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M.A. TESL Handbook

The Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language (MA TESL) provides advanced professional preparation and study in the teaching and administration of English as a second or foreign language with adult learners in the U.S. or abroad.

Advising Process

At the beginning of the program, you will be assigned a Course Selection Advisor with whom you will meet regularly throughout your program.  This faculty member will help you determine the courses to take to complete your MA TESL program. 

At the beginning of your second year, you will identify two faculty advisors to work with you on your MA TESL capstone projects; the MA Paper and e-Portfolio (described below).  Your MA Paper Advisor will oversee the writing of your paper and serve as your second reader for the e-Portfolio.  With the assistance of your MA Paper Advisor, you will also identify your Committee Member.  Your Committee Member will oversee the development of your e-Portfolio and serve as the second reader on your MA paper.  By the end of your program, you will have up to three faculty advisors with whom you will have worked closely with during your MA TESL program.

Program of Study

The MA TESL program consists of 36 credit hours of coursework that include a variety of experiences that provide authentic, integrated opportunities for students to plan, teach, reflect, research, and lead in ESL and EFL programs for adult learners.


9 credits (required). This group of courses is designed to develop your understandings of the social, historical, and theoretical foundations of the field of Applied Linguistics and TESL.

  • APLNG 484 Discourse Functional Grammar
  • APLNG 491 Second Language Acquisition
  • APLNG 493 Methods for Teaching English as a Second Language

Professional Core

6 credits. This group of courses provides you with opportunities to integrate your understandings with practical experiences in ESL instructional settings.

  • APLNG 410 Teaching American English Pronunciation
  • APLNG 412 Teaching Second Language Writing
  • APLNG 482 Introduction to Applied Linguistics
  • APLNG 583 Methods of Language Assessment

Field Experience

6 credits. This group of courses provides you with the opportunity to apply your understanding in ESL instructional settings.

  • APLNG 500 Practice Teaching in ESL
  • APLNG 595 Internship [Tutoring]

Methods of Research in Language and Language Learning

3 credits. A course in this area will enhance your understandings of and skills in doing research on language and language learning. Courses that you may choose include the following:

  • APLNG 578 Computational and Statistical Methods for Corpus Analysis
  • APLNG 581 Discourse Analysis
  • APLNG 586 Analyzing Classroom Discourse
  • APLNG 592 Qualitative Research in APLNG
  • other course with approval of your advisor

Additional Courses

12 credits. The courses you choose here will strengthen your understandings and skills in an area or areas in which you have special interests:

  • APLNG 511 Applied Linguistics and Health Sciences
  • APLNG 512 Language and Adult Lifespan Development
  • APLNG 570 Second Language Reading
  • APLNG 572 Communication in Second Language Classrooms
  • APLNG 574 World Englishes: Pluralizing Policy, Pedagogy, & Proficiency
  • APLNG 575 Language Ideology
  • APLNG 576 Language Socialization across Home, School and Community
  • APLNG 583 Methods of Language Assessment
  • APLNG 584 Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning
  • APLNG 587 Theory and Research in 2nd Language Teacher Education
  • APLNG 588 Design and Research of Technology-Mediated Language Learning
  • APLNG 589 Technology in FL/SL Education
  • other course with approval of your advisor

Please note: MA TESL students are not permitted to 'sit in' on classes.

Hybrid Pathway and Online Courses

12 credits.  If you choose the Hybrid Pathway for your MA TESL degree, you will complete the following four courses online prior to coming to Penn State’s University Park campus.  You will complete the remainder of your courses (see above), your teaching practicum, and other degree requirements in residence.  The 12 credits that you earn online will count for the required 12 credits of Additional Courses described above.  The online courses are offered in rotation during the Fall, Spring, and Summer terms. Full descriptions of the online courses may be found here.

  • APLNG 802 Focus on English: Teaching Form, Meaning, and Use
  • APLNG 804 Focus on Learners: Identity, Community and Language Learning
  • APLNG 806 Focus on Classrooms: Planning and Supporting Language Learning
  • APLNG 808 Focus on Instruction: Teaching and Assessing Language Learning

500-Level Courses

A minimum of 18 hours of coursework at the 500-level is required. You must maintain a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 in all coursework in order to maintain good academic standing and to graduate. The MA TESL Requirements Checklist with all program requirements must be completed, signed by your advisors and the Director of Graduate Studies, and submitted to the department office at least three weeks prior to the end of the final semester.


Capstone Professional Development Projects

To earn your MA TESL degree, you must complete two capstone projects that illustrate your on-going professional development: the MA Paper and the e-Portfolio.

The MA TESL e-Portfolio

The e-Portfolio serves to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your accomplishments in the program. The development of the e-Portfolio is a process that begins in the first semester when you begin compiling class materials, assignments, and other records of your professional training and experience.


