Welcome to the Twelfth Issue of The Warwick ELT!

We are very excited to present the twelfth issue of The Warwick ELT E-zine. In keeping with previous issues of ‘The Warwick ELT’, the February to March issue presents articles from contributors who come from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Each contributor presents their unique voice, providing an insight into their own individual and contextualised experience. This issue comprises four articles. Three of the articles are from MA students from the Centre for Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick. One article comes from a Lecturer at East West University, Dhaka, Bangladesh and the other from two ELT practitioners in Brazil. In her paper, Analysing Teacher Feedback: Types of Feedback and the Effects on Students’ Learning, Alexandra Pang examines how teacher talk is used as scaffolding to help learners develop within their Zone of Proximal Development. Cynthia M Chindipha from Zimbabwe in a paper titled Culturally Relevant Materials in the English Language Classroom looks at how English L2 learners culture (respectively) is represented in ELT materials. Vian Yuen focuses on language policy, attitudes and identity in Hong Kong in her article.  A captivating and unique way of using comic strips for teaching young learners in Brazil is presented in an article titled English through comic strips: a report of how Brazilian fifth graders appropriated an additional language by Andre Trindade Fonseca and Pedro Francisco Reis. Lastly, Sabbir Ahmed in his article gives us Some Practical Tips to Teach Grammar in Graduate Level EFL Classrooms.

It is our sincere hope that this month’s contributions will be of benefit to those who read them, helping them to gain further insights into a number of important topics within English Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. We sincerely welcome any comments which the content of the e-zine may inspire, in the hope that they might lead to open academic debate.

Finally, we would like to thank all of those whose effort has gone into the creation of this edition of the e-zine.


Chindipha Cynthia M, Berrios Ortega Nicole and Begibaeva Nilufar

(February – March Issue)

For ease of access, each of the articles can be found hyperlinked below:

  1. Alexandra Pang – Analysing Teacher Feedback: Types of Feedback and the Effects on Students’ Learning
  2. Cynthia M Chindipha – Culturally Relevant Materials in the English Language Classroom
  3. Vian Yuen – Language policy, Language Attitudes and Identity in Hong Kong
  4. Andre Trindade Fonseca and Pedro Francisco Reis – English through comic strips: a report of how Brazilian fifth graders appropriated an additional language
  5. Sabbir Ahmed – Some Practical Tips to Teach Grammar in Graduate Level EFL Classrooms.

Language policy, Language Attitudes and Identity in Hong Kong


                                                                                                                                                * Vian Yuen


The year 2017 has witnessed the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to Chinese Sovereignty. Over the past two decades, the education reform brought by the handover posed a great impact on the school curriculum and students’ learning. The biliterate and trilingual language policy, which aims to train Hong Kong students to be biliterate in Chinese and English and trilingual in both dialects of Chinese (Cantonese and Putonghua) and English, is particularly controversial. This paper examines the status and roles of Cantonese, Putonghua and English in colonial and postcolonial eras in Hong Kong. As the use of language is often intertwined with power relations and cultural identity construction, the link between people’s attitudes towards the three languages and their cultural identity construction will also be discussed.

Keywords: Language attitude, language policy, status of English


From a small fishing village to a world-famous cosmopolitan city, Hong Kong has experienced a series of dramatic changes in the past two centuries. This year, in particular, Hong Kong marks 20 years since its handover to China from Britain. It is noteworthy that the handover not only impacts on aspects such as economics and politics, but also education, especially the language policies. With critical political and cultural changes in the past few decades, the city has evolved into a more multilingual society, dominating by three major languages of Cantonese, English and Mandarin. Since language is not only a tool for communication and plays an important role in the construction of identity and affecting social power relations (Warschauer, 2000), the focus of this paper is to examine the status and roles of the three languages in Hong Kong society, and how people’s attitudes towards the languages can be linked to the pragmatic values of languages and cultural identity construction.
Language Policy & Community Response: from Diglossic to Biliterate Trilingual

  1. Colonial Period: Diglossic

As the majority of population was ethnic Chinese from Canton, Cantonese has been the dominant and socially preferred language in Hong Kong. The city, however, has never been monolingual as some people also spoke English and other dialects of the Chinese language such as Putonghua. By evaluating government census data dated from 1911 to 1991, Bacon-Shone & Bolton (1998) asserted that Hong Kong has always been a multilingual community, but Putonghua, the national language, was less influential compared to English and Cantonese in colonial period due to its little use in formal and informal contexts. Wright (2008) suggested diglossia existed in colonial Hong Kong because English was the only official language before 1974. It is noteworthy that the term ‘diglossia’ (Ferguson, 1959) instead of ‘bilingual’ is used here as English and Cantonese were used in different domains, with the former as the high variety and the later the low variety. Although Chinese also became an official language in 1974, there were significant differences in their functions. English can be deemed as high variety as it was used in official, political, and more importantly, in educational domains.


According to figures provided by the Education Department of Hong Kong (as cited in Tsui, 2004), before the handover, 94% of students were studying in English as the Medium of instruction (hereafter EMI) schools and only 6% of them were studying in Chinese as the Medium of Instruction (hereafter CMI) schools, despite the fact that Cantonese was their mother tongue. Although schools could choose MOI, the choice did not really exist as schools would not choose CMI when the British government kept its market value low (Tsui, 2007). Another example is that the first CMI university was only founded in 1964, after nearly one century of British rule. It is evident that the primary goal of British language policy was to sustain English-speaking colonial residents to serve British interests. Although there appeared to be some autonomy among schools in early 1990s when the Education Commission encouraged mother-tongue as MOI, schools showed little enthusiasm and remained EMI due to the economic value of English. Radical reshaping of language policies was only led by the return of Hong Kong in 1997.


  1. Post Colonial Period: Biliterate Trilingual

The most controversial language policy was the biliterate and trilingual language policy introduced in October 1997. The policy focused on training Hong Kong students to be biliterate in Chinese and English and trilingual in Cantonese, Putonghua, and English. Under this policy, ‘Mother tongue’ education was promoted and schools were not allowed to use EMI unless criteria set by the government were met. By 1998, only 114 out of 421 secondary schools were allowed to use EMI under the official ‘Guidance’ (Education Department, 1997).  The government’s rationale was that Chinese, or Cantonese to be specific,  would be pedagogically more effective for subject-area learning and for various measures of students’ cognitive and affective experience such as motivation and self-confidence. However, the public did not applaud this change in MOI at all. Many studies on community responses showed parents wanted EMI (Chan, 2002; Lai, 2005), businesses wanted EMI, principals at CMI schools feared loss of high-achieving students, and even parents who believed Chinese MOI aided children’s achievement planned to send children to EMI schools (Tsui, 2004).


In responses to this public demand, the subsequent ‘Fine-Tuning’ (Education Bureau, 2009) was released as a review on the policy, and gave suggestions for long-term language policy implementation. ‘Fine-tuning’ emphasized on the enhancement of students’ English, even though the ultimate goal of the language policy is to foster biliteracy and trilingualism focusing on mother-tongue education. On the other hand, being the national language, Putonghua was gaining more attention and became a subject in schools. In the past decade, using Putonghua instead of Cantonese to teach Chinese has become a popular school language policy among schools in Hong Kong (Gao, Leung, & Trent, 2010).


Years passed, the attitudes of different parties toward the biliterate and trilingual language policy remain unchanged even when there was evidence of improvement in students’ academic performance (Tsui, 2004). Obviously, pedagogical value is never the first concern when it comes to the decision of MOI. Interestingly, while the public have not been favorably inclined toward the policy and demand English MOI, their attitudes towards the uses of the three languages have been ambivalent as Cantonese is actually rated the most popular language in many studies (Chan, 2002; Lai, 2005). These attitudes are closely related to the pragmatic values of the languages and the cultural identity construction of Hongkongers.


‘Imagined’ Endangerment of Cantonese due to Increase Use of Putonghua and English

  1. Putonghua is Only Rated for Its Economic Value
    The following table extracted from the 2016 Census Report (Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong Government, 2016) shows the increase uses of English and Putonghua in current Hong Kong society between 2006 and 2016.


Table 1. Proportion of Population Aged 5 and Over by Able to Speak Selected Languages/ Dialects from 2006 to 2016
The figures of usual language seem to be insignificant as the decrease in Cantonese speakers ( 90.8% to 88.9%) and increases in English (2.8% to 4.3%) and Putonghua speakers (0.9% to 1.9%) were very small. However, regarding the three languages as another language, there was a small decline of total number of people speaking Cantonese (from 96.5% to 94.6%), while there are rapid growths in that of Putonghua (40.2% to 48.6%) and English(44.7% to 53.2%).
Some scholars pessimistically think such a sharp increase in the uses of English and Putonghua within a decade may eventually harm the status of Cantonese (Lee & Leung, 2012). However, the effect of MOI for one particular subject may not have such profound effect, given that the medium of assessment is still Cantonese and its instrumental value remains unchanged (Gao, Leung, & Trent, 2010). As reported by Gao, Leung, & Trent (2010), Chinese teachers found using Putonghua to teach Chinese unsustainable as students use either Cantonese (CMI schools) or English (EMI schools) to learn other subjects, and Cantonese is used in public examinations. Even the government departments questioned its sustainability. After evaluating the management of language fund, the Audit Commission challenged the effectiveness of using Putonghua to teach Chinese in schools and demanded evidence from Education Bureau before making it mandatory for all elementary and high schools in the city (Audit Commission of HKSAR, 2017).


