Becoming a meaning maker

PETAA Book Extras—Supplementary resources


Glossary of terms describing talk and interaction


One way to think of talk and interaction is to understand turns in talk as performing specific actions. So asking a child ‘How old are you?’ might work as a question that seeks information. Uttering ‘How old are you?’ might be heard as a complaint if directed at an adult who is playing with a child’s toys while the child watches. Asking ‘Do you need a hand?’ can be heard as a question and as an offer. So sometimes a number of actions may be performed in a single utterance. Schegloff (2007, page 8) suggests that to figure out what action is being done by talk we might ask ‘What could someone be doing by talking in this way? What does that bit of talk appear designed to do?’ Both questions are useful for analysing interaction in classrooms.

Embodied actions

Talk and interaction encompasses verbal and non-verbal actions. Non-verbal actions are frequently referred to as embodied actions. In the classroom, hand raising is an important embodied action because it does something in the interaction, such as indicate that a student wishes to speak next. Looking at someone is another embodied action that can accomplish things interactionally. For example, a teacher’s glance at a student might be followed by the student speaking. The glance is taken to be selecting the student to speak. On the other hand, the embodied action of looking by the teacher might result in a student ceasing to speak while the teacher is speaking.

Extended turn

Turns have beginning points and end points. We are able to interact successfully because we anticipate the end point of another’s turn and so begin our own turn without a lot of overlap or with no overlap at all. Sometimes though, a turn by a speaker may become extended when the speaker goes past the point at which someone else might rightfully anticipate that it is possible to begin to speak. Teachers often take extended turns, evident in long gaps during their talk. Students usually do not begin speaking in those gaps because they anticipate that the teacher has not finished speaking and because teachers often nominate a speaker when they have finished their turn.


In much of this book, we have numbered lines in transcripts. This is not an interactional unit (such as a turn in talk) but rather is a way of numbering transcripts to be able to make specific reference to them during analysis or description (for example, ‘in line 23, the teacher takes an extended pause of several seconds’).

Multiparty talk

Talk is frequently two-party. A simple example of two-party talk is a phone-call between two people. In two-party talk the next speaker is frequently evident because talk moves between one speaker and the other. In three party talk, who speaks next is less clear. This is more so with four parties to the talk (Sacks, 1995). Multiparty is a term used to describe talk encompassing more than two parties to the talk. From the perspective of classroom talk and interaction, the initiation-response-feedback (IRF) is thought to produce two-party talk even though numerous students are present. That is, the questioning-answer-evaluation sequence constitutes talk as going back and forth between individual students and the teacher with the teacher very frequently being one party to the talk occurring.

Ordinary conversation

In this book we use the term ordinary conversation to refer to every day talk that occurs outside of institutional settings such as school classrooms. We apply the term as it is used in conversation analysis to maintain a distinction between turn-taking in ordinary conversation and the more restricted forms of talk found in classrooms. By restricted, we mean that the rules of ordinary conversation are constrained in some way for the purposes of achieving institutional activity of one kind or another (Davidson, 2015). The frequency of evaluation of the talk of another is not usually found in ordinary conversation.


A commonsense perspective on overlap is that one speaker is interrupting the other. However, conversation analysis research has shown that overlaps are frequently orderly and that they commonly occur in a possible “transition-relevance place” (Schegloff, 2007, page 4) where change of speakers might occur without both talking at once for a long time (which may lead to difficulties in understanding). Overlap then is understood as frequently occurring because the next speaker is anticipating when it is possible to take their own turn.

Rules of turn-taking

Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson (1974) first articulated the rules of the turn-taking system for ordinary conversation. Essentially, our orientations to these rules makes human social interaction possible because it enables us to address the problem of ‘who should talk next and when should they do so’ (Schegloff, 2007, page xiv). There are a small number of rules although these can appear complex for a non-conversation analyst audience. X presents a concise version of the rules:


Speakers may be nominated to speak next by the current speaker (this happens frequently in teacher-led classroom talk) or they may self-start without being nominated to speak next. Sometimes in classrooms, students might self-start and be reprimanded because it is ‘not their turn’.


Turns in talk, and the actions they accomplish, are thought of as occurring in sequences of turns. The core sequence is the adjacency pair or paired turns. These turns are important because the occurrence of one implies or makes relevant the occurrence of the second in the next turn. Examples of adjacency pairs are question-answer and directive-response. Some adjacency pairs have alternate second parts. So invitation — acceptance/decline consists of an invitation in a first turn that is followed by either an acceptance or decline by the following speaker.

Student-student talk

In the classroom, talk might occur between teachers and students (teacher-student interaction) or between students (student-student). Clearly, small group interaction without the teacher will be produced through student-student interaction. Promoting student-student interaction in the whole-class setting requires moving from the IRE teacher-student system of interaction to talk that shows students taking turns so as to talk to each other.


Repair describes talk and interaction that addresses trouble in talk (see next term below for trouble). Repair can be thought of in terms of self-repair (where the speaker addresses or fixes up the trouble) and other-repair (where someone other than the speaker repairs the problem in talk). Talk shows a preference for self-repair so frequently another will initiate self repair (known as other-initiated self repair). For example, if someone says ‘Sorry’ when they haven’t heard a previous speaker’s words, the previous speaker will often hear this as a request to repeat the information and does so. Thus the speaker’s repetition came about because of the other’s use of ‘Sorry’ was heard as indicating a problem in the talk and resulted in its repair.


Trouble is a technical term used to label problems in talk and interaction. Problems can be of different kinds. One form of trouble is interactional trouble where there are problems in the turn-taking system. Another important form of trouble is trouble in understanding. Peter Freebody et al (1995) delineated several forms of trouble: epistemological trouble; organisational trouble; reasoning trouble; pedagogical trouble; relation trouble; stylistic trouble. Trouble in talk needs to be repaired as close to its source as possible (such as by the speaker in the turn) so as to avoid loss of intersubjectivity. Another difference between ordinary conversation and classroom talk is that trouble in classroom talk may take a longer time to be repaired (Mehan, 1975) or may remain unaddressed (Freebody et al., 1995).


An important way to understand turn-taking is to think of it as a system that has rules. Ordinary conversation has a system that was first described by Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson (1974). One of the rules of ordinary conversation is one-speaker at a time. Another is current speaker selects next speaker. Of course there are other systems in operation in various aspects of life. For example, talk in classrooms varies from ordinary conversation in numerous ways. McHoul (1978) first described the rules for turn-taking in whole-class talk and he established that while the one speaker at a time rule still applies, the next speaker after a turn by an individual student is usually the teacher. The initiation-response-feedback (IRF) is a particular turn-taking system which favours the teacher as the alternate speaker (rather than other students, for example).


Transcription involves producing a version of a recording. Transcription is understood, and done differently, according to the requirements or purpose of the transcriber, project, research etc. For our purposes, transcription is understood as a selective process that transforms recordings of sound/image to text (Duranti, 2007). It is important to be explicit about what aspects of talk and interaction are being transcribed and why these aspects are transcribed and not others (Davidson, 2009).

Whole-class talk

Whole-class refers to the large group setting for classroom activity. It is often teacher-led and dominated by the initiation-response-feedback (IRF) or initiation-response-evaluation (IRE) structure of interaction. In this book we explore ways that student participation in whole-class talk can be extended and enhanced. In particular, this book establishes some of the ways that students can produce multi-party talk during whole-class talk, rather than two-party talk (with the teacher being one party- and a student being the second).


  • Davidson, C (2015) ‘“Dont tell him just help him: Restricted interactional activity during a classroom writing lesson’, in F Chevalier & J Moore (eds), Interactional restrictions, avoidance and withholding in institutional talk: Studies in conversation analysis, John Benjamins, Amsterdam, Philadelphia, PA, pages 385–437.
  • Duranti, A (2007) Transcripts, like shadows on a wall, Mind, Culture and Activity, 13(4), 301–310.
  • Freebody, P, Ludwig, C & Gunn, S (1995) Everyday literacy practices in and out of schools in low socio-economic urban communities: A descriptive and interpretive research program, Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training Canberra, Australia.
  • McHoul, AW (1978) The organization of turns at formal talk in the classroom, Language in Society, 7, 183–212.
  • Mehan, H (1979) Learning lessons: Social organization in the classroom, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, US.
  • Sacks, H (1995)  Lectures on conversation/Harvey Sacks; edited by Gail Jefferson; with an introduction by Emanuel A Schegloff, Blackwell, Oxford, UK.
  • Sacks, H, Schegloff, EA & Jefferson, G (1974) A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation, Language, 50, 696–735.
  • Schlegloff, E (2007) Sequence organisation in interaction: A primer in conversation analysis, Volume 1, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
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Becoming a meaning maker: Talk and interaction in the dialogic classroom

Christine Edwards-Groves and Christina Davidson

Becoming a Meaning Maker aims to provide core understandings that allow educators to say definitive things about talk and interaction in classrooms so as to bring about changes to their practices. This book is the result of a year-long research project, Researching dialogic pedagogies for literacy learning across the primary years, awarded in 2015 (below).

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