TESOL Connections

Reflecting Forward: 50 Years of TESOL

In 1966, a group representing five associations began what is now TESOL International Association. Through the rest of 2015 and all of 2016 TESOL will be reflecting on the past 50 years as well as looking forward to what the future holds for the profession. As a TESOL professional, you can participate in the celebration by submitting nominations to three important opportunities for professional recognition: 50 at 50, 30 Up and Coming, and TESOL Success Stories. 

"TESOL IS BORN. After months of planning by an ad hoc committee representing the five cooperating organizations, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) was created as a permanent association at a business meeting held in the Statler-Hilton Hotel, New York City, in the afternoon of Friday, March 18, 1966." Published in TESOL Newsletter 1, June 1966

TESOL at 50!

Through the rest of 2015 and all of 2016 TESOL will be reflecting on the past 50 years as well as looking forward to what the future holds for the profession. TESOL’s 50th Anniversary Committee has created opportunities to recognize outstanding English language professionals in the field.

  • The 50 at 50 list recognizes 50 individuals who have contributed significantly to the profession.
  • The 30 Up and Coming list recognizes future leaders of the profession.
  • TESOL Success Stories seeks to share the impact that ESOL teachers have had on students in all parts of the world.

You can nominate outstanding colleagues and share success stories on TESOL’s recently launched 50th Anniversary website. The website will showcase these individuals and stories. It also includes an interactive timeline where members can share milestones in the history of the association. Additionally, each month the site will feature a TESOL affiliate, sharing the affiliate’s story as part of the TESOL family.
Celebrate at the 2016 TESOL Convention & English Language Expo

The big celebration will take place during the first week of April 2016 at the TESOL Convention & English Language Expo in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. In addition to the great learning and networking opportunities at the convention, TESOL will host special 50th Anniversary activities, including a few surprises. TESOL will also publish a commemorative book and recognize the five founding associations. The celebration will close with a big block party honoring the association, the field, and English language teaching professionals around the world.

Learning to Champion for Your Learners: 2015 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit

It is every English language teacher's responsibility to support his or her English language learners through active participation in the democratic process. The TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit guides ESL educators through that process, helping them learn how to affect positive legislative change. Read about what teachers learned at the 2015 summit, and pick up some tips on how you can begin your path to effective advocacy. 

In June, TESOL hosted its ninth annual 2015 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit in Washington, DC. Attendance at this year’s summit was the highest TESOL has ever seen with approximately 90 association members, affiliate members, and other TESOL professionals attending the program. While the majority of participants came from across the United States, several traveled internationally to attend as well. The event was sponsored, in part, by the American Federation of Teachers, College Board, and Corwin Press.

Structured with policy updates, advocacy techniques, and Capitol Hill visits, respectively, the program is designed to develop effective and confident champions for policies that support their ELLs. Over the course of 3 days, attendees are briefed on key education policies, learn advocacy skills, network with peers, and share their expert opinions with congressional leaders. By the end of this year’s event, TESOL advocates had visited the offices of more than 120 senators and representatives.

The policy portion of the program kicked off with a panel presentation from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on the rights of ELLs and immigrant students. This year marked the first time that the OCR has presented a panel at the summit. Representing OCR were Jim Ferg-Cadima and Marcel Quinones, who presented on schools’ legal obligations to ELLs and provided new tools and resources for teachers and administrators to ensure their programs are in compliance.

Dr. Libi Gil, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education, gave a keynote presentation that launched the second day of the event. Her presentation focused primarily on the value ELLs, the disparities that exist for them within the U.S. educational system, and the importance of advocating for these students. Dr. Gil asserted that ELLs are the responsibility of all educators and administrators, and that they shouldn't be put into a silo for the ESL teachers only. Moreover, she explained, they are national assets and investments—especially given the increasing demand for multilingual, culturally-competent global citizens.

(L-R) TESOL Exec. Dir. Rosa Aronson, TESOL President Andy Curtis, John Segota, Libi Gil, Firdavs Navruzov

Following the keynote, participants engaged in a series of activities to help them learn more about advocacy and prepare them to meet with their members of Congress. To maximize the impact of the summit, participants were also encouraged to meet with key members of Congress serving on the education and appropriations committees, and participants from the same state were encouraged to meet with legislators in small groups.