Yet, merely looking at the increase in use of the languages is an effort misplaced. The perceptions of the speakers are of more importance in showing the status and roles of the language in society. By comparing the studies on the language attitudes of the first postcolonial generation (Lai, 2005) and the second (Lai, 2011), it is safe to conclude that the status of Putonghua is still very low in Hong Kong. Cantonese, the vernacular language, remained the most popular due to its instrumental value as local people use the languages in nearly all domains (Lai, 2005; Lai, 2011). Striking enough, despite the exceptional performance of China and the increase use of Putonghua, the national language is still rated the lowest by all groups of the second postcolonial generation (Lai, 2011).
A more recent survey done by Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at Chinese university of Hong Kong (2016) also echoes to Lai’s findings (2011) as the speakers are not attached to the language even though they use it. The majority of respondents (70.8%) said they were indifferent when using Putonghua. Also, over half (55.5%) of the respondents expected that Putonghua would not substitute Cantonese to become the most common spoken language in Hong Kong even after 20 years.


On the other hand, English is regarded as another threat as it still enjoys high status in society, and the reasons behind worth discussing.


  1. English as the Cultural Capital and Tool for Cultural Identity Construction

The scholarly explanations on the high status of English in postcolonial Hong Kong can be categorized to two major reasons. First, English still dominates the world and is a useful tool to communicate with other people amid globalisation. It is seen as language of commerce rather than simply the colonial language in the eye of pragmatic Hongkongers (Lai, 2005; Tsui, 2004). It is also deemed as desirable commodity, basis for competitive edge over other cities in the region, and the passport for children’s future success (Lai, 2005; Tsui, 2004). The attitudes are linked to the status implications of English proficiency in a colonial society (Chan, 2002; Lai, 2005), which can be explained by Bourdieu’s ideas of different forms of capital (1986). It is believed that once ‘English-the cultural capital-is acquired, it can lead to future success, thereby converting cultural capital to economic capital’ (Chan, 2002, p.278).


The second and more important reason, is that the language helps Hongkongers build their cultural identities. While most scholars suggested English is used by Hongkongers to distinguish themselves from Chinese (Chan, 2002; Lai, 2005), Tsui (2007) further pointed out that the construction of local identity started long before the handover, with Hong Kong leaning towards China at that time. The riots and the Protect the Diaoyutai Movement in the 1960s showed the city was trying to develop its local or even national identity, which alarmed the British government, as ‘defending Chinese sovereignty of the islands was symbolic of nationalism and anticolonialism’ (Lam, 2004, as cited in Tsui, 2007, p.129).


The colonial government responded to the social unrest in Hong Kong and tried to construct Hong Kong as ‘home’ by focusing on housing and education (Tsui, 2007). By the end of the 1970s, over half of the population lived in the public housing or government subsidized housing, while education was made universally available under the policy of compulsory primary education in 1971 (Tsui, 2007). Another example was the setting up of Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1974, which showed the government’s attempt to improve people’s livelihood (Tsui, 2007). Two other important events in the 1970s that Tsui (2007) did not mention, were the opening of Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in 1979, and the opening of the first McDonald’s, a world-famous fast-food chain, in 1975. Obviously, Hong Kong was having rapid economic growth, while the Chinese Cultural Revolution thrusted China into 10 years of turmoil. Such stark contrast between China and Hong Kong results in Hongkongers’ strong desire to distinguish themselves from Chinese from the 1970s onwards, and language becomes the most powerful identity marker. Instead of being a threat or simply the language imposed to Hong Kong to promote imperialism, English plays an important role, along with Cantonese, in the consolidation of the unique local identity.


In short, the endangerment of Cantonese due to the increase use of Putonghua and English, is only ‘imagined’, as least for now, when there is no significant language loss, nor need for the people in Hong Kong to sacrifice some part of their cultural identity, in order to share same social status as the majority group. Quite on the contrary, the spread of English and Putonghua aroused awareness of Hong Kong local culture and local language, and reaffirmed Hongkongers’ localness. As put by Lai, the language preferences show that ‘the postcolonial generation of Hong Kong still maintains a stronger local than national identity’ (Lai, 2011, p.261).



Before the handover in 1997, diglossia existed in Hong Kong with English being the high variety whereas Cantonese the low variety. Unlike other colonies that are eager to establish their national identity by adopting local language right after decolonization, Hongkongers did not welcome the biliterate and trilingual policy. Languages that are useful in daily lives and in maintaining global competitiveness, be they international, national or local, are used and learnt by Hongkongers. Strikingly, they may not have positive attitudes toward the language even though they use it. Hongkongers still highly value Cantonese and English, but not Putonghua despite the increasing prevalence of the national language. The attitudes can be linked to the status implications of English proficiency and Putonghua and the impact of those languages on the construction of their cultural identity. It is important to recognize language as a social, cultural and historical practice, rather than only a tool for communication. The government’s plans for language learning should not only emphasize on developing students’ skills and maintain Hong Kong’s competitiveness in the globe, but also address the issues of power and identity that comprise the cultural politics of language education.

























Audit Commission. (2017). Chapter 8: Language fund. Report no. 68 of the director of audit. Retrieved from http://www.aud.gov.hk/pdf_e/e68ch08.pdf


Bacon-Shone, J. & Bolton, K. (1998). Charting multilingualism: Language censuses and language surveys in Hong Kong. In M. C. Pennington (Ed.), Language in Hong Kong at century’s end (pp. 43-90). Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.


Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (pp. 241-258). New York: Greenwood.


Chan, E. (2002). Beyond pedagogy: language and identity in post-colonial Hong Kong. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 23(2), 275-281.


Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department. (2016). Hong Kong population and housing census: Main table. Retrieved from http://www.bycensus2016.gov.hk/en/bc-mt.html


Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies. (2016). Survey findings on views on the use of Putonghua and Simplified Chinese in Hong Kong. Retrieved from http://cpr.cuhk.edu.hk/en/press_detail.php?id=2251&t=survey-findings-on-views-on-the-use-of-putonghua-and-simplified-chinese-in-hong-kong-released-by-hong-kong-institute-of-asia-pacific-studies-at-cuhk


Ferguson, C.A.  (1959). Diglossia. Word, 15, 325-340.


Education Department. (1997). Medium of instruction: Guidance for secondary schools. Retrieved from http://www.edb.gov.hk/en/edu-system/primary-secondary/applicable-to-secondary/moi/guidance-index.html


Education Bureau. (2009). Enriching our language environment, realizing our vision: Fine-tuning of medium of instruction for secondary schools. Retrieved from http://www.edb.gov.hk/en/edu-system/primary-secondary/applicable-to-secondary/moi/support-and-resources-for-moi-policy/index-1.html


Lai, M. L. (2005). Language attitudes of the first postcolonial generation in Hong Kong secondary schools. Language in Society, 34(3), 378-382.


Lai, M. L. (2011). Cultural identity and language attitudes – into the second decade of postcolonial Hong Kong. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 32(3), 249-264. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2010.539692


Lee, K.S. & Leung, W.M. (2012). The status of Cantonese in the education policy of Hong Kong. Multilingual Education, 2(2), 1-22. Retrieved from:  https://doi.org/10.1186/10.1186/2191-5059-2-2


Gao, X., Leung, P. P., & Trent, J. (2010). Chinese teachers’ views on the increasing use of Putonghua as a medium of instruction in Hong Kong schools. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35(8), 79-103. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2010v35n8.6


Tsui, A.B.M. (2004). Medium of instruction in Hong Kong: one country, two systems, whose language? In J.W. Tollefson & A.B.M. Tsui (Eds.), Medium of instruction policies: Which agenda? Whose agenda? (pp. 97-116). New York: Routledge.


Tsui, A.B.M. (2007). Language policy and the social construction of identity: The case of Hong Kong. In J.W. Tollefson & A.B.M. Tsui (Eds.), Language policy culture and identity in Asian contexts (pp. 121-141). New York: Routledge.


Warschauer, M. (2000). Language, Identity, and the Internet. In B. Kolko, L. Nakamura & G. Rodman (Eds.), Race in Cyberspace (pp.151-170). New York: Routledge.


Wright, Clare. (2008). Diglossia and multilingualism- issues in language contact and language shift in the case of Hong Kong pre- and post-1997. ARECLS, 5, 263-279. Retrieved from http://research.ncl.ac.uk/ARECLS/vol5_documents/Articles/wright_vol5.pdf



Some Practical Tips to Teach Grammar in Graduate Level EFL Classrooms

                                                                                                                        * Sabbir Ahmed Dibbo




This article aims at providing some practical tips to teach grammar in a graduate level EFL classroom in Bangladeshi context. The tips suggested here are based on the author’s personal experience of teaching graduate level students. The author has also tried to integrate prevailing theories on grammar teaching with his own personal experience. The article hopes to provide helpful guidelines for teaching grammar in classrooms that are contextually similar to the classroom context stated above.


Key Words: Grammar, EFL classroom, graduate-level learners, guided inductive approach, context, and inherent rules.




