Teacher talk

​Whole class or small group discussions – the role of the teacher

When planning for oral language interactions, the role of the teacher must be considered. A dominant pattern in classrooms is that of IRF (initiation, response, feedback) (Wegerif, 2013).

This pattern, commonly used during whole class discussion, usually requires students to provide an answer that matches what the teacher already knows.

For example:

Teacher: What is significant about the date January 1st, 1901?  (initiation)
Feedback: It is when Federation happened. (response)
Teacher: Yes, great! (feedback)

The IRF pattern often accompanies teacher monologue and places the teacher in control of the talk, deciding who talks and when they may talk. This oral language pattern is useful for quickly tuning students into the lesson, or recalling facts. It can also be used when asking students to clarify, justify or synthesise their thinking.

Other oral language interaction patterns, which move away from the IRF pattern and are more student centred, can be used by the teacher to lead discussions:

  • Presenting a statement to the class for discussion
  • Inviting elaboration (For example: What comments would we like to make about the endangered species in Australia?)
  • Inviting students to initiate, lead and ask questions during a class discussion.

Regardless of the oral language interaction pattern used, a teacher can help to make explicit the types of contributions that serve to move a discussion forward or enhance learning.

Supporting EAL/D learners

Establishing a positive classroom culture where students have time to think and the opportunity to formulate their ideas verbally with the support of others will facilitate EAL/D learners’ participation in class interactions.

Edward-Groves (2014) suggests that teachers can encourage EAL/D students to do more of the talking by:

  • increasing the amount of time the teacher waits after a student gives a short answer
  • providing specific cues to the EAL/D student so they can anticipate and prepare their answer, for example, ‘I will ask you to tell me three things about what you think about the mobile phone ban. Tell me after Student X finishes talking’
  • backchannelling (uh huh, mmm, nodding) as a means to acknowledge that you're listening but that you would like the student to continue
  • providing more structured backchannelling by asking specifically for elaboration, clarification or repetition, ‘Oh you saw an accident? Where did you see the accident?’
  • establishing expectations that students answer in full sentences
  • using short phrases such as 'Tell me more', 'Keep going', 'More information please'
  • encouraging the rest of the group to build on each other's contributions, for example, 'What can other people add to Student X's ideas?', 'Who has a different point of view?', 'What have we left out?', 'What else do we need to think about?'
  • requesting that a student undertake the synthesising task that the teacher normally does, for example, refer to a lesson’s learning intention and success criteria, ask students to report on one thing they have learned in the class (Edwards-Groves, 2014).


Good models of oral language are important for all students, particularly those for whom English is an additional language or standard English is not their dominant language. The teacher holds an important role as a talk model. Modelling occurs throughout the day and across all subjects.

Through modelling, teachers can make conscious choices to support students’ oral language development, by recycling language structures and vocabulary; supporting new vocabulary in context or offering definitions for new vocabulary. In addition, teachers can reformulate the responses of students to help make the message clear for other students. Teachers can draw attention to the language choices they make and explain why they chose these.


Alexander, R. (2006). Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk (3rd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Dialogos.

Edwards-Groves, C. (2014). Talk Moves: A repertoire of practices for product classroom dialogue. PETAA Paper 195. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association of Australia (PETAA).

Wegerif, R. (2013). Dialogic: Education for the internet age. London, UK: Routledge.