Cover Page


Title Page

List of Figures

The relationships between focus on form, uptake and acquisition
Key FFI methodological options
Input-based FFI options
The mediating role of individual learner factors in instructed L2 learning
Design of an aptitude-treatment-interaction study
Structural model of willingness to communicate in English in the Chinese EFL classroom (Peng and Woodrow, 2010: 853; simplified)

List of Tables

Major journals publishing articles on language teaching research
Summary of Ellis and He's experimental study (1999)
Summary of Lyster and Ranta's study of corrective feedback (1997)
Summary of an action research study (based on Penner, 1998)
Summary of Bloom's (2007) exploratory study
Summary of Guilloteaux and Dörnyei's (2008) correlational study
Examples of data collection methods used in experimental research
Summary of Harklau's (1994) ethnographic study
Experiential and analytic features in language pedagogy (based on Stern, 1990)
Summary of the comparative method studies presented
Coded extract illustrating Fanselow's FOCUS system
Summary of different dimensions of interaction analysis systems (based on Long, 1980)
COLT Part A (based on Allen, Frohlich, and Spada, 1984)
Aspects of turn-taking mechanisms in four different instructional contexts (based on Seedhouse, 2004)
Ten features of discourse in the EFL classroom (Walsh, 2002)
A teacher-educator's perspective on teacher-talk (based on O’Neill, 1994)
Long and Sato's (1984) taxonomy of teacher questions (based on Kearsley, 1976)
Functions of teachers’ L1 use (based on Polio and Duff, 1994)
Taxonomy of teachers’ corrective strategies (Lyster and Ranta, 1997: 46–49)
Two dimensions of corrective feedback strategies
Regulatory scale – implicit to explicit (Aljaafreh and Lantolf, 1994: 471)
Focus on the teacher – cognitive and social perspectives
Summary of Lightbown's (1983) study
Examples of creative and modelled speech in the speech of ESL learners
Selected studies of L2 learners’ metalingual knowledge
Types of metalanguage used by learners in a dictogloss task (Fortune, 2005)
Types of uptake move (Lyster and Ranta, 1997)
Observable characteristics of language play as ‘fun’ and as ‘rehearsal’ (based on Broner and Tarone, 2001)
A comparison of three approaches to TBLT (based on Ellis, 2009)
Selected measures of fluency, accuracy and complexity
Three types of input in a listen-and-do task
Task design and implementation variables investigated in interaction studies (based on Ellis, 2003)
Simple and complex tasks in Kim (2009)
Task design and implementation variables investigated in L2 production studies (based on Ellis, 2003)
Classroom-based studies of the effects of strategic planning
Selected studies of structure-based production tasks
Principal focus-on-form options (Ellis, Basturkmen and Loewen, 2002)
Types of ‘development’ in sociocultural theory
Operationalizing ‘acquisition’ in interactionist-cognitive theories
Design of study by Swain et al. (2009)
Effects of different kinds of input on L2 acquisition
Selected studies investigating the effects of recasts and prompts on L2 acquisition
Focus on form versus focus on forms
Implicit and explicit forms of form-focused instruction (de Graaf and Housen, 2009: 737)
Simple and complex features (Spada and Tomita, 2010: 273)
Key individual difference factors mediating instructed L2 learning
Role of language aptitude in L2 acquisition (based on Skehan, 2002)
Factors influencing two L2 learners’ WTC (based on Cao, 2009)
Summary of main demotivating factors
Example of a teacher education unit designed to raise awareness about a critical issue in language pedagogy


In 1988 Craig Chaudron published a book entitled Second Language Classroom. In it, Craig reviewed the research that had investigated the L2 classroom up to that date. Since then, there has been an enormous body of research investigating different aspects of the second language (L2) classroom. I was a great admirer of Craig's book. Sadly, he is no longer with us. Otherwise, he would have been the ideal person to survey the more recent research. Thus, I have tried to undertake the task myself.

There are two ways of viewing ‘language teaching’. One is what I refer to as the ‘external view’. This conceptualizes language teaching in terms of methods, approaches, materials and techniques. It is evident in books about the L2 curriculum (e.g. White, 1988) and in handbooks written for language teachers (e.g. Ur, 1996). Such a view can assist teachers in planning their lessons. I refer to the other way of conceptualizing teaching as the ‘internal view’. This sees language teaching as a ‘process’. It entails a consideration of the classroom interactions that occur when teachers implement their lesson plans in different participatory structures (e.g. teacher-class versus small group work). It addresses such matters as turn-taking, how meaning is negotiated, scaffolding, the questions that teachers ask, the use made of the learners’ first language (L1) and metalanguage, and corrective feedback.

This distinction allows us to consider the different ways in which researchers go about investigating language teaching:

1. They can examine the effect of externally defined instructional devices on language learning. For example, they might ask whether one method is more effective than another in promoting language proficiency or whether some specific way of teaching grammar is more effective than another.

2. They can examine the general processes that arise in language lessons. This requires observing or recording lessons and then analyzing the interactions that occur in them.

3. They can examine which classroom processes arise as a result of the teacher selecting some specific externally defined device. For example, they might investigate the uses of language that result from selecting different types of tasks.

4. They can examine the relationship between classroom processes and L2 learning. For example, they can investigate how learners attend to form while performing a communicative task and whether such attention promotes learning.

All the studies discussed in this book can be classified in terms of this simple typology of L2 classroom research. Of course, process-product studies, which are arguably the most informative, combine more than one approach. For example, studies investigating some specific way of teaching grammar might examine both the classroom processes that arise in the instruction and the learning that takes place, thus combining approaches (1), (3) and (4).

L2 classroom researchers draw on a variety of research tools and theoretical paradigms. Broadly speaking, there are two principal research paradigms:

1. The normative paradigm: this seeks to test hypotheses drawn from an explicit theory of L2 teaching or learning and typically involves some form of experiment. Cognitive-interactionist theories of L2 acquisition have served as the basis for a number of such experiments. They view instruction as triggering the internal mechanisms responsible for acquisition. They employ quantitative ways of measuring instruction and learning.

2. The interpretative paradigm: this seeks to describe and understand some aspect of teaching by identifying key variables and examining how they interrelate. The sociocultural theory of L2 learning has informed research in this paradigm. This treats learning not as something that happens as a result of instruction but rather as occurring within the interactions that instruction gives rise to. Conversational analysis is the preferred tool for investigating this.

In this book I have endeavoured to include research belonging to both paradigms as my aim is not to enter the debate regarding which paradigm and which supporting theories are best suited to researching language teaching. Rather, I have tried to show that both can provide valuable information about teaching and its relationship to learning.

This is a book intended for both teachers and researchers. Teachers can familiarize themselves with the results of current language teaching research. Hopefully, this will assist them in conducting research in their own classrooms. Researchers can use the book to identify the key issues that have figured in language teaching research over the last sixty years or so, the research methods employed and the limitations of these.

The book provides teachers and researchers with ‘technical’ knowledge. How this knowledge can best be used in actual teaching or in teacher education programmes is a matter for debate. I conclude the book (see Chapter ) with a discussion of this issue.

Rod Ellis
Auckland, May 2011


Special acknowledgements go to Natsuko Shintani for both her support while I was writing the book and her painstaking work in checking and compiling the references. I am also grateful to the University of Auckland for providing me with the research time needed and to Julia Kirk and Louise Ennis for all their editorial help.