Category Archives: Teaching

Guest Blog: Marina Cantarutti on presenting CA to the public

Explaining what we do to the general public can be a daunting exercise, but the rewards can be well worth it.  Marina Cantarutti, doing her doctoral research at the University of York, took on the task, and presented her work at a science fair of the kind that hosted Saul Albert and colleagues’ excellent CA Rollercoaster. She lived to tell the (happy) tale…

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Marina Cantarutti, University of York

For some areas of linguistics, it may be a bit difficult to make your work accessible to the public without feeling you are betraying yourself, or your knowledge. The fear of trivialising is always at the back of one’s mind. Moreover, when you’re out there on your own, you are the sole representative of the discipline … daunting!

And there is also the issue of impact. When you do research on CA on institutional settings, for example, the “impact sell” is perhaps a bit easier than when your passion is the magic that happens in even the most mundane of our everyday interactions. Showing how studying “the ordinary” can make a difference is a challenge, and in this respect, the CA community is really grateful to Liz Stokoe and the work she has been doing making the “science of talk” known to the wider public.

What I talked about

On November 17th, as part of York’s YorNight, I presented an exhibition called “Human fusion…in conversation. Explaining Synchronisations through the Science of Talk, Conversation Analysis”.

From my collection of co-animations and turn-sharing, I focused only on cases of associative collaborative productions, in particular, choral productions (things “said at the same time”, as I called them), and anticipatory completions (“finishing each other’s sentences”). My aim was to show my audience that these are highly ordered activities that are not about “mind reading” but about the “reading” and negotiation of turn-design features from both the speaker’s and the recipient’s perspective. I used the Royal engagement interview and my data to show how we do this through our wording, tone of voice, gesture, gaze, and the timing of our incomings.

The activities and set-up

I divided my exhibition into five activities. The first was simply my welcome and announcement of my research topic, and a few introductory words with the question “do you want to hear more?”. None of the visitors, after hearing me say I study, among other things, when people “finish each other’s sentences and say the same thing at the same time”, actually rejected the invitation (lots of smiling and eyebrow raising reactions from them there)!

My second task was to see the Royals in action, finishing each other’s sentences, as an introduction to the kind of detail and organisation I’m interested in.

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Man and woman announce engagement

 I spread out copies of my research slides on the table, with a running powerpoint, where people who came in could see snippets from the familiar Harry and Meghan BBC interview. I showed them at regular and slow speeds, with a breakdown of lots of interesting verbal and non-verbal aspects leading up to the famous collaborative completion. Here’s a version of it, in a rather   minimal transcript (but good enough for the purpose):


The third activity was called “Sync away”, and it required that the audience get in my participants’ shoes by doing some predictive work. I would play two snippets of data, one with a choral production, and the other with an anticipatory completion, and stop just before these synchronised productions happened. The audience would have to guess what came next. Kids were particularly good at this one! (Pro tip: those five-way audio splitters for headphones are the best if you are planning a family-exhibition!)

Too difficult!

The next activity was “Find the clues”, but in the end I never got to implement it, as it was just too difficult. It consisted in getting the audience to spot those interesting speaker and recipient behaviours leading up to these synchronisations . Even though I chose, of course, my stellar cases, those that look so perfect they should be in textbooks, it just wouldn’t work. So I decided to play the video again and guide their attention to rhythmic behaviour, clicks, vowel lengthening, hesitation markers,  the holding and release of gestures, the predictability of certain grammatical structures. That got the “Wow!” I had hoped for.

The fourth activity was called “Sync with me” (or “force sync!”) and it invited the audience to pick a person in the group to pick an idiomatic expression (e.g. “you can’t have your cake and eat it”) out of a bag, which they had to include in their talk, and get the other person to either complete or produce in unison. It worked really well with a teenage brother-sister pair. It even worked with two kids who were around 8-12 – they didn’t know the expressions,  but nevertheless they came up with some plausible completions in just the right way!

