Case study of teaching English as a second language

Case study of teaching English as a second language


As China has boomed and conformed to the trend of globalization, English as the second language has gradually become an official lingua franca for Chinese people to communicate with people from other countries (Kuo, 2006). Since English became a compulsory curriculum in primary schools in 2001, some schools have tried to hire foreign teachers to teach English (Zhang, 2012). Hence, the case study of teaching English as a second language would be identified as the object for discussion in this paper.

The primary purpose of this paper is to study how students as learners make learning happen. Specifically, it would discuss the case of teaching English as a second language in the classroom from theoretical perspectives on learning and learners because learning has great educational significance for students. Although definitions of learning have been identified in many ways by different researchers and educators, they use common factors. The more functional definition is that learning is a durable change in behaviour or a change in ability brought about by practice or other forms of experience (Lachman, 1997). In short, learning is the impact of experience or practice on behaviour. As was mentioned by De Houwer, Barnes-Holmes, and Moors (2013), the functional definition allows people to define and distinguish sub-categories of learning by adding information about the regularity that leads to changes, behaviour. Further, De Houwer, Barnes-Holmes and Moors (2013) mentioned that learning has mainly managed the impact of three forms of regularities in actual life: (1) the regularity of one stimulus at different moments,(2) the regularity of two stimuli (both at one moment, like an experiment to learn, and at different moments in time), and (3) the regularity of the presence of behaviours and stimuli (also at one moment and across multiple moments). All these three forms of regularities may affect behaviour. As a result, it may cause learning. Besides, students, in this case as learners learning about their relevant knowledge and skills. To be specific, students as learners learn about English language knowledge and master the language skills in the classroom. In fact, it is essential to realize the significance of understanding learning and learners in education. During the learning, you can deliver correctly what learners need through understanding the learner’s expectations of you and getting to know your learners, and thus you can make it possible to make a deeper understanding of them and then make a change of their behaviour and attitudes. From the learner’s side, it is crucial to know the position of learners that you may know what you need and then make a change for your behaviour and attitudes to enhance your capacity, such as decision making, problem-solving, and cooperation.

In this paper, the first part analyzes the case about teaching English as a second language in the classroom from the theoretical of learning and learners. In the second part, this case study would explain several relevant concepts in each of two theories: Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence and Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory. Finally, key aspects of learning and learners in this case study would be summarized.

Case analysis

According to the video called Teach English in China: Primary school teaching, Grade 6, it displays teacher-student interaction and student-student interaction for helping students learn the English language and important skills.

From the perspective of students as learners, this video would be divided into three steps to make a case analysis. In the first step of this video, the English teacher provides the background information of the holiday through four pictures in the PowerPoint to help students memorize relevant words about the holiday from teacher-student interaction. In this learning moment, the English teacher who uses the way of answering and individual questions speaks out the new words and students spell them orally. Then the English teacher explains the meaning of the words in English and the students speak out the words. It may help students to memorize and master the accurate pronunciation of these vocabularies. If they master these vocabularies, it may improve students’ memory efficiency and directly enhance students’ learning outcomes (Ko & Goranson, 2014). In the second step of this video, the English teacher who sets learning activities helps students learn several relevant phrases by displaying pictures in the PowerPoint. The learning activities comprise the phrase chain game and the phrase matching game which may stimulate students’ interest in learning English and motivate students to pay more attention to the English class (Chin & Wang, 2021). When students have problems with new words, the English teacher would help students memorize them. The English teacher also combines the experiences to explain the new words. In the last step of this video, the English teacher set the learning activity which is the teams of four students for student-student interaction. The teacher requires students to discuss their holiday with their team members according to the sentence pattern which is displaying in the PowerPoint. Besides, the teacher would participate with students to share her ideas about holidays. This learning activity may improve students’ linguistic-verbal intelligence and enhance their understanding of the English language (Kurpis & Hunter, 2017). Again, it may stimulate students’ social interaction in the English learning environment (Nguyen, Cannata & Miller, 2018). 

From a theoretical perspective, two main theories can be used to explain this case and they are Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence respectively. In Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, teacher-student interaction and student-student interaction may be connected to social interaction and social constructivism because English knowledge is constructed by interaction. In addition, learning activity is a zone of proximal development since the teacher and students play a central role in the process of collaborative learning. In Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence, this English class is mainly related to Linguistic-Verbal Intelligence. What’s more, teacher-student interaction and student-student interaction are connected to Interpersonal Intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence.

