How classroom talk contributes to reading comprehension

  • Nastassja Maree Head of Department Rooihuiskraal Primary school
  • Gert van der Westhuizen University of Johannesburg
Keywords: Keywords, Reading comprehension interactions, classroom talk, conversation analysis, peer learning, classroom comprehension conversations


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.

Author Biographies

Nastassja Maree, Head of Department Rooihuiskraal Primary school
Nastassja Maree is an educational specialist and HOD at Laerskool Rooihuiskraal. She obtained her PhD with specialisation in learner support, school guidance and counselling from the University of Pretoria in 2020. Her research interests include innovative pedagogical practices and the establishment of intervention measures to facilitate life-long learning and development. Email address:
Gert van der Westhuizen, University of Johannesburg
Gert van der Westhuizen is professor of Education Emeritus, University of Johannesburg. His research focus is on interactional learning in school and community environments. Current research projects include conversation analysis studies of remote and online learning in educational change and growth points. Email address: