Unlocking Classroom Success: Exploring the Vital Role of Classroom Discourse in Teacher Development

  Classroom Discourse

Studying classroom discourse can remarkably contribute to teaching. It can provide teachers with the basic theoretical and practical requirements of understanding what happens in the class and why it does happen. Teacher development of classroom discourse is one the most critical issues that have gained considerable attention in recent years.

It underpins the major technicalities that improve and develop teachers’ professional practices, skills and performance. In this article, the focus will be on the four areas of teacher development with regard to classroom discourse. These areas are: 1)- improving questions strategies, 2)- making discourse more communicative, 3)- enhancing the interactive decision making, and 4)- dealing with reticence.

The first area is improving question strategies.

This is important because questions are one of the most critical techniques that are used by teachers to elicit information from students and engage them in classroom discussions. Teachers must be well trained and familiarized with the ways of asking effective questions that promote learners’ involvement.

Thompson (1997) highlights the critical need of asking good questions. He establishes a relationship between questions and pedagogic purposes. He identifies three kinds of questions. The first type is form questions. In this kind, a distinction between opened (WH questions) and closed questions (yes/no questions) is drawn. Teachers should be aware of when to ask open or closed questions. They are totally different in terms of the function and the feedback.

The second type is content questions which has to do with personal facts and opinions expressed by the learner. The third type is purpose questions. In this kind, a relationship between display and communication questions is established. It is crucial for teachers to be completely aware of the need to vary questions and the situations under which each particular type should be employed.

The second area is making the discourse more communicative.

Scott Thornbury conducted a study (2008) and found that teachers’ discourse strategies can exert a positive effect on the quality of communication and interaction.

Communicative classrooms are characterized by an array of features. The first feature is the use of referential questions. Such questions require a greater effort and a deeper understanding of what is taught and learned. The second feature is the continuous use of content feedback, which means that the focus of teachers should mainly be on the message and the meaning and not on the form.

The third feature is the use of extended wait-time. This feature requires teachers to stop a bit before answering the question. It is entirely useful because it decreases learners’ pressure and increases the number of students who are involved in the discussion.  The fourth feature is student-initiated talks. This can be stimulated by teachers’ prompts and results in students’ understanding.

The third area is interactive decision making.

It is one of the most integral characteristics of effective teaching. This process highly requires teachers to improvise and make sudden and immediate decisions to have students contribute to the interactive event. 

Kathy bailey’s study (1996) established the grounding principles of interactive decision making. Firstly, it serves the common. Since some learners would have some problems, it would be necessary for teachers to make sure everybody understands what is being explained.

Secondly, it teaches to the moment. Sometimes, it is important for teachers to be flexible and not following the plan they have planned to follow. In some cases, there might be a critical need for teaching something important. So, teachers will have to improvise.  Thirdly, it accommodates learning styles. Teachers are often frustrated with the individual differences of learners and are afraid not to be able to meet their needs. Yet, interactive decision making creates more learning opportunities for other learners using more creative ways. Fourthly, it distributes the wealth. This means that teachers can make sure that fair turn-taking is happening and learning objectives are impartially achieved.

The fourth area is the way teachers should deal with linguistic reluctance or what is called “reticence”.

Dealing with reticence constitutes a real problem for many teachers. Reticence can be observed in the minimal responses given by learners such as one single word or whispered feedback. Reticence may lead to some problems in students’ performance. The lack of engagement in the discourse will probably reduce the number of opportunities that students have to learn the new language, construct hypotheses and develop different learning strategies.

Many practitioners report that a number of strategies should be used to eliminate reticence in the class. The first one is lengthening the extended wait time so that students could have enough time to think and reflect on the questions. The second one is improving question strategies. The third one is accepting a variety of answers and this has to do with giving the impression that there is no right answer and as a result giving the floor to others to express themselves. The fourth one is making use of group and peer support and promoting student-student interactions.

Why should professional development address classroom discourse

As shown above, understanding classroom discourse constitutes a strong basis on which teachers can develop a greater understanding of verbal, nonverbal, interactive, and communicative skills that are crucially needed in the class. It makes the processes of teaching and learning more enjoyable. Furthermore, teachers who are highly interested in effectively promoting students’ learning and reducing classroom anxiety should adopt the four main strategies (improve questions strategies, enhance interactive decision making, make the class discourse more communicative and eliminate reticence).

Along with this article, the focus was to address some of the critical areas of classroom discourse that every single teacher should be aware of. The all-encompassing implication here is that teacher professional developers should help teachers build their knowledge of classroom discourse through:

  1. monitoring their instructional performance occasionally.
  2.  Inviting them to workshops, seminars, and in-service training that address these issues.
  3.  Encouraging teachers to conduct action research on classroom discourse and share its outcomes with colleagues.

It is these opportunities that will help teachers promote their teaching skills and arrive at BETTER EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES.




Number one  is your optimal reference for understanding classroom discourse.

  • Walsh, S. (2011). Exploring Classroom Discourse: Language in action. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
  • Thompson, G. (1997). Training teachers to ask questions. ELT Journal, 51(2), 99-105.
  • Thurnbury, S. (2008). Reformulation and reconstruction: tasks that promote noticing. English Language Teaching Journal 1997, 51/4,    326-35.

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