The best part: researcher-audience interaction

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Marina Cantarutti welcomes visitors to her display

Beyond the startling question “you are planning to get your PhD finished in three years, I presume?” I received from a grandparent, the interactions I had with the audience were really super interesting, and gave me further ideas as to where the impact of my research could lie. Questions going from “are these things learned?” to “are these culturally-sensitive?”, into “how can this help our interaction with people in the autism spectrum?”, to the usual “you must find it impossible to lead a normal conversation with people”, my interaction with people all ages was priceless.

As with teaching, or poster presentations sessions at conferences, you get better at pitching your work and targeting your talk at your audience as you go along. This was a five-hour exhibition, and I must have met around 30 families/couples/groups of friends from different backgrounds and interests. I have discussed the detail of everyday talk in a tent space shared with researchers on subjects that the public would not doubt to call “science”, such as Chemistry and  Physics.  I can only say that I humbly believe I have been successful in showing how studying conversation isdoing science, how unpacking the orderliness of the ordinary can be fascinating, and how we can make a difference to people’s lives by describing how it is that we go about our everyday business of social interaction.


Guest blog: Charlotte Albury on teaching CA to clinicians

Conversation analysis is increasingly being rolled out as a method for practitioners to use in their work, or at least as a corrective to the idea that all qualitative research is simply a matter of interviewing people. If it has the effect of sensitising them to the ebb and flow of talk in their everyday practices , that’s a bonus. I’m delighted that Oxford early-career researcher Charlotte Albury has written us a blog about her experiences in putting CA in front of a group of medical practitioners.

Charlotte Albury

Charlotte Albury, Nuffield Department of Primary Care

Recently I was invited to teach Conversation Analysis at the University of Antwerp. Their qualitative research methods summer school trains clinicians, quantitative researchers, and research students in qualitative research design; analysis; and appraisal, with a focus on clinical settings.

This year, three lectures were dedicated to conversation analysis. The aim was to provide the group with an overview of CA, how it can be used in clinical settings, and discuss the types of research questions that CA can best answer.

Test out some new teaching ideas

This was a good opportunity to test some new activities, which I had designed to be relevant for the range of learners and experience in the class. Here I’ve described three activities that I found worked particularly well for introducing CA to a mixed experience learning group.

  • Find a partner

I gave each student a piece of paper with one turn at talk on it. In the corner of these it said either 1stpp  or 2ndpp. I encouraged everyone to search the group to find the person they thought was their pair: for example, “How are you?” found “Fine thanks” and “See you later” found “Bye”. When everyone had found their partner, I asked them to work in small groups for about fifteen minutes and tell me what they discovered about talk from this exercise. They decided that:

  • Talk comes in pairs
  • Some responses are more relevant than others
  • Where things are in sequence is important

I started a session with this exercise and it was great to refer back to, as I expanded on each of these concepts throughout the day.

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  • Introducing transcription

I put up a slide that said “I didn’t call him stupid”, then asked someone to read it out (didn’t call him stupid). After this I asked if anyone could interpret this differently, and another learner read is emphasising a different word (I didn’t call him stupid). I repeated this until we’d drawn out 5or 6 different meanings, which initiated a discussion about what we might be missing when working with a verbatim transcription. I asked how we can make the meaning clearer, students suggested underling the emphasised word, or sound, and indicating where the pauses were, as this could change the meaning. I enjoyed this exercise as students identified for themselves the value of capturing how talk was delivered, and it introduced our subsequent activities and discussions about Jeffersonian transcription.

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How would Gail Jefferson have transcribed that?

  • 1-minute transcription challenge

Most learners had come to learn skills in interviewing and thematic analysis and were not planning on using CA in their research projects. However, CA literature has much to offer their research, and their literature reviews. Previous discussions with similar groups identified ‘unusual transcripts’ as a barrier to incorporating CA literature, so I was keen for learners to be familiar enough with transcription conventions to go looking for literature, and to confidently be able to read and interpret these studies. Doing transcription is a brilliant way to learn what it all means, but asking learners who are new to qualitative research to transcribe a large amount of data can be quite overwhelming, so I decided to try a “1 min transcription challenge”. Two lines of talk, a transcription key, audio on a loop and 1 minute to see what they can do. This was really successful, and the learners were more confident as we went on to read and discuss CA studies.Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 08.51.22

Looking back

I designed all activities to be as learner-led as possible so they could discover for themselves the key principles underlying CA. Learners said they found these sessions a “fantastic first introduction to the world of conversation analysis”, and one particular clinician said “it’s made me see conversation in a whole new light”.

