Learning English tenses through the theory of variation

Siu Yin Annie TONG

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The appropriate use of tenses has long been an area of concern for many secondary school students of English as a second language in Hong Kong. This paper reports on a series of cyclical research lessons conducted with five classes of Secondary Two (Grade 8) students in Hong Kong. The teachers designed the lessons in ways that allowed the students to discern, through variation, the critical features of the appropriate use of past tense and present perfect tense in descriptive texts. Observation and evidence from interviews and comparison between pre- and post-test results suggest that the research lessons helped the students to learn effectively. At the same time, teachers benefitted from the collaborative reflections and investigations, as well as applying the Theory of Variation proposed by Marton and Booth (1997), suggesting that this model of professional practice may have broad application in teacher development programmes. Copyright © 2011 The Asian Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-167
JournalThe Journal of Asia TEFL
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


Tong, S. Y. A. (2011). Learning English tenses through the theory of variation. The Journal of Asia TEFL, 8(2), 145-167.


  • Collaborative reflections
  • Critical features
  • Research cycles
  • Tense aspects
  • Theory of variation


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