To underscore the value of advocacy for ELLs, invited speaker and author of Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators, Diane Staehr Fenner, encouraged advocates to think about where they can best affect change—whether on an individual, interpersonal, classroom, or district-wide level. The level of advocacy depends on the needs. She explained that English language advocacy is a gradual cycle through “I do, we do, you do” with the ultimate goal of empowering students.

Corwin Press provided a free copy of Staehr Fenner’s book to each attendee

Other presentations on policy and advocacy included the American Federation of Teachers on ELLs and the Common Core State Standards, the Student & Exchange Visitor Program update from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, an update on programs for adult ELLs from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, the National Education Association on advocacy for ELLs, and legislative overview from TESOL staff and Washington Partners, LLC.

Lunchbox Networking Session
Attendees during the Box Lunch Networking where they were prompted to discuss a different topic surrounding advocacy at each tables

On Tuesday, the advocates went to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and their staffers. After their meetings, the advocates shared their experiences.

Using the hashtag #TESOLadv15, advocates were able to live tweet and Instagram their visits: (TOP) Colleen Brice Affiliate Rep for MITESOL visiting US Senator Debbie Stabenow. (BOTTOM) TN TESOL Affiliate Rep and first time attendee Byron Booker and Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) the Chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee 

Katherine Carr said,

I learned about how accessible the democratic process is. It was surprising to me how easy it was to set up a meeting and to have someone listen to my concerns. This conference really left me with a positive impression of our political system, and although I often feel invisible as an ESL educator, this conference made me feel seen.

First time attendee Rosetta Coyne shared,

As an advocate for my students, I know that the heart of positive change begins with real dialogue. The opportunity to present real issues directly to our representatives and senators at the Capitol planted the seeds for better written policies that will provide realistic pathways for undocumented adults and children pursuing citizenship. My passion for advocacy was supported by the information provided at the Summit.

For more highlights from the event, and resources, take a look at the 2015 TESOL Advocacy and Policy summary page.


*Editor's Note: The published version of this article in the original e-mail edition of TESOL Connections attributed this to the incorrect author. The article was written by TESOL staff.

Free TESOL Quarterly Article:
"Reading Comprehension in Test Preparation Classes: An Analysis of Teachers' Pedagogical Content Knowledge in TESOL"

June 2015: Volume 49, Issue 2

In this article, Christine Irvine-Niakaris and Richard Kiely discuss the pedagogical content knowledge which underpins the practices in reading lessons of experienced teachers in test preparation classes. The study explores the nature of reading comprehension pedagogy and also the ways teachers vary and adapt their approach. 

This article first appeared in TESOL Quarterly, Volume 49, Number 2, pgs. 369–392. Subscribers can access issues here. Only TESOL members may subscribe. To become a member of TESOL, please click here, and to purchase articles, please visit Wiley-Blackwell. © TESOL International Association.

This article examines the pedagogical content knowledge which underpins the practices in reading lessons of experienced teachers in test preparation classes. It takes as a starting point the assumption that practice is shaped by teacher cognitions, which are established through professional training and classroom experience. Thus, the study explores the nature of reading comprehension pedagogy and also the ways teachers vary and adapt their approach. The study, carried out in upper intermediate TESOL classrooms in Greece, draws on videorecorded classroom data, field notes, and interviews with four teachers. The analysis focuses on lesson structures, reading and test-taking strategy awareness raising, and teachers’ knowledge about texts. It validates the established reading skills lesson structure—pre-, while-, and postreading—but shows how this can vary in implementation. It suggests that the attention to strategies is not only explicit strategy instruction, but also situated demonstration by the teacher of how strategies can unlock the meaning of the text. The pedagogy overall is conditioned by the test preparation context of the program; the teachers are mindful of this goal and integrate references to the test to anchor the pedagogy in students’ current reality and to demonstrate how specific strategies can aid comprehension. 

