Research Bites Now Has Its Own Site!

Research Bites, a series I started on this blog in order to share concise and teacher-friendly summaries of ELT research, now has its own site: The new ELT Research Bites is a collaborative effort between myself, Mura Nava of EFL Notes, Clare Fielder, and others based on Twitter and around the ELT blogosphere.

While I will still be writing research-based posts on this website, (Is it time for a new name? Suggestions welcome!), posts dealing specifically with summarizing single articles of research will be found on ELT Research Bites. However, the Research Bites posts I have already made will remain on this site permanently.

I look forward to contributing to ELT Research Bites, reading work by other contributors, and sharing interesting research with all those interested in language and ELT!

Research Bites: A Pedagogical Approach to Note-Taking Instruction

Most teachers and students would agree that note-taking is an essential skill for academic success. Note-taking is so important that there is quite a bit of research on it in both L1 and L2 domains. While note-taking is considered to be a complicated process that requires the coordination of cognitive and physical abilities, it is even more complicated for taking notes in an L2, which adds in extra layers of difficulties. A number of coursebooks and teachers have been working to address this challenge. Yet, as Siegel argues below, few offer a systematic and scaffolded approach to learning note-taking. Often, the only instruction is “take notes”. The study below, by Joseph Siegel, offers one such approach and gives us insights into its effectiveness. Continue reading

Research Bites: Speech Perception, Speech Production, and Corrective Feedback

Among the numerous factors that influence pronunciation, many have argued that listening – in particular, listening discrimination, plays an important role.

Lee and Lyster (2016) explore this connect between how listening – namely, speech perception, influences speech production. This idea, known as the perception-first view, is well-supported by empirical studies, though it is not without some contention. Lee and Lyster in particular focus on speech perception training and its effect on phonological production (pronunciation). Reviewing a number of studies, the authors indicated that a common training element was corrective feedback. Their study presented below looks at the possible role corrective feedback (CF) may play in moving from accurate speech perception to accurate speech production.

Lee, A. H., & Lyster, R. (2016). Can corrective feedback on second language speech perception errors affect production accuracy?. Applied Psycholinguistics, 1-23. Retrieved from

They conducted their research with 100 Korean learners of English. They divided them into five groups, each of which underwent speech perception training for eight sessions during two weeks through specially designed software. The training included listening to various words that represented words with trouble vowels for Koreans: /i/–/ɪ/ and /ɛ/–/æ/. They were able to listen to each word as many times as they wanted and then they had to choose the word orally represented. For example, they heard /ʃɪp/ and had to choose between “ship” and “sheep”. Based on their answer and the group they were in, they received the following corrective feedback:

Target Group “No, s/he said ‘ship’.” Yes
Nontarget Group “No, not ‘sheep’.” Yes
Combination Group No, s/he said ‘ship’ not ‘sheep’.” Yes
Wrong Group Wrong Right
Control Group None None

The participants were audiorecorded three times (pre, post, delayed post). They had to produce sentences that included the trained words, as well as some untrained words. Analysis of these recordings was done using native English speakers and acoustic analysis software.

Lee and Lyster found the following:

  • Target Group:
    • Production accuracy was significantly higher for trained words at both the post- and delayed posttest;
    • Production accuracy for /ɛ/–/æ/ untrained words was higher at both posttests;
    • Production accuracy for /i/–/ɪ/ untrained words was higher for the immediate posttest only.
  • Nontarget Group:
    • No significant changes for /i/–/ɪ/
    • Production accuracy was higher for /ɛ/–/æ/ trained words at both postests
    • Production accuracy was higher for /i/–/ɪ/ and /ɛ/–/æ/ untrained words at the immediate posttest
  • Combination, Wrong, Control:
    • No significant changes

Overall, they reinforced the idea in the relationship between speech perception and speech production, but CF type was a major factor. They found that providing target feedback (which is akin to a ‘recast’) is more effective than providing negative feedback (which is akin to prompts). That is, giving the target form in response to incorrect perception was better than simply telling them which sound was wrong.

How does this influence improved speech production? The researchers noticed that both target and nontarget groups would verbally respond to CF by trying to produce the correct utterances. The target groups did this more often than the nontarget group, and the other three groups, by the nature of the CF type, did not engage in this behavior. Therefore, speech perception alone is important, but “opportunities for noticing, awareness, and practice, in addition to CF” might be necessary (p. 18).

Research Bites: The Cognitive Linguistic Approach to Teaching Phrasal Verbs


Over the past few days, I have been working my way through several articles on cognitive linguistics. In particular, I have been focusing on applied cognitive linguistics.and the way this discipline looks at phrasal verbs.  That is, how to take cognitive conceptualizations of phrasal verbs and apply those to instruction.

The basis for many applied cognitive linguistic approaches come from Lakoff and Johnson (1980), Tyler and Evans (2003), Kurtyka (2001), and Rudzka-Ostyn (2003). (Full disclosure: I have not read the former two references.)


Cognitive linguists argue that phrasal verbs are not as arbitrary as they might seem. Instead, they are grounded in perceptual experience, from which their metaphorical meanings extend. One common conceptualization of phrasal verbs is as interaction with a container (Kurtyka). For example, in the sentence “Please throw out some ideas,” the container is the place in which ideas are held (i.e. the mind). Out represents the movement from the inside of the container to the outsider. Throw also has an important role in establishing meaning, as it represents the manner by which the ideas leave the container. Together, they build semantic meaning that is quite clearly cognitively represented (Mahpeykar and Tyler, 2014). Most, if not all phrasal verbs can be described using a container. This container can be visualized as a simple box container, a mouth, a body, an area, etc.


Container conceptualizations of (7)a. Peter got on the bus. (8)a. Mother sent the boy out to buy something to eat. (9)a. After years of discipline and hard work he turned into a capable manager. (Kurtyka, 2001, p. 40).

Another way to conceptualize phrasal verbs is by thinking of them in terms of a landmark (LM) and trajector (TR). For example, in the sentence “He turned into a good student.”, “He” is the trajector, “good student” is the landmark, and this relationship is defined in terms of the phrasal verb turn into. Due to the abstract nature of the LM-TR conceptualization, the container metaphor seems to be much more common in the literature.

White (2012) looked at much of the previous research on cognitive linguistic approaches to phrasal verbs and designed an instructional approach, which they then tested in an EAP classroom. The following summary looks at the approach, the experiment, and the findings.

White, B. J. (2012). A conceptual approach to the instruction of phrasal verbs. The Modern Language Journal, 96(3), 419-438.

White reviews a number of articles on cognitive linguistics and phrasal verbs, basing their approach on a synthesis of ideas and focusing on the container, which they call “zone of activity”. White presents 5 stages of phrasal verb instruction, all grounded in previous research and theories. They argue that this approach enables “deeper encoding and longer retention” (p. 425).

  1. Orientation – This stage is meant to reorient students to phrasal verbs, teaching them that they are now random but rather meaning is formed through interaction between the verb and particle. This interaction occurs in the container, or what White refers to as a “zone of activity.”Using the sentence “Throw out the trash,” White explains that “The zone of activity in (3) can be interpreted as immediately surrounding the person holding the trash (i.e., the trashcan is outside of the zone)” (p. 423). In the more metaphorical sentence, “Now that my father is getting older, he put
    up his golf clubs,” White says “the clubs begin in the zone of activity because the father presumably played golf on a regular basis. They are then placed out of the zone; in a metaphorical sense, they are put up on an out-of-reach shelf” (p. 423).
  2. Collection – This stage requires students to “hunt” for phrasal verbs in various sources, building up a collection for analysis.
  3. Meaning Discussion – The third stage requires the creation of an “exploration worksheet” based on phrasal verbs in context selected from the student collection. Students discuss the meaning and then the teacher gives feedback and appropriate definitions of the verbs.
  4. Drawing – Students choose phrasal verbs to draw, incorporating the zone of activity/container imagery in order to explain how phrasal verbs are represented.
  5. Sharing – Finally, students share their drawings, explaining their representations of the phrasal verbs. White writes that this approach places emphasis on inferring meaning from figurative language rather than simple memorization
Author illustrations of phrasal verbs which include a zone of activity. (White, 2012, p. 424)

Author illustrations of phrasal verbs which include a zone of activity. (White, 2012, p. 424)

The Study

This instructional approach was tested in two university-level EAP courses taught by two different instructors. These courses had a combined population of 30 students. Students were given pre- and post- dialogue-based instructional tasks consisting of phrasal verbs with up, out, through, off, down, and in. For these tasks, students were required to explain the meaning of underlined phrasal verbs. A subsection of these tasks recycled up and out phrasal verbs in both the pre- and post- tasks and thus became pre- and posttests. The study was conducted over 7 weeks. Each week, students work through the 5 stages outlined above. Each exploration worksheet consisted of 4 phrasal verbs. Student feedback was also collected.

