Cognitive & Social Strategies for Developing a Second Language

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Your language learners can benefit enormously from being aware of some strategies that develop their language skills. Also, your students can benefit from social learning strategies you apply in class. This lesson discusses how you can approach both.


Stewart is a teacher of English language learners who often ask him what they can do to improve. Stewart gives tips to students such as practice speaking aloud at home, which is a cognitive strategy because it makes the student aware of what to do to learn more. Also, Stewart gives his language learners a lot of tasks that get students interacting with each other, which is a social learning strategy. This example leads to clear definitions of cognitive and social strategies as the set of procedures students can apply to improve their language skills. Now, let's look at the different approaches you, as a teacher, can apply to include both cognitive and social strategies in class.

Cognitive and Social Strategies

Even if students do not ask, you can always advise them how to improve their language skills. Here are some approaches that involve cognitive and social strategies that you can apply in class.


Your language learners need to learn certain patterns and a great way to do it is through repetition. However, your students are not aware of this, so you are their guide. To illustrate, Stewart sees his students need to learn the pattern 'Do you like + verb ending in -ing.' So, Stewart models for his students how to do repetition to learn this pattern. He makes a list of verbs ending in 'ing' and then just repeats aloud 'Do you like jogging? Do you like cooking? Do you like singing?...' By doing this, the pattern of grammar becomes natural.

Formulaic Expressions

You can get your students into the habit of using common expressions for everyday practicality. For instance, Stewart wants his students to use formulaic expressions such as 'thanks a lot, see you later, as you wish' just to name a few examples. Stewart knows students who are not native speakers of English are not aware of the common use of these formulaic expressions. For this reason, Stewart gives students different context examples in which it is appropriate to use the expressions. Moreover, students have to also come up with their own examples of situations in which they would use the expressions. In short, you must always give your students a context for formulaic expressions.


Language skills require work that goes beyond short answers or statements. For this reason, you as a teacher can elicit detailed answers or statements from your students so that they elaborate. For example, Stewart asks questions to his students so they practice English skills in the present tense. He asks 'What do you do on weekends?' When a student answers 'I go to the park with my parents,' Stewart asks the students to tell more about it. If the student struggles, Stewart helps by asking questions such as 'Which park do you usually visit? What activities do you do in the park? What do you like about the park?'. This example illustrates that elaboration gets students working to develop their fluency in the language.


Your language learners can benefit enormously from learning to self-monitor several of their skills, including grammar, sentence structure, and pronunciation. For example, Stewart teaches his students that in order to ask a question in the preterite tense they always must have the auxiliary verb 'did,' then a subject, and then another verb in the base form. Stewart gives students the example: 'You read a book?' Stewart asks students if this question has all the components. This way, students learn they can correct their own mistakes.

Appeals for Assistance

When you are in the process of setting things up for your classroom, it is a great idea to involve students in helping you. When you ask for assistance, students get to interact with you while using language in a spontaneous manner. For instance, Stewart gets a student to turn the projector on while another assists him with giving the other students the hand-outs for an activity. As students help, they ask questions in case they are not sure what to do and they also receive instructions.

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