Turn-Taking and Opening Interactions

J. Hellerman
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Portland State University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This short article is based on a comparative qualitative study examining opening turn-taking practices during peer-to-peer interactions. Drawing on his findings the author provides the rationale and activities for teaching students to develop language skills and negotiate meaning. The author briefly re-caps research regarding the need for learners to become practiced in starting and participating in conversations, whether at the workplace or the store. He moves on to offer activities that might increase students utilizing the target language, thereby increasing fluency and communicative competence. This study is limited in its small number of participants (N=5) however the detailed examination of interactions (N=100) as students progressed from a beginning-level class to an upper-level class provides a close-up view of what is occurring during meaning negotiation activities. Note: This resource references another document (http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/1b/d4/6a.pdf) it has not been reviewed by LINCS experts.

What the experts say
Learning a language is not just about words and grammar it is about communication, interaction, and negotiation. The author starts from the position that mastering the skills, both linguistic and cultural, that facilitate interaction is one of the roles and functions of English language instruction.  Many resources underscore the benefits of using pairwork in the adult ESOL classroom (e.g., Long, 1983; Pica, 1988) and the benefits are usually associated with the process of negotiating meaning during a pair or small-group task. In contrast, this resource is unique in that it analyzes the opening interactions that precede pairwork and shows how such interactions help learners at all levels of English language proficiency to develop heightened interpersonal communication skills that can facilitate spontaneous conversation in their daily lives. This article provides concrete examples of the different kinds of turn-taking interactions that occur in paired activities between beginners and those that occur between more advanced students. 

One of the strongest features of this resource is the inclusion of original lab research conducted among beginning- and upper-level learners at the Lab School in Portland. Transcripts of the negotiation of pair tasks vividly illustrate the turn-taking that beginner pairs engage in and how it evolves as they transition to upper-level classes.

Another strength of the resource is its discussion of instructional implications. The author argues for structuring activities that utilize social skills that not only provide opportunity for talk and learning in the classroom but also familiarize the student with English language models of turn taking and interactional conversation that can be used outside of the classroom to extend learning and promote acculturation. The resource offers concrete suggestions for making learners aware of the importance of practicing spontaneous interactions and for helping them to gain proficiency in this area. It also presents a convincing case for learners’ potential to transfer these interpersonal communication skills to other real-world contexts in which they need to open an interaction.

In sum, the most useful features are:

  • A compelling analysis of the importance of the opening interactions that precede pairwork.
  • Excerpts from original research that document different types of student-to-student turn-taking.
  • A discussion of instructional implications that practitioners will find immediately applicable.
Methods the resource used to collect and analyze the data for the research: Researchers taped interactions of five English language learners as they took classes at the Lab School at Portland State University. Learners were recorded over a period of time. One hundred recordings were selected and transcribed; fifty from beginning-level classes and fifty upper-level classes. Comparisons between the beginning-level and upper-level openings in turn-taking activities were made to highlight more and less effective uses of language and how this information can be applied to the classroom.