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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop

Person to Person Assignments + Projects

Examine the Topic

Now that you have read the research and viewed the video discussion on interpersonal communication, you will examine the topic further by using an interactive video viewer to observe several teacher-student and student-student classroom interactions and analyzing the conversation patterns.

A. Teacher-Student Interactions

To conclude a lesson in which students role-played Latin American artists invited to exhibit their work in Spain, teacher Lori Langer de Ramirez has asked the students to write a formal letter of response about their decision to boycott the exhibit. In this segment, Ms. Langer de Ramirez conducts instructional conversations with groups of students as she helps them compose the letter.

1. Observe Interactions
View the Teacher-Student Interactions video to observe the IRE/IRF conversation patterns in the two teacher-student interactions. Be sure that the communicative actions (CAs) are TURNED OFF for this first viewing.

2. Identify the Communicative Actions
Next, view the video again and identify the kinds of communicative actions Ms. Langer de Ramirez is using during the interactions. You can use the Teacher-Student Interactions Transcript (PDF, 57 K) to track your responses. Select from the following list of CAs as defined by the “Classroom Discourse” article:

  • Contingency managing
  • Directing
  • Explaining
  • Feeding back
  • Initiating
  • Modeling
  • Probing question
  • Questioning
  • Task structuring

3. Compare Your Responses
Finally, view the video with the CAs turned on to see sample answers.

B. Student-Student Interactions

In this lesson, Ms. Tulou’s students answered a series of questions on a worksheet, then walked around the room to discuss their responses in pairs and small groups. As they converse, students are aware that Ms. Tulou expects them to expand and extend their conversational interactions.

  1. Observe Interactions
    View the Student-Student Interactions video to observe the conversation patterns in the three student-student interactions. Be sure that the communicative actions (CAs) are TURNED OFF for this first viewing.
  2. Identify the Communicative Actions
    Next, view the video again and identify the kinds of communicative actions the students are using to keep the conversations going. You can use the Student-Student Interactions Transcript (PDF, 57 K) to track your responses. Select from the following list of CAs as defined by the “Classroom Discourse” article:

    • Explaining
    • Feeding back
    • Initiating
    • Questioning
    • Reacting
  3. Compare Your Responses
    Finally, view the video with the CAs turned on to see sample answers.

C. Reflect on the Activity

After comparing your analysis of the classroom interactions with the sample answers, reflect on the following questions:

  1. Which kinds of communicative actions did Ms. Langer de Ramirez use most often to extend interactions with students? Which ones do you typically use with your students? Which additional CAs might you try to incorporate or use more frequently in your classroom interactions?
  1. Which kinds of CAs did Ms. Tulou’s students rely on most to extend their conversations? How might a teacher prepare his or her students to use this approach during classroom interactions?
  1. As teachers change the dominant pattern in the classroom from IRE to IRF, how might that affect student engagement in interpersonal communication?

Write a brief summary of what you learned from this activity to submit as an assignment.

Put It Into Practice: Activity A


  1. In this section, you will apply what you have learned to your own teaching. The following activities are designed to assist you in developing resources for effective interpersonal communication. Choose one or both of the activities below.

Activity A: Analyzing Conversation Patterns

Teachers can become so tied to the patterns of communication they’ve developed over the years that they no longer notice them. For example, a teacher may not be aware that he or she is inappropriately praising form over message, as in Professor Hall’s example about the teacher who praised a student’s grammar when the boy said that his dog died.

One strategy for becoming reacquainted with our conversation patterns, and thus making it possible to enhance them, is to transcribe and analyze an actual classroom interaction. This consists of making a video or audio recording of part of a lesson, transcribing it, and then closely analyzing the class interactions.

This technique can be practiced whether you are currently teaching or not. If you are now teaching, transcribe a portion of your class that involves conversation. This can be a warm-up activity, a discussion of an interpretive task, a cultural discussion, an exploration of a thematic topic, or another discussion that you are interested in analyzing. If you are not teaching, you can record a colleague’s classroom, a tutoring session you may be conducting, or a class that you yourself are taking. If you record a class that someone else is teaching, ask the teacher what his or her curricular goals are for the interaction before you begin to analyze the transcript.