Relevant Theory

In this case study, two relevant theories would be chosen to explain key ideas or concepts. Two popular theories are Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence respectively.  Next, the definition of these two theories and the explanation of these two theories would be introduced to the chosen case.

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence

Over the years, some views of intelligence have renewed the interest of learners for effective learning. One famous conception which is multiple intelligences theory (MIT) was proposed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner. This multiple intelligences theory defines that people do not have only one intellectual capacity, but also have all kinds of intelligence which encompass mainly eight intelligences, including logical-mathematical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence and naturalist intelligence (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). Gardner mentioned that intelligence is a problem-solving capacity or a fashion product which is valued in one or more cultural environments (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). This case study is about learning the second language in the classroom and thus taking Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence has some implications for learners in terms of classroom learning (Brualdi Timmins, 1996). The theory states that all eight intelligences are needed in society. Learners, therefore, should think that all intelligences are equally important. Besides, multiple intelligence is greatly different from the traditional education systems. Traditional education systems normally emphasize the development and use of linguistic and mathematical intelligence while the theory of multiple intelligence suggests that learners should recognize a wider range of capacities  (Brualdi Timmins, 1996). Thus, the theory of Multiple Intelligences means that all intelligences should work efficiently for learners. Next, linguistic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence would choose to explain learning according to this case study.

First of all, linguistic intelligence in Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences defines that people have the ability to master the language (Brualdi Timmins, 1996). In other words, people who master this intelligence can be able to use words well in writing and speaking. In the first step of this class, the English teacher shows four new words with pictures through multimedia since students can learn the meaning of new words and memorize them easily. For example, students in the classroom listen and respond to teachers’ sounds and rhythm. In this situation, students can remember new words. Besides, the teacher would ask students the meaning of new words. Most students would use their own words to explain new words. According to the characteristics of learners with linguistic intelligence, students would learn English through explanation and speak to communicate (Erlina, Marzulina, Astrid, Desvitasari, Sapriati, Amrina, Mukminin & Habibi, 2019). In the second step of this class, the teacher shows several new phrases with pictures through multimedia because students can learn the meaning of new phrases. Besides, the teacher provides the learning activities about phrase chain games and the phrase matching game. The English learning activities may help the students open their mouse to promote interaction with the teacher. According to the characteristics of learners with linguistic intelligence, students may be good at communication through all kinds of word games (Erlina et al., 2019). In the third step of this class, the teacher sets the learning activities which is the small group learning. Students communicate with their members about holidays. Again, the teacher would engage in several groups to interact with students. If students have linguistic intelligence, they may easily readily incorporate descriptive language; tell a good story using complex sentence structure (Erlina et al., 2019). In addition, students as learners may love to debate issues and be able to explain things well (Erlina et al., 2019). Briefly, students as learning with linguistic intelligence may have their own normal behaviours in the classroom because they may learn language easily and perform better to develop their capacities such as learn through listening, reading; good at speaking and writing; easily memorizing the knowledge and use complex sentence structure(Erlina et al., 2019). 

Furthermore, interpersonal intelligence in Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences involves that people have the capacity to interpret and respond appropriately to emotions, motivations, and intentions of others (Sternberg, 2012). In the case study, the English teacher provides the opportunity for students to interact with each other, including teacher-student interaction and student-student interaction in the English classroom since it may help students learn from the process of interaction. Firstly, learners who have interpersonal intelligence may be keen to interact and enjoy learning through interpersonal communication (Sternberg, 2012). For example, the English teacher provides many opportunities for students to stand up and respond to the teacher’s questions. Secondly, learners who have interpersonal intelligence may be good at giving and receiving feedback from others, especially seek it out from teachers (Sternberg, 2012). For example, as long as students respond positively to the teacher’s question, the teacher would say “very good” or “good job” in the classroom. Thirdly, learners who have interpersonal intelligence may be allowed to use their learner’s senses as part of the learning process so that they may learn better (Gardner, 2017). In the process of learning, learners may tend to have a strong sense of intuition about the opinions and preferences of others (Sternberg, 2012). For example, when the English teacher shares her interest in holidays, students would be more active to respond to the teacher and even share their own interest with the teacher. Again, when the teacher shares her opinion about new words according to her experience, some students tend to speak out their opinion, too. Lastly, learners who have strong interpersonal intelligence may be more eager to learn through participating in learning activities because it may help learners develop their learning knowledge and skills from interacting with members (Sternberg, 2012). For example, the teacher provides the opportunity for students to interact with each other through setting learning activities. Most students communicate with their teammates regarding what they can do or what they want to do during the holiday. Briefly, interpersonal learners may prefer learning through interaction since they have the ability to communicate with and understand others.

