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Recognising and working with emergent language in the ESOL classroom Part 2: Interaction and learning in small group conversations

Principal focus of the project

This research builds on a previous project, which focused on student-led parts of ESOL classes, specifically when student conversations took the lesson ‘off plan’. Recordings and transcripts of these conversations were used as a tool to help researchers recognise and work with emergent language, that is working with and expanding the language that students are already using, rather than teaching words and grammar they think they ought to be using.

What is this about and what were the main findings?

Small group conversations gave learners time to activate language and formulate utterances which sat at the cutting edge of their capabilities. When trying to repair lesson breakdowns, students used skilful teaching techniques, and because they were often pushing themselves to be understood in these situations, they could also use more ambitious language. One of the main findings in the project was that most of what was taught in syllabuses was not what the students were using in conversation.

Number of participants who worked with the project
Name(s) of authors

Richard Gallen - Tower Hamlets College

Name of associate programmes



A set of research outputs that explore the role of emergent language among ESOL students, and how small group conversations can inform the use of this language in learning.

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