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Promoting Conceptual Development through Mediation: An Investigation of Gal’perin’s Concept-Based Instruction of Genre in Chinese EFL Writing Classrooms



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Fu, Zhuxia 


In sociocultural research on second language (L2) learning, there has been a growing interest in concretising Vygotskian principles in the language classroom. Gal’perin’s model for Concept-Based Instruction (CBI) has been seen as a promising framework that unifies the theoretical principles and educational practices. Through systematic use of mediating tools, Gal’perin’s CBI aims to promote learners’ internalization of abstract concepts, which Vygotsky regarded as psychological tools for development. The present study explored the use of CBI in L2 writing by conceptualizing L2 writing development as a process of internalizing the concept of genre, a complex yet often oversimplified concept in L2 writing instruction. Adopting a mixed methods approach, this research investigated both the effect and the process of genre-based CBI in promoting learners’ understanding of the concept of genre and writing performance.

The study implemented a four-month CBI intervention on genre. Drawing on Systemic Functional Linguistics, the concept of genre was operationalized and taught through its underlying principles of the relationship between contextual factors (i.e., field, tenor and mode) and textual realisations. Four class groups at a major university in China participated in the study, which were assigned as the Full CBI Group, the Partial CBI Group and the control group. In the Full CBI Group, four foundational principles in Gal’perin’s CBI were applied, including conceptual explanation, materialisation, verbalisation and automatisation; whereas in the Partial CBI Group, the use of verbalisation was omitted. This was done in an attempt to further understand the mediating function of language, which serves as the cornerstone in Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory. Data were collected from the pre- and post-test (i.e. a definition task, a narrative writing task, and an argumentative writing task), audio recordings of collaborative verbalisation, stimulated recalls and semi-structured interviews.

The results showed that the Full CBI intervention had a positive effect on both learners’ understanding of genre and their performance in writing narrative and argumentative texts. Correlations between learners’ understanding and performance measures were also found. These findings suggest the potential of CBI in promoting the internalisation of genre, which lead to L2 writing development. Importantly, a comparison between the Full CBI and the Partial CBI intervention revealed that the use of collaborative verbalisation further enhanced learners’ conceptual understanding and their writing to some extent. To further understand the effect, an in-depth analysis of focal participants’ collaborative verbalisation was conducted and three major types of verbalisation were identified: metaconcept-focused, realisation-focused and evaluation-focused. It was found that these verbalising, or languaging processes served as powerful tools that mediated the learners’ functional conceptualisation of genre and critical engagement with writing activities. An analysis of the dyads’ written texts and perceptions also showed that CBI stimulated learners’ voluntary control of genre as a communicative, organizing, and language resources building tool, which contributed to improved textual features. It is hence concluded that CBI can serve as an effective framework for explicit instruction of genre, which raises awareness of the conceptual categories of genre, allowing for flexible, meaning-oriented use of language for written communication.





Liu, Yongcan


mediation, concept-based instruction, genre, L2 writing


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge