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Students’ Voices from the Pandemic. The Use of Modal and Semi-Modal Verbs for Expressing Subjectivity in a Local Academic Learner Corpus

Emanuela Tenca


This essay presents the results of a small-scale study on learner output obtained through an asynchronous writing activity completed in a Moodle forum during an English course targeting students of Primary Teacher Education at the University of Modena e Reggio Emilia (Italy) in spring 2020. The activity encouraged learners’ expression about topics relevant to their disciplinary and professional domain, thus enhancing their engagement in the learning process. The analysis focuses on the use of modal and semi-modal verbs, and it aims at contributing to research into modality in learners’ academic writing. Indeed, the insights obtained by examining material created by learners during the pandemic can help develop resources and strategies to be incorporated in a more conscious, organic, and learner-centred manner into the design of future courses. The corpus (27,430 tokens) was investigated using Sketch Engine, and the results show the students’ preference for modals and semi-modals expressing obligation. This may be determined by the topic and by the students’ background, as they integrate their personal perspective as insiders into their contributions, hence demonstrating their strong commitment towards the profession for which they are training.


Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT); learner corpora; modality; Moodle; writing skills.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/lcm-2023-001-tene

Copyright (©) 2023 Emanuela Tenca – Editorial format and Graphical layout: copyright (©) LED Edizioni Universitarie

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