Results, Discussion, Adaptation

The average increase for all from pre- to post-task for all phrasal verbs was not significant. However, for the pre- and posttest up and out phrasal verbs, the increase was significant with a “modest” gain in scores (p. 429). Fourteen students improved, two remained the same, and six students’ scores fell. The analysis found examples of post-task explanations incorporating the new perspective and zones of activity, even if they did not lead to correct answers.

The author recommends adapting this approach by giving more conceptual information, focusing more on the particles, and giving more feedback on drawings – especially regarding the zone of activity. This can also be extended to not just phrasal verbs but prepositions in general (see Tyler, Mueller, and Ho, 2011).


As the author admits, this is not a “silver bullet” to learning phrasal verbs (p. 430). However, building mental models of representation in order to understand figurative language such as phrasal verbs is based on grounded cognitive linguistics theory. The challenge is to find instructional approaches that make these models salient to students while improving their ability to inference, hopefully in real-time. The research is relatively new in this area and it is hoped that more work is done to help find ways to better learn English’s complicated phrasal verb system.



Kurtyka, A. (2001). Teaching English phrasal verbs: A cognitive approach. In M. Putz, S. Niemeir, & R. Dirven (Eds). Applied Cognitive Linguistics II: Language Pedagogy (pp. 29-54). Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago/ London : University of Chicago Press

Mahpeykar, N., & Tyler, A. (2015). A principled cognitive linguistics account of English phrasal verbs with up and out. Language and Cognition, 7(01), 1-35.

Rudzka-Ostyn, B . (2003). Word power: Phrasal verbs and compounds (a cognitive approach). Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Tyler, A., & Evans, V. ( 2003 ). The semantics of English prepositions: spatial scenes, embodied meaning and cognition. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press .

Tyler, A., Mueller, C., & Ho, V. (2011). Applying cognitive linguistics to learning the semantics of English to, for and at: An experimental investigation. Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 8, 181-205.


Research Bites: Implications from Research on Writing from Reading

Grabe, W., & Zhang, C. (2013). Reading and writing together: A critical component of English for academic purposes teaching and learning. TESOL Journal, 4(1), 9-24.

That integrating reading and writing is an essential academic skill has been well-documented (and well-discussed on my blog). Grabe and Zhang (2013) explore the research on reading/writing integration and derive a number of important pedagogical implications all EAP and ESL writing instructors should be aware of.

Integrating reading and writing is a skill that is difficult for native English speakers, and particularly difficult for EAP students. According to the research, factors that make this type of writing difficult for EAP students include lack of practice opportunities, weaker reading skills, limited experience integrating reading and writing, poor grammar and vocabulary, motivation, lack of knowledge of organizational patterns, poor writing fluency, less background to use.

Students are likely to encounter a number of different writing tasks at the university level, and it is likely they will not be prepared for them. All of these tasks require text-responsible writing from reading (p. 12):

  1. Taking notes from a text (both at home and in class)
  2. Summarizing text information
  3. Paraphrasing textual resources
  4. Combining information from multiple text sources in a synthesis task
  5. Comparing multiple points of view from written texts and producing a critical synthesis
  6. Answering essay exam questions in writing (both at home and in class)
  7. Writing an extended research paper or literature review
  8. Responding to assigned texts (summary and then critique)

Grabe and Zhang’s article focuses on summarizing and synthesizing skills. The ability to summarize has been shown to be related to reading proficiency and vocabulary. In addition, ESL students struggle with paraphrasing, especially less proficient students, leading to many problems of plagiarism. Limited research on synthesis writing suggests stronger students mine texts more. Research on argument writing showed that stronger readers often include counterarguments and refutations in their writing. All of this research indicated better reading proficiency is related to better integrative writing.

Like summarizing, a key issue of synthesis writing is plagiarism, often due to not knowing how to use source texts correctly in western universities rather than deceitfulness. The authors, citing research, warn against blanket accusations of plagiarism without explicit instruction in not only how to avoid it but correct usage of source texts.

An experimental study by Zhang looked at the effectiveness of explicit synthesis writing instruction, which was found to outperform the control group in quality, organization, and text-usage.