The e-Portfolio must provide evidence that demonstrates you have accomplished the following program objectives:

  • the ability to design and evaluate instructional materials, technology, media, and other resources that meet the specific instructional and language related needs and abilities of students
  • the ability to reflect on, critically analyze, and evaluate your own teaching practices
  • the ability to articulate a philosophy of language teaching grounded in current language and learning theories
  • an understanding of the complex social, cultural, political, and institutional factors that affect language teaching and students' language learning
  • knowledge of research and research methods for studying language teaching and learning
  • knowledge of the teaching field (English as a Second Language)
  • participation in collaborative projects with others



You can use several types of evidence to demonstrate that you have accomplished the program objectives. Please use our conceptual tool that will help you think about and design your e-Portfolio.

Evidence can include but is not limited to the following:

  • Documents you produced in your courses. These may include seminar papers, reaction papers, exams, assignments, and/or completed projects.
  • Documents you produced outside of any specific course that analyze and synthesize your various experiences in the program.
  • Documents you produced in your field experience courses, including handouts, exams, journal entries about your teaching experiences, reflections on tutoring interactions, interviews with students or teachers, and so on.
  • Documents about your participation in the program written by someone else, including written observations/evaluations completed by a supervisor, a cooperating teacher, or a peer observer; formal course evaluations, and so on.

In addition to the documents, your e-Portfolio must include brief texts and illustrations such as captions, graphics, comments, and other material that connect the document to the MA TESL program objective(s).   

Evaluation and Presentation of the e-Portfolio

The final assessment of the final draft of the e-Portfolio is done at the end of your second year of study by your Committee Member and your MA Paper Advisor. You must submit your e-Portfolio to them at least two weeks before the end of the semester in which you are to graduate (fall or spring only). Your e-Portfolio will be evaluated on the basis of the depth and breadth with which the evidence given demonstrates that all the objectives of the MA TESL program have been accomplished. You will be expected to present your e-Portfolio to the APLNG community at the end of the semester in which you will graduate (fall or spring only).

MA Paper

The MA paper is required of all MA TESL students. It represents your research interests and is usually developed from your work done in one or more courses. Examples of MA papers completed by former students are kept on file in the Department office, and you are encouraged to review these.



Choosing a topic for your MA paper may take some time and thought, so plan to consult with your MA Paper advisor during your second semester of study. There are several options for this project:

  1. Critical Literature Review: Select a contemporary academic topic that is of particular interest to you. Review the pertinent literature (primary and secondary sources) that lay out the central issues and claims about this topic.  Conclude your paper with your stance on the topic and implications this has for the field of TESOL/APLNG.
  2. Curriculum Development:  Develop a curriculum for a particular group of language learners or language teaching context.  Your curriculum must include a literature-based rationale for both the content and the skills covered in the course, a complete course syllabus, as well as all curriculum materials necessary to teach the course.
  3. Data-driven Project: Develop an analytic empirical research paper based on oral, written, and/or computer mediated discourse.  Ground your research in a relevant theoretical perspective, provide a critical review of the most relevant literature, and apply relevant methodologies in working through the data.  Your paper must involve some level of analysis and not simply line-by-line descriptions or paraphrased accounts of the data.  



The following deadlines apply to writing the MA Paper:

  • By end of your third semester in the program
    • decide on a topic and timeline for completing the paper in consultation with your advisor
  • At least six weeks before the end of semester in which you are to graduate
    • submit draft to MA Paper advisor
    • advisor will provide feedback within one week
  • At least four weeks before the end of the semester in which you are to graduate
    • submit revised draft to MA Paper advisor and committee member
    • committee will provide feedback within two weeks
  • At least one week before the end of the semester in which you are to graduate
    • make final revisions, construct title and signature pages, collect committee members’ signatures
  • Upon completion
    • submit a bound, signed copy of your final MA paper to each of the following:
      • MA Paper advisor
      • committee member
      • APLNG Department (Sally Arnold)


  • Poster Presentation
    • All MA TESL students are expected to prepare and present a poster of their MA paper at the APLNG event held at the end of the semester in which they graduate.
    • The purchase of a three-panel display board is recommended so the poster will be self-standing. 



Professional Development for MA TESL Students

APLNG Roundtables and Lecture Series

In addition to the coursework, you are strongly encouraged to participate in regularly scheduled APLNG roundtable sessions and the guest lecture series sponsored by the Center for Language Acquisition. The sessions include presentations and discussions of research-in-progress by members of the APLNG community as well as presentations by visiting scholars and invited speakers. See News and Events on the department website for a schedule of events. [the underline text would be linked to the new “News and Events” module]

APLNG Alumni Outstanding MA TESL Student Award

The purpose of this annual award is to recognize MA TESL students in the Department of Applied Linguistics whose academic and professional accomplishments are deemed to be exceptional and who have made significant contributions to the department.

Award:  A certificate of merit and $200, to be presented to the selected student at the department's end of the year party.

MA TESL students are nominated for the award by faculty.  In order to be eligible for nomination, a student:

  • must be a currently registered MA TESL degree candidate
  • must have completed one full year of the MA TESL program
  • must have a minimum Grade Point Average of 3.0 in his or her own graduate work.

Social Events Sponsored by APLNG Community

MA TESL students are encouraged to participate in all social events sponsored by the APLNG community.  All students and faculty are expected to provide a small financial contribution to the Social Committee to help fund social events.  Announcements are sent out on the APLNG Listserv and posted on the News and Events on the department website.