Text World Theory and the secondary English classroom

  • Ian Cushing

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis presents a critical investigation of a cognitive stylistic approach to UK secondary English education. It draws on a branch of cognitive stylistics, Text World Theory, a discourse-level grammar used to explain and account for the ways in which humans build, negotiate and experience vivid worlds in their minds upon engaging with language. This thesis extends the text-world framework in two broad ways: as a way of conceptualising and describing the classroom space and classroom discourse, and as a text-world pedagogy for the teaching of literary language and the experience of fictional worlds. The text-world pedagogy consists of a set of theoretical principles and practical teaching materials, which were developed in close collaboration with a group of practicing English teachers, and then delivered by these teachers to Year 8 (age 12-13) students. I observed, filmed and transcribed these lessons, and carried out a series of interviews with participating teachers. These transcripts were thematically indexed and analysed using methods from cognitive stylistics, in order to textually trace the emergence of the pedagogical principles in discourse.There are a series of contributions to knowledge emerging from this work. Firstly, I show how classroom talk consists of complex text-world structures, especially during discussions of literary texts where students engage in collaborative world-building. Secondly, I show that text-world concepts and meta language offer students and teachers an intuitive, accessible and empowering way of thinking about how language works, legitimising personal responses which are anchored to the text. Thirdly,the text-world pedagogy was used as a facilitative tool for the teaching of grammar, providing conceptual interpretations of grammatical form and making clear connections between clause and discourse. Teachers who engaged with the pedagogy reported transformative effects on their identity,practice and beliefs about English teaching. As such, this research has important implications for cognitive stylistics, English education and curriculum policy.
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorUrszula I Clark (Supervisor) & Marcello Giovanelli (Supervisor)


    • Keywords text world theory
    • applied linguistics
    • cognitive stylistics
    • pedagogical stylistics
    • English education

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