How classroom talk contributes to reading comprehension

Nastassja Maree, Gert van der Westhuizen


This article is an inquiry into how classroom talk among learners and a teacher in a reading class contributes to comprehension. It draws on sociocultural perspectives on school learning (Melander, 2012; Pellegrino, 2020; Stahl, 2002), conversation analysis research of human interaction in the humanities (Edwards 1997, 2001; Tanner 2017) and teachers’ open invitations in whole-class discussion within classrooms (Koole & Elbers, 2014; Seedhouse, 2004). Video recordings of learner interactions have been transcribed by means of the Jefferson (1984) conventions and analysed by means of the conversation analysis framework of Clayman and Gill (2004). This framework draws on conversation analysis principles developed in various disciplines, and allows for a detailed analysis of what the comprehension interactions were about and how they were conducted for the purpose of comprehension. Analyses were considered based on sequence organisation, response preferences, lexical choices and gestures.

Findings indicate that grade 4 learners use talk in creative, spontaneous and dedicated ways in their attempts to understand a text during a classroom lesson. Learners take turns at talking in ways that reflect their personal understandings of words and sentences, and interact in ways which clarify their own understanding of meanings. Non-verbal behaviour such as pointing, excitement, interruptions, tone of voice, faster and slower speech, sighs and observations are all patterns observed which, in the context of conversation sequences, contributed to interpretations of difficult words and also offered answers to comprehension questions. Findings are discussed in terms of the social actions associated with classroom talk, the value of independent attempts of meaning making and talking about the text for shared comprehension.


Keywords: Reading comprehension interactions, classroom talk, conversation analysis, peer learning, classroom comprehension conversations

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