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System 30 (2002) 419432

Doing focus-on-form
Rod Ellis*, Helen Basturkmen, Shawn Loewen
Department of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019,
Auckland, New Zealand
Received 17 April 2002; received in revised form 14 June 2002; accepted 17 June 2002

Focus-on-form refers to a particular type of form-focused instruction - the treatment of
linguistic form in the context of performing a communicative task. This article considers the
rationale for this approach to teaching form as opposed to the more traditional focus-on-forms
approach where linguistic features are treated sequentially. It describes some of the main methodological options for attending to form in communication. These are considered under two main
headings; reactive focus-on-form and pre-emptive focus-on-form. The advantages and disadvantages of the various options are also discussed. Finally, some general questions relating to
the practice of focus-on-form are identied as a basis for further discussion and research.
# 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Language instruction; Communicative tasks; Focus-on-form

1. Introduction
The teaching of linguistic forms,1 especially grammar, continues to occupy a
major place in language pedagogy. Discussions of how to teach form usually consist
of accounts of the various pedagogical options available to the teacher and the
relative advantages of each option (see, e.g. Ellis, 1997). Somewhat less attention has
been paid to the actual methodological procedures that teachers use to focus on
* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: (R. Ellis), (H. Basturkmen), (S. Loewen).
The term form is often used to refer exclusively to grammar. However, in this article it is used
more generally to refer to any aspect of linguistic formphonological, graphological, lexical or grammatical. It should also be noted that the term form does not exclude considerations of meaning. While it
is possible to attend solely to form, as for example when the pronunciation of an isolated word becomes
the focus, in many cases attention to form involves consideration of the meaning (function) that a particular form conveys.
0346-251X/02/$ - see front matter # 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S0346-251X(02)00047-7


R. Ellis et al. / System 30 (2002) 419432

form in the course of their actual teaching (but see Borg, 1998). Given the growing
importance that is being attached to teaching form in the context of communicative
activity (see the articles in Doughty and Williams, 1998), the procedures for achieving
this deserve careful consideration. Arguably, initial training courses for teachers
need to ensure that teachers are equipped with the skills needed to focus students
attention on form and that they have an understanding of the potential advantages
and disadvantages of the dierent procedures involved.
The purpose of this article is to rst dene what is meant by focus on form and
to provide a brief rationale for this approach to teaching form. Second, it is to oer
a description of some of the key procedures for dealing with form by drawing on
actual examples of the procedures used by experienced teachers. A third purpose is
to point out some of the issues that are problematic to provide a basis for discussion
and research.

2. Some denitions
Table 1 shows a number of basic approaches for handling form-focused instruction.
Each of these approaches is briey dened and an example of each provided. Following
Long (1991), two kinds of form-focused instruction can be distinguishedfocus-onforms and focus-on-form. The former involves the pre-selection of specic features
based on a linguistic syllabus and the intensive and systematic treatment of those
features. Thus, in focus-on-forms instruction the primary focus of attention is on the
form that is being targeted. A good example of a focus-on-forms lesson is one conducted by means of PPP (i.e. a three stage lesson involving the presentation of a
grammatical structure, its practice in controlled exercises and the provision of
opportunities to produce it freely). In contrast, in focus-on-form instruction the
primary focus of attention is on meaning. The attention to form arises out of
meaning-centred activity derived from the performance of a communicative task.
For example, students might be asked to perform an information-gap task and in
the course of doing so have their attention drawn to one or more linguistic forms
which are needed to perform the activity or that are causing the students problems.
Two types of focus-on-form instruction can be distinguished; planned focus-onform and incidental focus-on-form. The former involves the use of focused tasks, i.e.
communicative tasks that have been designed to elicit the use of a specic linguistic
form in the context of meaning-centred language use. In this case, then, the focuson-form is pre-determined. For example, a same-or-dierent task could be used to
Table 1
Types of form-based instruction


