments? Journal of Second Language Writing, 2, 147–170.

Vorobel, O., & Kim, D. (2014). Focusing on content: Discourse in L2 peer review groups. TESOL Journal, 5, 698–720.

Hoa Nguyen is a lecturer in applied linguistics and TESOL at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests are instructed second language acquisition and teacher training.

Anna Ciriani-Dean is an ESL instructor and assessment specialist at Fordham University and a consultant at Baruch College’s Writing Center. Her research interests include second language writing, writing-center pedagogy, and assessment.

Ying Jia comes from Chengdu, Sichuan, China. She graduated with a BBA in accounting in 2017 and is currently an MA student in applied linguistics at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Hector Gonzalez is from Spain and is a content developer at Pearson Education. He has an MA in applied linguistics from Teachers College, Columbia University.



Marino Ivo Lopes Fernandes

Yu Tian

With the increasing enrollment of multilingual students in American universities and the high incidence of inappropriate textual borrowing practices in academic writing among this group (Sowden, 2005), borrowing words properly (or “legally”) has attracted a lot of attention. A number of empirical studies have indicated that lack of familiarity with academic language contributes to unacceptable textual borrowing (e.g., Flowerdew & Li, 2007). The textual and interview responses from Flowerdew and Li’s study indicate that having limited language ability to report ideas led to so-called language reuse, which they report accounted for a high incidence of inappropriate textual borrowing in students’ research-based writing. Reporting verbs are, therefore, important structures for successful language reuse in academic writing. The lesson plan we present here demonstrates how to use the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) to enrich multilingual students’ repertoire of reporting verbs, raise awareness of their rhetorical functions for language reuse as strategies for appropriate textual borrowing and, as a result, more effective paraphrasing in source-based academic writing.

Background and Rationale

Because language learning with corpora requires up-front investment of time and learning of the tool itself, it is difficult to justify using a corpus for one lesson or two. We propose that corpora like the COCA can support language learning for a number of purposes (e.g., Csomay & Prades, 2018; Harris & Moreno Jaén, 2010). In this lesson overview, we provide strategies for using the COCA to raise students’ awareness of the rhetorical and grammatical functions of reporting verbs to help them paraphrase more effectively and therefore mitigate inappropriate language reuse in academic source-based writing.

We focus on reporting verbs as tools for effective paraphrasing and appropriate textual borrowing. One central function of reporting verbs is that they communicate to the reader how the writer understands the concepts the reporting verb acts on and how they are related. As such, we find lessons on reporting verbs go well beyond vocabulary learning and allow students to demonstrate not only content understanding but also rhetorical and logical connections between the concepts they are writing about. We suggest in this lesson overview that this is but a starting point of how reporting verbs can open doors to conversations about genre and disciplinarity and even about possibilities for syntactic constructions employing verbs to summarize and paraphrase. We focus here on reporting verbs to teach students how to make use of these verbs to summarize and paraphrase appropriately to meet academic writing expectations they may find in the United States.

We use the following corpus-informed learning activity to teach students to use COCA todiscover logical connections between the content of the claim and the appropriate reporting verbs in context and according to rhetorical purpose (e.g., to inform, report, argue, disagree, or criticize). Students will also examine the COCA for how reporting verbs function across genres and disciplines.


  1. As a class, review the definition of reporting verbs and ask students to write down as many reporting verbs as they can in small groups.

  2. While students are working in groups, write some functions of reporting verbs on the board, such as “Makes an evaluation,” “Makes a claim,” and “Makes a recommendation.”

Table 1. Functions of Reporting Verbs

Makes an Evaluation

Makes a Claim

Makes a Recommendation














  1. Ask students to share all reporting verbs from their group brainstorms and classify them into the different functions while you record them on the board. (Optional: You can note verbs students contribute to the list but have trouble defining/classifying, which can be elucidated in COCA searches later in the lesson.)

