Testing the waters: assessing formulaic-sequence acquisition in primary school learners


This presentation discusses the principles underlying a battery of tests designed to measure the acquisition of vocabulary in terms of formulaic sequences (FSs) in EFL primary school children participating in an explicit instruction research experience (Wray, 2002). Examples of different testing activity types to measure both receptive and productive knowledge of FSs are analysed in relation to noticing, retrieval and generative use in test development with implications for both EFL teaching and research.


Formulaic sequences (FSs) are frequently encountered strings of words that typically convey specific meanings and functions and are retrieved as wholes by native speakers of a language (Wray, 2002). Research into foreign language teaching (Boers & Lindstromberg, 2012; Wood, 2015) nowadays advocates FS-focused instruction in the classroom, optimizing learners’ FL acquisition through detection, retrieval and creative use (Lindstromberg & Boers, 2008; Pellicer-Sánchez & Boers, 2019).

Our research project analyzes the effect of teaching FSs in songs and legends to EFL public primary school students with an A1 proficiency level (CEFR) and assesses FS acquisition through a battery of tests designed to measure both receptive and productive knowledge of the target sequences (Gyllstad & Schmitt, 2019). Test results serve a two-fold purpose in the teaching and the research domains: to assess the learning of FSs in children with nearly no prior EFL instruction - and none in terms of formulaic language- and to gauge the effects of an explicit, focus-on form pedagogical intervention on their learning through different task-types assessing to what degree the target sequences are recognised and/or used productively over an extended period of time (nine to ten months).

This presentation will analyse examples of different testing activity types in relation to noticing, retrieval and generative use (Lindstromberg & Boers, 2008) and the principles in test development (Hughes, 1996; Read & Nation, 2004; Lewis, 2009) to show how language research and teaching are intrinsically conjoined. This research will provide applied linguists and teachers with information on learners’ vocabulary intake at different stages, and offer insights into participants’ formulaic competence development which can feed back into the EFL classroom.

Testing the waters_Zinkgraf - Monteserin.pdf


Universidad Nacional del Comahue. Facultad de Lenguas




Presentado en XLV FAAPI Conference 2021. First Latin American Conference on Language Testing and Assessment. Virtual edition.




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