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The Diverse Features Of Classroom Discourse

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4853 words Published: 9th May 2017

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English textbooks and English classroom interaction are important aspects of English teaching and learning. The aim of this study is to draw out the diverse features of classroom discourse or interaction with a focus on the spoken discourse consisting of different linguistic materials in relation to the textbook. The analysis of classroom discourse is a very important form which classroom process research has taken. The present study focuses on secondary (9 and 10) English Textbook (EFT) and English Classroom Discourse.

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English is increasingly becoming the dominant factor for the development of a country as the choices and opportunities in education, technology and global trades and business are being dominated by it. Nurturing a nation’s socio-economic development badly requires creative and adaptive workforce with English language proficiency. However, achieving the control and mastery in English is quite a challenging task particularly in Bangladesh, a developing country. After four decades of independence, Bangladesh is yet to formulate a clear policy for the status, uses and teaching of English at both academic and real life contexts. The country is struggling to produce a generation posing high level of skill and proficiency in English. Such situation necessitates reorganizing the existing textbook, curriculum, teaching methods and all other consideration of English.

English needs to be recognized as an essential work-oriented skill that is needed if the employment, development and educational needs of the country are to be met successfully. English should, therefore, be taught as something to be used, rather than as something to be talked about. (NCTB, 1996: 135-136)

The best way to study the English textbook and the classroom interaction is Discourse Analysis. Bringing discourse analysis into the language classroom cannot be reduced exclusively to the adoption of a series of new categories and analytical techniques.

It requires the teacher, in the first place, and the students, subsequently to look at their teaching and learning task in a very different way: the main focus of study is not language but communication. (Cots, Joseph Maria, 1995).

There is increasing awareness among linguists that discourse analysis inevitably involves analyses of meanings arising from the combination of multiple modes of communication. The evolving multimodal pedagogic environment for teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), among other communicative contexts, calls for a social, semiotic, and linguistic explanation.

Discourse is, in very much simple words, defined as “the language in use” (Cook, 1989:6) where discourse analysis is concerned with the “the analysis of language in use” (Brown and Yule, 1983:1). A discourse is a set of meanings through which a group of people communicate about a particular topic (merriam-webster). There is no agreement among linguists as to the use of the term discourse in that some use it in reference to texts, while others claim it denotes speech which is for instance illustrated by the following definition:”Discourse: a continuous stretch of (especially spoken) language larger than a sentence, often constituting a coherent unit such as a sermon, argument, joke, or narrative” (Crystal 1992:25).

The relationship between language and the contexts in which it is used is referred by discourse analysis. Language form as well as language functions are studied by it with a close view towards both spoken course and written text. It brings out the linguistic aspects that identify different genres as well as social and cultural factors that assist in our interpretation and understanding of different texts and types of speech or conversation (Weihua Yu). Both language and education have interest in discourse analysis. Especially when the aim of the study is to analyze the discourse of secondary English textbook that is written discourse, and classroom interaction that is spoken discourse. There have been only a few attempts towards discourse analysis of either textbook or classroom interaction or of both. In Bangladesh there is no such attempt to be noted with a view towards the key items. Though there are some influential works in the field of discourse analysis, they hardly contribute in the direction and development of Secondary English Textbook and Classroom Interaction.

1.2 Why Discourse Analysis of Textbook

Many researchers have compared EFL textbook description of a certain target language structure with the language occurring in authentic, everyday situations (Gilmore 2004; Biber and Reppen 2002; Barbieri and Eckhardt 2007). Perhaps not surprisingly, these studies showed that textbook descriptions of target language structures in many ways do not correspond to the realization of these structures in the naturally-occurring written and spoken discourse. (Å egedin, 2007)

Textbooks comprise a fundamental component in the educational process; providing the basic sources of information to learners, especially at elementary school. Textbooks teach the subject content and other issues such as social and cultural topics as well as the values and beliefs of society (Hasan, 2008). Textbooks, to some extent, are written in accordance with the policy of the educational system in the country concerned. Accordingly the dominance of the textbook seems to be associated with the educational policy of a certain society, especially when classroom practice is determined by a national curriculum.