Therefore, learners have multiple intelligences and then make it play a more effective role in learning experiences. And it may help students make learning more fun and rewarding for students involved. Besides, the theory of multiple intelligences may be almost popular among learners and even the whole world. Many teachers use multiple intelligences theory in their educational philosophies and then work to integrate Howard Gardner’s theory into the classroom. Nevertheless, the multiple intelligences theory received much critics regarding eight intelligences. Most critics who are from the psychometric testing organization state that there is little empirical evidence to support it (Armstrong, 2009). They claim that there is actually only one kind of intelligence that you can test for, and that is the “Spearman g-factor” or a person’s general intelligence rather than the eight unique intelligences. Another common criticism is that multiple intelligences theory is a PC frame of mind, a way of simply telling parents of “dumb” children that there is hope for their children (Zhou & Brown, 2021). Further, all students may enter the classroom with different developed intelligences although students are born with multiple intelligences. It means that each student as a learner may have their own unique intellectual strengths and weaknesses and this determines how easy or difficult it is for students to learn knowledge (Brualdi Timmins, 1996). This situation may refer to as a learning style and all kinds of learning styles can be found in the classroom. Nevertheless, it may be impossible for students to accommodate all of the learning styles in class. Again, it may be impractical for students to use all multiple intelligence. 

Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory

Over the last few decades, the contribution of Lev Vygotsky has become the basis of many research and theory of cognitive development, especially the well-known theory of social development (McLeod, 2018). Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory defines that cognitive development stems from social interaction and social contexts (McLeod, 2018). It means that human development is a process of social intermediation in which learners acquire their cultural values, beliefs and problem-solving strategies through cooperative interaction with more knowledgeable people of society (McLeod, 2018). Importantly, Vygotsky’s theory highlights that the role of social interaction is the central position in the development of cognition (McLeod, 2018). Also, the concepts of Vygotsky’s theory mainly include culture-specific tools, private speech, and the Zone of Proximal Development (McLeod, 2018). Hence, this theory encourages that learners should engage in more interactive activities to stimulate cognitive development  (McLeod, 2018). Again, it encourages learners to learn from the beliefs and attitudes shaped by their culture  (McLeod, 2018).

One of the key concepts of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory is social constructivism. Social constructivism refers to the construction of learners’ knowledge that is derived from the social environment and cultural context and requires interaction with others (Amineh & Asl, 2015). According to Vygotsky (1978), cognitive growth transpires at the social level firstly, and then it can happen within the individual. It means that knowledge can be constructed from understanding others on such a social level, and then allows learners to associate themselves with their environment  (Amineh & Asl, 2015). 

Firstly, the English teacher creates conditions for interaction positively through setting several learning activities and communicating with students to construct reality together. It means that students and the English teacher who are members of a group construct reality together instead of discovering knowledge and capacity by individuals because the social constructivism of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory may be based on reality (Kim, 2001; Kukla, 2000 ). The reason is that reality may be not pre-existing. In contrast, it may be constructed through human activity in society (Amineh & Asl, 2015). In addition, the social constructivism of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory states that reality is not a property that can be discovered by an individual due to the fact that reality is not produced before social invention  (Amineh & Asl, 2015). Secondly, students as learners in the classroom environment interact with the English teacher actively through sharing their ideas or opinion with classmates and responding to the teacher’s question. Amineh and Asl (2015) states that this interaction enables students to gain knowledge and understand the meaning of knowledge in the social and cultural environment. Importantly, knowledge in social constructivism can be interpreted as a socially and culturally constructed human product (Kim, 2001). Thirdly, the English teacher produces the opportunity for students to participate in interactive and even engage in collaboration activities. In the process of interacting with the teacher and classmates, learning takes place for students who engage in the learning activities because they can gain knowledge and capacity in the learning process. Social constructivism emphasises that learning is the process of social interaction since meaningful learning takes place when learners are participating in social activities, especially collaboration and interaction (Amineh & Asl, 2015; Kim, 2001). Lastly, the students as learners have the opportunity to interact with the English teacher and other classmates who may be more knowledgeable. In this situation, the students may develop their thinking skills and their professional knowledge of English. In fact, social constructivism acknowledges learners as an integral part of the learning process and influences by other people’s social background, cultural context or knowledge (Wertsch, 1997; Amineh & Asl, 2015). 

