Questioning and responding in the classroom: a cross-disciplinary study of the effects of instructional mediums in academic subjects at a Chinese university

Guangwei Hu, Yanfang Duan

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reports on a cross-disciplinary study of the effects of instructional medium and disciplinary background on teacher questions and student responses in 20 subject classes at a Chinese university. These classes were sampled to operationalize the distinction between hard and soft disciplines based on the hypothesis that these two disciplinary clusters may depend on verbal interaction to different extents. Data comprised 20 lessons delivered by different Chinese teachers in their EMI subjects, where both English and Chinese were used as instructional mediums. All the teacher questions and student responses in the lessons were identified, and their cognitive and linguistic complexity were assessed with multiple measures. Analyses revealed that an overwhelming majority of teacher questions and student responses were cognitively and linguistically simple. Instructional medium did not have any statistically significant effect on the incidence, cognitive or syntactic complexity of teacher questions and student responses. The only cross-disciplinary difference found was that student responses in the soft disciplines were syntactically more complex than those in the hard disciplines. These results suggested that questioning and responding in the EMI classrooms were unlikely to achieve the dual goal of facilitating students' subject learning and improving their English proficiency envisioned by policymakers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-321
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019


  • classroom discourse
  • cognitive complexity
  • English-medium instruction (EMI)
  • student responses
  • syntactic complexity
  • teacher questions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language

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