Second language (L2) reading comprehension has long been a core element of language teaching and assessment. Texts and questions are a staple of both teaching materials and language proficiency tests, and the methods teachers can use are found in methodology textbooks and teaching manuals. A small number of teacher cognition studies in L2 reading address some of these methods (Cabaroglou & Yurdaisik, 2008; El-Okda, 2005; H. Li & Wilhelm, 2008; Macalister, 2010). However, only one study—by Meijer, Verloop, and Beijaard (1999)—has adopted the concept of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) to interpret teachers’ practices in reading lessons. This article reports on a study which examined the practices of experienced teachers of reading in lessons where the focus was on reading comprehension test preparation. The research focuses on the PCK of teachers—knowledge about reading instruction (KARI), including reading strategies, and knowledge about texts (KAT)—as evidenced through their practices in actual lessons and explored in interviews following the observed lessons. We follow and develop further the research strategy used by Borg (2003) to understand how teachers teach grammar and by Breen, Hird, Milton, Oliver, and Thwaite (2001) to uncover the principles which shaped teachers’ decision making and practices in lessons. The analysis in this article draws on classroom observation data, supported by teacher interviews and field notes.

Review of the Literature

Language Teacher Cognition

Teacher cognition as defined by Borg (2003, p. 81) is what “teachers think, know and believe and the relationship of these mental constructs to what teachers do in the language classroom.” Language teacher cognition researchers refer to the significance of its origins in general education (Andrews, 2007; Borg, 2006; Freeman, 2002; Woods, 1996) where it has contributed greatly to the understanding of the complex nature of teaching and how this understanding may enhance the effectiveness of teacher education. An established reference is the work of Shulman (1986a, 1986b, 1987), who developed the concept of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) in a series of articles. Shulman’s studies emphasised the need for researchers to investigate teachers’ understanding of subject-matter content and pedagogy. The relationship between content and pedagogy was seen to be central in identifying the knowledge base of teachers applied to a variety of teaching and learning contexts. This required teachers’ understanding of the subject, learners, curriculum, context, and pedagogy. These components of knowledge played an important role in the interpretation of teachers’ practices in the present study.

Andrews’s (2007) modified model of PCK applicable to L2 teaching helped to further refine our interpretations of classroom practices. His model depicts PCK as “the overarching knowledge base” with teacher language awareness (TLA) as “one subset of the teacher’s knowledge bases (a knowledge base subset that is unique to the L2 teacher)” (p. 30). His model was developed in studies which investigated teachers’ knowledge about grammar (KAG) related to the teaching of grammar (see, e.g., studies cited in Andrews, 2007). In this study we consider KAT an appropriate construct for understanding teachers’ knowledge base of reading comprehension, for example, knowledge of text structure and how this informs pedagogy. This study is therefore influenced by both the original concept of PCK and its development by Andrews for the L2 classroom.

The Nature of L2 Reading

Research in L2 reading suggests that the most successful readers are those who use an interactive approach, combining both top-down and bottom-up skills while reading a text (Macaro, 2003). Bottom-up skills are those with which the reader focuses on the word level, whereas top-down skills draw on the reader’s ability to sample the text and make hypotheses about what is coming next (Grabe & Stoller, 2002). A combination of skills such as skimming, scanning, and guessing words from context enables the reader to identify the main idea of a text and figure out meaning at the sentence level. Macaro (2003) suggests that the role of top-down hypotheses may be less significant than the use of information that readers make at the word level. Paran (1996) also emphasizes the importance of effective bottom-up processing for word recognition that leads to automaticity in reading. However, recent views on the nature of L2 reading (Grabe & Stoller, 2002; Hedgcock & Ferris, 2009; Hudson, 2007), while acknowledging that top-down and bottom-up models may lead to a greater understanding of processes in L2 reading, emphasise that there are limitations in using a strong form of either approach.

Download the full article and references for free (PDF)


This article first appeared in TESOL Quarterly, 49, 369–392. For permission to use text from this article, please go to Wiley-Blackwell and click on "Request Permissions" under "Article Tools."
doi: 10.1002/tesq.189

Teaching Interaction: Is It possible? Is It Useful?

by Samuel Crofts
Interacting in English conversation is an acquired skill: How do you teach students to convey interest, engagement, and confusion? Learn how here. 

