AL Forum

AL Forum News, Volume 25:1 (November 2004)

by User Not Found | 11/02/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter from the Chair
    • Letter from the Chair-Elect
    • From the Editors
  • Articles and Information
    • A Microgenetic Approach to the Study of Language Learning
    • Cultural Differences in Classroom Turn-taking and Implications for the ESOL Context
    • Investigating Speaking Practices in TESOL Talk: Teacher-Initiated Sequences That Assist Students to Correct Errors
    • Pair-Work Talk, Transitions, and Interactional Authenticity
    • Call for Submissions
    • About TESOL's Applied Linguistics Interest Section
Leadership Updates Letter from the Chair

Olsher image.David Olsher, e-mail, San Francisco State University, California, USA

Dear ALIS members,

Greetings to Applied Linguistics Interest Section (IS) members old and new. In this column, I would like to talk a bit about our ALIS, then provide some information about the upcoming convention, and finally mention some issues our IS members discussed at our open meeting at the Long Beach convention. (The IS open business meetings are held on the Wednesday evening of the convention week, and all interested ALIS members are welcome to attend and bring up issues of concern.)

First, here is a bit of information about the ALIS. We are one of the larger TESOL ISs: We currently have 1,066 members, ranking fifth among a total of 19 ISs. We are also one of the most diverse ISs in terms of geographical locations and educational teaching contexts. Many of our members are graduate students, and many are researchers and teachers in graduate programs that train TESOL professionals in the United States and internationally. Unlike many of the other ISs, we do not have a single unifying ESOL teaching focus (such as speech, listening, and pronunciation) or context (such as elementary education or English as a foreign language). Our mission is to foster the exchange of ideas and information concerning research in applied linguistics and its practical application to language education, and this can include a broad range of research that may be relevant to various educational concerns and contexts.

For the 2005 TESOL Convention in San Antonio, Texas, we have an interesting lineup of ALIS presentations, panels, discussions, and events. This year the ALIS is joining several collaborations across ISs. We are cosponsoring two Intersections (panels organized by two or more ISs). The ALIS has joined with the Higher Education IS to organize a panel on corpus research and how it can inform the teaching of writing. This panel will include Douglas Biber, Patricia Byrd, Jan Frodesen, Eli Hinkel, and Margi Wald and it promises to provide perspectives on recent research as well as innovative teaching practices that apply this research. Also, the ALIS has joined with the Speech, Listening, and Pronunciation ISs to organize a panel on the role of gesture and embodied action in learning prosody (features such as stress, intonation, and rhythm). This panel will include Janet Goodwin, Marc Helgesen, Steven McCafferty, and Gale Stam. In both Intersections, two panelists will focus on emerging research, and the others will present innovative teaching practices.

In another collaboration, we are joining the Teacher Education and Research interest sections to organize a TESOL Special Project, a networking event for researchers and language educators. As a result of talk at our ALIS business meeting about a disconnect between researchers and language teachers, this event was created to promote a wider understanding among TESOL educators of emerging research that is relevant to language education, establish professional connections so that we can explore new ways that research can serve the needs of TESOL practitioners across a wide range of educational contexts, and build understanding between educators and researchers. The ALIS is organizing this event in collaboration with the Research IS and the Teacher Education IS. This will be an evening event with refreshments and round tables and a range of dialogue focuses (such as Best Practices in Elementary ESL or Genre and Teaching Writing). In addition, our chair-elect, Noël Houck, has planned an exciting Academic Session with a dynamic and diverse group of panelists on new approaches to teaching and learning grammar. She has also planned a great lineup of discussion sessions. Please see the From the Chair-Elect column in this newsletter for more information.

In addition to the collaborative sessions, ALIS members have a great selection of concurrent sessions lined up for the San Antonio convention with a wide-ranging schedule of papers and panels, including sessions dealing with feminism and racism, literacy, online discourse communities, and using news media in English language teaching. We were fortunate to have a great number of interesting proposals. Our IS had 122 submissions (including panels and individual presentations), and we were able to accept 24 individual papers as well as five panels. The selections were made using a blind review process, with three readers for each proposal. Oasis, which TESOL adopted this year as its web-based convention planning system, worked fairly well.

