Research and media

Participatory ESOL research 

The Our Languages project with King’s College, London

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 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.


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

We have published research into participatory ESOL methods since 2012.

You can read two of our research reports 'Whose Integration?' and 'The Power of Discussion', as well as our introductory chapter on Participatory ESOL in the British Council's book 'Language Issues in Migration and Integration'. 

In 2015 We contributed chapter 16 to Adult Language Education and Migration: Challenging agendas in policy and practice, ed. James Simpson and Anne Whiteside.

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)