Primary focus


1. Focus-on-forms
2. Planned focus-on-form
3. Incidental focus-on-form




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present pairs of pictures which would necessitate learners using at and in (the
target forms) in order to determine whether the pictures are the same or dierent.
This type of focus-on-form instruction is similar to focus-on-forms instruction in
that a specic form is pre-selected for treatment but it diers from it in two key
respects. First, the attention to form occurs in interaction where the primary focus is
on meaning. Second, the learners are not made aware that a specic form is being
targeted and thus are expected to function primarily as language users rather than
as learners when they perform the task.
Incidental focus-on-form involves the use of unfocused tasks, i.e. communicative
tasks designed to elicit general samples of the language rather than specic forms.
Such tasks can be performed without any attention to form whatsoever. However, it
is also possible that the students and teacher will elect to incidentally attend to various
forms while performing the task. In this case, of course, attention to form will be
extensive rather than intensivethat is, many dierent forms are likely to be treated
briey rather than a single form addressed many times. For example, while performing an opinion-gap task, students might make a number of dierent errors
which the teacher corrects or students might feel the need to ask the teacher about a
particular form, such as the meaning of a key word they do not know.
It should be noted that whether focus on form is planned or incidental is not so
much a matter of the task that is used as the teachers orientation to the task. Both
types of focus on form require the use of a communicative task. In the case of
planned focus-on-form, the teacher elects to use a task to target a specic linguistic
feature and this then inuences how the task is performed in the classroom. In the
case of incidental focus on form, the forms attended to are not pre-determined but
arise naturally out of the performance of the task. Even when the focus on form is
planned, incidental attention to a range of forms in addition to the targeted form
can occur.

3. The rationale for focus-on-form instruction

Whereas learners are able to acquire linguistic forms without any instructional
intervention, they typically do not achieve very high levels of linguistic competence
from entirely meaning-centred instruction. For example, students in immersion
programmes in Canada fail to acquire such features as verb tense markings even
after many years of study. This had led second language acquisition researchers such
as Swain (1995) to propose that learners need to do more than to simply engage in
communicative language use; they also need to attend to form.
The question then arises as to how best to induce this attention to form. While
there is substantial evidence that focus-on-forms instruction results in learning as
measured by discrete-point language tests (e.g. the grammar test in the TOEFL),
there is much less evidence to show that it leads to the kind of learning that enables
learners to perform the targeted form in free oral production (e.g. in a communicative
task). Norris and Ortega (2000) reviewed 49 studies, mainly of the focus-on-forms
kind, and found that the eectiveness of the instruction was markedly reduced when


R. Ellis et al. / System 30 (2002) 419432

this was measured in terms of learners ability to use the targeted structure spontaneously in communication.
This has led some researchers (e.g. Long, 1991; Doughty, 2001) to suggest that an
approach based on focus-on-form would work better. The argument they advance
rests on the following premises:
1. To acquire the ability to use new linguistic forms communicatively, learners
need the opportunity to engage in meaning-focused language use (see Prabhu,
2. However, such opportunity will only guarantee full acquisition of the new
linguistic forms if learners also have the opportunity to attend to form while
engaged in meaning-focused language use. Long (1991) argues that only in
this way can attention to form be made compatible with the immutable processes that characterize L2 acquisition and thereby overcome persistent
developmental errors.
3. Given that learners have a limited capacity to process the second language
(L2) and have diculty in simultaneously attending to meaning and form
they will prioritize meaning over form when performing a communicative
activity (VanPatten, 1990).
4. For this reason, it is necessary to nd ways of drawing learners attention to
form during a communicative activity. As Doughty (2001) notes the factor that
distinguishes focus on form from other pedagogical approaches is the requirement that focus on form involves learners briey and perhaps simultaneously
attending to form, meaning and use during one cognitive event (p. 211).
This rationale is applicable to both planned and incidental focus-on-form.
Planned focus-on-form is eective because it focuses learners repeatedly on the
same form while they are communicating. There is evidence to show that it promotes acquisition, even when this is measured in terms of spontaneous oral production. Doughty and Varela (1998), for example, provided reactive focus-on-form
directed at past tense verbs in the context of students producing oral and written
science reports. The reactive focus-on-form consisted of corrective recasting, where
the teacher rst repeated a learner utterance containing a past tense error, highlighting the error through emphasis, and then, if this did not result in a learner selfcorrection, the teacher recast the utterance using the correct verb form. The students
showed posttest gains in written and oral science report tasks, which were largely
maintained over time. However, planned focus-on-form of the kind illustrated in
Doughty and Varelas study is time consuming. Whole lessons (even series of lessons) need to be devoted to a single form. In this respect, it is like focus-on-forms.
In contrast, incidental focus-on-form is able to focus attention on a whole range
of forms in a single lesson. Thus, it aords a broad coverage. A concern, though, is
that each form is attended to only very briey, which may not be sucient to guarantee acquisition. Little is currently known about the acquisitional outcomes of
incidental focus-on-form. However, a recent study by Loewen (2002) suggests that
learners can benet from incidental focus-on-form. Loewen identied numerous

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episodes where the classroom participants attended to form in communicative lessons.