The portion of the class that you transcribe need not be extensive in order to be rich in insights. In fact, you may want to do this frequently for short periods to assess your growth and to see how you are managing classroom talk. For your first transcript, try recording and transcribing 5 to 10 minutes of a classroom discussion between yourself and individual students or different groups of students. After you have analyzed the transcript, you can decide if you would like to have a shorter or longer transcript to work from next time, and if you would like to focus on a student-student interaction.

Once you have a transcript, analyze the interactions.

  1. First, identify each exchange as an IRE or an IRF communication pattern.
  1. For each IRE exchange, consider whether or not you (or the teacher) met the curricular goal using the IRE exchange. If not, describe how you could expand the conversation into an IRF exchange that incorporates more student responses. For example, what additional question could be asked following the students’ responses? How can your questions be rephrased to elicit more extended responses? (Keep in mind, “yes/no” questions lead to “yes/no” answers.)
  1. For each IRF exchange, consider how well the interaction met the curricular goal. Did the conversation reach its full potential? If not, how might you change the activity or facilitate the discussion to expand the students’ conversation? For example, were there any “yes/no” questions that could have been rephrased as open-ended questions?
  1. Once you have analyzed the transcript in terms of IRE and IRF exchanges, prepare a list of the habits that you consider a priority for enhancing future teacher/student interactions. For example, did you find that you often said “good,” “excellent,” or “great” after a student response, whether the message warranted that or not? If so, then include “respond to message, not to form” in your list of habits. Refer to this list of habits as you prepare and run activities in your classroom. As the year progresses, track how the changes to your communication habits have affected the level of IRF in your classroom.

If you were unable to transcribe your own classroom for this activity, consider repeating the activity once you have access to a classroom. The list of habits that you develop in Step 4 will be most effective and relevant to your practice if they are based on your own communication patterns. You can also transcribe student-student conversations and use them to help you teach communication strategies explicitly. Do this after you are comfortable with your own ability to manage communication and can model effective IRF conversations.


Submit the transcript and analysis of your classroom conversation.

Put It Into Practice: Activity B


  1. In this section, you will apply what you have learned to your own teaching. The following activities are designed to assist you in developing resources for effective interpersonal communication. Choose one or both of the activities below.

Activity B: Designing Student-Student Interactions

For student-student interactions to be effective, students should be encouraged to extend and elaborate conversations. In the video, Ms. Pettigrew says that she challenges students to move beyond the initial exchange; students can begin their interaction based on prepared questions and answers, but they must build on them with follow-up questions and comments.

Design an activity that includes opportunities for student-student interactions. Or, revise an existing activity to include more effective student-student interactions.

  1. Identify the main curricular objective of the activity. (What do you want students to be able to do?)
  1. Design a student-student interaction that will lead to this objective. For example, if the objective is for students to be able to gather information about hobbies and pastimes, you can set up a situation in which students interview one another about their interests. Include ideas for what students could talk about, as well as props or visuals that could trigger conversation. Also, consider whether students will work in small groups or pairs. You may wish to have students change partners or form new groups at stages during the activity in order to facilitate a greater variety of conversations.
  1. What new information do students need to know in order to reach the objectives for the interaction that you’ve designed? For example, do they need to know new vocabulary terms for hobbies or pastimes they want to share? Prepare a preview task that will familiarize students with the important new information. In this case, a warm-up task about different hobbies or pastimes might be in order.
  1. Prepare instructions for students that suggest ways in which they can stimulate their conversations and that let them know how they will be evaluated. This can include teaching students strategies that will help them extend a conversation, such as avoiding “yes/no” questions, asking follow-up questions, asking for clarification, offering explanations, and elaborating on initial statements. You might want to give students index cards to take notes on their classmates’ hobbies during the interaction to prepare for the general discussion.
  1. Before the groups or pairs begin their conversations, model with one or two students the type of conversation you are expecting students to have. (You may want to select a strong student who can help maintain the conversation through several exchanges.) This will give students a clearer understanding of how to do the activity, such as knowing how to ask good follow-up questions to keep the conversation going.
  1. Once the students are engaged in the activity, circulate among the groups and observe their interactions. In some cases, particularly for younger students or those who are new to this type of activity, you may wish to ask your own questions to help extend student conversations. Eventually, when this is done consistently through modeling and class activities, students will begin to have richer and more complex and spontaneous conversations that truly meet the interpersonal communication goal. After a set amount of time, bring the students together as a class to share the information they learned in their small groups.


