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Open-ended questions as a resource for teaching grammar
Linköping University, Department of Social and Welfare Studies, NISAL - National Institute for the Study of Ageing and Later Life. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences. (NISAL/CEDER)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7562-991X
2015 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study is about the design of open-ended questions such as ‘What is X?’ or ‘Where is X?’ as a resource for teaching grammar in Swedish as a second language classroom. Using video recordings of teacher-student interaction, the study suggests that these questions are used, and treated, as a vehicle for foregrounding a grammatical learnable. The questions may not just convey an expectation to recognize and suggest proper grammatical glasses, but they may also provide the students with prospective ‘clues’ (McHoul, 1990) and ‘contextualization cues’ (Gumperz, 1982) to move from repeating grammatical concepts, which have already been taught, to orienting toward new grammatical learnables. Studies on referential versus display questions, or open-ended versus yes/no questions have shown how understanding different question formats are context dependent (e.g. Koshik, 2005). By adopting ethnomethodological conversation analytic theoretical and methodological framework (e.g. Garfinkel & Sacks, 1970), I will also underscore how the design and understanding of these questions depend on both verbal and nonverbal contexts, which are shaped by the participants together in instructing/teaching sequences. It will be highlighted that these questions may be utilized in preliminary sequences (Schegloff, 2007) prior to the production of locally relevant knowledge within the epistemic domain of grammar. The relevance and also the treatment of these questions are, however, not just related to their sequential placements in the stream of talk, but also to the temporal organization of the activity, and to other local contextual constraints made by various semiotic resources such as prosody, bodily movements, gestures, and the use of material artifacts such as worksheets, written sentences on the whiteboard, etc. These questions and their replies (or their lack of replies) are understood as indexical in what comes next in step-by-step orienting toward, and raising, a new linguistic concept/relation/category as a pedagogical focus. The analysis displays that with these questions 1) the teacher proffers an interactional space for the recognition of a new or an improvable/ remediable grammatical construct or category, 2) the teacher’s access to, knowledge of, the answer is visible in her pursuit of the ‘correct’ answer, and 3) the student is also expected to recognize and pinpoint the same answer. Furthermore, the study demonstrates how the procedure of using these questions in order to zero in on a grammatical learnable is also influenced by the order of successive and simultaneous actions, their multimodal contexts, and by the trajectory of the whole activity, its type and purposes.


Garfinkel, Harold & Sacks, Harvey (1970). On formal structures of practical action. In John C. McKinney & Edward A. Tiryakian (Eds.), Theoretical sociology: perspectives and developments (pp.338-66). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Gumperz, J. J. (1982). Discourse strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Koshik, I. (2005). Beyond rhetorical questions: Assertive questions in everyday interaction. John Benjamins B.V.

McHoul, A. W. (1990). The organization of repair in classroom talk. Language in Society, 19(3), 349-377.

Schegloff, E. A. (2007). Sequence Organization in Interaction: A Primer in Conversation Analysis, Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
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URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-113635OAI: diva2:783557
IPrA, 14th International Pragmatics Conference, Antwerp, Belgium, 26-31 July, 2015
Available from: 2015-01-26 Created: 2015-01-26 Last updated: 2015-02-02

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Majlesi, Ali Reza
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NISAL - National Institute for the Study of Ageing and Later LifeFaculty of Arts and Sciences
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