After teaching Brazilian students on exchange programs in the United Kingdom, I moved to Japan to take up a position at a university near the city of Kobe. To say this move prompted a rethink in my classroom approach would be a huge understatement, and the silence that greeted the interactive activities that I had used successfully in the United Kingdom was a real shock. In trying to recalibrate this classroom atmosphere, I became interested in the study of interaction. This led me to develop the ideas I would like to share in this article, namely that discrete interactional skills can be taught, and for students whose L1 communication style is markedly different to English, such skills can be useful in learning to deal with intercultural situations.
What Are Interactional Skills?

Eavesdrop on a conversation in any language and, whether or not you understand the meaning of the sounds the speakers are making, there is a good chance that you will recognize some, if not all, of the following characteristics: 

  • Devices to show understanding on the part of the listener; these may be verbal or physical but will indicate the message has been heard and either understood or not.
  • Clear differences in turn length as speakers’ excitement, interest, and engagement in the conversation topic ebb and flow.
  • Disagreements and interruptions as interlocutors challenge each other and seek to redirect the topic of the conversation to one that they favor. 

However, the students I first encountered in Japan, when required to interact with others in English communicative activities, often failed to display any of these characteristics. Instead, strict adherence to agreement and equal turn lengths, and an almost complete absence of listener participation or eye contact led to uncomfortable and awkward interactions between students. There are a number of possible reasons for this, ranging from participants’ personalities and moods to their overall language ability and the cultural and interactive norms embedded in their L1. Additional explanations in my context may highlight the language learning experience of Japanese school children, particularly the lack of focus on practicing spoken English.

In trying to isolate and teach interactional skills, my goal was to equip students with a toolbox of skills that they could use to create and maintain comfortable interactions both in the classroom and in intercultural situations they may encounter elsewhere in their lives.
How Did I Teach It?

After consulting literature from the field of conversation analysis as well as more experienced colleagues, I selected three broad features of successful interactions and set myself the task of teaching my students to embed them in their own interactions. The features were listener participation and interruption, disagreement, and self-disclosure, and my pedagogic strategy was divided into three strands: awareness raising, authentic input, and explicit instruction, each of which are outlined in the following sections.
1. Awareness Raising

Any person who can speak at least one language has an appreciation of interactional norms, and in fact must successfully use interactional skills daily to accomplish anything from buying goods to making friends. On the other hand, it seems that in certain educational cultures, a lack of emphasis on the interactive elements of the English language can lead to the separation of language as a subject of study and language as a tool for communication. Given this, the “awareness raising” part of this process was about unlocking students’ knowledge of interaction and reconnecting the study of language with the purpose of language (i.e., to communicate your thoughts to others).

There were a number of activities I used to accomplish raising students’ awareness of the importance of interactional skills alongside regular classroom explanations of what I was doing and why. Firstly, by showing videos of speakers using no eye contact and negative body language, and asking students to ascribe adjectives to them, I was able to demonstrate how people make judgments on others based on the way they interact, thereby encouraging students to think about the way they present themselves. Students were also asked to think about the unwritten interactive rules in their own culture to produce an advice sheet for second language speakers of Japanese to have successful Japanese interactions.
2. Authentic Input

Input is clearly a crucial element to any language program, but in terms of interaction, students in EFL environments may struggle to access a large enough volume of interactional input to really affect their performance. Reasons for this include a lack of access to proficient speakers of the target language, a tendency among textbook publishers to sacrifice interactional features of their listening activities to increase comprehensibility, and the fact that “authentic” resources such as online news or movies are at too high a level for students to understand.

