Discussion, talk and interaction in a (British) upper primary classroom.

This paper is based on a current research project looking at the organisation of interaction in an upper primary (British) classroom of 10-11 year old pupils. I investigate some of the distinctive ways in which these children organise their talk within the context of class-based discussion activities, and how they display their awareness of and skill at producing discussion talk within a multi-party group.

Previous research has shown that language plays fundamental part in the structure and organisation of many of children’s social activities, for example, in the organisation of play and in disputes both within and outside the school environment (Goodwin, 1990; Maynard, 1985; Sheldon, 1997). However, within the field of sociolinguistics and discourse analysis, children have often been seen as developing towards adult linguistic communicative norms as they acquire communicative competence (Ochs & Schieffelin, 1979). More recently, researchers have begun to identify ways in which children can be considered as socially competent agents in their own worlds (Hutchby & Moran Ellis, 1998).

In this paper I examine how far children’s discussion talk in the classroom can be considered as competent communicative practice in its own right: i.e. in what sense it is distinctive in its design and organisation as the children participate collectively within a framework of  peer-group and teacher interaction in this setting.


Goodwin, Marjorie, 1990. He-said-she-said. Talk as social organisation among black children. Indiana University Press

Hutchby, Ian & Jo Moran Ellis (eds) 1998. Children and Social Competence: Arenas of Action. London: Falmer Press.

Maynard, Douglas, 1985. How children start arguments. Language in Society 14, 1-29.

Ochs, Elinor & Bambi Schieffelin, 1979.  Developmental Pragmatics. London:  Academic Press.

Sheldon, Amy, 1997. Talking Power: Girls, Gender Enculturation and Discourse. In Wodak, R. (ed) Gender and Discourse. London: Sage. 225-244.