Most learners reported that they would take many of the concepts we uncovered with them into clinical practice, and were keen to learn if CA research has explored their clinical speciality “Are there studies on end of life care?” “How about unexplained medical symptoms, or giving bad news?” “What about smoking cessation advice?”.  In our last session we had a dynamic discussion about clinical CA studies and I could see the learners had realised the exciting possibilities of conversation analytic research.

For more on CA teaching, see the “CA Teaching” page, and the pages in the CA Teach drop-down menu


Guest Blog: A survey of CA craft skills

How do you handle your data? One big file? Hundreds of randomly-lableled files, in odd folders? Or a carefully curated, updated and catalogued easy-retrieval system? Sarah J White set out to find the answer from her fellow Twitter users….

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Sarah J White, Macquarie University

A few weeks ago I started thinking about processes and tools in conversation analysis. This year I have embarked on my biggest CA project since my PhD, so I thought it was time for a refresh to ensure I am keeping up. There are many, many resources available on how to do CA (I even have a methods chapter coming out soon), but that actual processes used to document the analysis seem less well defined. Continue reading

Guest blog: Melisa Stevanovic and Elina Weiste on impossible content analysis

Two of Finland’s most active and productive young Conversation Analysis researchers, Melisa Stevanovic and Elina Weiste,  tried their hand at an intriguing experiment: analysing what people said about doing CA. The result was a thoughtful article (not in ROLSI) but clearly there was more to it than that, so I was delighted when they agreed to do a guest blog here.

The title they suggested was “On the impossibility of conducting content analysis: Back story of our data-session paper”, which sets the scene tantalisingly…

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Dr Melisa Stevanovic, Helsinki University

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Dr Elina Weiste, Helsinki University

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Six ways not to do discourse analysis

A recent blog by Dariusz Galasiński about the poverty of some qualitative analysis has prompted me to dust down an old paper from back in 2003. Written mostly by Michael Billig, it was something of a succès d’estime among those who could find it – but it got lost when the online journal it was in folded. Its worries about discourse analysis are easily generalised to qualitative research more broadly; and, as Galasiński’s blog shows, still all too topical.

This is an abridged version; if you’d like to read the properly referenced full thing, probably the easiest place to get it is as a .pdf from Loughborough University’s repository.

Discourse analysis means doing analysis: A critique of six analytic shortcomings Continue reading

Loughborough’s CA Days – the 10th Anniversary

2016 was the 10th successive year we’ve held a Conversation Analysis Days at Loughborough University’s Department of Social Sciences. Here’s a brief account of how we got here, and why we think that it’s such a popular and enjoyable occasion. Charles Antaki and Liz Stokoe, organisers.

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Charles Antaki

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Liz Stokoe

It started out as a bright idea to invite friends and colleagues doing CA to come to a day’s meeting at Loughborough – no real reason, other than a sudden enthusiasm of the ‘let’s put a show on right here in the barn‘ type, and a list of people we wanted to see.

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Guest blog: Saul Albert and colleagues on the “Conversational Rollercoaster” EM/CA exhibition

Conversation Analysis is hardly known as a spectator sport, yet it offers a great way to involve members of the public to see what interactional research might look like. Saul Albert organised a superb demonstration, lasting over four days, of CA analysts from Queen Mary, Loughborough, Keele, York, Oxford, and Roehampton working at a major London science exhibition. This is his report.


Saul Albert, Queen Mary University of London

New Scientist Live is one of the largest science festivals in the UK, so when they asked our Cognitive Science group at Queen Mary University to propose a hands-on public engagement activity, I challenged myself to come up with a way to ‘demo’ EM/CA.

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