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is one of the key concepts of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory defines as the particular area between what learners can do without help and what they can do with knowledgeable adult guidance or collaboration with a more capable partner (Vygotsky, 1978). In the case study from the video, students in the classroom have opportunities to interact with their peers and communicate with the English teacher since the teacher sets several learning activities to promote students’ engagement. As a result, it may help students develop their language skills and other capacities when they interact with other classmates and respond to the teacher positively in ZPD. Vygotsky (1978) states that ZPD provides the appropriate environment for learners’ learning process and the development of mental functions. Particularly, Vygotsky (1978) believed that establishing collaboration activities is useful for those learners who have poor learning skills to develop with the help of more knowledgeable partners in ZPD. In the study of Freund (1990), he found that people who had previously worked with their mother (ZPD) showed the greatest improvement compared to when they first tried the task and the result is that instructional learning in ZPD leads to having a better understanding or performance than those who learn alone. 

Moreover, it is necessary to accept assistance from teachers and peers in ZPD. It means teachers or peers as scaffolding may help learners have better learning performance in ZPD (Raymond, 2000). In Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, scaffolding is directly related to ZPD since it plays an important role in helping the learners develop and providing support structures to achieve the next level of learning goals (Raymond, 2000). In the case study, students would be supported by the English teacher and peers when they engage in learning activities. For example, there are some students who may not understand individual new words, the English teacher would explain them detailedly. In this situation, teachers as scaffolding may help students to have a better understanding of language knowledge. Obviously, students expand their understanding through their collaboration and engagement in scaffolding activities. In the process of engagement and collaboration, they may be doing more than simply absorbing information or digesting large amounts of knowledge. Their active participation enables them to construct and potentially transform understanding, especially through conversation and ideas can be shared, and explanations are given (Hammond & Gibbons, 2005). As a result, new ways of thinking and understanding language knowledge may be developed for students. Nevertheless, when the English teacher provides too much assistance for students, they may tend to be passive learning, instead of active learning. This situation is a potential disadvantage of scaffolding.

However, there are several limitations of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory. In the study of McLeod (2018), Vygotsky’s theory is not subject to the same rigorous examination as Piaget’s theory. Besides, Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory does not offer as many concrete hypotheses to test as Piaget’s, which may make refutation very difficult (McLeod, 2018). In addition, the main controversy of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory is about the assumption which is relevant to all cultural contexts (McLeod, 2018). 


In conclusion, it is no doubt that two theories in teams of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence, play an important role to develop learners and learning in this case study. From the viewpoint of the social constructivist of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, it is essential to consider learners’ social background and cultural context since it helps to shape the knowledge and capacity that learners create, discover and acquire in the learning process (Amineh & Asl, 2015). In terms of zone of proximal development and scaffolding about Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, they enable learners to be more competent in learning. Particularly, it is necessary to know each learners ZPD. It means that students’ current knowledge level should know since it is difficult to teach them in their ZPD or provide effective scaffolding support without students’ learning information. Hence, Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory implies that the social world is not only the interactions between peers and their teacher but also consisted of outside influences within the community (McLeod, 2018). It emphasizes that cultural context and social is significant in learning since culture was a primary determinant of knowledge acquisition. He argued that children learn from the beliefs and attitudes modelled by their culture. Besides, this theory encourages learners to establish more interactive learning activities to improve cognitive growth, like productive discussions, constructive feedback, and collaboration with other people (Vygotsky, 1978). From the viewpoint of linguistic intelligence in Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence, learners who have linguistic intelligence would be able to remember vocabulary and spoken information. They also would be able to explain ideas well and tell stories with confidence. Further, learners who have interpersonal intelligence may good at understanding and interacting with other people. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence can help learners better understand their capacities. It helps learners to build up confidence as it demonstrates how they can use their strengths to address their weaknesses. This case study is about learners and learning. Although there is criticism of these two theories, it is denied that it still has the significant role in education. To a certain extent, these two theories are popular in learning for learners. In the case study of teaching English as a second language, language is important to develop some new knowledge and new skills. Therefore, it is important for learners to gain a second language in society.


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