Grammar teaching all over the world, especially in Bangladesh is one of the most discussed issues of teaching English as a foreign language. What should be the attitude towards teaching grammar?  Should  grammar  be  taught  explicitly  or  implicitly?  Should  there  be  theoretical discussions followed by concrete examples or should there be a lot of practices involved in the grammar classroom while the learners figure out the inherent grammatical rules themselves? Norris and Ortega (2000) suggested that the explicit analysis of grammar was more beneficial than the indirect implicit treatment of grammar. According to Ellis (2006), teaching grammar explicitly helps to develop the implicit knowledge and supports language development. On the other hand, Larsen-Freeman (2003) suggested that learning complex grammar items inductively is helpful as it demonstrates usage of the rules in sentences clearly. Again, the use of the inductive approach has been noted for its success in EFL/ESL classrooms especially for upper-level language students (Gower, Philips, and Walters 1995).

I myself have been teaching English as a foreign language teacher at a private university in Bangladesh for about a year. While doing so, these were some of the issues that I had to focus on. From my experience, I have found out that a guided inductive approach where the teacher provides the students with concrete examples as both individual sentences and as part of a context and then helps them figure out the inherent grammatical rules is helpful. For example, while teaching active voice & passive voice in one of my classes I provided them with some samples of active voice & passive voice sentences separately. Then, I provided them with an excerpt that included both active and passive voice sentences and I asked them to identify which sentences were written in active voice and which ones were written in passive voice. At that point, almost all of my students were able to identify both types of sentences correctly. Finally, I provided them two concrete structures (one for active voice and one for passive voice) to match with their developed understanding about how active voice sentences and passive voice sentences are supposed to be structured. On the other hand, there are grammatical topics in which providing a class with the grammatical rule at the beginning is a good idea. For example, in another of my classes while teaching subject-verb agreement rules I found out that many of my students were not using s/es at the end of a verb properly. So, I instructed them clearly that when the subject of a sentence is the third person and singular number and the sentence is a present indefinite tense sentence only then they need to add s/es with the main verb of that sentence. After explaining the rule clearly they were much more successful in correctly using the rule in practice. Therefore, it is my belief that a language teacher needs to develop this sensibility to understand what approach should be used in which context and for what areas of grammar.

I believe some of the tips that I am going to provide to teach grammar in an EFL classroom can be very effective if implemented correctly. It is essential to keep in mind that these tips are best suited for students above intermediate level learners who are learning English or subjects related to it as their graduate courses. It is also important to understand that the results may vary in other contexts where teaching grammar to graduate level learners may not be a major issue as they may already possess sound knowledge of grammar.


Practical Tips:

Here are some of the practical tips that I would like to provide:

  • Identifying the Most Problematic Areas of Grammar:


Firstly, it is important for a language teacher to acquire a general idea about the different areas of grammar which trouble his/her students the most. This can be done within one or two classes at the beginning by instructing and encouraging them to write a paragraph or an essay on an interesting topic as a class-work. The teacher needs to provide them with some basic ideas about the topic. He/she can also provide them with a list of vocabularies to help them even further. For example, to find out which grammar topics I need to focus on in one of my classes, I instructed them to write a short essay on their favorite movie focusing on its plot and characters and reasons for liking it. I also provided them with a set of vocabularies that are usually required to write about any movie. After completing the task I carefully went through the write-ups of my students to find out the common problematic areas in terms of grammar. The most common areas of problems in grammar that I found out were – tense, subject-verb agreement, simple, complex, and compound sentences, singular & plural number, active voice & passive voice, fragmented sentences and run on etc.


  • Figuring Out Inherent Grammatical Rules through Examples:


As they are graduate level students they at least possess the capability to process grammatical structures implicitly. Therefore, providing them with sentences as examples and after that helping them to identify the inherent structure verbally is an effective way. For example: When I try to teach the twelve sentence structures of tense I usually take one sentence in present indefinite form and then convert that same sentence into the other eleven structures. After that, I ask them to do a class-work that includes choosing a sentence on their own (whichever tense structure) and then converting that sentence into the other eleven structures. This exercise allows students to not only figure out the structure for each tense form by themselves but also to practice those structures and improve gradually.


  • Reading Authentic Texts to See the Grammatical Rules being used in Context:


Reading an authentic and interesting text while being conscious of the grammatical rules that they have previously studied is another good idea. This allows the students to practice the grammatical rules in a more contextualized and relatable setting. Based on that text they can be asked to do another write-up, usually a short summary to see if they are able to implement the grammatical structures that they have just learnt. This task can be adapted according to the topics that are being focused on e.g. subject-verb agreement, voice, a transformation of sentence and so on. For example, in one of my classes, after teaching my students some subject-verb agreement rules I provided them with an interesting short story which included some errors regarding the rules of subject-verb agreement. The students’ task was to read the short story while being conscious of the grammatical rules that they had just learnt. After finishing reading they were required to rewrite the short story by correcting the errors within the text. On another occasion, while teaching active voice & passive voice, I provided them with another short text which included both active & passive voice sentences. Their task was to change each sentence into the opposite form of which it was written. Hence, it provided the opportunity for them to practice both active and passive voice sentences while reading an interesting text that they could relate to and thus could feel engaged in the task.


  • Looking to Maximize Learning Opportunities:


A teacher should always look to maximize learning opportunities for his students. According to Kumaravadivelu (2003), one of the macro-strategies of teaching is to integrate language skills to enhance learning opportunity. For example, I have seen my students’ tendency to start a sentence with clause markers such as- though, as, since, because etc. and then to put a full stop at the end of the dependent clause. If the dependent clause is separated from the independent clause by using a full stop in between the two clauses, the dependent clause becomes a fragmented sentence. Thus, by taking the opportunity to make them aware of fragmented sentences while teaching the structure of complex sentence I maximized my opportunity to teach my students.



These practical tips have implications in curriculum development for graduate level learners in Bangladesh and other countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other South Asian countries where the contexts and cultural idiosyncrasies are quite similar. These can also help teachers of graduate courses to conduct grammar classes more effectively.



Ellis, R. (2006). Current Issues in the Teaching of Grammar: An SLA Perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 40(1), 83-107.


Gower, B., Philips, D., & Walters, S. (1995). Presenting and Practicing Language. In B. Gower, D, Philips, & S. Walters (Eds.), Teaching Practice Handbook (pp. 128-140). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003). Understanding Post Method Pedagogy. In B. Kumaravadivelu,Beyond Methods: Macrostrategies for Language Teaching (pp. 38-40). Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

Freeman, D. (2003). Teaching Language from Grammar to Grammaring. Canada: Heinle

Norris, J. M., & Ortega, L. (2000). Effectiveness of L2 Instruction: A Research Synthesis and Quantitative Meta-analysis. Language Learning, 50, 417-528.


(Author’s Bio: Sabbir Ahmed Dibbo is a lecturer (Adjunct) of English at East West University, Bangladesh where he teaches graduate courses. He has completed his Masters in Applied Linguistics & ELT from Department of English, Dhaka University. His areas of interest are SLA, Teaching Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and Grammar, Post Method Pedagogy, Learner and Teacher Autonomy, Sociolinguistics, Bilingualism etc. He is also interested in contemporary literature.)

Culturally Relevant Materials in the English Language Classroom

                                                                                                         *Cynthia M Chindipha



Incorporating learner’s culture in English Language Teaching (ELT) via teaching materials has been an interesting issue of discussion among scholars over the years. Some scholars advocate for the inclusion of learner’s own cultures and experiences in ELT to preserve learner’s cultural identities. Whilst other scholars believe learners must be taught to assimilate the target language’s culture, English in this case to be able to fully integrate and function as apt users. As a result, in some cases, ‘learning a foreign language becomes a kind of enculturation, where one acquires new cultural frames of reference and a new world view, reflecting those of the target language culture and its speaker’s (Alptekin 2002, p.58).

Keywords: Culture, language, ELT context, material, coursebook



The link between language and culture in English Language Teaching (ELT) has been widely discussed over the years. Scholars (Alptekin 2002, Harwood 2014, Ndura 2004) advocate for the inclusion of the learner’s own cultures and experiences in ELT. Furthering this, other scholars (Matsuda 2010, Baker 2012) believe that since English is not only used in countries belonging to the Inner Circle (Kachru 1985), but internationally by people with a variety of cultures, learners must be taught to appreciate these diverse cultures. Significant here is that most scholars agree that culture and language cannot be separated in learning English as a second language. This paper therefore seeks to discuss the issue of culturally relevant materials being used in the L2 classroom with a focus on which culture is key to learning and teaching; and furthering this which culture is being represented in the coursebooks – the target culture, source culture, or the global culture. This will be done in the first part by critically reviewing the relevant literature. The second part of the paper will assess the literature discussion in the light of the writer’s experience considering to what extent the ideas reviewed are pertinent to the writer’s context of teaching and learning. In this case the context will be a Zimbabwean Secondary School classroom.


