Understanding students’ mimicry, emulation and imitation of genre exemplars: An exploratory study

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Guided by the Vygotskian concepts of mimicry, emulation, and imitation, this study examines how eight Chinese EFL students modeled from genre exemplars when composing their first academic papers in university. The students were enrolled in a “Cultural Tourism Studies” course at a university in south China. The course was delivered in a co-teaching approach with an embedded six-week EAP workshop. Given the short time frame of the workshop, an ESP genre-based approach was adopted, and genre exemplars were used to scaffold the students’ understanding of two focal genre features (i.e., citation and organization). At the end of the course, text-based interviews were conducted to understand how the students made sense of and used the genre exemplars in the composing process. The analysis of students’ term papers revealed a varying amount of mimicry, emulation, and imitation of the target genre features. The introspective and retrospective accounts of students’ engagement with the exemplars suggested that imitative learning was multifaceted, dynamic, and varied within and between individuals. These findings challenge the dichotomous characterization of exemplars as either an enabling scaffold or a constraining shackle. The paper also discusses how the tripartite Vygotskian framework is a useful heuristic for EAP instructors to assess the extent to which genre exemplars are attuned to students’ zone of proximal development, and how genre exemplars offer fluid affordances in the process of object-, other-, and self-regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-138
Number of pages12
JournalEnglish for Specific Purposes
Early online date1 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Emulation
  • Genre exemplars
  • Imitation
  • Imitative learning
  • Mimicry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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