He then designed tailor made post-tests to establish whether individual students
involved in specic episodes had beneted from them. In tests administered between
one and three days after the lessons, the students were able to recognize or supply
the correct form either completely or partially 62.4% of the time; in tests administered 2 weeks later they scored 55.6% for correct or partially correct responses.
Loewens study is important because it indicates that (1) in some communicative
classes, at least, incidental-focus-on-form is common and (2) it is followed by subsequent correct use of the forms attended to.
In the sections that follow we will describe how focus-on-form can be accomplished methodologically by describing the various options available to teachers and
students.2 Our aim is not to suggest that this is what teachers should do but rather to
describe some of the main options we have observed experienced teachers to employ.

4. Reactive focus-on-form
Reactive focus-on-form involves the treatment of learner errors. There is a large
literature dealing with this topic (see, e.g. Seedhouse, 1997) but by and large this
does not clearly distinguish between error treatment in focus-on-forms instruction
and in focus-on-form instruction. Many of the strategies used to address learner
errors in these two types of instruction may be similar but there are also likely to be
some dierences. The strategies described below are illustrated with examples taken
from a number of dierent sources but in particular from a study by Ellis et al.
(1999) that investigated how teachers of adult ESL students focus on form in communicative language teaching.
4.1. Conversational vs. didactic focus-on-form
The linguistic errors that students make during a communicative activity may or
may not result in a communication problem. In Example 1 the students error
clearly does cause a communicative problem, resulting in the teacher addressing this
by negotiating meaning. Student 1, whose name is Bess, wants to tell the teacher that
her group has given itself the name Best Group. However, the teacher mishears and
thinks the name is Bess Group. This results in student 1 paying closer attention to her
pronunciation in order to clarify the name. In Example 2, two students are performing
a role play with student 1 acting as a guest and student 2 as a hotel receptionist. The
teacher fails to understand Students 2 utterance and consequently requests clarication (What?) causing the student to reformulate it using a contraction (Ill) in
place of the original full form (will). It was conversational focus-on-form of the kind
illustrated in Examples 1 and 2 that Long (1991) originally had in mind. Long
All the options we describe are found in Focus-on-form instruction. It should be noted, however,
that several of the reactive and pre-emptive focus-on-form options also occur in instruction of the focuson-forms kind.


R. Ellis et al. / System 30 (2002) 419432

argued that the attention to form that arises as a result of a communication problem
is likely to be particularly salient to learners because it helps them to make their
meaning clear. Salience and communicative need, both evident in conversational
focus-on-form, constitute the ideal conditions for noticing and acquisition to take
Teachers can negotiate meaning conversationally using either requests for conrmation or requests for clarication. A request for conrmation typically involves
the teacher repeating the problematic utterance with or without reformulating it. In
Example 1, the teacher asks the student to conrm that she has heard the name of
the group correctly. A request for clarication is typically used when the teacher
does not have a clear idea of what the student has said. It is performed formulaically
by means of expressions such as Sorry? and Could you say that again? There is a
major dierence between these two ways of accomplishing meaning negotiation. In
the case of a request for conrmation, students only need to reformulate their own
utterances if it is clear that the teacher has not understood correctly. This is the case
in Example 1, where the student repeats best, improving her pronunciation. However, in many instances, the teachers conrmation is correct and the communication
proceeds without students needing to adjust the utterance that caused the problem.
In contrast, a request for clarication places the onus on the student for dealing with
the problem and is more likely to lead to a reformulation of the problem utterance
as in Example 2.
Example 1: Conversational focus-on-form (request for conrmation)
S: my group has a name
T: what name?
S1: best
T: Bess group?
S1: best
T: oh, best, okay
S2: best
T: best, not group three, the best, thats a lovely name
Example 2: Conversational focus-on-form (request for clarication)
S1: Im look for a room, or
S2: I will take you
T: what?
S2: Ill take you
Often, however, a student error does not cause any communication problem but
the teacher still elects to correct it. In Example 3, the student leaves out the denite
article the. The teacher has no diculty in understanding him but focuses attention
on the error by correcting the utterance. The focus-on-form episode that results
from this type of error treatment constitutes a kind of pedagogic time-out from