To address these issues, I decided to produce bespoke listening resources for my own students. These included a series of Vodcasts (video podcasts) in which I recorded myself interacting with friends, colleagues, and international students at my university. I then released the videos over the course of the semester as YouTube clips and asked students to watch them and answer comprehension questions about them (see clips 1, 2, and 3). The point was not the comprehension, but for students to notice how English conversations are constructed and how listener participation such as interruptions and clarifications, self-disclosure, and disagreements are used by participants in real situations. Students were also asked to transcribe certain sections of each Vodcast and to use the interactional features they noticed to write authentic-sounding scripts.
3. Explicit Instruction

The purpose of the explicit instruction of interactional skills is to provide students with a safe and supportive environment in which to practice the skills they learn throughout the course. Before using such skills productively, it is important that students know how it feels to use them. To this end, I used an activity in which Student A had to recount everything he or she had done that day in as much detail as possible while Student B was responsible for preventing Student A from completing his or her explanation by using regular interruptions. The lighthearted nature of the game improved students’ timing, and I used similar activities to practice disagreement structures.
How Did It Go?

At the start of my attempt to foster a more natural and comfortable atmosphere among my students, their conversations displayed almost none of the features of interaction that typify communication in most languages. Instead, students’ seemed excessively concerned with making sure each person spoke for the same amount of time and nobody disagreed with anybody, nor showed any sign of misunderstanding. I was pleasantly surprised by the improvements in students’ interactive performance across the class, and video data taken from the experiment went on to form the core of a presentation I made at TESOL 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Of course, this is an ongoing project and, next semester, I am aiming to see if these skills are likely to be transferred outside of the classroom. At that point, I hope that this piece of reflective practice will graduate to the point of fully blown action research.

Download this article (PDF)


Samuel Crofts has taught at the university level in China, the United Kingdom, and most recently Japan. His main interests are the teaching of interactional skills as well as the creation of resources and activities to encourage students to engage with English outside of the classroom.


10 Activities That Create a Positive Learning Environment

by Christopher Roe
Making connections to and among students at any level is a key factor in student success. Here are 10 simple ways to build community within your classroom. 

Making connections to students at any level is a key factor in student success when it comes to the content they are learning, and in your enjoyment as a teacher. Changes come and go in education, this much we know. We have to keep our mindset clear as to why we do what we do.

When my student teachers began complaining about working with their master teachers, I took a semester sabbatical and became a substitute teacher to see why. It became clear to me that the student teachers, just beginning their careers, were watching their master teachers and seeing no joy in teaching. I also saw that the kids weren’t having much fun, either. We had spent so much time on the changing curriculum and assessing the students on what they should have learned that we forgot to connect with them. We forgot that students need a reason to learn the content we are presenting to them. We also forgot that in order for kids to connect with the curriculum, they have to connect with one another and with you, their teacher.

I realized that many students don’t know one another within their own classes, even far into the academic year. Class after class, students did not help one another with content, even after I asked those in command of the content to assist those struggling. In one class, where I was subbing for an award-winning teacher, a student was struggling with both language and content but refused to ask any other student for help. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that, in this classroom, students had no connection with one another, and there was no sense of community.

From that point forward, when I subbed, I made a point of doing connecting activities. This way, students could feel like they knew others in the room and make connections with other students outside of class, as well.

Here are 10 simple ways to build community within your classroom. These will help to break down barriers, make connections among students, and provide a bit of levity within the room when you just need a break to laugh together. These can be done weekly, before lessons, during lessons, or at the end of your period. They provide a more connected learning environment, and they involve listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

When trying out these activities, it is important to lay the groundwork first: Get all students comfortable talking together or working in small groups. Once you’ve established how to create groups, these strategies can become routine with your classes. Simply state the name of the strategy and students will know what is expected. All of these activities can be used for all levels of ELs, and sentence frames can be provided for lower-level ELs if necessary.

Getting to Know You

1. Keys Please

Risk Level Low: Team building
Activity In small groups, students take out their keys and share with others what the keys are used for. After all share, they discuss commonalities.
Variations Writing about keys; drawing what keys open.

2. Cell Phones Allowed

Risk Level Low: Team building
Activity In small groups, students take out their cell phones (everyone’s got them!), and share what their last text or phone call was. After all share, they discuss commonalities.
Variations Write out the text in abbreviated form and then in expanded form.