Next, I'd like to mention a few of the issues raised at our ALIS open business meeting in Long Beach. One issue involved recent TESOL decisions about publications. In the case of the shortening of the journal TESOL Quarterly, the ISs protested strongly and the journal was restored to its full length. In the more recent case of the discontinuation of the TESOL Journal and the creation of the new Essential Teacher, members objected that decisions were made before the TESOL meeting, which prevented discussion as part of an open process. Another area of concern was the reconfiguration of the TESOL Board's organization that is currently under way. Some members expressed concern that representation of the ISs will be reduced as a result of the elimination of the IS representative board members and changes in the nominating committee. These and other issues were addressed in resolutions passed by the IS Council, but this council is only an advisory body, so we need to see how TESOL responds.

One thing that is essential to the health of TESOL and our IS is the participation of our dedicated colleagues and all they contribute to the conventions and the organization. The ALIS is currently looking for people interested in serving as chair-elect, and we are also looking for a new newsletter coeditor. Please see the announcement of leadership opportunities in this newsletter, or contact current coeditors Stefan Frazier ( or Isaiah Yoo ( or ALIS Chair David Olsher ( for more information.

Letter from the Chair-Elect

Noel Houck portrait.Noël Houck, e-mail, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

As the chair-elect, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about myself and my background. Like many of the applied linguists I meet in TESOL, I entered the language teaching profession through a back door. I was working as a biostatistician fresh out of graduate school at the University of São Paulo in Brazil when most of the faculty members in my department were "retired" for political reasons by the government. Luckily, the American consulate was starting a small English language school, the Associacão Alumni, and was looking for native speakers to teach English. With three other expatriates who wanted to continue to live and work in Brazil, I found myself teaching Brazilians to "listen and repeat."

I soon found that an MS in biostatistics had not prepared me adequately for the questions I was running into as a language teacher. So I returned to the United States, enrolled once again in graduate school, and received a PhD in linguistics in 1984 from the University of Southern California (USC).

During my doctoral program, my interest evolved from grammar to second language acquisition and finally to pragmatics and discourse analysis-all of which I am still actively interested in. I ended up writing a dissertation based on a linguistic approach to a pragmatic issue, the function of tag questions. As I began teaching linguistics and reading more widely in pragmatics, I became interested in cross-cultural pragmatics. Research in that area resulted in several articles, culminating in a book I wrote with Susan Gass called Interlanguage Refusals. Since then, I have devoted more attention to naturally collected classroom discourse, especially among speakers with different language backgrounds. At the same time, I retain a strong interest in grammar and in second language acquisition.

I continued teaching during my studies at USC. While completing my dissertation, I taught in and spent several years directing a language program at a small private university in downtown Los Angeles. After receiving my degree, I moved to Michigan, where I taught in the Linguistics Department at Oakland University and worked as an editor for one of the local automobile companies; later I spent a year as a visiting lecturer in the English Department at Michigan State University.

In 1990 my family and I moved to Japan, where I taught at Temple University Japan for 10 years, at first in the English language program and for the last eight years in the Graduate School of Education. It was a wonderful opportunity to reacquaint myself with English as a foreign language (EFL) classrooms and with the concerns of EFL teachers. While in Japan, I remained active in TESOL, serving on the TESOL Quarterly editorial board from 1997 until just before I left Japan. I also served on several Fulbright committees and became involved as a reader for the research publication of the Japanese Association of Language Teachers (JALT Journal).

In 2000, I returned to the United States and am now teaching applied linguistics at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California, as a member of the English and Foreign Languages Department.

In accordance with my continuing interest in learning how students acquire English in ESL and EFL classes (and how best to facilitate students' acquisition), I have organized a panel on Current Research Perspectives and Grammar Teaching for the ALIS Academic Session at the 2005 TESOL Convention in San Antonio, Texas. Four leading researchers on grammar in use and language learning will discuss recent findings from different research perspectives: discourse and grammar, corpus linguistics, lexical patterning, and chaos/complexity theory. Panelists will focus on practical applications of this research to the teaching of grammar. These four areas represent the cutting edge of second language acquisition and discourse research. All four panelists are deeply involved in classroom applications, and the panel topic should be especially appropriate for TESOL members in 2005. In the same vein, a number of colleagues with research backgrounds and an involvement in classroom applications have been invited to discuss a wide range of topics of current interest, ranging from plagiarism to corpus linguistics and content-based language teaching.

