Category Archives: Teaching

Guest blog: Rebecca Clift on teaching CA in China

The global reach of Conversation Analysis is ever-expanding, as illustrated by the interest generated in CA workshops wherever in the world they take place. Here Rebecca Clift gives us a brief but evocative account of her trip to China with colleagues from the UK and the USA.

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Rebecca Clift, Essex University

There was a happy gathering for the third National Workshop in Conversation Analysis at Shanxi University, China, from 15th-19thJuly 2019. The huge group photo (see the  foot of the page) more or less gets everyone in!

Immersion in CA

Organised by Professor Guodong Yu and Professor Yaxin Wu, it was an intense and exhilarating week of immersion in CA methods for all of us: 64 participants comprising faculty members and graduate students from across China taking lectures, workshops and data sessions with Paul Drew, Kobin Kendrick (University of York), Chase Raymond (University of Colorado, Boulder) and me.

Days were topped and tailed with plenary lectures on the fundamental principles and methods of CA and on some of our own research and research methods (Paul on medical interaction, Kobin on recruitment, Chase on working with collections, and me on embodiment in dissent). The core of our work days consisted of intensive sessions in smaller groups, working on the heart and soul of CA: collections of phenomena. In our groups we worked with a different collection every day, and with a variety of videoed and audio data.

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From L to R: Clift, Raymond, Drew and Kendrick at Paul Drew’s opening plenary

We even brought the whole group together for a memorable plenary data session on Mandarin data, which had been recorded by my PhD student, Zehui Weng!

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Chase Raymond demonstrates quite literally what it means to get down to working with collections…!

So a packed schedule; but an extraordinarily stimulating week, with the classes generating some fascinating observations. It’s clear that there’s huge interest and activity in CA in China, thanks to Guodong and Yaxin, and a whole new generation of CA scholars working on projects of their own (medical interaction, Chinese sign language, recruitment, and emergency calls were just some that I heard about).

Our warmest thanks to everyone who participated – it was a privilege to work with you – and our gratitude to our generous hosts, Guodong, Yaxin and Jody Zhou, who made everything run so smoothly. As we said at the workshop, we hope to see you again, somewhere in the world to talk about your work in CA!

If you’re interested in taking similar short intensive CA courses, don’t forget that Paul and Kobin are involved in teaching such courses with their colleagues at the University of York.

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Guest blog: How to make CA fun for 182 kids (and 171 adults)

How do you make Conversation Analysis intelligible to children? And make it enough fun that they actually want to see how it works, and try it out? That is the challenge happily taken on by the enterprising team of postgraduate students Reihaneh Afshari Saleh, Zhiying Jian, Marina Cantarutti and Yumei Gan. I’m delighted that they agreed to write it up; their report makes for lively reading.

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Zhiying Jian, Marina Cantarutti, Yumei Gan and Afshari Saleh

One of the most fulfilling things when doing our sometimes lonely PhD research is being told that what we do matters. Public engagement gives you a chance to experience that. We know that making our research accessible to the public can be daunting, and when your audience is potentially 200 kids aged 5-11, even more so! The PhD students in Language and Communication at the University of York, Reihaneh Afshari Saleh, Zhiying Jian, and Marina Cantarutti, and our PhD student visitor from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Yumei Gan, decided to rise to the challenge and make Conversation Analysis (even more) fun!

The Festival of Ideas Fringe Family Fun Afternoon is a science showcase organised by the Humanities Research Centre at the University of York. It consists of an afternoon packed with activities mainly aimed at kids aged 5-11, led by postgrads and staff. As part of the wider Festival of Ideas, the overall theme this year was “A World of Wonder”. “What can be more wondrous and wonderful”, we thought, “than showing kids how much they already know about our object of study: conversation!” That is how our stand “The Wonders of Conversation” was born. Cue lots of brainstorming, team-work, cutting, pasting, glueing and generally getting things ready for the day….

The Big Day

The day for the Festival arrived, and after some contingencies that thanks to spotless teamwork we managed to sort out in time, our Wonders of Conversation stand was ready. It consisted of four areas, the first one being the “Conversation Factory” where kids (and parents, who were eager to have a go at it as well!) were given the task of matching first and second pair parts (and if possible, find the sneaky sequence-closing thirds). The 56 speech bubbles with text were all velcroed to a board, and there were several possible combinations for kids to explore.

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Marina preparing the FPPs and SPPs

Marina’s highlights at the Conversation Factory. The most popular FPP was “Can I watch Netflix?”, and kids mostly selected “Nope” as the answer (seconded by “Not today”). When asked how they would say it if they wanted a different answer, they offered all kinds of amusing performances, including bouncing, pouting, and high-pitched elongated “ple::::::ase” versions. As a result, some parents would comply and take the “Go ahead” or the “Totally” speech bubbles and replace the dispreferred answer on the board.

