Participation Structure and Incidental Focus on Form in Adult ESL Classrooms


  • Hossein Nassaji

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    1. University of Victoria
    • Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Hossein Nassaji, University of Victoria, Department of Linguistics, P.O. Box 1700 STN CSC, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 2Y2, Canada. E-mail:

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  • This study was supported by a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I would like to thank the ESL teachers and their students who participated in this study as well as all the graduate research assistants who assisted with different phases of the research. I would also like to thank the four anonymous reviewers of Language Learning for their helpful comments and suggestions.


This study examined the role of incidental focus on form (FonF) in adult English-as-a-second-language classrooms. Specifically, it explored the extent to which the amount, type, and effectiveness of FonF were related to differences in classroom participation structure, that is, the organization of classroom talk within which FonF may occur. The data consisted of 54 hours of audio- and video-recorded classroom interaction collected over two 12-week semesters from 35 lessons at three levels of language proficiency: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The data were transcribed and coded in terms of types of FonF (reactive vs. preemptive, and student vs. teacher initiated) and types of participation structure (whole class, small group, and individual one on one). Individualized posttests were developed and administered to each student 1 week after each classroom observation to assess the effectiveness of FonF. The results revealed that incidental FonF occurred rather frequently in all classrooms but its occurrence varied depending on the type of participation structure. The results also demonstrated a relationship between participation structure and the effectiveness of FonF as well as an interaction between participation structure and class levels. These findings highlight the role of classroom participation structure as an important contextual factor that may impact the provision and success of incidental FonF.