Research and media

Participatory ESOL research 

From the beginning EFA has been committed to research and learning. We want to have a better understanding of participatory ESOL, develop new methods (inside and outside the classroom), learn about the world around us and especially how it is experienced by our students. We are proud of our partnership with King’s College London and are very grateful to Dr Melanie Cooke and Professor Ben Rampton for their support.


The Our Languages project with King’s College, London

Dr. Melanie Cooke (King’s College London)

Dermot Bryers (English for Action)
Becky Winstanley (Tower Hamlets College)

Working paper published on February 5th, 2018

Speakers of languages other than English in the UK frequently face barriers to their integrational wellbeing, not because they do not speak the language or are reluctant to learn it (a commonly repeated trope in political and public discourse) but because of hostility to their other languages and because of strongly held – but often erroneous – beliefs about bi/multilingualism both on an individual and a societal level. Yet ESOL programmes rarely explicitly address the language issues which are salient in the lives of linguistic minorities, and their voices are rarely heard on such matters. Drawing on findings from the Diasporic Adult Language Socialisation Project (DALS), an ongoing sociolinguistic investigation into the development of multilingual communicative repertoires in the homes and communities of Sri Lankan Tamils in London, Our Languages set out to explore the potential for incorporating sociolinguistic topics into ESOL and to establish a pedagogical approach which was more in tune with students’ linguistic realities and those of their local communities.

For more information contact Dr. Melanie Cooke on


Act ESOL: A Theatre of the Oppressed Language Project, Becky Winstanley, 2016.

This report captures the creative experience of ACT ESOL — a theatre and language education project that combined Theatre of the Oppressed and participatory ESOL, developed by The Serpentine Galleries and Implicated Theatre. It describes how Theatre of the Oppressed methods can be used with ESOL to create a pedagogy of resistance with a focus on migration struggles. It an ongoing project so checks the website for updates on the next phase- EFA teachers and students will be taking part in classroom research trying our these methods in the classroom.

EMERGING WORLDS, Dr. Melanie Cooke and Becky Winstanley, 2016:


Participatory ESOL is about working with groups of students on the things that concern them in their daily lives. In class, the topics, language and literacy ‘emerge’ – not from a pre-written scheme of work, but from the students themselves. But working in this way can be a challenge. These five articles explore how a group of teachers experimented with an ‘emerging’ curriculum. Co-written by Melanie Cooke (EFA trustee and ESOL researcher at King’s College, London) and Becky Winstanley (EFA teacher and ESOL teacher at Tower Hamlet’s College) the papers report on five distinct areas of participatory ESOL: planning, topics, language, literacy and evaluation.

Please let us know what you think of the papers and share your thoughts about the ideas they explore. 


Download the articles here:

1 – Planning for Participatory ESOL

2 – Topics and Themes

3 – Language

4 – Literacy

5 – Students as Evaluators


“Whose Integration?”, Dermot Bryers, Melanie Cooke and Becky Winstanley, 2013

‘Whose Integration?

What does the term ‘integration’ mean to adult ESOL learners? What facilitates their sense of belonging in the UK? What are the barriers they face? What are their opinions about antimigrant policy and rhetoric? The ‘Whose Integration’ project explored these questions over a period of five weeks in two ESOL classes, using a participatory approach. This report shows that students found ‘integration’ a difficult term to define, but nevertheless a pertinent one. They expressed anxiety about ways of belonging to their local communities and about how to position themselves in relation to religious, gender, economic and ethnic categories. It also shows that migrants face material barriers to integration such as racism, poverty and immigration status. The classroom data suggested that ‘integration’ is not a fixed state which people attain or fail to attain, but is instead a dynamic process. In the classroom, students and teachers alike were involved in the act of integrating, dealing with difference, dissent and commonality within and across ethnic groups. Students and teachers displayed multiple identities and allegiances which were national, local, gender based and religious, not all of which were equally salient at all times. Participatory ESOL classes offered a challenging, but safe environment for critical debate and discussion, which in turn, fostered the development of language beyond students’ designated levels. The report concludes that integration is not a one-way street, or even a two-way street between migrant and ‘host’ community but is as complex and multi-directional as a ‘Spaghetti Junction’.

“The Power of Discussion”, Dermot Bryers, Melanie Cooke and Becky Winstanley, 2014

‘The Power of Discussion’,

The team decided to examine group discussion in more detail. The emphasis was on discussion of concrete themes which students feel very strongly about. Recent examples have been Bedroom Tax, ESOL reform, Universal Credit, Olympics legacy. The research analysed the language produced by the students during such discussions and examined whether forced output and co-construction of meaning (Swain 1995) can have a positive impact on language acquisition.

In addition, these discussions and debates were taken outside the classroom by means of a class bog and Twitter. The team were very aware that the issues of direct interest to our students were being discussed and acted on in other forums and hoped to become an active part of these collective debate and movements. They already had experience of working with blogs, which had proved to be an effective tool for the debates to carry on once the class had finished.

Chapter on Participatory ESOL (Bryers, Cooke, Winstanley) in British Council’s Language Issues in Migration and Integration, ed. David Mallows, 2014

Dermot Bryers, Becky Winstanley and Melanie Cooke describe an exciting new approach to working with ESOL learners. The Participatory Approaches movement draws on the work of Paulo Freire to reimagine language teaching and learning. A participatory ESOL classroom is driven by the content of exchanges between students rather than the form in which that communication is achieved. And the subject of these exchanges, driven by the students themselves, is always relevant and meaningful to the learners’ lives. We learn about the background to participatory ESOL and its underpinning principles. The authors also share with us some techniques that can be employed by teachers.

Volunteers in language learning for refugees project

A Erasmus + EU wide research project running from 2017 to 2019. Along with 4 partners from across Europe, we’re looking into how volunteers can support language provision for refugees. We’re producing three toolkits for teachers, volunteers and organisations on this subject which will be available on the website.



Melanie, Dermot and Becky also contributed Chapter 16 in to Adult Language Education and Migration: Challenging agendas in policy and practiceed. James Simpson and Anne Whiteside, 2015.


We are also taking part in a NIACE (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) research project called Towards a Citizens Curriculum. You can check out our latest research blog and our case study




Responses to Cameron’s announcement on ESOL funding (January 2016):

The Independent: “As an English teacher of Muslim women I know that Cameron’s plans are hypocritical and demonising” (25th January 2016)

Novara Media: “Cameron’s ESOL funding cuts reflect the government’s attitudes to migrants” (26th January 2016)

Article called “Participatory ESOL”  by Dermot Bryers in Natecla’s journal Language Issues (Winter 2015)