Content Related (and Getting to Know You)

3. Busta Move!

Risk Level High: Team building
Activity Everyone moves to act out a particular concept, idea, or emotion. Students can do solo “in place” (sit or stand), or they can work together to make one “move.” Isolate one body part to start, to ease students into the activity. A “signature move” can be used at the end of a unit or lesson, and no language is necessary! This can be done before, during, or after a lesson.
Content Examples
  • PE: SHOW me the motion to shoot a basket
  • English: SHOW me an expression from Pride & Prejudice
  • Social Studies: SHOW me how the French felt at end of WWII. How about the Germans?
  • Art/Music: SHOW me a pose from your favorite artist/composer
  • Bio. Sciences: SHOW me a pollywog transitioning to a frog
  • Earth Sciences: SHOW me a plateau
  • Math: SHOW me Pi
  • World Languages: SHOW me a food item


Risk Level Low: Content related and ice breaker
Activity Everyone moves to act out a particular concept, idea, or emotion. Students can do solo “in place” (sit or stand), or they can work together to make one “move.” Isolate one body part to start, to ease students into the activity. A “signature move” can be used at the end of a unit or lesson, and no language is necessary! This can be done before, during, or after a lesson.
Content Examples On board, provide a way to phrase a sentence necessary for lesson comprehension; the sentence should reveal something about the students. Example:

“I feel (1)__________ when I am doing (2)__________ because (3)__________.”

You can provide optional word banks to help students, and this can be done before, during, or after a lesson.
The word bank list for this example could include:

  1. happy, sad, mad, glad, positive, uplifted
  2. sports, homework, my chores
  3. it makes me productive, I like the way I feel, I dislike doing it.

5. Move & Groove (You will be more embarrassed than your students)

Risk Level Medium/High: Content related
Activity Students (at your direction) have 20 seconds to connect with a classmate, then 1 minute to create a “move” or “groove” based on their interpretation of content: a rhyme, rap, or poem, or a move, such as showing parallel lines with their arms in math, or writing a poem with one reason for the start of WWII, that symbolizes content connection. Choose volunteers to share with the class.
Variations Add words to the move/groove; connect pairs to build a group presentation act.

6. Musical Shares

Risk Level Low: Ice breaker or content related
Activity Similar to musical chairs, students pass around three or four share cards (share cards, or any device you choose, give students the right to speak if they are holding one). As music is played, cards are passed around until the music stops. Students holding the cards when music stops share one thing about their weekend, previous evening, or the content.
Variations Students must connect their own comment to the previous comment.

7. Draw It, Tell It

Risk Level Low: Content related
Activity This is a visual KWL (what I know, what I want to know, what I learned) chart. Students draw a concept of the lesson (their interpretation), and then explain it to a small group. This may be used as an informal assessment.
Variations May give students parameters (must include…may include…); connect to part of lesson that comes before or after.

8. Picture Please!

Risk Level Low: Content related
Activity In groups, students take a picture that is meant to represent or symbolize one significant event. For example, when studying the Roman Empire, students depict one event under study to pose and share with the class. In science, students can “show” the process for photosynthesis. The group must first discuss the event, then choose how best to represent it to the class; the class guesses which event is depicted. This activity is to be done before or after a lesson.
Variations Teacher can assign significant event; can be done using no language.

9. He Said, She Said

Risk Level Low: Ice breaker or content related
Activity Students sit in groups of three. One student shares one concept learned from content and explains it to his or her partner. The partner turns and explains it to the third partner. After the third partner hears what has been told, it is then shared with the class.
Variations All students write down what was said; teacher can assign what will be shared; could involve getting to know you topics rather than content.

10. VENN-afit

Risk Level Low: content related
Activity In pairs, students complete one large Venn diagram with three circles, and label the circles “listening/speaking,” “reading,” and “writing.” Students connect how they “got” the content of the lesson with common areas overlapping for multiple connections. See example in Figure 1.
Variations Provide key words in vocabulary box.