Textbooks govern almost all classroom practice. They are useful educational tools for both learners and teachers as they have been designed along the lines of current research and approaches (Hasan, 2008). Textbook is used by the learners to organize their learning process by a variety of methods and strategies in order to perform tasks and activities in terms of lexical, grammatical and cultural progression. It is the communicative approach which continues to advocate the use of tasks based on spoken and written material. By providing an affirmative structure, the textbook gives pupils instructions, guides their practice and facilitates their learning and consequently ensures a meaningful and reliable environment. On the other hand, according to Hasan teachers depend on the textbook as they do not have time to collect and adapt material for their classes. And again, they find it extremely difficult to develop new material and they might face external pressure which may restrict them from doing so (Hasan, 2008). Therefore, teachers have a propensity to use a textbook as a main source of information and assistance. They move through it lesson by lesson leaving, however, enough scope for supplementary material (Hasan, 2008).

It is discourse that helps us in understanding how real people use real language in real life situation, as opposed to studying artificially created sentences (Weihua Yu). It is therefore of immediate interest to language teachers because we need to consider how people use language when we design teaching materials, or when we engage learners in exercises and activities aimed at making them proficient users of their target language, or when we evaluate a piece of commercially published material before deciding to use it (Michael McCarthy, 2002).

It is, therefore very important to analyze the discourse of the textbooks to draw out the exposed and hidden elements existing in it. It helps understand how much does the written elements worth serve the needed requirement. Again the discourse of the textbook of English, with a focus on secondary level, should be analyzed very sensitively to view whether these are quite good to supply needed materials to our education, necessary communication skill development and later to bring about necessary changes. English is a foreign language in Bangladesh and some cultural and social diversity and obviously difference from our mother tongue have always impeded the development of good communication skill though given enough effort. So it is very important to review the entire process and product whereby discourse analysis may play a great role.

1.3 Why Discourse Analysis of Classroom Interaction

Classroom interaction analysis involves the use of an observation scheme consisting of a finite set of preselected and predetermined categories for describing certain verbal behaviors of teachers and students as they interact in the classroom (B. Kumaravadivelu, 1999).

The first language classroom research of Bellack et al (1966) is traditionally considered as a pioneering study within this tradition. The study offered a simple description of classroom discourse involving a four-part framework: 1) structure, 2) solicit, 3) respond, 4) react (Dick Allwright & Kathleen M.Bailey, 1991: 98).

Through a detailed description and analysis of the collected data by referring to Sinclair and Coulthard’s classroom discourse analysis model, the problem of patterns of the classroom discourse is made clear and on the basis of which a few strategies for secondary English teachers are put forward by the author in order to improve secondary English teaching and learning.

Spoken language is the most vital form of language as well as speaking -the key skill of communication. Since spoken language is “the medium by which much teaching takes place and in which students demonstrate to teachers much of what they have learned” (Cazden, 1987, cited from Wittrock, 1988), the application of discourse analysis to classroom interaction may contribute a lot in the second language teaching and learning by ensuring teacher’s close view toward the real life language using capability of the students, to develop them and development of the exposures. Nunan remarked that “If we want to enrich our understanding of language learning and teaching, we need to spend time looking in classroom” (Nunan, 1989:76). Development of both quantity and quality matters of the students are possible by the application of Discourse analysis in the textbook and classroom interaction.

Meaning making of classroom interaction has been attempted by different scholars from diverse point of view. The discursive turn provided these scholars with theoretical and methodological frameworks that enabled them to examine the collaborative construction of meaning closely (ADGER, 2001; ANWARD, 1997; BLOOME et al., 2005; CAZDEN, 1988; EDWARDS; WESTGATE, 1994; MEHAN, 1979; PELEDELHANAN; BLUM-KULKA, 2006; THOLANDER; ARONSSON, 2003; VARDI-RATH, 2002; YOUNG, 1999; WELLS, 1999) in multicultural educational settings (EDWARDS, 1999; HYMES, 1997) (Irit Kupferberg, Sarah Shimoni and Esther Vardi-Rath, 2009). Meaning making of classroom interaction requires the discourse analysis of classroom interaction as well as of the textbook.