Submit your design for a student-student interaction activity.

Action Research Project

If you would like to focus on interpersonal communication for your action research project, use the following questions and examples to help frame your thinking and shape your project.


  1. The following four-step process will help you plan a small action research project to explore your questions about the interpersonal mode of communication, implement action plans for improving the interpersonal skills of your students, and collect information to assess your patterns of communication. Before you begin this section, you can go to About Action Research for an introduction to the process of designing and conducting action research projects. If you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project from any one of the eight workshop sessions as an assignment.

I. Thinking

  1. What issue concerning instruction and interpersonal communication do you want to describe, document, and investigate? For example, you could analyze the patterns of communication that exist in your classroom, your students’ interpersonal communication, or ways to enable your students to negotiate meaning with you and each other. This will be the focus of your action research project.
  1. Why is interpersonal communication important to you as a teacher? How have you planned for classroom interactions in the past? How do you want to change that approach and why? What has been your experience with using IRE and IRF communication patterns with students?
  1. What is your research question concerning the interpersonal mode of communication? The research question will help you investigate your area of focus and understand it better. For example:
    1. How can I enable my students to negotiate meaning when engaged in pair work tasks?
    2. How does the design of my classroom tasks promote or inhibit interpersonal communication?
    3. How can I monitor how much interpersonal communication occurs on a daily basis in my classes?

II. Acting

  1. What is the action plan for carrying out your project? Depending on your action research question, the following are some questions you might ask yourself to help you develop an action plan:
    1. What strategies might I use to enable students to use more target language in pair work tasks?
    2. What techniques might I use to monitor my use of feedback during interpersonal communication?
    3. What new ways of constructing tasks do I need to try out to assist students in communicating interpersonally?
    4. What strategies can I use to move students from one-word responses to more elaboration and detail?
  1. What information will you need to collect to answer your research question and assess your project? For example, an action research project on interpersonal communication might include observations of classroom interactions by a colleague or yourself, reflections after class in a teaching journal, recordings of student discourse during pair work tasks, or video recordings of classroom discussion over time. You should have at least two appropriate sources of information to answer your research question.
  1. How much time will you allot for your action research? That is, when and for how long do you plan to collect information before you’re ready to begin analyzing it? Develop a timeline for implementing your action plan.

III. Reflecting

  1. After collecting your information, how will you analyze it? That is, how will you organize and review the information you have collected to understand it better and help you answer your research question? For example, will you transcribe interactions, locate themes in your journal, or document changes over time in student interpersonal communication based on your innovation or intervention?
  1. How will you display the information so that it can be shared with others? For example, you can use charts, graphs, and/or tables. The goal is to organize your data in a way that presents a clear description of what you investigated.

IV. Rethinking

Note: The final step of the action research project is to reevaluate your teaching practice based on your research data. Because it takes time to complete an action research project, it may not be possible to do this step during the workshop. However, if you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project during or after the course of the workshop to submit as an assignment.

  1. Based on what you learned through your data analysis, how will you rethink your teaching practice? What changes will you make to your lessons the next time you address interpersonal communication in your classes? If you had to research interpersonal communication again, what changes would you make to your action research plan?

Reflect on Your Learning


In this session, you analyzed different patterns of classroom interactions and examined ways to lead students toward having more effective conversations. You will now write a one- to two-page summary of what you have learned and how you plan to apply it in your classroom. Review the notes you have taken during this session, as well as your answers to the Reflect on Your Experience questions. Use the questions below to guide your writing.

  1. How might you involve students in classroom conversations?
  1. How will you determine what kinds of questions you will ask? What, if anything, might cause you to alter those questions during a lesson?
  1. In what situations would you use the IRE conversation pattern with students? The IRF conversation pattern? What are some factors that you would consider in determining this?
  1. What guidelines will you set for students when they converse in small groups to ensure that there is meaningful conversation?
  1. How would you decide whether a classroom interaction was successful or not?

Submit your summary as an assignment.