Document Type: Research Paper


1 Yazd University

2 University of Mazandaran


This paper investigates learner-initiated responses to English language teachers’ referential questions and learner initiatives after teachers’ feedback moves in meaning-focused question-answer sequences to analyze how interactional practices of language teachers, their initiation and feedback moves, facilitate learner initiatives. Classroom discourse research has largely neglected learner initiative in this pedagogically crucial arena. Addressing this pedagogical issue and drawing on sociocultural theory and situated learning theory, this qualitative study focuses on meaning-focused question-answer sequences to understand whether unfolding sequences, as structured by teachers, solicit learner-initiated participation. The data come from 10 videotaped and transcribed lessons from seven English teachers and their intermediate level students, at four private language institutes in Iran, which were analyzed within conversation analysis framework. Based on detailed analysis of classroom episodes, a very small number of learner initiatives was uncovered. The analysis revealed that several interactional practices by teachers (addressing the whole class, extending wait-time, encouraging student-student interaction, acknowledging response, giving positive feedback, and using continuers) tend to prompt learners’ initiation and learners can also create learning opportunities for themselves (following silence or following their own or other initiation). To characterize the findings, a typology of interactional acts that prompt solicited and unsolicited learner initiation is also provided. Some episodes are analyzed and the implications for teachers and teacher educators are also discussed.


