Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Linguistics, Applied

First Advisor

Avary Carhill-Poza

Second Advisor

Corinne Etienne

Third Advisor

Yumi Matsumoto


This thesis presents findings from a yearlong study of a classroom of adult immigrants studying English as a Second Language (ESL) in the U.S., who collaboratively created and performed plays based on their life experiences. This research is rooted in poststructuralist theories of identity in second language learning (e.g., Norton, 2000; 2013), a view of language pedagogy as a form of liberation (Freire, 1970), and the notion that theater can be used by non-actors to critically engage with issues of relevance to the community (Boal, 1979). The teacher-researcher of the class used ethnographic investigation informed by autoethnography and action research to examine: 1) how students perceived theater as affecting their language development, and 2) how individual students’ identity development was affected by participation in the class. Data included interviews, field notes, audiovisual recordings, artifacts, and journal entries. Relevant literature in the fields of immigration, second language acquisition, and drama in language teaching is reviewed and discussed. The process of engaging students in playwriting and performing is detailed in the findings section along with a discussion of the nature of theater in the second language classroom. The data analysis exhibits that creating a play had many positive effects on students’ affective dimensions, second language development, classroom dynamics, and investment in the course, as well as some negative effects including anxiety amongst students at the prospect of performing in English and instances of interpersonal tensions. Classroom implications of the study include the recommendation that teachers frame theater explicitly in a positive light and make expectations of students clear from the beginning of the course.