  2. Assign each group one category of reporting verbs, such as capturing authorial action, introducing quotations, expressing disagreement.

  3. As a class, go to COCA and work through one example of Steps 5a and 5b with an example word before students break out into groups to do them independently:

    1. Search reporting verbs and collect two examples for each verb on their group list, and excerpt the line with the example usage.

    2. Students should read for context in COCA to be sure of the rhetorical function of the reporting verb and reclassify, if necessary.

  4. Ask students to search for a reporting verb they may already be familiar with, for example, argue using the Keywords In Context (KWIC) interface (see Figure 1). Because not all hits will be reporting verbs, students should then work in groups to first select examples of sentences with reporting verbs.

Figure 1. Search page for Keywords in Context. (Click image to enlarge) 

Students brainstorm a working theory of the collocations of reporting verbs. That is, students should offer an explanation of the grammatical environment of the verbs. For example, Figure 2 shows that the reporting verb argues is generally preceded by a noun in subject position and followed by a relative clause such as that. If appropriate, you can teach punctuation and clause order as part of discovering the grammatical environment for the reporting verb.

Figure 2. KWIC search highlights queried verb in relation to parts of speech. (Click image to enlarge)

  1. To check their working theories, students should search the string in question (i.e., argues that) as demonstrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Search for reporting verb with relative clause. (Click image to enlarge) 

The general structure of interest is VERB that, or other variations such as VERB the idea that, or VERB the claim that, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Search for VERB the claim that constructions. (Click image to enlarge)

You can also provide alternative structures here or allow students to discover variations, as appropriate to level and time allotted for the lesson (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Results for VERB the claim that reveal options for other collocations. (Click image to enlarge)

Option: if students search in “List” view, they will be able to see the most frequent verbs that occur in the COCA with the string the claim that, which can be useful for further discussion about phrases that introduce the sources or ideas the writers are working with. For example, see Figure 6.

Figure 6. Most frequent verbs with the claim that. (Click image to enlarge) 

  1. Ask students to select a few reporting verbs and classify their rhetorical purposes (e.g., to express disagreement, support, cast doubt upon). They may click on the entry to see the full excerpted passage, as in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Extended excerpt of VERB the claim that construction. (Click image to enlarge) 

  1. Ask groups to collect the 10 most frequent (per the frequency counts in the List interface) reporting verbs in their searches and add any new ones to the class list on the board.

  2. Ask students in groups to write example sentences using reporting verbs of different rhetorical functions (e.g., to support a claim, disagree with a claim, or introduce evidence) working with a text they are familiar with.

Caveats and Options

  • This lesson assumes some familiarity with reporting verbs. If not, a quick explanation should be given for a working term for this lesson.

  • Access to the COCA is free of charge, but the site will prompt users to register after a few searches. To make sure the lesson goes smoothly, ask students to register in advance.

  • The procedure described in this article assumes some student familiarity with COCA. If not, you can demonstrate the interface and basic searches. Note: the purpose of using COCA in this lesson is not to conduct a formal study of corpus linguistics, but to mine COCA as another tool for language learning.

  • Students can also try other corpora.


Csomay, E., & Prades, A. (2018). Academic vocabulary in ESL student papers: A corpus-based study. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 33, 100-118.

Flowerdew, J., & Li, Y. (2007). Language re-use among Chinese apprentice scientists writing for publication. Applied Linguistics, 28(3), 440–465.

Harris, T., & Moreno Jaén, M. (2010). Corpus linguistics in language teaching. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften.

Sowden, C. (2005). Plagiarism and the culture of multilingual students in higher education abroad. ELT Journal, 59(3), 226–233.

Marino Ivo Lopes Fernandes is a PhD candidate in composition studies at the University of New Hampshire. His research focuses on identity development in second language writing, program design, and teacher training.

Yu Tian is a PhD candidate in Chinese linguistics and second language acquisition at the University of Arizona. Her research interests are plagiarism and peer tutoring with multilingual writers.



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