Part One: Literature Review:

The nineties saw a clear shift in attitudes regarding English language teaching (ELT) material development as UK and USA publishers took a vested interest in material development. The realisation was that ELT was ‘an eminently marketable and exportable product’ (Mishan & Timmis, 2015, p.44). This saw respected publishers (Oxford – Streamline English, Longman – Strategies Series) designing English language coursebooks. These books it soon became apparent were laden with predominantly white western values and attitudes, seeing them being charged with having ‘a hidden curriculum’ (Cunningsworth, 1995, p.90). The later nineties saw the rise of the ‘global coursebook’ – Intermediate Matters and New Headway. The challenge with these ‘global coursebooks’ as attested by Harwood’s 2014 research is that they ‘lack cultural appropriateness and relevance for many of their target markets.’ The coursebooks although designed with the belief that they incorporated the varied contexts, statuses and needs of L2 learners across the globe, clearly did not conform to this expectation. They instead represent the UK and USA as the predominant cultures of English (Shin et al., 2011; Nault, 2006).

Mishan and Timmis (2015, p.1) go on to acknowledge that although the current educational market is flooded with various English as a second language coursebooks, they no longer cater to the present heterogeneous group of L2 learners having adopted most of their content from predecessor texts. This is because over the years existing materials have been used as ‘reference points’ (Mishan and Timmis, 2015, p.1). Since the present coursebooks are modelled upon former prototypes they, as a result, do not cater to the cultural needs and diversity of both teacher and learner across different L2 classrooms globally. This is primarily because, ELT coursebooks dating from the 70’s focused on Inner Circle (Kachru, 1985) British or American standards of English and culture. Consequently, this attitude is still implicit in the production of ELT coursebooks across the globe as reflected in Murayama’s 2000 research which looked at cultural content in ten English as a Lingua Franca (EFL) books being used in Japan which revealed that the major deficiencies in these coursebooks was that the text was dominated by American and British viewpoints. There is thus an apparent lack of culturally appropriately balanced teaching material that caters adequately to the needs of specific learners in specific contexts.

As a direct result of the growing number of second-language speakers of English the status of English in the world has shifted. English is being used globally, English as an International language (EIL) or English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). This present status of English should logically entail that the beliefs and customs of its learners are incorporated into their instruction. The authority and identity of L2 speakers must be accorded due significance. Crystal (2003) asserts that over a third of the world’s population use English as a foreign language for academic, political and economic reasons. Nault (2006, p.26) adds quite aptly,


‘If we accept that English, today is truly a global language we must therefore also acknowledge its dynamic multicultural backdrop’.


If a third of the world’s population have adopted English, there clearly should be materials written that cater to their diverse norms. Instead, teaching English to Secondary school learners is made more challenging because most of the teaching materials focus on Inner Circle (Kachru, 1985) norms and “provide only rare examples of two non-native speakers from different countries interacting with each other” (Brown, 1995, p.241). Learners due to this bias in materials are not exposed to culturally diverse interactions that will, in turn, make them more culturally aware and responsive.


Materials that continue to highlight Western norms attributed to UK and USA (countries that led to the spread of the language across the world) are effective in creating a situation termed as ‘a kind of continuing colonisation’ (Howatt & Widdowson as cited in Mishan & Timmis 2015, p.36). To further this, a study conducted by Shin et al, 2011 revealed that although some cultural aspects were inclusive in the seven internationally distributed texts that they focused on, the Inner Circle cultural content was found to be dominating in these textbooks. The outer or expanding culture was found to be represented in a ‘traditionally knowledge-oriented level that does not engage learners’ (Shin et al, 2011 p.255).


Researchers (Alptekin 1993, Renner 1993) further agree that most current EFL textbooks focus on western features of culture. There are several reasons why course books focus primarily on either British or American culture. The most prominent being that it is challenging for authors who are predominantly American or British to construct materials that are void of their cultural influence resulting in most textbooks using a native-speaker model (Kachru, 1985). Furthermore, it appears to be cost-effective for publishers to continue modelling textbooks on predecessor versions (Alptekin, 1993, p.138). The expectation seems that learners should acquire English in its entirety in close mimicry of native speakership to be successful in social, educational and economic settings. The implication here is wholly on a conversation with native speakers. The task of the EL teacher is to thus familiarise students with various aspects of the target culture, in most cases at the expense of their source culture for the learners to be successful in their language acquisition. The result is in most L2 classrooms, language study has become an active incorporation of foreign attitudes and values that in most cases are in direct contrast to their native norms. It is crucial therefore for EIL and ELF authors to be aware that textbooks must satisfy the needs of the learners and teachers and not purely conform to the expectations of stakeholders and the demand of the market. Furthering this, Garton & Graves, 2014 assert that teacher’s insights and learner’s attitudes towards the use of materials must be factors considered by publishers.

In Western authored and published books, culture is normally placed under a section labelled as ‘Culture Corner’ (Garton & Graves, 2014, p.6). Questions pupils are asked relating to their culture in course books such as this leave them feeling dissatisfied with their own context in most cases. This is because these course books present the Western world unrealistically as a place filled with opportunities to prosper – magnifying the idea of a celebrity lifestyle as a reality for most of the country which in fact is not the actual case. There is no balance with typical family backgrounds but rather an over-representation of affluence.

The local culture in most cases is then misrepresented and perceived as undesirable by the learners. Producing local textbooks that do not reflect local contexts, seems like a missed opportunity to promote positive attitudes towards both local culture and English (Garton & Graves, 2014).  Course books instead continuously make assumptions about the diverse needs of learners. They do not in most cases reflect the reality of the lives of the learners. Coursebooks further do not relate to the intended learners nor anything they would naturally say in their social set ups. For example, celebrations such as Halloween for learners in Zimbabwe depict norms that are taboo in their culture. It would be unusual to find learners discussing what ghost or mermaid costume to wear for Halloween as both entities are either gravely feared or held in high regard. Material found in ELT coursebooks in cases such as these, present an unreal reality for the learners.

Materials should instead be taking an aware raising approach to language, culture and the realities of learners. Learner’s cultures and experiences, need to be validated within the teaching materials and instructional practices used. Furthermore, by localizing content (positively and realistically) course books can enable learners to write about their own experiences, concerns and principles through English. Books must enable learners to express their realities to be useful and relevant to them which clearly is a mammoth task as publishers have set rules from various stakeholders that guide them. For example, in Zimbabwe a course book portraying same-sex relationships or marriages (a topical issue in Zimbabwe) would never make into the curriculum although they may be learners who can relate and identify with an issue such as this.

In contrast, however, in a study conducted at state schools in Greece, English Language teachers it was discovered believed that their job was to teach Standard English (inner circle English) even though they were aware of the rise of World Englishes (Sifakis & Sougari as cited in Mishan & Timmis 2015, p.38). The same setup is present in my teaching context. The stakeholders in the seven schools I have worked in – school administration, parents, and learners themselves advocate for learners to be taught Standard British English as it has been impressed upon them as the yardstick for success over many decades since colonialism. Textbooks publishers in Zimbabwe thus develop materials that are modelled on British course books in both structure and content to satisfy the consumers need. The current dominating English Language textbook in Zimbabwean Government High Schools was written by Shimmer Chinodya (1992) and was modelled upon a predecessor Western text. Ironically it is also titled Step Ahead after the book it is modelled upon. The Zimbabwean ideal is thus for learners to acquire native speaker proficiency and pronunciation to be qualified as successful. This has been at the detriment of the native language and culture as learners adopt British and, in some instances, American norms that they absorb from the various teaching materials (course books, videos) used in instruction. The consequence of this as learners age is a crisis of self-identity.

Most of the English Language textbooks on the market represent culture in a non-holistic manner (Kramsh as cited in Mishan & Timmis 2015, p.70). Often, one or few cultures are represented at the detriment of other cultures that may be essential in the acquiring of English as an L2. Learners may need to converse with people beyond their immediate context, thus a coursebook filled with elements of their own culture, void of the target culture or other cultures of other English Language learners and speakers across the globe may not be beneficial to them in their future personal and professional development. Majdzadeh’s 2002 research on Iranian texts imbued with solely Iranian culture and religion advances the preceding opinion as texts that were filled with the Iranian learner’s culture did not promote intercultural and target language competence in the learner’s instruction, as was discovered.

Various scholars (Majdzadeh 2002, Victor 1999) believe that there is room for a middle ground in which target culture material, international material and source culture material are incorporated into the ELT teaching materials for use in the language classroom. Localising textbooks and integrating target and global cultures as stated by Cortazzi & Jin 1999, can facilitate ‘learners intercultural competence’ As the content of instructional materials impacts and influences learner’s attitudes and dispositions towards themselves, other people and society, course books should therefore aim to incorporate learner’s diverse racial and cultural backgrounds and empower them to identify different voices and perspectives (Ndura as cited in Shin et al. 2011, p.253). The design and content of English-language teaching textbooks should reflect the multiple perspectives inherent in English as an International language empowering learners to identify with different voices and perspectives. It is clearly more beneficial for teachers to use materials that expose students to diverse global cultures in the L2 classroom.

Conclusively, language it appears cannot be taught in isolation from its culture of use and culture of origin. The diversities in the cultures of L2 learners pose immense difficulties in the development of materials that cater across all cultures globally. However, Mishan & Timmis (2015) believe that ultimately context relevant choices concerning cultural materials must be developed which focus on the requirements of the learners. Culture should not as Harwood (2014) emphasises be ‘regarded as an optional extra in a textbook syllabus’ but as a founding block to the development of suitable material for instruction.

