Notes: Coulthard, M. (1974). Approaches to the Analysis of Classroom Interaction


Coulthard, M. (1974). Approaches to the analysis of classroom interaction. Educational Review. 26(3). pp 229 - 240.

On directing discourse:

Participants with equal rights and status, as in everyday conversation, negotiate in very subtle and complex ways for the right to speak, to control the direction of the discourse and to introduce new topics. We therefore determined to reduce the number of variables by choosing a situation in which one of the participants has an acknowledged right to decide who will speak, when they will speak, what the topic of the discourse will be, and the general lines along which it will progress. The classroom was an ideal situation.

on linguistic analysis vs. educational analysis:

For instance, Gallagher and Ashner (1963)1 and Taba et al (1964)2 both focus on thinking, defined as ‘an active transaction between the individual and the demands of his environment, which is neither fully controlled by environmental stimulation, nor wholly independent of some mediating interaction’. Their categories are attempts to analyse one of the purposes of the interaction, but are several stages removed from the linguistic data and cannot be directly related to it.

on linguistic description of classroom discourse:

Verbal interaction inside the classroom differs markedly from desultory conversation in that its main purpose is to instruct and inform and one would expect this difference to be reflected in the way in which the discourse progresses. One of the functions of the teacher is to choose the topic, to decide how the topic will be sub- divided into smaller units and to cope with digressions and mis- understandings.

on patterns of interaction in a face-to-face classroom:

We expected eliciting exchanges to consist of a Teacher question followed by Pupil reply, T-P, T-P, T-P, but this was not the case— the structure is rather T-P-T, T-P-T, T-P-T. In other words, the teacher almost always has the last word, and has two turns to speak for every one pupil turn. This, of course, partly explains the consistent finding that teachers talk, on average, for two thirds of the talking time. The teacher asks a question, the pupil answers it and the teacher provides evaluative feedback before asking another question.

DN: does this pattern show up online? Is it different, based on the environment/platform?


  1. Gallagher, J. J. & Aschner, M . J. (1963), ‘A preliminary report on analyses of classroom interaction’ Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 9, 1963.

  2. Taba, H., Levine, S. & Elzey, F. F. (1964), Thinking in Elementary School Children. Report, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare Co-operative Research Project No. 1574. San Francisco State College.

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