The ALIS is an active and diverse interest section. I am looking forward to serving you, the members, during the coming year and to getting to know you better in San Antonio.


Noël Houck

From the Editors

Stefan Frazier, e-mail, University of California, Los Angeles; Isaiah W. Yoo, e-mail, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Greetings during this heady political season! We trust everyone has survived it intact.

In this issue (25.1) we are proud to include a selection of articles by presenters at the TESOL 2004 Applied Linguistics IS Academic Session in Long Beach, California, which was entitled Microinteractional Research and Language Classrooms. Each of the authors--Joan Kelly Hall, Deborah Poole, Irene Koshik, and David Olsher--is an authority in this burgeoning field of research. Hall presents a fine introductory article on the history and value of microgenetic research, noting its strengths and limitations. Next, Poole argues that language teachers should be aware of the differences in turn-taking behavior among the different cultural backgrounds represented in their classrooms and provides a survey of literature on these different behaviors. Finally, Koshik and Olsher each offer a short analysis of particular kinds of interaction, based on naturalistic classroom data and employing conversation-analytic methods.

Thank you to all submitting authors.

Please note that the newsletter is in search of a new coeditor, who will start a two- or three-year commitment at the business meeting at TESOL 2005 in San Antonio, Texas. If you are interested in the position or would like more information, contact the chair or chair-elect.

Happy reading, and do let us know if you have comments or questions about the newsletter.

Articles and Information A Microgenetic Approach to the Study of Language Learning

By Joan Kelly Hall, e-mail, The Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania

Microgenetic Methods

The use of microgenetic methods to study second and foreign language learning has gained much popularity over the past 10 years or so. Unlike traditional methods, which are designed for studying behavior in its final form, these methods are used to capture the actual processes of learning as they occur. This interest in studying learning processes has its source in Vygotsky's (1978) theory of development. According to Vygotsky, understanding individual behavior can come about only through examinations of its sociocultural origins and evolution. He stated,

To encompass in research the process of a given thing's development in all its phases and changes--from birth to death--fundamentally means to discover its nature, its essence, for ‘it is only in movement that a body shows what it is.' Thus, the historical study of behavior is not an auxiliary aspect of theoretical study, but rather forms its very base. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 65)

Vygotsky (1978; Cole, 1996) posited four dimensions to the developmental study of behavior. Phylogenesis is concerned with the rise of psychological signs and symbols, including language, in the evolution of the human species. The cultural-historical dimension considers the development of human action over time in a particular culture. Ontogenesis considers the development of human behavior over the life of an individual. Microgenesis is concerned with the development of human action over a limited duration of time. This last dimension is what studies of classroom-based learning are centrally about.

Several features characterize microgenetic methods. First, unlike traditional methods, which typically collect data before and after some period of time such as what is found in pre- and posttest designs, in microgenetic studies, data is collected throughout the entire time period from when the behavior first begins to change to when it reaches a relatively stable state. In this way, data collection functions more like time-lapse photography than before-and-after snapshots. The timing and density of observations allow for the documenting of both stable and changing components of behaviors and for the analysis of individual differences in development. They also allow for the analysis of connections between changing behaviors and surrounding conditions. A second feature is the sample size. Because the priority is to get fine-grained details about change processes, a high density of observations is needed, which, in turn, requires a relatively small number of participants. Third, the data is examined for both qualitative and quantitative aspects of change. Qualitative analyses can uncover the changing shapes of the behaviors as they happen. Quantitative measures such as frequency counts, sign tests, and other nonparametric measures can also be employed to detect whether any changes are significant from one point to another, and how the changes relate to specific aspects of the event.

In the field of second and foreign language learning, studies using microgenetic methods have been concerned primarily with the use of verbal strategies by both teachers and learners in moving learners from other-regulation, where they need help to accomplish an activity, to self-regulation, where they are able to do the activity on their own. Movement from other-regulation to self-regulation occurs in the zone of proximal development (ZPD; Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86) as the learners appropriate the mediational means needed to accomplish the task. More recent studies have begun looking at specific aspects of the learning context to determine catalysts of change. Because space limitations preclude a more detailed review of the various studies, I include reference information for four studies for those interested in taking a closer look. The reader may note that Belz and Kinginger's (2003) study deals with the learning of German. It is included here because their use of microgenetic methods can easily be applied to the study of English and the findings draw important conclusions about the contextual conditions affecting language learning.