One of the most memorable and hectic moments was a family with four kids who seemed to set it upon themselves to try and build the longest conversation, but one of the kids would upset the others by selecting incoherent second-pair parts and laugh. It was fun to reflect with parents about the orderliness of talk and the kids’ obvious ability to tell what “made sense” as a response and what was not a fitted SPP.

Reihaneh’s highlights at the Conversation Factory: A few bubble sequences were fuel to some hot discussion among some academic parents visiting our stance. With their children busy at the origami table, parents played with the speech bubbles. One stuck the FPP ‘Who smashed my lego?’ on the board and the other put ‘Sorry’ next to it. Then it was my turn to unravel the wonder, so I interfered: ‘But is ‘sorry’ an answer to ‘who’’?. After a moment looking at their built-up sequence, one said ‘Oh! Amazing’. It was as if they got the story of ‘truncated sequences’ and ‘implicit meanings’ right there. To me, this with no doubt was  the moment of victory: when I could induce from lay people that ‘Oh Amazing’ mantra which I murmur to myself silently everyday while engaged with my own conversational data.

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Reihaneh doing prep work for the Crafts and Chatter Spot

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Reihaneh, dice and the wonders of conversation

Our most successful and by far busiest area was the origami table, or as we called it, the “Crafts and Chatter spot”. Kids had an opportunity to make their own paper snappers/beaks or fortune tellers and decorate them with sticky eyes, and hand draw freckles, tongues, teeth, lipstick.

Yumei’s highlights at the Crafts and Chatter spotI had an enjoyable time working on this public event. Two highlights from my experience: Firstly,  I am a visitor student at the University of York for six months. I am so grateful to have been involved in this event, to have the opportunity to work with other postgraduate students. Our team work work started in February, and lasted 4 months. During the four months, I learned from other team members, organized Marina, considerate Reihaneh, and creative Zhiying. It was a great pleasure to have the chance to work with  all of them.

Secondly, an amazing experience was to discover the moments when the young children say their first sentence. One important thing that I noticed during the event was that children can be “very shy” in the first encounter. Most of them don’t start to talk with me unless their parents prompt them to do so. Then I started to use our designed origami ‘talking mouth’ to change my identity. For example, by holding an origami mouth in my hand, I said to the children  “Hello, I am a robot. I am from Mars, where are you from?” . Then many of them started to talk, some children even gave a new name to themselves, e.g. one of them said that he was “Spiderman”. I love those moments when children open their mouths. I was amazed at how the origami mouth can perform as a way to prompt young children to talk. It seems that sometimes talking in the voice of others (e.g. of a robot, of a spiderman) is easier than talking in our own voices.

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CA origami

Zhiying’s highlights: The highlights of participating in this activity for myself was the challenge in communicating our research to 5 to 11 year-old children. It offered an unprecedented new perspective to think about and to present conversation analysis research to kids. Conversation, being such a pervasive and ordinary activity in life, involves so many principles and theories in academia. However, it might have been hard to visualise the theories of conversation analysis in an “eye catching” way for the children. It proved somewhat challenging to avoid being confusing for the audience when explaining the rules of the game, yet fascinating, and above all rewarding as we made this possible by the designs of the exhibition. I particularly like the part when we led the children to make origami puppets — they clearly loved folding, drawing, decorating, and everything else in the handcrafting and they certainly enjoyed role playing with the hosts with puppets made by themselves! The inclusion of the ‘fun facts’ banners also added more to the entertainment, but also the ‘scientific messages’ for the children to benefit from and even to take home.

Role Play

Kids stayed by the table chatting with their puppets with us and their parents or grandparents before being invited onto the next adventure: the Role Play corner. The role-play activity as we originally envisaged it started with the kids throwing two dice: the blue one would determine whether they were going to be doing one of  these social actions: “asking for things”, “offering things/help”, or “complaining/telling someone off”. The red die would define whether they would have to do that action at school, at home, or at the supermarket. Based on the lucky numbers, kids would be given different roles and situations. From requesting ketchup at the dinner table to asking a member of staff for help them reach a packet of crisps at a high shelf in the supermarket to asking for a box of colour markers that had been selfishly kept by a classmate, kids were invited to show how they excelled at adjusting their talk to different audiences in different social contexts.

We knew this activity would be difficult to implement, and we decided to be creative and flexible. Sometimes we just invited the kids to show their skill at one of the social actions and we played around in the three scenarios, sometimes we just went with the flow and engaged in free talk.

