The timing of explicit form-focused instruction and its impact on task outcomes

  • Martin Hawkes

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis reports a descriptive classroom-based study which directly investigated the impact which the position of an explicit instruction stage had on aspects of task performance. Audio recordings of interaction were collected for two different tasks from four intact Japanese university classes of English learners. Classes received the explicit instruction of useful forms either before, during, or after a communicative task. A repeat task was conducted one week after the initial session to look for any lasting effects of the instruction. The audio data were transcribed and primarily analysed using inductive qualitative techniques within a cumulative case study approach which allowed for the
quantification of certain features of interest.

The findings indicated that the explicit teaching stage impacted the orientation of participants, which was manifested in the presence of certain features of task interaction including minimalisation, self-correction, disfluency markers, and mining. The position of the instruction had a strong influence on task performance: Participants who received pre-task instruction tended to orient towards target form production during the main task, while the post-task participants appeared more oriented towards meaning and task completion. However, these effects were not universal, and the true influence of the
instruction was somewhat more nuanced. Orientations were dynamic, shifting from one focus to another as interactions evolved. In addition to the apparent influence on orientation, there was also some evidence of an impact on medium-term acquisition, indicated by the continued accurate use of target forms during the repeat task.

While the cumulative data revealed some general patterns that existed within classes, there was a great deal of individual difference between participants and groups of participants. It seems that it was the individual learner, rather than the teaching approach, that dictated for the most part how the tasks were undertaken.

The findings of this study suggest that instead of aligning ourselves with one, often dogmatic, approach to language teaching, practitioners should remain flexible and pragmatically adjust their teaching methods and techniques according to the inherent features of specific tasks, as well as individual learners and groups of learners.
Date of Award13 Sept 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSue Garton (Supervisor) & Muna K Morris-Adams (Supervisor)


  • task-based language teaching
  • task interaction
  • explicit teaching
  • orientation
  • minimalisation

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