Part Two:

Language, as has been seen above, cannot work independently from culture as language inherently draws meaning from culture. In the Zimbabwean educational context, English Language teachers are dependent on their chosen ELT textbook as the primary source of material for learner’s instruction. The textbook is considered the principal teaching and learning resource. One reason for the dependence on the textbook could be that teachers do not have enough time to prepare their own material due to large numbers of students in classes teamed with heavy loads of teaching per week thus, using the recommended textbook lightens up the work.

Furthermore, in most schools the use of modern technology is not probable. Schools in many rural areas lack basic features such as blackboards, the idea of computers to aid material alteration, therefore, becomes ludicrous. In the urban areas, schools rarely have computers in every classroom and in the schools, that are fortunate to have computers they are stored in the computer room or class. In both cases, the teacher’s accessibility to computers is restricted. Additionally, pupils in Zimbabwe tend to rely heavily on the textbooks used for instruction. Learners view the textbook as a resource they can hold in their hands that gives them a ‘concrete sense of clarity, direction and progress’ (Woodward 2001, p.146). The importance of the textbook for the English Language teacher and learner in Zimbabwe is thus clear.

Seeing as learning materials play a pivotal role in the classroom instruction in Secondary Schools in Zimbabwe it is of paramount importance that the information contained within the teaching material (primarily the textbook in this case) work towards the teachers and learner’s goals. Texts that have been chosen into a textbook by authors of EIL and ELF materials should therefore reflect a more holistic picture of the attitudes and values not only of the dominant culture but the source, target and international community. Well-designed EIL materials should allow for improvisation and adaptation by the teacher to suit their learner needs and context. This will enable the teacher to act as a ‘cultural mediator’ encouraging learners to delve into the values and norms that they embody and use these reflections to relate to other cultures (Shin et al, 2011.)

However, in ELT textbooks as has been researched over the years by various scholars (Alptekin 1993, Renner 1993), materials are dominated by American and British cultures and values rather than globally oriented materials as advocated for by Nault (2006). This can hinder learner’s motivation and progress as certain scenarios and unfamiliar contexts do not help them to relate to the content and create comprehension issues. Clearly a textbook intended for foreign language teaching as the most important source for obtaining information and knowledge must cater to the learner’s context for learning and assimilation of the language to occur.

Emphasis is placed on English proficiency in Zimbabwe with learners aspiring to acquire native speakership. Learners successfully imitate and acquire over time the same pronunciation and at times pitch as the target culture and consequently lose most links with their culture. Reflecting on my experience as an L2 learner, English language materials encountered within and beyond the classroom played a pivotal role in learning. Learning materials implemented in the Zimbabwean syllabus have had results in the creation of learners that wholly conform to native speaker norms.as prescribed by the materials used for instruction. In worst cases, Zimbabwean learners sound American or British whilst speaking their native language!


For Richards, (2007) the teacher’s choice of a textbook signals a major educational decision since a textbook will define, to a significant extent, what the teacher will teach, how they will teach and even what students will learn. As I worked on this assignment I have discovered that no textbook is perfect, and it is impossible for a single textbook to cater for the diverse needs of learners, the aims of the syllabus, the context were the instruction takes place and many other variables. A textbook or ELT teaching materials will have to be a compromise between what the teacher needs, what learners need and what is available. At present, the EL teacher will have to adapt available teaching materials to suit their context and learner. Books will need to be mediated by the teacher to match the learners.  Bosompem (2014), identifies how teachers can adapt ELT materials. This can be done by addition, modification, replacement, and deletion. The task therefore is on the teacher to focus on the direct needs of their learners and ensure that materials available to them will cater to this by adapting them as is necessary.


It is imperative that a teacher match their teaching approach to the context (Gill 2000), in the same manner, ELT materials need to match the context in which they are being used particularly culturally. It is an impossible task to separate language and culture as both seem intricately interwoven in functioning to support and enhance language teaching. English is a social language and through culture which is ground in aspects of people’s social lives the two correlate.







  1. Alptekin, C. (2002). Towards intercultural communicative competence in ELT. ELT Journal, 56(1), 57-64.
  2. Alptekin, C. (1993). Target-language culture in ELF materials. ELT Journal, 47(2), 136-143.
  3. Dornyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2009). Motivation. Language identity and the L2 self. Bristol, UK: Channel View Publications.
  4. Garton, S., & Graves, K. (2014) International Perspectives on Materials in ELT. Palgrave Macmillan.
  5. Genc, B., & Bada, E. (2005). Culture in Language Learning and Teaching. The Reading Matrix, 5(1), 73-84.
  6. McConachy, T. (2008). Addressing textbook representations of pragmatics and culture. ELT Journal, 63(2), 1-8.
  7. Mishan, F., & Timmis, I. (2015). Materials Development for TESOL. Edinburg University Press Ltd.
  8. Shin, J., Eslami Z R., & Chen, W. (2011). Presentation of local and international culture in current international English-language teaching textbooks. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 24(3), 253-268.

English through comic strips: a report of how Brazilian fifth graders appropriated an additional language


                                                                                                     * Andre Trindade Fonseca
                                                                                                      * Pedro Francisco Reis




This article reports the experience in a fifth-grade group of how comic strips can be used as a means of teaching English as an additional language. These students, from 10 up to 13 years old, did not have English as a regular basis subject and they had a very low proficiency level in the language. The project was developed throughout seven classes (21 hours) taught as a part of the English teaching practicum discipline from the Linguistics course in a Brazilian university, situated southern Brazil. Student-teachers worked in a process of co-teaching where class preparation and teaching were performed in pair during the entire process, with the supervision of one of the Professors of the discipline. The main objective is to portray how important it is to have a text genre predefined and how, no matter how simple this genre may appear to be, it will definitely increase the chances of language appropriateness from students. In addition to that, we wanted to make sure students would be able to read and even write in English by the end of the project, being active subjects along the process.


Keywords: comic strips; teaching practicum; additional language.




The English teaching practicum is a mandatory discipline for Languages (Linguistics and Literature) undergraduate students in Brazilian universities. It consists of theoretical lessons held in the university campus and teaching practice performed by undergraduate students in regular schools. The schools where college students are welcomed are commonly public and, usually, they are located in the surroundings of the university. Besides being a way of Languages students practicing their knowledge outside the university boundaries, it is a way to be inserted in the educational community. It is positive both to the undergraduate students, who will learn the daily tasks of a regular teacher; and the school students, who will have a different experience in class.

The student-teachers are undergraduate students from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), a public university located southern Brazil. The university has been recently ranked as the best university in Brazil and undergraduate students are easily accepted in most public schools for their teaching practicum. Undergraduate students use a recommendation letter provided by the university, signed by the supervisor Professor and they perform their practicum along the term they are taking the discipline. Professors observe student-teachers classes as a way to evaluate their performance in classroom and report feedbacks to improve their pedagogical skills.

This school was chosen by the student-teachers taking into consideration some relevant aspects: a) school location; b) indication from other undergraduate classmates who had done their practice there; c) regent teacher’s willingness to accept the practicum project.

Once the regent teacher analized the practicum project, student-teachers would observe a minimum of 10 hour classes and later they would be the English teachers every Tuesday from 8am up to 10:10am for the next seven classes. School students knew they were part of a practicum project and they showed excitement to have English as a subject since it is only a mandatory subject in Brazilian elementary schools from sixth grade on.

The main idea of the project was to use comic strips as a text genre in order to have students learn English. Having this predefined text genre was a key point to our practicum: it would be clearer for us as student-teachers and for the students to follow a guideline with a beginning and an end. As stated by the Curricular Referencials (2009), a guidance document for the curriculum and teaching practices of public schools in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil:

Having structuring textual genres and different uses of the language in mind, within this thematic, we selected authentic material (written, audio and video), that is, texts created with determined social purposes focusing on the language people use. Such choice must take into account ideological and cultural values present in the text and also students’ previous knowledge. These criteria are fundamental to give students a positive experience with the text. (p. 161)


We had defined how the seven classes would be, based on the main text genre chosen; and students knew they would have a final product to present: create their own comic strips in English.


      Project Development


We started our practicum with quite an ambitious project: having kids who had little or no experience with English learn to read, understand and maybe even write comic strips by the end of our journey. Our first option would be to work with comic books, but as a suggestion of our supervisor Professor, working with comic strips with kids who did not have a wide range of English vocabulary would be more suitable, considering we would have limited hours to work with them.

As a way of making it even more familiar for the kids, we used the comic strips from a Brazilian series of comic books officially translated into English. Turma da Mônica or Monica’s Gang in English is a famous series of comic books created in 1959 by cartoonist Mauricio de Sousa and it is extremely popular among Brazilian readers. By the late 1990s, Monica’s Gang (also Monica and Friends in the U.S.A.), which tells the story of a seven-year-old girl named Monica and her family and friends, started being published in other languages, including English. This would mean considerably to our project once it is a Brazilian text with a Brazilian background (types of family, school, kids’ games and plays) that would be easily recognized by the students but officially translated into English.      Though the comic book/strips are widely known in Brazil, we could not take for granted our students had read or even knew what they were about to study for the next classes. Thus, we decided to start by contextualizing all topics that would be seen by the next classes: the structure of a comic strip, the general idea of balloons, types of dialogues, the main characters and the history of the series. Letting students contextualized would be fundamental to the progress of the project.