Implications from Research

  • Students need more practice opportunities to integrate reading and writing, and to build confidence and fluency in this skill
  • Students need a large academic vocabulary
  • Students need explicit reading comprehension activities
  • Students need more explicit instruction for integrated writing tasks
  • Teachers should raise student awareness of tasks and expectations
  • Teachers should include more models of writing that can be analyzed.
  • The entire reading/writing process (reading, evaluation, source selection, citation, etc.) should be modelled and scaffolded
  • Models should put emphasis on text responsibility rather than opinion writing
  • Students should write summaries together
  • Teachers should try to develop more background knowledge
  • Teachers should teach students to “ask about cultural and topical information and reading/writing assumptions hidden in the task and texts” (p. 18)
  • Addressing plagiarism should be proactive
  • There needs to be an explicit focus on organization, including rhetorical signals
  • Teachers can use reading guides or reading journals to help students explore texts in more depth

The authors state that “The best general approach to instruction, therefore, is to begin instruction on reading/writing tasks much earlier, much more explicitly, and with much more iterative practice. Such thinking requires some creativity on the parts of teachers, curriculum developers, and materials writers” (p. 19).

Two practical projects that can help realize implications come to mind. One is a project that is mentioned in the text: learning reading/writing integration from writing and editing Wikipedia projects. This is an especially creative idea, and it is quite useful. For lower-levels, one can even write/edit Simple English pages!

The other idea is an oft-promoted one on this blog: Academic Reading Circles. This project addresses many of the implications mentioned in this article. It is a great place to work with not only academic readings but integrated reading and writing skills.

All in all, teaching reading from writing is an essential skill, one that clearly needs to be done more carefully, explicitly, and often. The ideas in the article hopefully inspire or reaffirm the need for this type of writing and lead to students who are better prepared for academic study and beyond.

Research Bites: Using Close Reading for Academic Texts and Writing

Freedman, L. (2015). Using close reading as a course theme in a multilingual disciplinary classroom. Reading in a Foreign Language, 27(2), 262. [link]

Leora Freedman, from the University of Toronto, describes a 300-level university Asian Studies class (taught by Janet Poole), consisting of domestic and international students and their approach to reading academic texts, especially theoretical texts from authors such as Foucault, de Certeau, and others. This course was organized around close reading, “a simplified method of reading, sections of a text iteratively and critically” (p. 263). It was argued that such an approach would benefit all students, and both L1 and L2 readers have difficulties with academic texts.

The approach in this course relied heavily on modeling, paraphrase, thinking aloud, and questioning. The course instructor would choose sections of the text that contained key ideas. She would then paraphrase the section, helping students understand the academic vocabulary and expressions. She would analyze statements, look at ambiguities, look at author purpose or perspective, or contrast a statement with something earlier or by another author. In addition, individual words and phrases were analyzed for how nuances of meaning depending on context, purpose, or perspective. After students were familiar with this process, the instructor gave students a worksheet to help them approach texts in the same way, following ideas of close reading:

  1. Organization of points: What seems to be the author’s persuasive strategy? Is it convincing?
  2. Author’s theoretical tendency: Is it stated or unstated? What are the author’s underlying assumptions? What evidence do you see for this?
  3. Quotations: What is their purpose? Are these sources credible? 
  4. Comparisons: How is this idea treated in other texts on this subject?
  5. Diction: Why has the author used one word rather than another? How would changing the diction of a sentence change its meaning?
  6. Terminology: What disciplinary vocabulary is used here? How are these words used differently in other texts?
  7. Details: What is the significance of this detail? How does it relate to the larger purpose of the text?
  8. Numerical data: Why is it here? Could it be interpreted differently? Is it believable? 
  9. Transitions: Where do you see transitional words or phrases? What logical connections do they suggest?
  10. Relationship of parts to whole: How does this passage relate to the overarching purpose of the text or its overall argument?
  11. Further implications: When you reflect on a particular statement, how does its meaning change? What can you infer, even if it’s not directly stated?
  12. Remaining questions: What questions are not answered by this passage or text? Did the author intend to answer them?

(Reproduced from Freedman, 2015)

The instructor moved from reading to writing by explaining (through think aloud) how students can use concepts and readings in their own writings. This part of the course focused on critical thinking and reflection, which was seen as an important starting place for writing.

