Structure and Engagement in Teacher–Student Chats in ESL Writing


  • Estela Ene Indiana University
  • Thomas A. Upton Indiana University



chat, ESL writing, feedback, move, synchronous CMC


Teacher-moderated online chats are a common option for conducting writing conferences with students. The efficacy of chat sessions is impacted by the expectations for and structure of these sessions. This corpus-based study used a move analysis to determine the purposes and organization of 129 chats between 3 experienced teachers and 106 students of primarily Chinese and Arabic origin in 9 freshman English as a second language (ESL) writing courses. Chats occurred after a draft of an essay assignment had been returned with written teacher feedback, in order to provide opportunities for students to receive individualized input. Findings show that chats are structured to serve three functions: opening and closing social moves (greetings, conversational pleasantries) meant to establish rapport; management moves that serve to structure and orient the chat; and instructional moves in which the teachers and students confer and additional feedback is provided. However, chats were not as effective at engaging participants as they could be due to a lack of intentionality and reciprocity. With prior research showing chats are a useful addition to other forms of teacher electronic feedback, we offer suggestions for improving the use of instructional chats in freshman ESL writing classes, in order to better engage students.

Author Biographies

  • Estela Ene, Indiana University

    Estela Ene is a Professor and Chair of the English Department, Director of the English for Academic Purposes Program, Indiana University, Indianapolis. She conducts research on ESL and English as a foreign language writing, (e-)feedback, teacher and program development, and global learning. Her publications appear in CALICO Journal, Journal of Second Language Writing, System, ELT Journal, and other major journals and edited collections.

  • Thomas A. Upton, Indiana University

    Thomas A. Upton is a Professor and Director of the Program for Intensive English at Indiana University, Indianapolis. He has research interests in TESOL, EAP/ English for specific purposes, corpus linguistics, and discourse analysis. He has published articles in Discourse Studies, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, Journal of English for Specific Purposes, System, TESOL Journal, Journal of Second Language Writing, and Ibérica.


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How to Cite

Ene, E., & Upton, T. A. (2024). Structure and Engagement in Teacher–Student Chats in ESL Writing. CALICO Journal, 41(2), 146-164.