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meaning-focussed communication and for this reason can be considered didactic. It

involves a negotiation of form rather than a negotiation of meaning. It is possible
that students do not notice the target of such negotiation as no meaning is at stake.
There is no evidence in Example 3 that the student has paid attention to the teachers feedback. Ellis et al. (1999) found that didactic focus-on-form was far more
common than conversational in communicative ESL lessons involving adult learners.
Example 3: Didactic focus-on-form
S: I was in pub
S: I was in pub
T: in the pub?
S: yeah and I was drinking beer

4.2. Implicit vs. explicit focus on form

Corrective feedback can be implicit or explicit. The most common way of performing implicit feedback is by means of a recast. This consists of a reformulation of
either the whole or part of the students utterance containing an error in such a way
as to maintain the students intended meaning. Often, but not always, a recast performs the function of requesting conrmation. For example, the teacher uses a
recast in Example 3. One problem with recasts, as may be the case in this example, is
that the student may fail to notice the dierence between his/her own utterance and
the recast. This is because the corrective function of a recast is not always apparent.
Teachers often repeat all or part of a student utterance to show they are following
and to encourage the student to continue. To ensure attention to form it may be
necessary to make the feedback less implicit. Doughty and Varela (1998) suggest
how this might be done in the context of planned focus-on-form where students are
receiving feedback on oral reports of science experiments they have carried out.
They required the teacher rst to repeat the student utterance highlighting the error
through stress and rising intonation. Then, if the student fails to respond with a selfcorrection, the teacher followed up with a recast. Example 4 illustrates this procedure. One disadvantage is that the resulting feedback is much more intrusive,
potentially distracting from the communicative ow. The interaction in Example 4
sounds much more pedagogic than that in Example 3.
Example 4: Implicit focus-on-form by means of a recast
S: I think that the worm will go under the soil.
T: I think the worm will go under the soil?
S: (no response)
T: I thought that the worm would go under the soil.
S: I thought that the worm would go under the soil.


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Explicit feedback can be performed in a number of ways. The simplest is to

simply signal quite directly that the student has made an error (e.g. by saying No.
Not ___.). However, as Seedhouse (1997) has shown teachers are reluctant to
employ this option, presumably because it is perceived as sociolinguistically riskya
threat to the students face. The teacher can also use metalanguage to indicate what
is wrong with an utterance (e.g. Tense). Another option is to provide a correction
and then provide opportunity for the student to practise the use of the correct form.
Example 5 illustrates this. Here S1 has a problem with the pronunciation of found.
The teacher corrects him, making her purpose plain by saying watch me. The student
attempts to pronounce the word on two more occasions and is again corrected. The
teacher models the vowel sound required and further practice follows before nally
the student gets it right. The communicative activity then proceeds. Still another
option is to intervene with a metalinguistic explanation of the correct form. Explicit
correction has the advantage of making it more or less impossible for the student to
avoid noticing the correct form. However, as Example 5 shows, it runs the risk of
turning a communicative task into a language-getting activity.
Example 5: Explicit focus-on-form
S1: was anything found by his body
S2: pardon
S1: was anything found, fou, fou
T: watch me, watch me, found
S1: found
T: found
S1: found
T: found
S1: found
T:, ow, ow, found
S1: found
T: found
S: found
T: found yeah
S1: found by his body
It is clear from this account of implicit and explicit corrective feedback that the
distinction represents a continuum rather than a dichotomy. That is, reactive focuson-form can be more or less implicit/explicit. It is possible that teachers vary their
choice of feedback option depending on their assessment of the students ability to
attend to the form being corrected. If they think that the student already knows
what the correct form is and is capable of identifying the error for him/herself they
may opt for a very implicit form of feedback (e.g. a recast) but if they think that the
student does not know the form or will have diculty in identifying what the error is
they are more likely to choose an explicit form of feedback (e.g. a metalingual
explanation). Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994) illustrate this process of varying corrective

R. Ellis et al. / System 30 (2002) 419432


feedback in the context of writing conferences where a tutor goes over students
written compositions with them.