The author offers anecdotal evidence that this approach does in fact improve students’ reading and writing abilities. This evidence comes from other colleagues in the department who have these students after completing Poole’s course.


In a previous Research Bites post of mine, Leki argued that reading does not have to be an individual activity. Rather, there is more benefit to the social (de)construction of texts. By working together to read, paraphrase, and question key aspects of a text (following some of the principles of close reading) we are more likely to engender really good critical reading behavior in students who typically do not read at a critical or academic level. He approach to dissecting a text, paraphrasing, looking at context, looking at the polysemy of vocabulary – all of these are critical skills. This article shows how they can be tied together in a way that is scaffolded and which easily transfers to writing.

(Academic Reading Circles is another great method that employs many of these close reading strategies.)


Close Reading Resources



Research Bites: Rethinking Reading Instruction

Leki, I. (1993). Reciprocal themes in ESL reading and writing. In J. G. Carson & I. Leki (Eds.) Reading in the composition classroom: Second language perspectives (9-32). Boston, MA: Heinle.

In this chapter, Leki argues against the separation of reading and writing instruction (something that happens in many institutes today, as it did in 1993 when Leki wrote this). She argues that this separation makes reading purposeless, and, therefore, reading instruction becomes a focus on skills, strategies, and errors rather than an active meaning-based activity in which texts are read to be used for something more.

Furthermore, the selection of a hodgepodge of text topics from numerous different domains leads not to highly interesting topics but a lack of knowledge buildup that can be used to intellectually engage with related texts. In a sense, reading becomes harder because students are not building and reconciling schema.

Reading instruction also puts a great focus on “errors” – comprehension check questions that emphasizes what students get wrong about a text, and then hopes to correct these errors through strategy instruction. This is despite the fact that research shows the meaning of a text is not formed through a single strategy or set of strategies that can be uniformly applied to all texts. Instead, meaning is based on interaction with the text, negotiation of meaning, and often, being situated within the writer’s discourse community. How a text is read – in other words, what strategies get applied, is determined by the purpose for reading, which many readings in reading courses lack. Furthermore, this focus on strategies is coupled with a laser focus on main ideas (Leki compares this to writing’s focus on topic sentences). Leki points to research that shows finding main ideas is not always as straightforward as it seems. Nor is it the most important part of reading. Checking comprehension (via post-reading questions) and teaching strategies does very little to teach students how to actually read, comprehend, or interpret. In fact, Leki argues this approach may actually engender poor reading skills by making students see texts as a puzzle that just needs to be deciphered rather than something that can be negotiated. It also equates reading comprehension to finding the elusive main idea.

In this light, reading becomes a solitary act and a solitary struggle where “It is only when they return to class that they learn, from the teacher, how well their personal struggle with the text went” (p. 29). Purposeless and mechanical, reading courses become a place for “rehearsing but never performing” (p. 19) and the social aspects of reading – students working together to co-construct the meaning through their varied interpretations and attempts to make sense of a text – are ignored.

Leki states that the separation of reading and writing has “impoverished instruction in both domains” (p. 12). However, the benefits of the integration are undeniable. Writing enhances reading because it gives students a purpose. It allows them to focus less on the words and sentences and more on constructing the meaning and intellectually engaging with the text. It promotes real reading (i.e. reading with a purpose) in the present, rather than something that is saved for the future (i.e. when the students take their “real” courses).

There are some glimpses of how such an integration can be realized.

First, reading in the composition classroom can attend to the social aspect of reading, Students can read published texts together in groups and “witness competing meanings and clarify their own misunderstandings through discussion, debate, and the need to translate their understandings into their own words” (p. 23).

Reading should become an active process where students are directed by what is salient and relevant for them, rather than using comprehension questions as a guide.

Students (and instructors) can realize that reading and writing are reciprocal: “the reader can interact more actively with the text by viewing reading as dialogic, and by writing to the text (responding to it, for example, with notes in the margins or in a reading journal)…” (p. 23)

Leki also promotes peer-review of writing. She argues that reading each other’s writing helps students focus more on making sense of what a real person is trying to communicate.

A focus on interactive, meaning-based, and purposeful reading shifts the focus from error correction and treating a text as a puzzle to something that is more social and negotiable. Errors will happen, as will misinterpretations, yet being able to tackle these issues together gives students the ability to “engage in constructing meaning with power and confidence” (p. 24).