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Figure 1. Monica’s Gang English version


Figure 2. Monica’s Gang main characters


      The Group


The students’ age ranged from 10 up to 13 years old in a fifth-grade group of a Public State School in Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in Brazil. Students were already literate in Portuguese and had few or no knowledge of English. Even though they did not have a formal knowledge of English, most of the students were acquainted with the language due to movies, music and mainly YouTube channels. The group had a regent primary teacher and she would be responsible for teaching all of the subjects apart from physical education. She was welcoming and willing to help. She understood the Practicum would be an import step for both of us and she built a nice environment so we could feel free to create and teach and, at the same time, be supported by her pedagogical experience.

In the first class, we presented the project, so students knew from the very beginning they would be working with comic strips and that they would also have to do a final task by the end of that period. The small group consisted of 8 boys and 6 girls, and different social economic classes. They were a united group and they were very committed to the work of their regular teacher. The classroom seemed to be a safe and funny educational environment. It is important to highlight that this is not the regular picture of a public school in Brazil. Most of the groups have over 25 students and the physical structure of the classroom and even the school is not always that organized and functional to receive their students.

The majority of the students claimed they had contact with English through the internet, online videos, video games and most of them had had practicum English teachers in the past. Nevertheless, none of the students would take English in free language courses or with private tutors. Therefore, their formal knowledge of English was quite limited. Since they did not have English in their regular basis curriculum, there was no textbook so we could base our classes on.


      The Classes


The classes happened every Tuesday for seven weeks from October to December 2017. Our main objective was to give students the proper tools so they could read, understand and possibly write comic strips in English. Through that, we wanted our students to grow their additional language appropriateness.

In the first class, we explained our project to the students and we started a discussion about comic books and shortly after, comic strips. Most of the students were already readers of this text genre and some of them were assiduous readers of “Monica’s Gang” in Portuguese. They did not know the series had been translated into English and even other languages such as Spanish. Students would only use English in YouTube videos and video games. After the discussion, we first introduced the text genre in Portuguese. To our surprise, we were told that students who had been studying in the school for longer had already studied the same genre, in Portuguese, when in third grade. Using their own knowledge, we checked the different types of comics (books and strips), how the balloons used to express sayings differed, the visual appeal this text genre requires and the examples of onomatopoeias. As students had a previous knowledge about that, it was not difficult for them to perform the tasks proposed. In fact, all of that suited as a review, since they were acquainted with the genre already.

From the second class on, we started talking specifically about the material which would be our support until the end of the project: Monica’s Gang. Using a brief text telling the history of the series of Comic Books and its creator, Mauricio de Sousa, we introduced the topic. Later on, students were supposed to match the main characters (with their name translated into English) and their general characteristics. Students got very excited to know most of their characters had to have their names translated in order to facilitate understanding of readers from other countries.


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Figures 3 and 4.“Let’s get to know the gang” activity used in the second and third classes.


Then, we gave students some Monica’s Gang comic strips in Portuguese. As a first task, in pairs, they were supposed to explain what was happening in the strips. They performed that task in Portuguese and we wanted them to infer some hidden elements in comic strips such as irony and sarcasm. We also wanted students to notice there would not necessarily be texts/dialogues so the images would be fundamental.


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                   Figure 5. Example of Comic Strip in Portuguese.

On the previous week before the third class, we realized the next class would take place on October, 31st. As students realized it would be Halloween, they suggested we had a theme class, so we made some changes in our original class plan. That was not planned in our schedule, but we thought it would be extremely important to accept students call. We then asked students to prepare costumes and bring candies for the following week. On our third class, instead of working with regular comic strips, we adapted our class plan and used the history of Halloween as a contextualization text and Halloween comic strips. In the comic Strips, students had to complete the dialogues using the vocabulary provided (see images 6,7 and 8). We also introduced students the trick or treating culture and the whole group played some Halloween games. Another important fact is that the kids decorated their classroom using Halloween motives. Even though that was not part of our original plan, we decided to add that to our class, once we believe that language classes should not only take into consideration the linguistic aspects of the language only but also its cultural aspects, since that is a reflection of language in use. As Sarmento (2001) says “Teachers could work with the objective of familiarizing students with the differences between different cultures and raising awareness to the consequences such differences can bring to communication among people from different linguistic communities.” (p.22)


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Figure 6. Halloween vocabulary activity Figure 7. The history of Halloween
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                               Figure 8. Example of Halloween comic strip


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Figure 9. Halloween decoration and students wearing Halloween Costumes

On our fourth class, we prepared reading tasks to challenge students to read comic strips in English. We selected comic strips, deleted the lines inside the balloons and put them above the strips in a random order. For each of the comic strips, we pre-taught key vocabulary, and we, then, asked students to sit in pairs, discuss their interpretations of the comic strips, and to write the lines in their appropriate space. Our goal with this task was to induce students to connect written word to the visual aspects in the strip, reinforcing reading as an ability that is not contained solely in the words in a text but in everything that surrounds it. We also asked students for a home task to be presented in the next class. They would have to rifle through newspapers to cut comic strips and bring them to the following class. Again, our goal was to familiarize them to a space in which comic strips can be found, so they could visualize a comic strip in the “real world” and not only in the classroom.

The fifth class began with the homework presentation. Students showed the comic strips they had selected from the newspaper to the rest of the group. They read them to the group and we discussed elements that belong to the genre, some that had been introduced in the previous classes and other that had not been introduced yet. That served so students could see that many of the comic strips elements and characteristics that had been taught in the previous classes were not only present in the texts selected by the student-teachers but also in texts they could easily find in newspapers, for instance. By being asked to find the strips in the newspaper they are invited to use their reading skills to identify its parts and features in order to locate them. By locating the strips inside the paper, they are faced with the fact that those are texts that exist in real-life contexts and, again, not only in the texts selected by the student-teachers. Hence, it showed them comic strips as an authentic material. As a follow up to the homework presentation, another reading activity was conducted in class. Students read a small set of comic strips and they should point out what they thought was funny and what they thought was important to each strip. They should later compare their views to a classmate’s view.

In this class, student-teachers also reminded students of the final product of our project. As a final production, students were divided into pairs or trios. Each group would be responsible for coming up with the story, characters, setting and drawing of their own comic strips. Our final product was thought as a production that gave students the possibility to use the new skills they had acquired about comic strips and also to give them a sense of authorship. By allowing students to idealize and produce their own material, we wanted to raise their appropriateness of the English language.

The sixth class was designed to be a workshop so students could do their final task project: create their own comic strip. In order to that and have students creating actually in English and not only asking teachers to translate their Portuguese sentences, we decided to work on classroom language. We taught them a set of questions and simple sentences so they could use English as much as possible (see figure 10). That worked pretty well because students got really engaged in creating something truly in English. It was not easy considering students would be speaking in Portuguese among themselves, but as tutors, we would constantly reinforce and recommend the use of English when possible.

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Figure 10. Example of classroom language for the comic strip workshop.

We also had a good surprise in our sixth class. Noticing students would not be able to perform their task in the English class, the regent teacher of the group, who observed and participated passively in all classes, suggested students finish their drawings during their art class. That was fundamental because she understood students would not finish their final project in time. Also, it was a positive example of interdisciplinarity we were not expecting in our practicum. That made students realize a task is never done depending on one subject only. Even though we focused on the linguistics aspects, a comic book/strip has its artistic side and they both complement each other: text and images.

The seventh and the last class comprehended the finalization of students’ final project. They solved their last doubts and we collected their productions in order to exhibit them in the hallway of the school. They were proud of themselves to see they were able to produce some authentic material in English. We, as student-teachers, were also very proud to see we could get to the end of our practicum with our final project completed.




Teaching an additional language in public primary schools in developing countries is a constant battle: most of the times students do not see the purpose of learning that language. Yet, it is a very fulfilling task when, by the end of seven weeks, apart from personal issues Brazilian students may have, they see English as part of their lives.

We do not believe that a teacher’s practices should expand the gap between knowledge and student, positioning both the figure of the teacher and what is taught distant from the pupils. We understand this gap exists in several educational spaces and we believe that practices that lead learners to create in a freer path also increase their awareness that they can circle in different environments, have different experiences and acquire different teachings. By using a text genre kids could see themselves on it, by going step by step respecting students’ own pace and by allowing them to set their mind free so they could be the authors of their own stories, we strongly believe we succeeded on that.

We had some flaws that were extremely important to not forget teachers should be constantly working on their class projects and looking deeper inside their classroom. The final project for us seemed to be very simple but, for those young kids who were on their way to appropriate an additional language was not. We should have given them more time to think about their final task and perform in no rush. However, considering this is a learning environment for us, student-teachers; small details like those will be certainly taken into consideration throughout our teaching career.

This article shows teaching an additional language takes a lot of steps and each of them had its importance in order to get to our final goal: students were able to write and express their feelings in English. We hope those fifth graders will move on, eventually graduate and have their own careers but we also do hope they will not forget they can be part of an English speaking community.




Sarmento, S. (2001) O ensino de cultura na sala de aula de língua estrangeira: o discurso e a prática do professor. Porto Alegre: UFRGS, 107p.

Rio Grande do Sul, Referencial Curricular, volume I, Língua Estrangeira Moderna. 2009.



