Silvia Pessoa

Silvia Pessoa

Area Co-Head, Arts & Sciences
Teaching Professor, English

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Silvia Pessoa is a teaching professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar where she teaches courses in academic reading and writing and sociolinguistics. Her research areas include academic writing development, second language writing, sociolinguistics, bilingualism, and immigration studies. Her research has been funded by the Qatar National Research Fund and has appeared in international journals such as the Journal of Second Language Writing, Linguistics and Education, and the Journal of Arab Studies.


Ph.D., Second Language Acquisition, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA

Dissertation: Uruguayans in Elizabeth, New Jersey: An ethnographic portrait of the biliteracy development and educational experiences of undocumented immigrant adolescents

  • Advisor: G. Richard Tucker
  • Committee: Mariana Achugar and Christina Paulston

M.A., Second Language Acquisition, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA

Thesis: The experiences of native and nonnative speakers of English in English composition and ESL writing courses: A case study of six students and their teaching/learning contexts

  • Advisor: G. Richard Tucker
  • Second Reader: Paul Matsuda

M.A., Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI

B.A., Linguistics, minor in TESOL, Summa Cum Laude, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI

Area Of Expertise

academic writing development, second language writing, writing in the disciplines, systemic functional linguistics, sociolinguistics, bilingualism, immigration studies

Research Description

Silvia Pessoa's research areas include academic writing development, second language writing, and immigration, which she studies with the tools of systemic functional linguistics and qualitative methods. Through National Priorities Research Program (NPRP) grants from the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), she has studied academic writing development among linguistically and culturally diverse university students in Qatar, and has studied the life experiences of immigrant workers in Qatar.  

Research Keywords

academic writing, second language writing, systemic functional linguistics, sociolinguistics, bilingualism, immigration

Useful Links



Pessoa, S. (2010). Undocumented Uruguayan immigrants: Biliteracy and educational experiences. San Antonio, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC (250 pages).   

(Reviewed in Contemporary Sociology)


Sacchi, F., Pessoa, S., & Martin Cabrera, L. (2005). Más allá de la pantalla: El mundo hispano a través del cine. Boston: Thompson/Heinle (272 pages).

(Reviewed in The NECTFL Review)

Edited Volumes

Choueiry, H., Pessoa, S., & Rajakumar, M. (Editors). (2010). Hazawi: Stories from Qatar. Doha, Qatar: Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (150 pages).


Gardner, A., Pessoa, S., & Harkness, L. (2014). Labor migrants and access to justice in contemporary Qatar. London: The London School of Economics and Political Sciences Middle East Center. 

Articles in refereed journals

Mitchell, T. D., Miller, R. T., & Pessoa, S. (in press). Longitudinal changes in use of Engagement in university history writing: A case study. In L. Lai, A. Mahboob, and P. Wang (Eds). Multiperspective studies of language: Theory and application (pp. 145-153). Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.

Miller, R.T. & Pessoa, S. (2016). Role and genre expectations in undergraduate case analysis in information systems. English for Specific Purposes, 44, 43-56. doi:10.1016/j.esp.2016.06.003

Pessoa, S. & Miller, R. T. (2016). Where's your thesis statement and what happened to your topic sentences? Identifying organizational challenges in undergraduate student argumentative writing. TESOL Journal

Miller, R.T., Mitchell, T.D., & Pessoa, S. (2016). Impact of source text genre and prompts on students’ genre uptake. Journal of Second Language Writing 11, 11-24.

Soudy, N., Pessoa, S., Dias, M.B., Joshi, S., Thowfeek, H. , Teves, H. (2015). The Brain Race game: Development, implementation, and impact. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU-2015), 34-45.  DOI: 10.5220/0005410400340045.

Miller, R.T., Mitchell, T. D., & Pessoa, S. (2014). Valued voices: Students’ use of ENGAGEMENT in argumentative history writing. Linguistics and Education, 28, 107-120. 

Pessoa, S., Miller, R. T., Kaufer, D. (2014). Student challenges and development in the transition to college at an English-medium university in Qatar. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching: Special issue on English-medium universities in non-English speaking countries, 52(2), 127-156.

Pessoa, S., Harkness, L., & Gardner, A. (2014). Ethiopian migrant laborers and the free visa system in Qatar. Human Organizations, 23(2), 205-213.

Gardner, A., Pessoa, S., Diop, A. Alghanim, K. Le Trung, K., & Harkness, L. (2013). A portrait of migrant workers in contemporary Qatar. Journal of Arab Studies, 1-17. 

Karatsolis, A., Pessoa, S., Papadopoulos, P., Reynolds, D., Karthikeyan, K. (2011). The language of sustainability: From the basic writing classroom to professional discourse. IEEE International Professional Communication Conference Proceedings, 1-11.

Achugar, M., & Pessoa, S.  (2009). The role of Spanish in an academic community: Power, place, and linguistic attitudes. Spanish in Context, 6(2), 199-223.

Pessoa, S., Hendry, H., Donato, R., Tucker, G.R., & Lee, H.  (2007). Content-based instruction in the foreign language classroom: A discourse perspective. Foreign Language Annals, 40(1), 68-87.

Dominguez, R., & Pessoa, S.  (2006). Early vs. late start: Documenting achievement. Foreign Language Annals, 38(4), 473-483.

Peer-reviewed chapters in books

Gardner, A., Pessoa, S., Diop, A. Alghanim, K. Le Trung, K., & Harkness, L. (in press). A portrait of migrant workers in contemporary Qatar. Re-print from the Journal of Arab Studies (2013) to appear in I. Rajan and G. Zacharia Oommen (Eds.), Asianisation of migrant workers in the Gulf countries. Cambridge, UK. Cambridge University Press. 

