March 2023
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Shannon Hildreth, University of South Florida, Tampa, USA
Henshaw, F. G., & Hawkins, M.D (2022). Common ground: Second language acquisition theory goes to the classroom. FOCUS $10 (ebook) $24 (pbk).

Finding connections between theoretical concepts, research, and classroom practices is difficult for teachers (Sato & Lowen, 2019). Educators are left wondering about the best course of action and how to convert what they learn into practical applications. As such, the goal of this book, Common Ground: Second Language Acquisition Theory Goes to the Classroom, is to help teachers bridge the gap between second language acquisition (SLA) principles and classroom practice. This book does not intend to critique current strategies or classroom curriculum, but rather offers a constructive alternative that joins research, theory, and practice. The authors attempt to accomplish this by including various theories of SLA, and specifically, fundamental aspects they believe language educators should consider.

The book is sectioned into three parts: SLA and Pedagogy, Interpretive Communication, and Presentational and Interpersonal Communication. Each section contains two chapters presenting arguments pertaining to the topics. The chapters are divided into three segments. “What Do I Need To Know?” provides the core background information and research that drives the chapter. “What Does It Look Like In The Classroom?” exemplifies ways the chapter’s content can be put into practice, and “Now That You Know” provides thought-provoking questions and discussion prompts.

As mentioned, the first section of this book establishes SLA foundations. These observations have a direct connection to how teachers interpret and translate theories into practice. Chapter 1 discusses the connection between quality of input, communication, and acquisition and references VanPatten’s (2003) findings on communication theory.

Chapter 2 demonstrates ways to determine proficiency through the use of The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) framework. The text addresses each of the four major levels (novice, intermediate, advanced, and superior) and clearly displays guidelines, goals, and specific tasks fit for each stage of proficiency. These standards help teachers to guide pedagogical practices and assess if instruction is moving in the right direction.

Chapter 3 discusses correlations between the use of input and student understanding. Although students are exposed to examples of the target language, not all input contributes to acquisition. The common ground between theory and practice comes with defining “comprehensible input” where students can attempt to extract meaning from the target language in order to form connections. This chapter discusses what level of input exposure is most effective and shines light on Krashen’s (1985) input hypothesis model.

Chapter 4 examines student proficiency in language comprehension and the benefits of interpretive reading and listening for language development. Repetition of words and sounds contribute to acquisition and through incorporating “bi-modal input” learners can read and listen at the same time. Following the debate of quality input, chapter 5 highlights the characteristics of proper output. Teachers tend to view input as passive and output as active participation; however, input must be correctly modeled for students in order for them to produce accurate output.

Lastly, chapter 6 focuses on the negotiation of meaning through interaction tactics. Interaction requires understanding and producing meaning in real time. Appropriate use of feedback also determines developmental rates, as the use of encouragement and correction is a great balancing act.

When it comes to organization, the authors did a remarkable job creating a reader-friendly layout. In terms of utility, this book was designed especially for language instructors as the content reflects fundamental concerns accompanying SLA teaching such as dealing with formal instruction, proficiency-based instruction, and pedagogical decisions. Practitioners specifically in higher education would benefit from this book, as the assessments provided hold learners to an advanced language standard beyond the basics and involve text-analysis and the ability to think critically in a second language. The author provides examples of interpretive, presentational, and computer activities and different ways to shape these assignments based on proficiency level. However, instructors of any subject can use this book as a guide to connect theories with practice. The intention of the book is to keep explanations and concepts straightforward and relatable for anyone in academia to understand.

Although the book has many strengths, it would benefit from more real-life research-based examples and surveys to further defend the author’s pedagogical perspectives discussed throughout the chapters. Overall, from the organization of the book to its way of maximizing understanding through breaking down complex theories into realistic examples, I highly recommend this book. This book is a great addition to the library of any teacher interested in learning how to improve joining theories with practice to reach a common ground.


American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). (2012a). Proficiency guidelines. ACTFL.

Krashen, S. (1985) The input hypothesis: Issues and implications. Longman.

VanPatten, B. (2003). From input to output: A teacher’s guide to second language acquisition. McGraw-Hill.

Shannon Hildreth is a Masters student in the Applied Linguistics and Teaching English as a Second Language program at the University of South Florida. Her primary research interests include investigating second language acquisition and Interactionist approaches to language instruction.
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From Heteronormativity to Inclusivity in ESL/EFL Higher Education
Featuring James Coda, Liang Cao, Juan Rios Vega, and Evan Kaiser. Wednesday, 22 March, 12:00-13:30 US PST at the Oregon Convention Center in A107/108/109

Spotlight on Refugees in Higher Education
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