(Andre Fonseca is a Languages undergraduate student at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). He has worked as an English teacher for over 10 years. He worked at the Languages without Borders program for two years and currently he teaches English for students who are over 50 years old in an English course in Porto Alegre, Brazil.)


(Pedro Reis is a Languages undergraduate student at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). He worked as an English teacher in Istanbul, Turkey. He worked at the Languages without Borders program for two years and currently he teaches English for students who are over 50 years old in an English course in Porto Alegre, Brazil.)

Analysing Teacher Feedback: Types of Feedback and the Effects on Students’ Learning


                                                                                                        *  Alexandra Pang




The role of the teacher in the language classroom is seen to be one that has a large influence on learners. Hence, much research that focuses on the language used by the teacher to guide students to learn has been done. This paper examines how teacher talk is used as scaffolding to help learners develop within their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), in particular the use of the Initiation-Response-Feedback (IRF) pattern and reformulations and their effectiveness in helping students’ language development. References will be made to a transcript from a segment of a teacher’s lesson to determine if the teacher had been able to successfully provide the scaffold through these two methods for the learners to work within their ZPD.


Keywords: Teacher talk, Initiation-Response-Feedback, Zone of Proximal Development




The role of the teacher in the language classroom is seen to be one that has a large influence on learners. Hence, much research that focuses on the language used by the teacher to guide students to learn has been done. There have been many areas which academics have looked into. However, the focus of this assignment will be on how teacher talk is used as scaffolding to help learners develop within their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), in particular, the use of the Initiation-Response-Feedback (IRF) pattern and reformulations and their effectiveness. Examples will be drawn from a transcript of a teacher’s lesson and analysed to determine if the teacher had been able to successfully provide the scaffold through these two methods for the learners to work within their ZPD.




Vygotsky’s theory of ZPD has shaped the way teachers view students’ learning. ZPD is defined as:


“the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development as determined throughproblem-solvingg under   adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p.86)


This means that the potential for a student to be able to learn something is aided either by an adult or through working together with peers. This is particularly important for teachers to know as they provide the “adult guidance” in the classroom context, and knowing and understanding about ZPD can impact the way the teacher helps to extend the students’ learning.


Guidance by the teacher can come in many forms, with scaffolding being one of the method teachers can use. Scaffolding is defined as “the temporary assistance by which a teacher helps a learner know how to do something, so that the learner will be able to complete a similar task alone” (Gibbons, 2002, p.10). Sharpe (2008) highlights that scaffolding is considered as such only if it enables the student to complete the task which cannot be done without any support (p.134). As Wells (1992) explains, it is insufficient to create the activity and leave students to discover the result for themselves. The teacher needs to provide support in a way that aids the students’ development such that they are able to form new connections, among other things (p.48). Therefore, it can be said that scaffolding via teacher talk is extremely important, since the teacher is working to help develop students within their ZPD.


It is important to note that scaffolding is done collaboratively between the teacher and the student through a dialogue that ultimately results in the student being able to complete a cognitively challenging task independently (Mercer, 1995, p.73). Thus, the types of utterances made by the teacher while providing the scaffold for the student is important, and the implications this has on language learning need to be taken into account. Should the teacher’s response to a student’s answer be evaluative rather than encouraging, Hall & Walsh (2002) discovered that this reduced student participation (p.191). This is not ideal in a language classroom, since output is required by learners to gain greater mastery of the language. As Swain (2000) discusses, “output pushes learners to process language more deeply” (p.99). Hence, it is crucial that the teacher plans the scaffolding talk ahead of time, so as to maximise classroom interaction time, and increase the opportunities students have to make new connections, assisting their development of the target language (Gibbons, 2002, p.38).


The way in which the teacher provides that scaffolding is as important as providing the scaffolding itself, which can take the form of questions or recasting, though it is not limited to these two types.


Use of the IRF pattern


Teachers typically use the IRF pattern in the classroom and the initiation typically takes the form of questions, and is mostly display questions (Boyd & Rubin, 2006, p.143).


In Long & Sato’s 1984 study, they presented a revised taxonomy of teacher questions and found that teachers use of display questions in the language classroom was not reflective of the reality of how native speakers communicate outside the classroom (Long & Sato as cited by Ellis, 2012, p.122-123), which might hamper students’ ability to cope with other question types outside of the classroom. Moreover, Ellis (2012) shared that display questions tend to result in shorter output by students as opposed to referential questions — though not always the case, thus possibly affecting L2 acquisition as opportunities for production is reduced (p.123).


Hence, the types of questions asked is extremely important. Gibbons (2002) stressed the importance of teachers finding “a balance between straight “display” questions and those that allow learners to negotiate what they want to say” (p.37). That is not to say that display questions have no place in the classroom; rather, the teacher has to be aware of its function and use such moves judiciously so as to ensure that students are able to further their understanding. This might even result in more effective language production (Cullen, 1998, p.185).


Despite the limitations of IRF — since it mainly utilises display questions, and can be ultimately detrimental to students’ ability to learn (Sharpe, 2008, p.138) — Sharpe (2001) and Ellis (2012) discussed how extending the feedback part can be used to help students acquire new knowledge and work within their ZPD. Hence, the feedback part of the IRF pattern is also important and contributes towards students’ learning.


Use of Reformulations

Reformulation is another form of teacher talk but is a follow-up move used by the teacher in response to a student’s answer. It is the paraphrasing of a student’s answer by the teacher into a form that is suitable for the theme of the lesson (Mercer, 2000, p.54). The purpose of which is to ensure that all the students in the class are able to understand and make the necessary connections between old and new information being presented to them (Mercer, 2000, p.71).


Despite the fact that “corrective reformulation” also known as “recasting” is seen as a “focus on form” method (Long & Robinson, 1998, p.25), McNeil (2012) acknowledges that it helps teachers to scaffold students’ learning (p.398). This can be attributed to the fact that it alerts students to their mistakes, thus allowing them to formulate new understandings, working within their ZPD (Ellis, 2012, p.136). Hence, “corrective feedback”, as Ellis (2012) calls it, is “most likely to assist acquisition” as argued by cognitive theorists, since feedback helps learners to “see how a particular linguistic form realises a particular meaning in context” (p.135).


Analysis of Transcript


In the transcript, the teacher asks many display questions while following the format of the IRF pattern, and reformulated students’ answers quite a few times.


Use of the IRF pattern


It is evident that the teacher does not deviate much from the IRF pattern when asking questions, though there is some modification made in the feedback part, which will be discussed later.


Some examples of display questions used by the teacher include ‘what’s this?’ in reference to a picture of a stick being shown in line 7, and ‘what is the carrot?’ in reference to the concept of the carrot being a reward in lines 71-72. As mentioned by Cullen (1998), the purpose of a display question is for students to “display their understanding or knowledge” (p.181). Hence, through using this method, the teacher is probably checking on the students’ vocabulary. The other example of a display question is different, as the teacher is asking the students to draw upon their prior knowledge about what the carrot represents. Both require students to have a conceptual understanding of the item, but the question about the carrot demanded that students associate it with an abstract concept, which the question asking students to name the stick did not need them to do at that point.


At the beginning of the transcript from lines 1-14, it can be seen that the teacher asks a series of display questions meant to establish the students’ knowledge of what they saw in the pictures. However, he does not continue to use questions to scaffold their learning. Instead, he allows the students to discuss what they think the connection might be between the three items he showed them. Through the discussion of the link between the carrot, stick, and horse, he is trying to activate the students’ schemata about the concepts that are probably found in the text. This pre-reading method helps students understand the text better (Ringler & Weber as cited by Ajideh, 2003, p.6), and is the “priming” stage of “deep scaffolding” (Brown & Broemmel, 2011, p.36). Hence, the scaffolding for the students to understand the text is done through pair discussion, and not through teacher talk. This method of scaffolding is still useful for the learners as pair discussion is based on the concept of learner-learner interaction where students are able to co-construct new meaning through discussion (Wells, 1999, p.148).


When eliciting answers, the teacher also does not attempt to interrupt or finish the students’ answer for them, despite S1 giving the incorrect answer, as seen in lines 25-35. In terms of giving the student the opportunity to produce output, the teacher has achieved this purpose. This aids learning as they are given the opportunity to form their answers and learning potential is not reduced (Walsh, 2002, p.16). Moreover, the more output the student produces, the better it is for language learning according to Swain’s output hypothesis (1985).


The way in which the teacher provides the feedback is noteworthy as it combines feedback together with either a repetition, a reformulation or another display question or all of the aforementioned and all in one turn. For example, the teacher says ‘stick it’s a stick yes what is it?’ in line 9. The word ‘stick’ is a repetition of the students’ answer, while ‘it’s a stick’ is a reformulation. The word ‘yes’ is feedback, and ‘what is it?’ can be seen as another display question as it requires students to display their knowledge of the word ‘stick’. This combining of “corrective feedback” seems to be something teachers do (Lyster & Ranta as cited by Ellis, 2012, p.139).


The teacher’s feedback can be broken into two categories: evaluative and back channelling.