“Failed communication is a joint responsibility and not the fault of speaker or listeners says researchers of communicative teaching the way successful communication is an accomplishment jointly achieved and acknowledged” (Jack C. Richards and Theodore S.Rodgers, 2000: 77); “It is the teachers’ responsibility to organize the classroom as a setting for communication and communicative activities” (Jack C. Richards and Theodore S.Rodgers, 2000:78). In recent years, “turn-taking, questioning and answering, negotiation of meaning, and feedback” are considered are important aspects of classroom interaction (Chaudron, 1988:10). Because “second language learning is a highly interactive process” (Richard and Lockhart, 1996:138) and “the quality of this interaction is thought to have a considerable influence on learning” (Ellis, 1985, cited from Richard and Lockhart, 1996:138). In second language classrooms, “learners often do not have a great number of tools…, teachers’ questions provide necessary stepping stones to communication” (Brown, 1994a: 165). Questioning is reported as one of the commonly used strategies, as the success of a class largely depends on questioning and feedback. One reason, as Mercer (Candlin & Mercer, 2001:245) states, is that they form the most frequent model of teacher-student talk in the classroom, in terms of the model described by Sinclair and Coulthard as Initiation-Response-Feedback (IRF) exchanges.

1.4 The Relationship of Textbook and Classroom Discourse:

In view of the arguments stated above, textbooks continue to play a major role in classroom interaction despite the controversial debate on their significance. Hutchinson and Torres (1994), for example, consider the role of the textbook in teaching and learning and in the process of change. They challenge the anti-textbook view and argue that the textbook has a vital and positive part to play in the everyday job of teaching and learning English (especially at elementary level) and that the textbook becomes even more important in periods of change. They call for a closer link between textbook creation and professional teacher training (hasan, 2008).

FL textbooks in use today reflect significant changes in design and content with the advent of the “language program” (Bragger & Rice, 2000, p. 110) in contrast with those in use just forty years ago that were dominated by vocabulary lists, seemingly random grammatical topics, and controlled exercises (Heather Willis Allen,2008). More fundamentally, however, it is because they are a teacher’s best instruments to regulate the quantity and quality of language used in the classroom. The problems which are going to be mainly investigated here are the discourse of second language that is English textbook and patterns of classroom discourse at secondary level in Bangladesh. Because “two of the most common ways in which L2 teachers engage in interaction with learners is by way of asking questions and providing feedback, and these deserve some consideration” (Holland and Shortall, 1997:104), with a in depth view to in these it can be expected to have an improved L2 teaching-learning in our country.

Textbook and classroom interaction have a significant influence on each other. According to the textbook the classroom interaction is generally originated, flowed and ended. On the other hand classroom interaction has good motivation toward ensuring the good execution of the skills and others necessary elements of textbook.

Secondary education is a very significant level of formal education because it is the level whereby either the preparation for the next stage is governed or the necessary vocational or technical ability is developed in a profound manner. The context specified here is secondary English classroom. English is not our second language rather it is our foreign language and it is of a great importance here. In Bangladesh, with the development of society and international communication, more and more importance has been attached to English teaching and learning.

Secondary education graduates with good command of English language knowledge and competence are needed in our country to attain the aim of our education. As the fundamental aim of secondary English education is to foster communication skills and international understanding, it is of great interest to analyze their English classroom and textbook discourse in order to improve teaching and to make learners proficient users of English. The need to attain the curriculum determined aims and objectives it is required to be skilled in the four communicative expertises with good proficiency in the textbook which includes perfection in classroom interaction.

1.5 Objectives of the study:

1.5.1 General Objectives:

  • To analyze the discourse of English textbook of secondary (9, 10) level.
  • To analyze the discourse of Classroom interaction.
  • To compare among the classroom interaction
  • To compare the conversation of the textbook and real classroom interaction.

1.5.2 Specific Objectives:

To analyze the conversation of the textbook “English For Today”(9-10) by drawing out the-

  • Initiation-Response- Feedback/Follow-up of the conversations
  • Turn-taking
  • Cohesion and coherence

To analyze the discourse of Classroom interaction to draw out the-

  • The teacher initiated interaction.
  • The student initiated interaction.
  • Initiation-Response-Evaluation/Feedback/Follow-up of the conversations initiated by the teacher.
  • Students’ Initiation (Non-Verbal)- Teacher’s Response-Students’ Initiation (Verbal) of the conversations initiated by the students.
  • To compare the ratio of teacher initiated and student initiated interaction.
  • To compare among the classroom interaction of the -Grade-1, Grade-2 and Grade-3 Schools.
  • To compare the IRF and Turn-Taking of conversation of the textbook and real classroom interaction.

