Critical Discourse Analysis for Classroom-Based Research

TESOL International Association’s research agenda calls for research informed by practice. This call empowers scholar-practitioners to systematically observe and investigate activities in diverse TESOL contexts. In this blog post, I share how I used critical discourse analysis (CDA) for research in a fifth-grade English-medium classroom in a U.S. public school. Before turning to the research, let us briefly delve into CDA.

What Is Critical Discourse Analysis?

In CDA, “DA” refers to the analysis of discourse or language, oral or written, focused on the construction of meaning, and its interpretation in particular sociocultural contexts. “C” refers to taking an epistemological critical stance, which considers that the language practices of the classroom (i.e., the micro-cosmos) are not isolated; instead, these are embedded in larger historical, sociocultural, and economic societal contexts (i.e., the macro-cosmos; Kumaravadivelu, 1999).

How Can I Apply Critical Discourse Analysis in My Classroom-Based Research?

CDA encompasses various evidence-based analytical approaches (e.g., Fairclough, 2014) useful to investigate in-depth language and equity issues manifested in discourse. Teachers can select the approach that best fits their specific situation and research purposes. I illustrate below how I used Fairclough’s approach, which is particularly helpful to analyze student-student interactions.

What Are Examples of Applied Critical Discourse Analysis?

Features of Discourse CDA Examples of Guiding Questions
  • Turn-taking
  • Interactional moves
  • Interruptions
  • Enforcing answers
  • Controlling topic
  • Which participants predominate and how?
  • How is control sustained or challenged?
  • Is agency unclear? How does agency manifest?
  • Are sentences active or passive?
  • Are sentences positive or negative?
  • Pronouns
  • Adjectives
  • Grammatical moods
  • Action verbs
  • Modal verbs
  • Are the pronouns we and you used, and if so, how?
  • Are adjectives used, and how?
  • What moods (declarative, interrogative, imperative, etc.) are used?
  • Are there important features of relational modality?
  • Is relational modality inclusive or exclusive, how?
  • Tone of voice
  • Nonverbal language
  • Conjunctions
  • Presuppositions
  • Interjections
  • Are there important features of expressive modality?
  • What logical connectors are used?
  • Are there words emphasized?
  • What presuppositions occur and how?
  • What conjunctions and interjections are used and how?

As a participant-observer I became intrigued by these classroom dynamics, and CDA helped me to discover underlying ideologies manifested in the children’s words and nuanced expressions (unbeknown to the teacher and students) that stigmatized children learning EAL as if they were less capable than their peers with grade-level English language skills, regardless of classroom evidence demonstrating the opposite. This study allowed me to suggest activities to raise teacher and student awareness at the school (Ricklefs, 2021).

How Is Critical Discourse Analysis a Valuable Tool for Classroom-Based Research?

TESOL professionals can utilize CDA to make sure their methodology is principled and systematic while achieving their research goals, for instance:

  • To examine how certain topics (e.g., race or gender inequities) are difficult to discuss in the classroom.
  • To investigate social functions of varieties of English and how these influence teacher expectations.
  • To examine types, functions, and quality of language use in the classroom (e.g., interactions between teacher and students or among students, as I did in my study).

The reference and additional resources lists include examples of how TESOL professionals have used CDA in their classroom research, and I invite you to consider your specific contexts to use CDA as well. In addition, the Research Professional Council Blog Series supports TESOL professionals using their research to inform practice. I will share more about CDA applied to classroom-based research in my next blog. Stay tuned!


Fairclough, N. (2014). (3rd ed.). Language and Power. Routledge.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (1999). Critical classroom discourse analysis. TESOL Quarterly, 33(3), 453–484.

Ricklefs, M. A. (2021). Functions of language use and raciolinguistic ideologies in students’ interactions. Bilingual Research Journal, 44(1), 90–107.

Additional Resources

Awayed-Bishara, M. (2021). Linguistic citizenship in the EFL classroom: Granting the local a voice through English. TESOL Quarterly, 55(3), 743–765.

Karagiannaki, E., & Stamou, A. G. (2018). Bringing critical discourse analysis into the classroom: A critical language awareness project on fairy tales for young school children, Language Awareness, 27(3), 222–242.

About Mariana Alvayero Ricklefs

Mariana Alvayero Ricklefs
Dr. Mariana Alvayero Ricklefs is an assistant professor in ESL and bilingual education at Northern Illinois University, USA. She has worked with English learners with/out learning disabilities in various settings for several years. Her research interests include raciolinguistic ideologies, identity positioning, critical language awareness, and teacher education. She is a former Fulbright scholar.
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2 Responses to
Critical Discourse Analysis for Classroom-Based Research

  1. In language acquisition, observing discourse (the informal use of a dialect of a language created by 2 or more fluent speakers) is the ONLY way to acquire and learn a language.
    Please note that there’s no such thing as a “modal verb” in the English language. There are modals which are required to be used contextually with verbs.

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