The teacher uses typically evaluative words like ‘good’ and ‘excellent’, or what Waring (2008) terms “Explicit Positive Assessment (EPA)”, after a student gave a response, for example, in lines 34, 51 and 56. Waring suggested that EPA is being seen by students as a conclusion and non-inviting of any further talk since anything else would be “unnecessary and unwarranted” (p.589). It is interesting to note that, seemingly contrary to Waring’s conclusion, the students continue without further prompting from the teacher instead of stopping, despite the teacher using EPA. It could be that the students are used to such feedback from the teacher being indicative of them to continue rather than to stop. However, I cannot be sure from this transcript alone. However, had the students seen the EPA as evaluative and proceeded to stop, it would have been detrimental to their learning (Hall & Walsh, 2002, p.191), and likely would have hampered their language learning due to reduced output as argued by Swain (1985).


The other word which the teacher uses very frequently in the feedback position was ‘yes’. This does not seem like an evaluative feedback; instead, it seems to function more as back channelling as it seems similar to the word ‘yeah’ which Tolins & Tree (2014) describes as a generic back channel that the listener uses to show “the need to display understanding and continued attention to the speaker” (p.154). Through back channelling, the teacher makes it known that the students have the responsibility of producing output but he was able to acknowledge their answers in a non-intrusive manner. Through this form of encouragement, this obviously led to them producing more output as can be seen by the turns that follow, which is beneficial for their language learning, as described in Swain’s output hypothesis (1985).


The teacher also attempts to get S2 to explain through asking ‘why’ in line 59 as part of the feedback section in a move that Wells (1999) calls a “pivot” move (p.244), which results in the student having to explain and justify what was uttered. The teacher could then build upon what the student said, which is observed in the following turns from lines 60-72 between the teacher and S2. Therefore, it can be said that the teacher worked within S2’s ZPD in this instance. In particular, as Wells (1999) describes, this authentic interaction helps students master the different discourses necessary for becoming proficient in the language (p.244).


While the teacher did extend the feedback part of the IRF pattern through the pivot move as mentioned above, there was only one instance of this and it was directed at only one student. Therefore, what the teacher could have done differently was do this more frequently and with other students, since it can help other students gain new understanding through working within their ZPD (Sharpe, 2001; Ellis, 2012). Not only will it enable them to make new connections but they will also be able to produce more output, thus helping in their language learning (Swain, 1985).


Use of Reformulations


Another method the teacher can use to scaffold the students’ learning is through reformulating their answers as mentioned by McNeil (2012, p.398) so they become grammatically correct. The teacher does it in a manner that, although direct, is not disruptive of the flow of the students’ answer. For example, the teacher reformulated the student’s answer of ‘man hit horse’ uttered in line 47 to ‘the man hits the horse’ in line 49. Many of such reformulations appeared together with the feedback part of the IRF pattern — for example, ‘the man hits the horse yes yes’ — which signalled to the students to continue with their answer. Hence, the reformulations were not in tandem with repetition from the learners. Therefore, despite the evidence of scaffolding, the scaffolding was not successful and there was probably not as much learning as there could have been, as it was reported that non-repetitive reformulations were the least effective form of feedback (Havranek as cited by McDonough & Mackey, 2006, p.696). As such, the teacher should have indicated to the student to repeat his reformulation before allowing the student to continue so as to maximise learning within the ZPD.


Another instance of reformulation which could be improved upon to achieve maximum learning would be the part where the teacher pieced together S1’s answer into a coherent chunk as seen from lines 36-41. Instead of providing S1 with the opportunity to reformulate her answer, he does it for her, seemingly for the benefit of the class, to ensure that everyone is able to understand and make the same connections (Mercer, 2000, p.71). It could have been due to the negative response he got from them when he asked ‘did you get that? did you understand that?’ prior to his reformulation, but it is unclear from the transcript if this was actually the case. Regardless, the teacher could have still encouraged S1 to try to formulate her explanation again in a more complete and coherent form instead of doing it for her. It could be due to the fact that S1’s answer was not the correct one, hence he did not want to waste time. However, even when S2 gave the correct answer from lines 45, the teacher did not provide S2 with the opportunity to reformulate, choosing to move on to the schema of reward and punishment he was trying to activate instead. As such, the teacher did not seize the opportunity for S1 and S2 to further work within their ZPD and produce better output which would be beneficial for their language learning (Swain, 1985, p.249). Hence, even though the scaffolding was present due to the teacher’s reformulation, the scaffolding was not fully utilised by the teacher.




            Teacher talk has many aspects and functions, a lot of which is being done unconsciously, for example, using it to build rapport with students or as a tool to help students develop cognitively. However, the feedback which comes from the teacher can have a profound impact on students’ learning, or might even stifle their learning. Moreover, the type of feedback given is also important. As such, it is pertinent that teachers’ feedback be carefully construct in a manner that is most beneficial to the students.




















Appendix 1


1 T: today we’re going to do some reading (.) but before we do that I have one or two
2   questions for you (.) uh first question is (.) this is very easy I think (.) can anybody
3   tell me (.) what (.) this is (shows a picture of a horse) what’s that?
4 Ss: horse
5 T: horse yes what is it? it’s a?
6 Ss: horse
7 T: a horse (.) good it’s a horse (.) second question (.) what’s (.) this? (holds out a stick)
8 Ss: stick
9 T: stick it’s a stick yes what is it?
10 Ss: stick
11 T: a stick a stick (.) a horse (points to the horse) and a stick (.) third question (.) what do
12   you think (.) this is? (shows a small carrot and laughs)
13 Ss: carrot
14 T: carrot yes it’s a carrot isn’t it it’s a carrot (.) so we have (points to each item in turn)
15 Ss: horse (.) stick (.) carrot
16   right I would like you to turn to the person next to you and (.) see if you can find out
17   or see if you can suggest any connection between carrot stick horse (.) is there any
18   link any connection? uh why have I introduced these three things together? I’ll just
19   give you one minute for that (.) what’s the connection (.) please discuss
20   (Ss talk in pairs for one minute)
21 T: okay that should be enough (.) now (.) I wonder does anybody know can anybody tell
22   me the connection? any volunteers?
23   (S1 raises her hand)
24 T: okay yes please S1
25 S1: there is a race going on
26 T: yes
27 S1: and um (.) the stick (.) um carrot you (.) what do you (         ) you   [ tie it   ]
28 T: [carrot?] tie the carrot
29   [yes ]
30 S1: [yes ] and you hold it (gestures with her hands and laughs)
31 T: uhuh
32   (other Ss laugh)
33 S1: and the horse (.) (runs) faster
34 T: good
35 S1: to get the carrot
36 T: yes yes excellent well done (.) did you get that? do you understand that? tying a
37   carrot to the end of the stick (demonstrates) maybe with some string (.) hold the
38   carrot in front of the horse and the horse will run faster (.) why? to try to catch the
39   carrot (.) okay that’s a good idea (.) um (.) that’s a (.) that’s a carrot but uh and
40   you’re using the stick to hold the carrot (.) but can you think of another way of using
41   the stick? any other group any other ideas about the purpose of the stick?
42   (S1 raises her hand again)
43 T: ah you’ve had your turn S1 uh let’s have (nominates S2) can you tell me what’s what
44   can you use the stick for?
45 S2: um (laughs) the stick is for horse
46 T: horse for the horse yes
47 S2: man hit horse
48   (Ss laugh)
49 T: the man hits the horse (.) yes yes
50 S2: and (.) man gives the carrot (.) man gives the [carrot to horse]
51 T:                                                                                  [ yes                    ]   good good
52 S2: then then horse horse (          ) the carrot
53   (Ss laugh)
54 S2: horse will run fast get (.) eat carrot
55   (Ss laugh)
56 T: excellent
57 S2: go fast
58 T: oh yes I understand yes (.) so the horse wants the carrot (.) the horse runs fast to
59   catch the carrot (.) the man hits the horse with the stick (.) why?
60 S2: (laughs) uh they (.) uh (.) horse wants to eat carrot
61 T: the horse wants to eat the carrot
62 S2: so (runs) fast
63 T: so then then (.) so it runs fast (.) good excellent
64 S2: study
65 T: sorry?
66 S2: horse study
67 T: horse study?
68 S2: (learning) fast (laughs)
69 T: oh (.) yes the horse well the horse learns to run fast (.) very good S2 that’s excellent
70   (.) okay so we’ve got the point there we have (.) okay (.) we have uh (.) we have (.)
71   carrot and we have (.) stick okay (writes on the board) so what is the carrot? what is
72   the carrot?
73 Ss: food
74 T: it’s food yes but if we want to think of a word to describe the carrot (.) uh the carrot
75   is a?
76 S3: reward
77 T: ah again please
78 S3: reward
79 T: yes the carrot is a?
80 S4: vegetable
81   (Ss laugh)
82 T: (laughs) okay but for the horse it is a reward (writes on the board) and if we think
83   like that (.) the carrot is a reward but the stick is a?
84 Ss: punishment
85 T: a punishment that’s right (.) reward and (.) punishment (writes on the board)
86   reward and punishment (.) um (.) what’s this? (shows another picture) what do you
87   think that is? what’s that building?
88 Ss: a school
89 T: yes it’s a school it’s a school (.) okay it’s a school (.) I want us to think now about
90   rewards and punishment in (.) school (.) this is for the horse but now in the school
91   here are the children and I want you to think about rewards and punishments in
92   school (writes on the board) again just for (.) two or three minutes see if you can
93   think of some rewards and punishments that we find in school (.) off you go (.) in
94   English
95   (Ss talk in pairs for several minutes)







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