Miller, R. T., & Pessoa, S. (in press). A corpus-driven study of the learning of disciplinary genres. In L. Flowerdew & V. Brezina (Eds.), Written and spoken learner corpora and their use in different contexts. London, Bloomsbury.

Pessoa, S., & Miller, R. T. (in press). Implementing writing at an American branch campus in Qatar: Challenges, adaptations, & recommendations. In L. Arnold, A. Nebel, and L. Ronesi (Eds.). Writing research and pedagogy in the MENA region.  Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press. 

Gardner, A., Pessoa, S., & Gardner, L. (2016). Migrants and justice in Qatar: Time, mobility, language and ethnography. In R. furman, G. Lamphear, and D. Epps (Eds.). Lived experiences in a transnational world (pp. 253-265). New York: Columbia University Press. 

Pessoa, S., Soudy, N., Gatti, N., & Dias, M. B. (2016). A community adult English literacy program for migrant workers in Qatar: Context-specific critical pedagogy & communicative language teaching at work. In C. Hastings & L. Jacob (Eds.), Social justice in English language teaching (pp. 289-305). Arlington, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). 

Soudy, N, Pessoa, S., & Dias, B. M. (2015). Building bridges through a community English literacy program for low-income migrant workers in Qatar. In J. Perren & A. Wurr (Eds.), Learning the language of global citizenship: Strengthening service-learning in TESOL (pp. 358-395). Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing.

Pessoa, S., & Rajakumar, M.  (2011). The impact of English-medium higher education: The case of Qatar. In A. Al-Issa and L. Dahan (Eds.). Global English: Issues of language, culture, and identity in the Arab world (pp. 153-178). London: Peter Lang.

Awards & Honors

The Tucker Fellowship award at the Center for Applied Linguistics, 2005

Marckwardt TESOL Travel Grant, 2004

University Service

Language Bridges, student club for teaching English to migrant workers, faculty advisor, 2010-present

Internal Review Board at CMU-Q: Faculty Member, August 2010-present


Trainer for literacy tutors for Reach out to Asia (ROTA) Adult English Literacy program (RAEL): September 2014-present

Materials’ development for false beginner, basic, intermediate and advanced curricula for teaching English to adult migrant workers in Qatar for Reach out to Asia (ROTA): June 2013-September 2013.

Access to justice by migrant workers in Qatar for the Open Society Foundations: April 2012-December 2013.

Materials’ development for basic and intermediate curricula for teaching English to adult migrant workers in Qatar for Reach out to Asia (ROTA): May 2009-December 2009.

Professional Activities

NASFLA (North American Systemic Functional Linguistics Association) Social Media Manager

NASFLA (North American Systemic Functional Linguistics Association) Promising Scholar Committee Member: 2016

AAAL Proposal Reviewer, 2015-present

Current Sociology, manuscript reviewer, 2015-present

Studies in Comparative International Development, manuscript reviewer, 2015-present

Journal of Second Language Writing, manuscript reviewer, 2015-present

Second Language Writing Interest Section in TESOL, Immediate Past Chair, March 2016-March 2017

Second Language Writing Interest Section in TESOL, Chair, March 2015-March 2016

Second Language Writing Interest Section in TESOL, Chair Elect, March 2014-March 2015

Revista Onomázein (main publication from the Latin American Systemic Functional Linguistic Association), manuscript reviewer, 2014-present

TESOL Journal, manuscript reviewer, 2013-present

Language in Society, manuscript reviewer, 2011-present

Courses Taught

76-386 Language and Culture (Spring 2014, Fall 2016)

76-100 Reading and Writing in an Academic Context (Fall 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)

76-101 Interpretation and Argument (Spring 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)

76-357 Linguistic and Social Aspects of Immigration (Spring 2007, 2008, Fall 2014)

76-378 Literacy: Educational Theory & Community Practice (Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Spring 2012)

82-376 Special Topics in Hispanic Studies: The Hispanic World through Film (Spring 2009, 2010)

Academic Projects

Pessoa, S., Miller, R.T., Mahboob, A., Limam Mansar, S., Liginlal, D., Hagan, S., & Humphrey, S.  (Submitted December 2014).  SLATE-Q: Scaffolding literacy in academic and tertiary environments: The case of communication in Information Systems.  Grant submitted to the Qatar National Research Fund under the National Priorities Research Program.  Budget: $587,221. Status: Awarded in May 2015, start date February 2017.

Kaufer, D., & Pessoa, S.  (2012).  Undergraduate discipline-specific writing: Expectations, demands, and development.  Grant awarded by the Qatar National Research Fund under the National Priorities Research Program.  Budget: $572,982.  Time line: October 2012-April 2015.

Dias, B., Cooper, Y, & Pessoa, S.  (2011).  Innovative computing and mobile technology for improving basic functional English literacy skills for adults.  Grant awarded by the Qatar National Research Fund under the National Priorities Research Program. Budget: $1,049,996.  Time line: June 2012-July 31 2015.

Gardner, A., & Pessoa, S.  (2010).  Transnational labor migration in Qatar: An empirical sociological analysis.  Grant awarded by the Qatar National Research Fund under the National Priorities Research Program.  Budget: $600,000.  Time line: November 2010-November 2013.  

Pessoa, S.  (2009).  The CMU-Q study of academic literacy: A longitudinal study of the reading and writing development of the class of 2013.  Grant awarded by CMU-Q Faculty Seed Research Fund.  Budget: $ 155,000.  Time line: August 2009-May 2013.