Belz, J., & Kinginger, C. (2003). Discourse options and the development of pragmatic competence by classroom learners of German: The case of address forms. Language Learning, 53(4), 591-647.

De Guerrero, M., & Villamil, O. (2000). Activating the ZPD: Mutual scaffolding in L2 peer revision. The Modern Language Journal, 84, 51-68.

Donato, R. (1994). Collective scaffolding in second language learning. In J. P. Lantolf and G. Appel (Eds.), Vygotskian approaches to second language research(pp. 33-56). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Kim, D. J., & Hall, J. K. (2002). The role of an interactive book reading program in the development of L2 pragmatic competence. The Modern Language Journal, 86(3), 332-348.

Conclusions and Implications

You may be asking yourself why, if the methods are so useful, they aren't more prevalent in the field. The answer lies at least partly in the fact that they are quite intensive and time-consuming to use. Documenting the processes of change requires collecting and analyzing a great deal of session-by-session quantitative and qualitative data. Moreover, time spans needed to capture development from its beginning stages to the time it reaches a more stable state can be variable depending on the focus of analysis. Sometimes, pragmatic concerns such as the time available for doing research outweigh methodological concerns in shaping the kind of studies we do.

Fortunately, recent advancements in electronic tools for capturing and representing the learning process, such as digital video and audio recorders, can help make our use of microgenetic methods easier by changing the way we collect, analyze, represent, and disseminate data. For example, they can allow for the direct linking of transcriptions to digitized audio and video, and thus facilitate immediate access to data from annotations. In addition, they can facilitate the collection and analysis of large corpora of data, including the linking of contextual conditions giving shape to development. I suspect that with such changes in the tools we use for research, the number of studies using microgenetic methods to study language learning will continue to grow.


Cole, M. (1996).Cultural psychology: A once and future discipline. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cultural Differences in Classroom Turn-taking and Implications for the ESOL Context

By Deborah Poole, e-mail, San Diego State University.

In recent years a small body of research has considered the nature of classroom turn-taking in several different linguistic and cultural contexts. This work, especially when taken together and juxtaposed with prior accounts of English-speaking settings, sheds important light on issues of class participation in second language (L2) classrooms, where teachers and students may have different expectations of their respective interactional roles.

The most widely disseminated paradigm of teacher-student turn-taking is based on studies (esp. Mehan, 1979) conducted in English-speaking classes, primarily in the United States. These have typically found three ways that teachers allocate speaking turns: a) nomination, or calling on an individual student or students; b) invitation to bid (for the right to reply), which signals that students should raise their hands in order to be nominated; and c)invitation to reply, which signals that any student(s) may respond at will.

Consideration of turn-taking outside of English-speaking environments has the potential to expand this set of possibilities and thus our understanding of turn-taking in the L2 classroom environment. For example, in an analysis of interaction in first and sixth grade classes in a Japanese Saturday school in southern California, Yamashita (1993) found that nomination and invitation to bid were common, but that the invitation to reply "did not seem to exist" for the teachers in her data (p. 62), as the teachers would ignore students who responded without raising their hands. There were also two other turn-related utterance types that may inform our understanding of Japanese students' speaking expectations in English as a second language classes. In the first, a confirmation request, the teacher typically posed a question such as "Is it all right?" or "Do you understand?" which was followed by nonverbal student responses. A second, termed ostensible question by Yamashita, occurred when the teacher posed a question to which she herself provided an answer. These two--confirmation request and ostensible question--represented the majority of teacher initiations in the sixth grade class and likely accounted for the fact that there was considerably less student talking at that level.

Another study of a Puerto Rican third grade class, with Spanish as the medium of instruction, found that the preferred turn-allocation variant was invitation to reply (McCollum, 1989). McCollum compared this with a United States-based third grade where nomination was the most common. She argued that interaction in the Puerto Rican class "resembled the give and take of everyday conversation much more than in the English-speaking class" and that the teacher "achieved this, in part, by using the invitation to reply procedure most frequently" (p. 42).

In an account of three first-year teaching of English as a foreign language (TEFL) classes in a middle school in Taiwan, Chen (1998) found that every instance of a teacher initiation that could be interpreted as invitation to reply was responded to by students in chorus. In other words, the type of invitation to reply found by McCollum (1989) and Mehan (1979), in which students responded individually or in overlapping fashion, did not occur. Moreover, many of these initiations (which Chen termed invitations to chorus) signaled students to repeat after the teacher. Chorus elicitations, including those leading to both choral answers and choral repetition, represented over 75% of all teacher initiations in Chen's corpus. Nominations accounted for the remainder, but differed from those found in most prior research in that students were required to stand when responding and were often called on by number rather than name.

A study of lower- and upper-grade classes in a Korean heritage school in southern California (Kim, 2000) differed from the accounts cited above in that both chorusing and invitation to reply were common. However, students in the upper (fourth/fifth) grade levels were quite reluctant to chorus and at times would do so only with considerable coercion from the teacher.

Taken together, these accounts suggest ways that different turn-taking expectations could influence the perceptions teachers and students have of one another in the L2 classroom. For example, students whose classroom interactional experiences resemble those studied by Chen (1998) or Yamashita (1993) and do not include volunteering responses to invitation-to-reply initiations may be seen as quiet or unwilling to participate in L2 classes where invitation to reply is a frequent turn-allocation procedure. At minimum, language teachers who understand some of the possible turn-taking experiences through which their students have been educated have a knowledge base from which to execute their own interactional choices in the classroom.


Chen, L. (1998). The organization of teacher-student interaction in Chinese EFL classroom lessons. Unpublished master's thesis, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA.

Kim, H. (2000). Teacher-student interaction in Korean classrooms. Unpublished master's thesis, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA.

McCollum, P. (1989). Turn-allocation in lessons with North American and Puerto Rican students: A comparative study. Anthropology & Education Quarterly,20, 133-158.

Mehan, H. (1979). Learning lessons. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Yamashita, T. (1993). The organization of teacher-student interaction in Japanese classroom lessons. Unpublished master's thesis, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA.

Investigating Speaking Practices in TESOL Talk: Teacher-Initiated Sequences That Assist Students to Correct Errors

By Irene Koshik, e-mail, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.


The term conversation analysis (CA) is used for a particular research methodology that produces a microanalysis of talk and social interaction. CA research is especially useful for discovering fine details of specific practices of talk that we language educators ordinarily do not notice through casual or even repeated observation. CA researchers capture these details by making detailed transcriptions of the talk. We then make collections of extracts of talk that exemplify the practices that we are studying, and we use these collections, along with videotaped recordings, for our analysis. To show what a CA analysis can tell us about pedagogical talk, I briefly describe three different but related practices used by teachers in one-on-one second language college writing conferences.1 These practices are all used as hints to guide students to self-correct their own errors, either oral or written. However, each of the practices is designed to accomplish a somewhat different action or function.

Yes/No Questions

The first practice is a type of yes/no question that shows what is problematic about a student's answer and conveys a solution. Although these questions are designed as yes or no questions, they are not used to ask for information but rather to convey information or opinions. As such, they can be used as hints when students have trouble answering questions correctly.

In the following example, the teacher, TJ, is modeling a strategy for the student, ST, to use on his own at home to correct the verb errors in his drafts. TJ begins by getting ST to identify verb phrases in the first sentence, highlighting each one as ST identifies it. As this excerpt begins, ST has just identified two of the verb phrases and is now offering a third, saved, in response to TJ's "a:nd?"(see Figure 1).2

Koshik Figure 1.

ST's answer, "saved?" (line 51), is given with upward intonation, as if eliciting confirmation. TJ confirms ST's answer as at least partially correct by highlighting it. ST's answer is only partially correct, and, by repeating ST's answer with upward intonation at the same time that he is highlighting it (line 54), TJ may be offering ST an opportunity to correct the answer. ST in fact seems to be interpreting the upward intonation as eliciting confirmation of a hearing; he confirms the answer with "yeah" (line 56).

But ST's answer is incomplete. Because TJ will be eliciting correction of verb tense errors, he needs to elicit the finite, or tensed, portion of the verb phrase. ST has given only the nonfinite portion of the verb phrase, the past participle saved. Rather than correcting ST by adding the missing finite portion of the verb phrase, TJ prompts ST to self-correct his answer. He does this with a question: "just saved?" (line 57). I have called this type of question a reversed polarity question (Koshik, 2002a) because, although it is an affirmative yes/no question, it is understood as conveying a negative assertion: "The verb phrase is not just saved; there's more." The question refers to the student's prior talk, his answer. It suggests to ST the possibility that his answer was inadequate and needs correction and also tells what kind of correction needs to be made: an addition to the word saved.

We can see that ST understands this question as conveying that "the verb phrase is not just saved; there's more." ST first responds to the reversed polarity question with a change of state token, "oh." (line 59) (Heritage, 1984), after a 0.2-second pause, during which he is oriented visually to that sentence in his text. TJ's question sends ST back to the text to look for an addition to his previous answer. After he finds this addition, he first displays that noticing with "oh." and then continues by redoing his previous answer.

ST redoes his answer by adding the remainder of the verb phrase to his original answer. By putting contrastive stress on the first word in the addition, he shows that it is a correction of the previous answer: "could have been saved." (line 59). TJ's response to ST's self-correction, "there ya go." (line 60), which evaluates that self-correction as correct, also shows TJ's orientation to this question as a prompt to add to the previous answer.

Designedly Incomplete Utterances

A second type of hint is used by teachers to target problematic written language for students to correct orally. Although this practice elicits an answer, it is not a syntactic question or even a grammatically complete sentence. In fact, it is designed to be incomplete. Because of this, I have called these turnsdesignedly incomplete utterances (DIUs; Koshik, 2002b). They are formed by reading a portion of student text, stopping before the trouble source, or error, and leaving the remainder for the student to complete correctly.

Here is an example. In the conference from which Excerpt 2 (see Figure 2) is taken, TJ suggests that he and the student, SH, work on correcting verb tense errors in SH's draft. As the excerpt begins, TJ is reading a sentence from the student's text. As he reads this sentence, he breaks it up twice into verb phrase segments by using sentence-final intonation and/or pauses after the verb phrase. The last segment (line 185) is designed as a DIU. The student is writing about bystander apathy.

Koshik figure 2.

In this excerpt, TJ pauses twice during the reading of SH's text (in lines 182 and 184) but SH does not display an understanding of these pauses as invitations to continue the utterance; these pauses occur after verb phrase units. It is only when TJ pauses before the verb, the part of speech that has been targeted for self-correction in this sequence, that SH self-corrects. One additional cue that occurs in combination with this pause and not with the others is the significant lengthening of the preceding two words, "<after he>", in line 185. SH corrects the verb to past perfect and that correction is explicitly evaluated as correct: "there ya go."

Alternative Questions

Although DIUs target errors by stopping just before the error and leaving the remainder for the student to finish correctly, they do not give students any information about how to correct the errors. The final practice I discuss uses the form of an alternative question to both target an error and provide a correction. Here is an example where the teacher (TT) targets an error in student writing (line 3). In this excerpt, the teacher has been reading the student's text aloud, eliciting error corrections as she reads.

Koshik figure 3.

The first alternative of the question in line 3 targets the error, when, in this case, by reading it from the student's written text. This reading functions like the conversational repair practice of targeting a trouble source in a prior turn by repeating it (Schegloff, Jefferson, & Sacks, 1977). The second alternative provides the candidate correction: if (cf. Koshik, in press). This is a candidate correction because it is up to the student (SA) to choose the correct alternative. Both SA and TT orient to this second alternative as the correct answer, SA by choosing it (line 5) and TT by agreeing with his choice (line 7).


I have briefly summarized three of the practices that teachers use as hints to help students to correct errors. Each of the three practices is a type ofdisplay (Long & Sato, 1983) or known information (Mehan, 1979) question. Yet they are quite different from the kinds of display questions discussed in the literature, such as Mehan's (1979) constructed example, based on Sinclair and Coulthard (1975):

Speaker A: What time is it, Denise?
Speaker B: 2:30.
Speaker A: Very good, Denise.

Rather than being used to test the student's knowledge, they are used as hints to elicit student self-correction. These practices are quite creative. As we saw, each one is designed in a specific way to perform a specific function. These practices may also be culture-specific. Each of the American teachers whose conferences I studied used these practices often, and for the same purposes. However, two of the teachers who were not raised in North America (one was Albanian and the other Chinese Malaysian) never used any of the three practices as hints to elicit error correction from the students. Instead, both teachers explicitly pointed out errors and explained how to correct them. The American practices seem to be related to a socialized pattern for learning through performance rather than observation, a pattern that Scollon and Scollon (1981) suggest is preferred in middle-class North American culture. Those of us who use these practices are often not consciously aware of them or of what we are using them to accomplish. Nor are many of us aware of their culture-specific nature. By studying these types of practices empirically, we can become more aware of how they work and what they are used to accomplish, and this information can inform our teaching practice, teacher training, and research on the effectiveness of teacher talk, especially in multicultural settings.


1 What I am providing here is not a full CA analysis, but merely a brief description of the practices.

2 Conversation analysts use special transcription conventions to indicate prosody: punctuation indicates intonation, colons indicate lengthening of sounds, underlining indicates stress, and the symbols < > and > < are used for slower or faster rates of delivery. Numbers in parentheses are timed silences, in tenths of a second.


Heritage, J. (1984). A change-of-state token and aspects of its sequential placement. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 299-345). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Koshik, I. (2002a). A conversation analytic study of yes/no questions which convey reversed polarity assertions. Journal of Pragmatics, 34(12), 1851-1877.

Koshik, I. (2002b). Designedly incomplete utterances: A pedagogical practice for eliciting knowledge displays in error correction sequences. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 5(3), 277-309.

Koshik, I. (in press). Alternative questions used in conversational repair. Discourse Studies, 7(2).

Long, M. H., & Sato, C. J. (1983). Classroom foreigner talk discourse: Forms and functions of teachers' questions. In H. W. Seliger & M. H. Long (Eds.),Classroom oriented research in second language acquisition (pp. 268-285). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Mehan, H. (1979). "What time is it, Denise?": Asking known information questions in classroom discourse. Theory into Practice, 18(4), 285-294.

Schegloff, E. A., Jefferson, G., & Sacks, H. (1977). The preference for self-correction in the organization of repair in conversation. Language, 53, 361-382.

Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. B. K. (1981). Narrative, literacy and face in interethnic communication. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Sinclair, J. M., & Coulthard, R. M. (1975). Towards an analysis of discourse: The English used by teachers and pupils. London: Oxford University Press.

Pair-Work Talk, Transitions, and Interactional Authenticity

By David Olsher, e-mail, San Francisco State University.

At the 2004 convention, my report followed Irene Koshik's analysis (see her summary in this newsletter), as the second part of a two-part paper that presented ways that a conversation analysis (CA) of interaction in learning contexts can inform language educators. Following Koshik's discussion of speaking practices in writing conferences, my section of the paper shifted to a focus on language-learner speaking practices in a pair-work speaking activity. What follows is not a full CA analysis, but a summary with one example and a discussion of implications. This study represents the applied use of CA. Rather than try to discover interactional phenomena more generally, this study takes a predetermined focus on talk in an institutional context (an English-as-a-foreign-language classroom) and in particular a pair-work speaking task that constrains interaction in particular ways. By examining pair-work talk at the ground level of turn-by-turn interaction, we as language educators can gain insights that may inform our choices as language educators. In addition, we can apply CA by comparing the discursive practices in the pair-work interaction with the prior findings about the organization of mundane, everyday interaction.

My analysis looks at speaking practices used by learners to carry out topic transitions within an “ask about your favorites” speaking task. The educational context of the study was a low-intermediate-level English as a second language (ESL) oral-skills class at an intensive language institute in the United States. The class was made up of young adults from Europe, Asia, and South America. The task, fairly common in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) classrooms, consisted of a kind of two-way interview in which partners took turns asking each other about their favorites in a list of categories with questions such as “What is your favorite city?” Unlike much ordinary conversation, the “favorites” task involved agenda-based talk where each new topic was selected from a printed list.

In setting up the activity, the teacher directed the students to a page in their book with a list of topics and instructed them to “talk to your partner about these different topics and which is your favorite, what you like.” He instructed the students to “take turns asking each other your favorite” and also added for them to “try to make it a little interesting.”

My analysis focuses on one pair of students, Celia and Marcus. Their “favorites” talk involved a basic pattern for negotiating successive topics. First, one partner would self-select to initiate a topic, either by asking the other, as in “What is your favorite car?”, or by telling about her or his own favorite, as in “My favorite car is a Volvo.” Once the favorite was stated, there was some follow-up talk, such as asking the reason for the partner's opinion, and then the focus shifted to asking the other partner's favorite. Again there was follow-up talk, followed by a transition to a new topic, and then the cycle repeated.

