Turn taking and non-verbal activity in the classroom

  • Ann Gorman

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The proliferation of research into communication between teachers and pupils illustrates the intricacies of the communication process. Whilst many studies give emphasis to the verbal, there are an increasing number which demonstrate that teacher-pupil perceptions and understanding are validated, in part, through non-verbal signalling. The present work is one such study and provides descriptions and interpretations of the sequential processes and patterning which characterise the exchange of turns between teachers and pupils.

Beacuse the methododlogy to collect descriptive data required the researcher to be involved in the classroom setting, decisions were made about personal and procedural reactivity in relation to both the role of the researcher and the establishment of the recording technique. Video data was finally collected in a secondary school where co-learnership was in evidence.

A feature of the main data collection process was its re-defining and cumulative character. To avoid unmanageable data, the sample was kept small and consisted of five teachers and their respective classes. No account was taken of their sex or the subject matter of the lesson. Supplementary data was obtained from field notes and interviews. the school based work extended over sixteen months.

Analyses revealed that the teacher-pupil exchange were not random occurrences, but incorporated some of the features of conversational turn taking established by Sacks et al (1978). Modifications of the rules were documented, (previoulsy unreported). Some empirical supplort was established which indicated that the placing of non-verbal activity contributed to the maintenenance of interactional order and the repair of disorder at points of smooth and simultaneous exchange. Data from interviews confirmed that the range and location of some non-verbal actions attended to by teachers and pupils, bore some similarity to those observed by the researchers.

The relevance of the findings to teacher interactional competence were discussed.
Date of Award1985
Original languageEnglish


  • turn taking
  • non-verbal activity
  • classroom

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