1.6 Some important key terms

From the works of Cameron, Working with Spoken Discourse (2001, pp.87-98), Pridham, The Language of Conversation, (2001, pp.23-32), Brown and Yule, Discourse Analysis, (1983), Yule The Study of Language: 4th Edition (2010, p.124.127), Brown & Yule, (1983, p.191-199) (cohesion and coherence), Prof. Hugo Bowles, (2008-09) and Sinclair and Coulthard (1975) the following terms and their definitions have been cited.

1.6.1. I-R-E/F Model:

This is the modification or details of the IRF model of Sinclair and Coultherd. Sinclair and Coulthard (1975) developed a model for the description of teacher-pupil talk based on a hierarchy of discourse units. The language of the classroom differs from many forms of spoken discourse in that it is formally structured and controlled by one dominant party, i.e. the teacher. The Sinclair and Coulthard’s model was devised in 1975 and slightly revised in 1992. The classroom turn sequences typically have three parts rather than two. Namely:

Teacher initiation (I),

Student response (R), followed by

Teacher evaluation (E) of the response.

Through understanding the I-R-E structures of whole-class lessons, Researchers have come to important insights about teachers’ and students· social roles and relationships inside classrooms. In particular, the teacher, by evaluating what students say, assumes the right to control the talk. Also as initiator of the sequence, the teacher maintains the right to call on students and allocate turns in essence organizing and orchestrating the discussions. Within this teacher controlled turn-taking, participation structure, students must have certain discourse strategies and skills to perform well (Cazden. 1983; Griffin & Humphrey. 1978: Mehan. 1979: Sinclair & Coulthard. 1975). Mehan (1979) notes that being “right” in the classroom requires a student to respond (R) to a teacher’s initiation (I) not only with the correct content but also with the correct interactional timing and communicative conventions: otherwise the student’s response may be ignored, discounted, or not heard.

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There are eleven subcategories of teaching exchanges, one of which is eliciting exchange. To put it in detail, that is, the teacher raises a question, then the students answer it, and the teacher gives an evaluative follow-up before raising another question. The three moves that constitute an eliciting exchange are referred to as “Initiation”, “Response” and “Follow-up”. The three-move structure of an exchange (IRF) is commonly cited, and will also be the basis of data analysis. When a student replies the teacher’s question, the other students may not hear clearly sometimes. So the teacher needs to repeat the students’ words so as to make it clear to all the students. What’s more important is that the teacher should give “feedback” to the student’s answer, to show whether the answer is right or whether it is the answer expected by the teacher.

1.6.2 Conversation Analysis

Conversation proceeds on the basis of one turn after another. Turn belongs to a single speaker. But how do we know when it is our turn to talk. Turns are negotiated and renegotiated by participants during conversation. Continual negotiation is a general feature of conversational organization.

Turn-taking and turn constructional units (TCU’s)

TCU’s are units of speech. The boundaries of these units are called turn transition relevance points (TTRP’S). These are points at which intervention from another speaker is syntactically or semantically possible. At a TTRP:

The current speaker selects the next speaker, or (if this does not operate)

The next speaker self-selects

The current speaker may continue

Repair (simultaneous speech and silence)

Participants will not usually talk at the same time. Simultaneous speech and silence are problems which need to be repaired. In simultaneous speech, one person usually wins the right to speak and be attended to by the other participants. When the turn taking rules (above) fail to operate, there is silence. Silence is a problem which needs to be repaired.

Adjacency pairs

Spoken interaction is often structured around pairs of adjacent utterances (utterances which occur one after the other) in which the second utterance is functionally dependent on the first.

Question-answer: “how are you?” “fine” Greetings: “good morning” “good morning”

In these sequences we expect the first part to be followed by the second part. If it is not there, we interpret it as rude, unfriendly or socially inept. Different types of questions produce different types of response. For example, a tag-question organizes a response better than an open question.

Insertion sequences

These sequences can be inserted between adjacency pairs. The topic of the insertion sequence is related to that of the main sequence in which it occurs and the main sequence continues after the insertion.

Preferred and Dispreferred responses

The preferred response to a proposal is acceptance, which can be performed without hesitation or elaboration. Agreement is a preferred response.

The dispreferred response is refusal. It tends to be hesitant and elaborate (we often give reasons for a refusal). Disagreement is also and example of a dispreferred response.

