Executive functions in English second language learning

A systematic mapping review





executive functions, English as a second language, teacher training


Recently, neuroscience studies have helped the field of Education to understand how the brain processes information and how teachers can benefit from this knowledge, specially related to Executive Functions (EFs). EFs can be described as the set of skills which allow us to perform the necessary actions to achieve a goal. There are three core EFs: working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. In the field of second language teaching and learning, are these skills integrated into the classroom practice by teachers? If so, how? Does it benefit students’ learning somehow? Also, are EFs included in the curriculum of teachers’ training programs? Are future teachers being prepared to integrate EFs to develop their students’ skills? This study aims to look for clues about these issues in recent literature and to find studies with approaches to ESL that stimulate the EFs in the learning process and how these methods are developed in teachers’ training contexts using the systematic mapping study as a method. This study considered articles from 2011 to October 2021, looking for strings related to ESL, such as teacher training and EFs. The search showed results in Scopus, Web of Science, Pub-Med, Science Direct/Elsevier and data from specific SLA journals, such as Cambridge Core, Journal of English as International Language, TESOL International Journal, Linguistics Journal and Asian EFL Journal. The first search resulted in 5803, from which 3 full read after applying the inclusion/exclusion criteria. As the number of articles was very low, the snowballing method was applied, resulting in more 117 articles from which other 3 were analyzed. The six studies indicated that both qualitative and quantitative data are usually used. Also, it is possible to notice that studies relating aspects of neuroscience to the ESL approaches are still in the beginning. The articles’ authors mention the need for further studies. Teachers generally are not prepared to include critical thinking in their classroom practices. Studies which developed practices and gathered data show that the students’ critical thinking and metacognition improved. Teachers should have developed their own metacognition and critical thinking to enhance their students’ skills. 


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Ângela Musskopf, Instituto Superior de Educação Ivoti (ISEI), Ivoti, RS, Brasil

Mestre em Letras pela Universidade Feevale, em Novo Hamburgo, RS, Brasil. Professora do Instituto Superior de Educação Ivoti (ISEI), em Ivoti. RS, Brasil.

Débora Nice Ferrari Barbosa, Universidade Feevale, Novo Hamburgo, RS, Brasil

Doutora e Mestre em Ciência da Computação pela UFRGS, em Porto Alegre, RS, Brasil. Professora e pesquisadora no Programa de Pós-graduação em Diversidade Cultural e Inclusão Social, em Novo Hamburgo, RS, Brasil.


Armstrong, P. (2010). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy

Bag, H. K., & Gürsoy, E. (2021). The Effect of Critical Thinking Embedded English Course Design to the Improvement of Critical Thinking Skills of Secondary School Learners. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 41(100910), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2021.100910

Brasil. Ministério da Educação. (2018). Base Nacional Comum Curricular (BNCC). Educação é a Base. MEC/CONSED/UNDIME. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from http://basenacionalcomum.mec.gov.br/images/BNCC_publicacao.pdf

Cosenza, R. M., & Guerra, L. B. (2011). Neurociência e educação: como o cérebro aprende. Artmed.

Diamond, A. (2014). Understanding executive functions: what helps or hinders them and how executive functions and language development mutually support one another. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 40(2), 7-11. http://digitaleditions.sheridan.com/publication/index.php?m=13959&i=210099&view=contentsBrowser&ver=html5

Ellis, R. (2000). Second Language Acquisition. OUP.

Hiver, P., Whiteside, Z., Sánchez Solarte, A. C., & Kim, C. J. (2021). Language teacher metacognition: beyond the mirror. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 15(1), 52-65. https://doi.org/10.1080/17501229.2019.1675666

Li, L. (2016). Integrating thinking skills in foreign language learning: what can we learn from teachers’ perspectives? Thinking Skills and Creativity, 22, 273-88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2016.09.008

Liang, W. & Fung, D. (2021). Fostering critical thinking in English-as-a-second-language classrooms: Challenges and opportunities. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 39(100769), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2020.100769

Mitchell, R., & Myles, F. (2004). Second Language Learning Theories. Hodder Arnold.

Moran, J. M. (2002). O que é um bom curso a distância? Boletim do Programa Salto para o Futuro da TV Escola sobre educação a distância. TVE Brasil. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from http://www.tvebrasil.com.br/salto/boletins2002/ead/eadtxt1c.htm

Moran, J. M. (2015). Educação híbrida: um conceito-chave para a educação, hoje. In L. Bacich (Org.), Ensino híbrido: personalização e tecnologia na educação (pp. 27-45). Penso.

Petek, E., & Bedir, H. (2018). An adaptable teacher education framework for critical thinking in language teaching. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 28, 56-72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2018.02.008

Petersen, K., Feldt, R., Mujtaba, S., & Mattsson, M. (2008). Systematic Mapping Studies in Software Engineering [Paper presentation]. The 12th International Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering. EASE ’12, ACM: New York, NY, USA.

Petersen, K., Vakkalanka, S., & Kuzniarz, L. (2015). Guidelines for conducting systematic mapping studies in software engineering: An update. Information and Software Technology, 64, 1-18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infsof.2015.03.007

Popandopulo, A., Fominykh, N., & Kudysheva, A. (2021). Do educators need metacognitive skills in today’s educational environment? Thinking Skills and Creativity, 41(100878), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2021.100878

Valente, J. A. (2015). O ensino híbrido veio para ficar. In L. Bacich (Org.), Ensino híbrido: personalização e tecnologia na educação (pp. 13-17). Penso.

Wohlin, C. (2014). Guidelines for snowballing in systematic literature studies and a replication in software engineering [Paper presentation]. The 18th International conference on evaluation and assessment in software engineering, 1–10. EASE ’14, ACM: New York, NY, USA.




How to Cite

Musskopf, Ângela, & Barbosa, D. N. F. (2022). Executive functions in English second language learning: A systematic mapping review. BELT - Brazilian English Language Teaching Journal, 13(1), e42927. https://doi.org/10.15448/2178-3640.2022.1.42927



Literature Review