Alduais, A. M. S. (2012). An account of teaching strategies which promote student-initiation. Journal of Sociological Research, 3(2), 489-501. 
Anton, M. (1999). The discourse of a learner-centered classroom: Sociocultural perspectives on teacher-learner interaction in the second-language classroom. The Modern Language Journal, 83(3),303-318.
Azubike, N. (2000). The effects of increased teacher wait time on students’ achievement in science. Journal of Experimental Education, 45, 16-18.
Bell, N. D. (2007). How native and non-native English speakers adapt to humor in intercultural interaction. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 20(1), 27-48.
Brock, C. A. (1986). The effects of referential questions on ESL classroom discourse. TESOL Quarterly, 20(1), 47-5.
Chika, O, P. (2012). The extent of students’ initiation of ideas in the classroom. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 2(1), 293-300.
Davies, C. E. (2003). How English-learners joke with native speakers: An interactional sociolinguistic perspective on humor as collaborative discourse across cultures. Journal of Pragmatics, 35(9),1361-1385.
Domakani, M, R., & Mirzaei, A. (2013). Exploring dialogism and multivocality in L2 classroom discourse architecture in Iran. Issues in Language Teaching, 2(1), 83-100.
Donato, R. (2000). Sociocultural contributions to understanding the foreign and second language classroom. In J. P. Lantolf (Ed.), Sociocultural theory and second language learning (pp. 27-50). New York: Oxford University Press.
Garton, S. (2002). Learner initiative in the language classroom. ELT journal, 56(1),47-56.
Garton, S. (2012). Speaking out of turn? Taking the initiative in teacher-fronted classroom interaction. Classroom Discourse, 3(1), 29-45.
Goodwin, M. H. (2007). Occasioned knowledge exploration in family interaction. Discourse and Society, 18(1), 93-110.
Hale, C. (2011). Breaking with the IRF and EPA: Facilitating student initiated talk. In A. Stewart (Ed.), JALT2010 Conference Proceedings. Tokyo: JALT.
Have, P. ten. (1999). Doing conversation analysis: A practical guide. London: Sage.
He, A. W. (2004). CA for SLA: Arguments from the Chinese language classroom. Modern Language Journal, 88(4), 568-582.
Hellerman, J. (2009). Looking for evidence of language learning in practices for repair: A case study of self‐initiated self‐repair by an adult learner of English. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 53 (2), 113-132.
Hutchby, I., & Wooffitt, R. (1998). Conversation analysis. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.
Jacknick, C. M. (2009). A conversation analytic account of student-initiated participation in an ESL classroom. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University.
Jacknick, C. M. (2011a). “But this is writing”: post-expansion in student-initiated sequences. Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 5(1), 39-54.
Jacknick, C. M.  (2011b). Breaking in is hard to do: How students negotiate classroom activity shifts. Classroom Discourse, 2(1), 20-38.
Jefferson, G. (1984). Notes on a systematic deployment of the acknowledgement tokens “Yeah” and “Mm hm”. Papers in Linguistics, 17, 197-206.
Lantolf, J., & Poehner, M. (2014). Sociocultural theory and the pedagogical imperative in L2 education: Vygotskian praxis and the research/theory divide. New York: Routledge.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lee, Y. (2007). Third turn position in teacher talk: Contingency and the work of teaching. Journal of Pragmatics, 39(1), 180-206.
Li, H. (2013). Student initiatives and missed learning opportunities in an IRF sequence: A single case analysis. L2 Journal, 5, 68-92.
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.
Markee, N. (2000). Conversation analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
McNeil, L. (2011). Using talk to scaffold referential questions for English language learners. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28(3), 396-404.
Mehan, H. (1979). Learning lessons: Social organization in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mori, J. (2002). Task design, plan, and development of talk-in-interaction: An analysis of a small group activity in a Japanese language classroom. Applied Linguistics, 23(3),323-347.
Nassaji, H., & Wells, G. (2000). What’s the use of ‘Triadic Dialogue’? An investigation of teacher-student interaction. Applied Linguistics, 21(3), 376-406.
Ohta, A. S. (1995). Applying sociocultural theory to an analysis of learner discourse: Learner-learner collaborative interaction in the zone of proximal development. Issues in Applied Linguistics, 6(2),93-121.
Reinders, H., & Loewen, S. (2013). Autonomy and language learning behavior: The role of student initiation and participation in l2 classrooms. Study in English Language Teaching, 1(1), 1-7.
Sacks, H., Schegloff, E., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematic for the organization of turn- taking in conversation.  Language, 50(4), 696-735.
Saikko, V. (2007). Different student-strategies for interactional power in the IRF pattern in an EFL classroom. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Jyväskylä University.
Schegloff, E. A. (1981). Discourse as an interactional achievement: Some uses of “Uh huh” and other things that come between sentences. In D. Tannen (Ed.), Georgetown University rounds on language linguistics: Analyzing discourse-text and talk (pp. 71-93). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Schegloff, E. A. (2007). Sequence organization in interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schegloff, E.A., Jefferson, G., & Sacks, H. (1977). The preference for self-correction in the organization of repair in conversation. Language, 53, 361-382.
Seedhouse, P. (2004). The interactional architecture of the language classroom: A conversation analysis perspective. Blackwell Publishing: University of Michigan.
Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4-12.
Shepherd, M. A. (2011). A quantitative discourse analysis of student-initiated checks of understanding during teacher-fronted lessons. Linguistics and Education, 23(1), 145-159.
Sidnell, J., & Stivers, T. (2013). The handbook of conversation analysis. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Sinclair, J. M., & Coulthard, M. (1975). Towards an analysis of discourse:  The English used by teachers and pupils. London: Oxford University Press.
Sullivan, P. (2000). Spoken artistry: Performance in a foreign language classroom. In J. K. Hall & L. S. Verplaetse (Eds.), Second and foreign language learning through classroom interaction (pp. 73-90). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Sunderland, J. (2001). Student initiation, teacher response, student follow-up: Towards an appreciation of student-initiated IRFs in the language classroom. Center for Research in Language Education. Working papers 54, Lancaster University.
Swain, M. (1985). Communicative competence: Some role of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development. In S. Gass & C. Madden (Eds.), Input in Second Language Acquisition (pp. 235-256).Cambridge: Newbury House.
Tsui, A. B. M. (1996). Reticence and anxiety in second language learning. In K.M. Bailey & D. Nunan (Eds.). Voices from the Language Classroom (pp. 145-167). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
van Lier, L. (1988). The classroom and the language learner. London: Longman.
van Lier, L. (1996). Interaction in the language curriculum. London: Longman Group Limited.
van Lier, L. (2008). Agency in the classroom. In J. Lantolf & M. Poehner (Eds.), Sociocultural theory and the teaching of second languages (pp.163-186). London: Equinox.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Walsh, S. (2006). Investigating classroom discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Walsh, S. (2011). Exploring classroom discourse: Language in action. Abingdon: Routledge.
Waring, H. Z. (2008).  Using explicit positive assessment in the language classroom: IRF, feedback, and learning opportunities. The Modern Language Journal, 92(8), 577-594.
Waring, H. Z. (2009). Moving out of IRF (Initiation-Response-Feedback): A single-case analysis. Language Learning,59(4), 796-824.
Waring, H. Z. (2011). Learner initiatives and learning opportunities in the language classroom. Classroom Discourse, 2(2), 201-218.
Waring, H. Z. (2012). “Any questions?”: Investigating the nature of understanding-checks in the language class room. TESOL Quarterly, 46(4),722-752.
Wertsch, J. V. (1985). Vygotsky and the social formation of mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Yaqubi, B., Annani Sarab, M., & Mozaffari, F. (2010). Language teachers’ questioning practice in EFL classroom discourse: Constructive or Obstructive? Iranian Journal of TEFL, 2(2), 53-70.
Yaqubi, B., & Mozaffari, F. (2011). EFL Teacher Questions to Scaffold Learning Process: A Conversation Analytic Study. The Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(1), 228-260.
Young, R. F., & Miller, E. R., (2004). Learning as changing participation: Discourse roles in ESL writing conferences. The Modern Language Journal, 88(4), 519-535.