5. Pre-emptive focus-on-form
Missing almost entirely from current accounts of focus-on-form is any consideration
of pre-emptive focus-on-form. This consists of attempts by the students or the teacher
to make a particular form the topic of the conversation even though no error (or
perceived error) in the use of that form has occurred.3 Like reactive focus-on-form,
pre-emptive focus on form can be conversational (i.e. motivated by communicative
need) or didactic. In Ellis et al. (1999) study, however, it was almost invariably
didactic in nature. That is, the participants took time-out from communicating to
topicalize some linguistic feature or item as an object. In this study, pre-emptive
focus-on-form occurred as frequently as reactive focus-on-form, suggesting that in
some classrooms at least it is a common phenomenon.
Student pre-emptive focus-on-form is typically initiated by means of a query that
the student addresses to the teacher. In Example 6, the student wants to explain that
she uses translation as a strategy for learning vocabulary but she cannot recall the
word. Thus she uses the communication strategy of requesting assistance and
eventually, after supplying various rather ineectual clues, is successful in eliciting
the lexical form she wants from the teacher. Sometimes, the teacher elects not to
answer the student query herself but to re-direct it at the class to see if another student
can supply an answer. On other occasions (although rarely in Ellis et al.s study) the
teacher elects not to answer a student query at all, sometimes indicating that she will
address it later.
The advantage of student-initiated preemptive focus-on-form is that it addresses
gaps in the students linguistic knowledge which can be presumed to be signicant to
them (for otherwise why would they ask?) and which they are therefore strongly
motivated to try to ll. Slimani (1989) found that learners were more likely to recall
new items if these had been used in episodes which they themselves had initiated.
Her study suggests that learner topicalisation of form can promote language acquisition. A disadvantage of student-initiated attention to form, however, is that it can
detract from the communicative activity. This is one reason why teachers may
decline to answer a student query. However, it might be argued that the kind of
lexical search illustrated in Example 6 is a feature of authentic communication as it
occurs in non-classroom settings. A more serious disadvantage is that what is a gap
for one student may not be for others, who thus may gain little or nothing from
listening to the teacher address another students query.
One of the reviewers of a draft of this article suggests that pre-emptive focus-on-form is very close to
focus-on-forms instruction. This misses the point, however, that pre-emptive focus-on-form, by denition,
occurs in activities where there is a primary focus on meaning. Of course, there can also be pre-emptive
focus-on-form directed at the pre-targeted form of the lesson in focus-on-forms instruction. The crucial
dierence is the context of the pre-emptive attention to form.


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Example 6: Student-initiated pre-emptive focus-on-form

S: T, how do you < >
T: what?
S: English and? (2) the only word?
T: the other language?
S: yes, the < onway > language, how?
T: I dont know, what was the other language?
S: no, no s-, Im saying this um, con-, conT: translation?
S: translation, thank you
T: translation, yeah
S: translation, conlation (laughs) ah
T: and the translation, good
Teachers also interrupt the ow of a communicative activity to raise a specic form to
attention. In so doing they are electing to disrupt the meaning-centredness of an activity,
presumably because they calculate that this is justied on the grounds that the form in
question will be problematic to the students in some way. Teacher-initiated focus-onform is initiated either by a query directed at the students or by an advisory statement.
Example 7 illustrates the former. Here the teacher is setting up a communicative
activity where the students have to construct an alibi for a crime. She begins by
checking to see if they know the meaning of alibi. Teacher queries are often directed at
the meaning of lexical items that crop up in an activity. The use of an advisory statement is illustrated in Example 8. Here the teacher is drawing the students attention to
the need to use going to in their written compositions An advisory statement, therefore,
sensitizes learners to pay attention to forms that are potentially problematic when
they produce them in their own output or encounter them in input. In Ellis et al.
(1999) advisory statements were generally directed at grammatical forms.
Teachers probably vary enormously in the extent to which they engage in teacherinitiated focus-on-form, reecting their orientation to a communicative task. In
some cases they hardly interject at all, preferring to maintain the communicative
ow of the task. Other teachers intervene frequently, presumably because they feel
the need to manufacture explicit learning opportunities out of the communication
that evolves from a task. One problem with this is that they cannot know for sure
whether the gaps they assume to exist in the students knowledge are actual gaps. If
learners already know the forms the teacher raises to attention little is gained. In this
respect, student-initiated preemptive focus-on-form is to be preferred. It might be
argued, then, that teachers would do better to limit themselves to providing corrective
feedback (i.e. to reactive focus-on-form), where the need for their assistance is clear.
Example 7: Teacher initiated focus-on-form (using a query)
T: whats an alibi?

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T: M has an alibi
T: another name for girlfriend?
T: an alibi is a reason you have for not being at
the bank robbery (.) okay (.) not being at the
bank robbery
Example 8: Teacher-initiated focus-on-form (using an advisory statement)
T: okay, now remember this is your plan, so Im going to, Im
going to..