Let's turn to Extract 1 to see an example of a transition in action. Celia and Marcus are seated side by side, with their books on the table in front of them open to the page with the topic list (see Figure 1).

Olsher figure 1.

The current topic is cars. Marcus has already talked about his favorite car, and Celia has talked about her favorite car—the Volkswagen New Beetle—and why she likes it: because it is cute. In this extract, Celia closes down the follow-up talk and moves on to a new topic (see Figure 2).

Olsher figure 2.

In line 4, Marcus raises a teasing objection that Celia's favorite car is “very expensive.” In lines 5 and 6, Celia counters the objection, first by declaring that she doesn't care, and then by upgrading her reason for liking the car from “cute” to “It's so beautiful.” Next, Celia moves to close down the topic by repeating her overall stance toward the New Beetle, “I like it.” Then, in lines 8 and 10, Celia launches a new topic: favorite sports.

Some relevant interactional practices involved in the topic transition are as follows: Celia responds to Marcus's teasing turn, minimally completing the prior sequence of talk. She then repeats her stance toward the topic (“I like it.”) in a summary of her position, which is a move that can make topic closure relevant in ordinary conversation (see Schegloff, in press, on topic-closing sequences). Celia displays a shift of attention toward the topic list, an action that breaks the mutual engagement of the two, and then taps the desk to punctuate the topic-closing. She also uses a turn-initial particle (“uh:m”) to signal that she is preparing to launch a new turn. We can see that Marcus understands these practices, withholding further talk on the prior topic and turning his gaze toward the list in coordination with his partner. These resources—statement of stance, shift of attention toward the list, tapping the desk, and turn-initial particle—are used recurrently by Celia and Marcus to manage topic transitions.

This kind of agenda-based talk, by its very nature, is quite different from the kind of stepwise topic transitions that are common in ordinary conversation. In stepwise transitions, movement from one topic to another is accomplished by linking what is being newly introduced to what has just been said, without the closing down of a prior topic (Jefferson, 1984; Sacks, 1995, p. 566). Although we can't expect such transitions in this kind of task, we should note the contrast between the stepwise transitions that are common in less structured talk and the more disjunctive transitions in this kind of task. Although these transitions are coordinated, they are also somewhat impoverished as opportunities to practice interactional skills.

What can we take away from this analysis that will be of interest to us as language educators? First of all, we can note that, in this conversational excerpt, there seems to be an inherent conflict between the agenda-driven nature of the task on the one hand and the learners' attempts to make it interesting on the other hand. The constraints of the agenda seem to work against opportunities for expanding interesting parts of the talk. Second, we can note that although the learners coordinate transitions through displays of attention toward the topic list, they also miss out on opportunities to practice negotiating stepwise topic transitions.

Pedagogical Implications

Do we throw away such speaking activities because of the constraints they place on interaction? Not necessarily. The task agenda may be a resource as well as a constraint, and we may feel that such practice is of value for language learning. Instead, we can modify activities to enhance opportunities for practicing natural kinds of responsiveness and topic negotiation. Also, we can set task goals that encourage learners to find out about each other's ideas and experiences. Finally, we can develop interaction awareness-raising activities that focus on being responsive to one another's talk. In doing this, we can make use of CA research on topic-closing sequences (Schegloff & Sacks, 1973), as well as practices used for transitions (e.g., Jefferson, 1984) and for generating new topics (e.g., Button & Casey, 1984).


Button, G., & Casey, N. (1984). Generating topic: The use of topic initial elicitors. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 167-190). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Jefferson, G. (1984). On stepwise transitions from talk about troubles to inappropriately next-positioned matters. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.),Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 191-222). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Sacks, H. (1995). Lectures on conversation (Vols. 1-2) (G. Jefferson, Ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.

Schegloff, E. A. (in press). A primer of conversation analysis: Sequence organization. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Schegloff, E. A., & Sacks, H. (1973). Opening up closings. Semiotica, VIII(4), 289-327.

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About TESOL's Applied Linguistics Interest Section Applied Linguistics Interest Section (ALIS)

TESOL's Applied Linguistics Interest Section (ALIS) looks at language as a communicative system from both theoretical and practical perspectives, applies research and theory to real world contexts, and explores implications for the enhancement of language learning and communication. It draws on linguistic disciplines (e.g., linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics), as well as on studies of a broad range of language phenomena.

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