This paper discusses some of the results of a pilot study of spontaneous teacher/child discourse in two Year 1 Sydney classrooms (children aged 6 and 7 years). The two classrooms differed greatly in terms of their ethnic composition; in one class, the majority of children came from non-English speaking backgrounds, while in the other class, all the children were native English speakers. The teachers and students were taped during typical group lessons, and the resulting data were transcribed and analysed using a speech act framework (Hasan’s message semantics network). The results showed significant differences between the discourse in the two classrooms; for example, the teacher of the non-English speaking background class spoke more frequently than the teacher of native English speakers, and she asked different types of questions. The children from non-English speaking backgrounds rarely participated in the classroom conversation. These results suggest that further investigation in the area is justified, in order to determine how typical these differences are, and the extent to which the differences are educationally significant in terms of classroom practices currently followed with ESB and NESB children.
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