Discourse markers (markers of interaction)

These have the general function of moving the conversation on but they may have specific functions, depending on the conversation:

to signal to the listener that the speaker wishes to continue speaking (a filler)

to signal where the conversation is going

For example, “well” may be used to indicate a) the opening of a conversation, b) that the speaker is about to say something which is in conflict with what has been said earlier.

1.6.3 Cohesion and coherence

A sequence of sentences is a “text” when there is some kind of dependence between the sentences. The task of textual analysis is to identify the elements that cause this dependence. These elements are elements of cohesion (cohesive elements) and elements of coherence.

A. Cohesion

There are a number of categories of cohesive elements:

Conjunctive relations

What is about to be said is explicitly related to what has been said before, through such notions as contrast (but, however, nonetheless), result (so, therefore, nevertheless etc.) and time (when after, before etc.).


These are features which cannot be semantically interpreted except by reference to some other feature in the text. They can be of two types – anaphoric relations, which look backwards for their interpretation and cataphoric relations, which look forwards. References to assumed, shared worlds outside of the text are Exophoric References. Because they are not text internal, they are not truely cohesive, but because they are an equally important part of the reader/ listeners’ active role in creating coherence, they should be included in the analysis.


Substitution is when a cohesive element replaces a previous word or expression. Pronouns (I, me etc.) and words of personal reference (myself, yourself etc.) are examples of cohesion by substitution.


Ellipsis occurs when a structure is omitted and can only be recovered from previous discourse.


Repetition is when an expression or part of an expression is repeated. This is very common in speech (see lesson on characteristics of speech). The repetition of tense and other syntactic patterns is very important for cohesion.


In comparative cohesion something is always compared with something else in the discourse. Words of identity (e.g. same as), similarity (e.g. very like), difference (e.g. unlike); distinctness (e.g. totally different) are important for comparative cohesion. Something is always compared with something else in the discourse

B. Coherence

The textual world (what the text is about) is made up of concepts and relations. Coherence concerns the way in which concepts and relations are mutually accessible and relevant. In other words, a coherent text is one which is easy for us to understand because it is easy for us to make a mental representation of it. Remember that it is possible for a text to be cohesive but not coherent. The Faulkner text is full of cohesive elements but it is not easy to understand.

1.7 Rationale:

Discourse analysis has been used to understand a wide range of texts including natural speech, professional documentation, political rhetoric, interview or focus group material, internet communication, newspapers and magazines and broadcast media. There are many different types of discourse analysis such as conversation analysis, discursive psychology, critical discourse analysis and Foucauldian discourse analysis. Each of these has its own assumptions, emphasis and methods but the key overlapping interest is in the way meaning is constructed in communication. The motivation to this work was to compile a set of useful approaches to analyze the communication processes of textbook to draw out the materials and again the classroom conversation which means a lot to the teaching-leaning of ESL. Another very significant reason working as a catalyst for the study is that there is hardly any work done in this area and this study, without any doubt can provide with legendary achievement for the stakeholders if done properly. It will facilitate the Language education of Bangladesh by providing with an example of applied discourse analysis. On the other hand this work will provide with a good document for further study regarding discourse analysis.

As many classroom-oriented researchers have pointed out, it is only through a better understanding of classroom interaction processes that teachers can render their teaching more profitable for learners (Jamila Boulima, 1999:15). This study is significant in that it studies the textbook with a view to discourse analysis and also attempted to reveal the characteristics of classroom interaction that is most favorable for promoting learners’ English and has insightful implications for English teaching and learning. The aim of the present study is to develop the textbook writers’ and teachers’ reflective thinking about what goes on in the text and their own classrooms and to provide information for improving teaching and learning in secondary English classrooms.

There are a number of approaches to discourse analysis, some of which are: speech act theory, interactional sociolinguistics, ethnography, pragmatics and conversation analysis are the most important ones. (Brown & Yule, 1983)

This qualitative study examines spoken communication (talk/speech/spoken texts/spoken messages) between speaker (teacher/ student) and listener (teacher/ student) and written communication (conversation of the textbook) between the textual character. It stresses the need to see language as a dynamic, social interactive phenomenon. Meaning is conveyed not by single sentences but by more complex exchanges, in which the participants’ beliefs and expectations, the knowledge they share about each other and about the world, and the situation in which they interact, play a crucial part (Bowels, 2008-09).


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