Van Compernolle & Williams 2013

Social Turn in Second Language Acquisition

Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory of Mind

Cognition is Social

The main principle of Vygotsky's sociocultural theory of mind (SCT) is that human cognition is socially developed and constructed. In other words, community plays a central role in the process of making meaning. 


What a child can do in cooperation today, he can do alone tomorrow.  -Lev Vygotsky


Vygotsky argued that the mind requires mediation to bring about learning. In other words, direct intervention from teachers and more capable peers is essential to help learners advance in their learning. In practice, this theory may take shape in instructional methods and approaches, such as task-based teaching and learning, project-based instruction, and/or immersion. 

Zone of Proximal Development

Intervention is also dependent upon each learner's Zone of Proximal Development. Teachers (and peers) provide developmentally appropriate assistance and feedback to support the learner' internalization of and control over the language (or content) that they are learning.

Overview of Contributions

 van Compernolle & Kinginger 

A case study of a French language learner that demonstrates the importance of mediator support. In this study, the learner was able to understand power and relationships in language through a cooperative interaction and teacher intervention.


Davin utilized dynamic assessment and instructional conversations to support elementary-age Spanish students' understanding of WH-question formation.

Poehner & Lantolf

Researchers Poehner and Lantolf designed a computerized dyanmic assessment to provide mediation to learners as they respond to questions. 

 van Compernolle

van Compernolle's investigation focuses on learners' orientation to spoken-interactive tasks, including their reasons for choosing particular language structures, their use of these language structures, and mediated and independent performance abilities.

Williams, Abraham, & Negueruela-Azarola

The authors investigate pre-service, novice, and experience French and Spanish teachers to determine to what extent they will embrace or reject pedagogical approaches that are not in alignment with the grammar textbook.

Sociocultural Theory Application

Application of Theory: A Space Lesson

Learning in a Social Context

Watch the video and consider if the instructor's approach to teaching and learning employs Vygotskian principles.

Discussion Question 1

Class Discussion

In your opinion, did the teacher in the video implement Vygotsky's sociocultural theory of mind? 

Application of Theory: A Butterfly Garden

Learning in a Social Context

Watch the video and consider how Yvonne Scott, a fifth-grade teacher at San Francisco Community School, employs Vygotsky's sociocultural theory of mind. 

Discussion Question 2

Class Discussion

How did the teacher in the video implement Vygotsky's sociocultural theory of mind? 

Review: The Butterfly Garden


The teacher employs strategies to foster and guide learning through communication, including small-group questioning, group work, and guided class discussions.


The teacher identifies learners' proficiency levels and provides assistance relevant to learners' zone of proximal development.


The students participate in cooperative learning activities (e.g., take on expert roles, work in collaboration) that enhance, reinforce, and refine their learning.

Discussion Question 3

Class Discussion

  • How do you integrate Vygotskian principles into the language classroom? 
  • Do you have a particular activity, lesson, or unit that encourages social learning that you would like to share? 
  • What advice might you offer a novice instructor to encourage more social learning in his/her classroom?