Figure 1. Trig Functions [click here for larger image]
In this example for math, the Listening/Speaking circle would include what was discussed in the lecture and what questions were asked for clarification. Students write down what they heard in order to solve the problem using the formula. In the Reading circle, students write down what the book says or what was written on the board for instructions. In the Writing circle, students write down examples. Crossovers would include areas where information in a circle was received in more than one way. These can also be noted by using an arrow pointing to connections. (Mathematics information retrieved from http://www.math.com/tables/algebra/functions/trig/functions.htm)

Creating a positive learning environment in the classroom takes little effort, but makes a huge impact on student learning. Using these tools and others you discover along the way will make learning in your classroom creative and fun, and will keep the students focused on what is most important—gaining content knowledge. See the Appendix for some ideas on how to make further connections with students, community, content, and culture.

Download this article (PDF)
and the Appendix


Christopher Roe has been an educator for 33 years. He has taught various grade levels in elementary schools and has had experience with junior high and high school instruction in the Central Valley and Bay Area communities of California. Additionally, he served as an administrator for 13 years in public schools and at the county level. Presently, he is an associate professor at California State University Stanislaus. His research interests include English learners, teacher preparation, and classroom management.


Tackling Unintentional Plagiarism

by Gavin O'Neill
Use this classroom activity to address your learners' unintentional plagiarism by teaching them about their own misconceptions and the range of purposes for citations.

A range of citation and attribution missteps are often covered by the catchall term plagiarism. This term covers, among others, extreme cases of academic misconduct including premeditated attempts to deceive the reader/teacher into believing that the words and ideas presented are those of the author, when, in fact, they belong to another person entirely; however, the term also encompasses honest mistakes made by novice writers while trying to navigate unfamiliar citation practices in, what is to them, a new discourse community.

How a teacher might react to the extreme cases of misconduct mentioned above would be decided by the particular teacher’s and the educational institution’s policies on plagiarism. This paper will instead focus on a classroom activity designed to remedy missteps on the other end of the spectrum: the honest mistakes.

Citation Misconceptions Among Students

Students in tertiary education may struggle with citation and attribution practices that were either not required in their earlier writing projects or were not strictly enforced. This is especially true for students who are introduced to these practices in a foreign or second language. This difficulty may stem from the fact that the academic practice of citation is not as straightforward as many would believe. Apart from misunderstandings arising from the cultural dimension to citing and attributing practices (see Pennycook, 1996; Rinnert & Kobayashi, 2005), the motivations behind decisions to add a citation to a text are often poorly understood by novice writers.

Instruction and instructional materials designed to promote citation in student work do little to enlighten students as to the range of purposes that citations serve, preferring to focus on proscriptions regarding the ownership of ideas and word strings; however, research into the citation practices—and the motivations driving those practices—of experienced writers in various academic fields have brought to light numerous reasons an established writer may choose to add a citation to their text. Harwood (2009), for example, has identified 11 possible motivations for adding a citation (see Appendix) with some citations being added for a number of different reasons. It is important to note that giving credit to another author for an idea or a quotation is just one of these 11 reasons. However, many students believe that these are not only the sole reasons to cite, but also that these kinds of citations weaken the author’s work by directing credit for the work away from the author and onto the cited author.

A Classroom Activity: Citation Analysis and Emulation

The following activity is designed to help students understand that citation is not an unpleasant requirement of academic writing designed solely to allot ownership of ideas and words; the activity aims to help students understand that citation is a tool that academics use to strengthen their argument, to indicate their position in relation to other researchers, and to guide their readers to resources that can help them better understand the topic under discussion. The ultimate goal of this activity is to help students move past asking the question, “Do I have to add a citation here?” to asking, “Would a citation be good here?”

This activity is designed for students who are required to write from sources. Depending on the teaching context, this could be graduate students or advanced undergraduates. For this activity, I adapt Harwood’s (2009) 11 motivations for citations, often simplifying and reducing the number of motivations to four or five; it should be noted that Harwood’s categories work well when analysing citations in the social sciences (and computer sciences) but would need to be adapted for the hard sciences and arts.

