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UBC Theses and Dissertations

ESL learners leading group discussion : an exploratory study Coward, Barbara E.


Recent research in second language acquisition makes a strong argument for the importance of promoting language learning tasks in the classroom which allow students to engage in authentic information exchange for which the main focus is meaning. The current emphasis on language learning through meaningful use has highlighted the role of negotiation of comprehensible input in second language learning. This has led to a psychololinguistic rationale for advocating group work in the classroom. Discussion on a topical issue provides a specific and natural group work task for ESL learners to use language in a problem-solving and decision-making context. As well, this type of task provides a productive context in which to study the processes of effective language use and the strategies of competent language users. The research reported here is exploratory; this document reports on a case-study of eight adult learners enrolled in an English for Academic Purposes discussion course. Their performance in discussion leadership was ranked globally by instructor and class peers using a leadership criteria checklist. These two subjective rankings correlated highly and were used as a central indicator of leader effectiveness. The study investigated the question: how might we better understand a number of variables which relate to these global rankings? This was explored through objective measures of discourse, self-reported learning strategies, an integration index and a learning style preference measure, which were analysed statistically for correlation. Discourse variables were measured on data collected during the group discussions. Strategy use, integrative motivation and learning style flexibility were determined by analysing what the students reported in a semi-structured interview. Results showed that the global ranking correlated positively with the objective discourse measures and learning style flexibility, but not with learning strategy use nor with integrative motivation. Qualitative examination of two high achievers was conducted. These two detailed cases reinforced some aspects of quantitative findings, but also shed light on possible individual differences between high achievers. The findings from both quantitative and qualitative data are reported together with their implications for future work in this area.

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