6. Summary
Table 2 provides a summary of the dierent options for accomplishing focus-onform. These options are not either-ors. That is, any single communicative lesson

Table 2
Principal focus-on-form options


A. Reactive focus-on-form

The teacher or another student responds to an error that a student

makes in the context of a communicative activity.

1. Negotiation
a. Conversational

The response to the error is triggered by a failure to understand what

the student meant. It involves negotiation of meaning.

b. Didactic

The response occurs even though no breakdown in communication has

taken place; it constitutes a time-out from communicating. It involves
negotiation of form.

2. Feedback
a. Implicit feedback

The teacher or another student responds to a students error without

directly indicating an error has been made, e.g. by means of a recast.

b. Explicit feedback

The teacher or another student responds to a students error by directly

indicating that an error has been made, e.g. by formally correcting
the error or by using metalanguage to draw attention to it.

B. Pre-emptive focus-on-form

The teacher or a student makes a linguistic form the topic of the

discourse even though no error has been committed.

1. Student initiated

A student asks a question about a linguistic form.

2. Teacher-initiated

The teacher gives advice about a linguistic form he/she thinks might
be problematic or asks the students a question about the form.


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may involve several or all of these options. It is our experience that teachers are
often not aware of the extent to which they draw attention to form during a communicative activity, possibly because the focus-on-form episodes are typically very

7. Conclusion
There are now strong theoretical reasons for claiming that the teachers role in a
communicative task should not be limited to that of communicative partner. The
teacher also needs to pay attention to form. This article has suggested a number of
ways in which this can be accomplished. Teachers in training need to develop a
repertoire of options for addressing form in the context of communicative
There are, however, many questions for which clear answers are not yet available.
These include:
1. To what extent should teachers engage in focus-on-form?
A communicative language lesson has a dual purposeto improve the students uency and condence in using the target language and to help them
build their linguistic competence. By restricting the amount of attention to
form the teacher can ensure the rst of these purposes is achieved but at the
expense of the second. By regularly focussing on form the teacher can create
the conditions that promote the acquisition of language but runs the risk of
inhibiting student uency. It is sometimes recommended that teachers make a
note of forms that cause students problems during a communicative activity
and address them when it is over. However, this ignores one of the key reasons
for employing focus-on-form, namely to make learners aware of specic forms
at the time they need to use them.
2. Should focus-on-form be conversational or didactic?
This is related to the preceding question. Conversational focus-on-form
belongs naturally to communicative activity as it provides the means for solving communication diculties whenever these arise. However, didactic form is
the product of the classroom context; it reects the fact that even when performing communicative activities the classroom participants are motivated to
teach/learn the language. Given that many communicative activities do not
result in much negotiation-of-meaning, didactic focus-on-form may be needed
to provide sucient opportunities for students to attend to form. But such
activity can endanger the communicativeness of an activity.
3. Should focus-on-form be implicit or explicit?
Again, this concerns whether the orientation to an activity is to be entirely
communicative, in which case implicit focus-on-form is appropriate, or more
pedagogic, when explicit focus-on-form becomes acceptable. Students are more
likely to notice the form that is being addressed if the focus is made explicit.
4. Should teachers pre-empt attention to form during a communicative activity?

R. Ellis et al. / System 30 (2002) 419432


Teacher pre-emption of form is probably the option most likely to disrupt the
communicative ow. It tells the students that the teacher is really concerned
about form rather than meaning. Also, the forms teachers pre-empt may not
constitute actual gaps in the students L2 knowledge. Nevertheless, there may
be occasions when the teacher pre-empting form is useful (e.g. when students
are planning a communicative activity).
5. What role is there for student-initiated attention to form?
Students, especially motivated adult students, are likely to ask questions about
form during the course of a communicative activity. How should the teacher
deal with them? There are three possibilitiesanswer them immediately, ignore
them, or deect them (i.e. until later). Clearly, the strategy a teacher adopts
needs to be informed by social as well as psycholinguistic considerations. Teachers
cannot aord to antagonize their students by refusing to address their questions
but equally whatever they do must be motivated by a concern for what will
aid learning.
This article has addressed the teachers role in focusing on form during communicative language lessons. It might be argued that this is of limited importance given
that communicative tasks are typically performed by students working in groups.
There are, however, doubts about whether communicative group work produces
much attention to form as discussed in this article. Williams (1999) found little evidence of it in elementary and intermediate level learners, except when the teacher
joined a group. If focus-on-form is as important as has been claimed, then, it would
seem to require the interventions of the teacher.

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