Activity Preparation

In order to prepare for this activity, the teacher should find two research articles related to the students’ field of study. The first article will act as a class example, and the second article will be used as a student performance activity. The entire articles are not required for this activity. Usually, the first page or two of a research article will contain sufficient examples of citations for the purposes of this activity (depending on the citation practices of the field in question; citation practices vary drastically). Convert the file into an editable format and remove all citations in the second half of the extracts you have chosen from the research articles.

In Class

Distribute copies of the first research article to students and form groups. Introduce the various motivations for citing and allow the groups to speculate on why the author has added citations at particular points. The teacher can circulate, offering suggestions and asking questions.

Once the students have finished speculating on the citations in the first half of the extract, elicit ideas and write them on the board. It is important to note that there really are no right or wrong answers in this activity. Without actually interviewing the author, it would be difficult to ascertain with any certainty the actual motivation for many of the citations. The purpose is simply to accustom the students to the idea that citations have many motivations.

Once the citations in the text have been speculated upon and discussed as a class, have the students look for opportunities to add citations to the second half of the article—the half in which you deleted the citations. Remember to focus on reasons other than ownership of ideas and quotation. Experience doing this activity has taught me that students are usually rather frugal with their citations during this part of the activity.

Once they have finished, go through the text with them and point out all the opportunities that they have to add citations. It may even be beneficial to overdo the number of citations to prove a point that more citations are often better than fewer.

To finish, compare their version with the original unedited version of the article. The students can then complete the same process for the second research article, either as an in-class group activity or as a homework activity. Ultimately, the students should be given a chance to revisit a piece of their own writing and identify areas where a citation would be useful or appropriate.


This activity is designed to encourage a wider view of the use of citations in academic writing and to overcome the wrongheaded belief on the part of some students that citations weaken an author’s contribution by giving credit to other people. The activity could be adapted to any number of teaching contexts; most reading materials for EFL/ESL students contain texts replete with claims on topics from global warming to descriptions of particular world cultures. Having students read through these articles and identify areas where a citation could be added to guide readers to further information, support claims made by the author, or indicate areas of disagreement may help students to develop a healthy attitude toward citation and erode some of the unwillingness displayed by some students to embrace this academic practice. If this activity does not work, let them know that teachers often grade student work higher if the student displays a variety of citation motivations (Petric, 2007).

1This observation is based on interviews by the author with graduate students from a number of countries and cultures.


Harwood, N. (2009). An interview-based study of the functions of citations in academic writing across two disciplines. Journal of Pragmatics, 41, 497–518.

Pennycook, A. (1996). Borrowing others’ words: Text, ownership, memory, and plagiarism. TESOL Quarterly, 30, 201–230.

Petric, B. (2007). Rhetorical functions of citations in high- and low-rated master’s theses. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 6, 238–253.

Rinnert, C., & Kobayashi, H. (2005). Borrowing words and ideas: Insights from Japanese L1 writers. In Li Xiaoming & C. Pearson Casanave (Eds.), Multiple perspectives on L1 and L2 academic literacy in Asia Pacific and diaspora contexts. Special issue of Journal of Asian Pacific Communication, 15(1), 15–29.



Harwood’s (2009) 11 motivations for Citation

  1. Signposting: when the author wishes to guide readers to further relevant information;
  2. supporting: when the author mentions research that supports the author’s view;
  3. credit: when the author gives credit for ideas and quotations to other authors;
  4. position: when the author groups other authors according to viewpoints;
  5. engaging: when the author cites in order to disagree with another author;
  6. building: when the author creates a theoretical foundation on which the author will develop his or her own ideas; 
  7. tying: when the author aligns him- or herself with other groups of authors, methodologies, etc.;
  8. advertising: when the author advertises his or her own or his or her colleagues’ work;
  9. future: when the author discusses his or her future research projects;
  10. competence: when the author wishes to display his or her knowledge of the field;
  11. and topical: when the author wishes to mention something which is being discussed recently in the field.



Gavin O’Neill is an adjunct assistant professor at Hitotsubashi University in Japan. His research interests include English as a medium of instruction, EFL graduate writing, and social science research methodology. In addition to his position at Hitotsubashi University, he is a visiting lecturer at The National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) and Waseda University.