Promoting conceptual development of the second conditional in the classroom zone of proximal development

Submitted by: Junling Zhu
Abstract: This study explores the development of learners’ understanding of the second conditional in English during an instructional conversation (IC). This study is informed by Russian psychologist Vygotsky’s Social Cultural Theory (SCT) and the theory of Instructional Conversation (IC), as well as the work of scholars who have used SCT or IC to design research (Vygotsky 1978; Lantolf & Poehner 2008a; Lantolf & Thorne 2006; and Goldenberg 1991).

The data analyzed in this study came from a lesson observation made by Macmillan Learning Teaching Education of a lower intermediate English class. During the IC, the instructor leads students toward a conceptual understanding of the second conditional in English by providing appropriate mediation that is sensitive to the class’ zone of proximal development (ZPD). The transcript of the IC is analyzed with regard to the amount and type(s) of instructional mediation and the development opportunities created in this type of collaborative interaction.

The findings indicate the conceptual and linguistic development among the students in terms of the second conditional in English during the IC. This is demonstrated by contrasting the analyses of Excerpt 1 and Excerpt 2. Excerpt 1 displays the instructor as the primary resource of mediation, while Excerpt 2 demonstrates an increase in student agency and more self-regulation, where students are able to re-contextualize the second conditional to express ideas in various imaginary situations.

The implications of this study center on the value of IC in creating a ZPD to promote L2 conceptual and linguistic development. It is clear that IC can create a ZPD within which learners have the potential to develop their understanding of L2 grammar concepts and enhance their L2 linguistic performance. The limitation of this study is that it only investigates a one-time class intervention. Future research could conduct a longitudinal study on more L2 grammar concepts to check the effects of IC within the classroom zone of proximal development.


Instructional Conversation (IC)
Second conditional in English
Zone of proximal development (ZPD)
Social Cultural Theory (SCT)


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