Reihaneh’s highlights leading the Role Plays: The free talk was a live scene of textbook interactional practices and conversational norms played by children as young as 4. It was amazing to see how kids displayed orientations to these norms. For example, they opened the origami’s ‘mouth’ and played laughing when, in their role play with parents or grandparents,  they flatly rejected a request for help. I was witness to the grandma’s talking mouth doing being surprised by getting stretched wide open and the kid’s origami puppet doing being naughty by repeating the rejection! I even saw the grandma leaving the role play stance, going back to the origami table, replacing her puppet’s eyes with a pair which looked ‘more surprised’ after the kid’s ‘persistence’ in being naughty. Then as much as I was having fun by remembering lines of CA research papers,  I also wanted to invite the guests to our little world of wonder. So I sometimes moderated the activity by asking ‘what just happened?’ to hear ‘I was naughty!’ from the kid. ‘Now show me how you stop being naughty’, I would say and then a whole new set of role-play would start.

The whole day was fun. I especially got rewarded when one of the parents started following me on Twitter. We even arranged another day so that her kid and I could play some more roles. They came with two big dice and the same origami puppets which we had used on the festival day. It was so touching to see they had kept them. We made more situations, more actions, and we are even looking forward to more role playing.

Each of these areas in our stand had signs with “fun facts” with very basic CA terminology, and brief remarks that highlighted the scientific value of our activities. After navigating the different areas, the final station was just for the sake of keeping a family souvenir: a “Selfie Spot”, with a big frame behind which families could show off both their origami achievements and their smiles.

There were 182 kids and 171 adults at the exhibition that afternoon, and for four hours, the Wonders of Conversation stand was a busy and happy area where talk was being cheerfully talked about.


Guest blog: Ruth Parry on how to use analogies to introduce CA to new audiences

CA research is increasingly finding application to real-world problems, but getting its virtues across to a lay audience – and potential collaborators – is not always easy. I’m delighted that Ruth Parry, who has extensive experience, has agreed to let us into some of the tips and tricks of the trade – especially the power of using analogies to get the message across.

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Ruth Parry, Loughborough University

When your scientific approach is one few people have heard of, is pretty technical, and has a conventional title that doesn’t help much (or could even mislead), tried and tested ways to introduce and explain it are a boon. In this blog I describe some ways to explain conversation analysis to others – whether we’re presenting our research, delivering CA-based training, or building collaborative projects with teams from diverse backgrounds.

Many of you will have seen and heard how Liz Stokoe introduces and explains CA. She plays short audio clips of phone conversations, helping the audience notice what people do with their talk in relation to sequences, pauses, intonation and so on. As Liz stops and starts the audio, she points out to the audience that they recognise what’s going on, and thus that they already think conversation analytically (see for example, her TED talk, about five minutes in). Another commonly used method is to use video-clips, usually involving some kind of ridiculous breaching, as collated here by the fantastic EMCA wiki team headed up by Saul Albert.

In this blog, I want describe another approach to introducing and explaining conversation analysis to people who are unfamiliar with it: analogies. I use these frequently when talking to researchers from other fields, and to health and social care educators and staff – who are the people I mostly collaboratewith. I’m going to mention four different analogies that I use, and that you might find useful.

Studying Bee Dances

The bee dance analogy helps explain how conversation analysts sample and record; our sequential and fine-grained analysis; the fact that we don’t generally do interviews; and that our scientific approach is a cumulative one – i.e. that we rely and build on a rich and expanding body of prior findings (Clayman and Gill explain this beautifully). I started to use and develop this analogy after reading Paul ten Have’s description of our approach to sampling and ‘specimens’. Later, after a conversation with Derek Edwards, I added a component that points to the cumulative nature of our analyses. By the way, I believe ‘waggle dance’ is the more accurate term, but bee dance has always worked for me. Here’s what I do.

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I put up a diagrammatic picture of a bee dance, sourced from Creative Commons, and make the following points, explaining how each element is similar to how conversation analysts work:

  • If I were a naturalist studying bee dances, I’d go out and observe as many as I could. I would observe what happened before, during and after the dance.
  • In the days of Darwin, I would have made detailed written notes and hand drawn illustrations. Nowadays, I would video-record the dances, collecting as many as I could.
  • I would look in fine detail at each step of the dance. I’d also be interested in observing whether different sequences had different outcomes, such as the distance and direction the bees flew off to find the pollen.
  • I’d also read up on research others had already done on bee dances and the like, and use that knowledge to inform my investigations.
  • You’ll notice that I don’t interview the bees about what they think they are doing, nor why they think they’re doing it.

Football playing, and football punditry

The football analogy allows you to show audiences that they’re actually already very familiar with sequential analysis.  I lifted this analogy from Ginny Teas Gill with whom I used to co-organise sessions on introducing and teaching CA within various conferences. I also add an illustrative adaptation of my own – as follows.

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Footballers at work: For source, see footnote 2

I put up an image of football in play, sometimes alongside one of a football commentator / pundit.  My (cheesey) adaptation: I try to use an image involving a football team from the particular city or town or country I am in at the time. Anyway, I make the following points:

  • First, I remind the audience of how, after televised matches, commentators analyse sequences of play from the game – or rather its recording, looking at players’ moves as sequences.
  • I emphasise how each move is responsive to the one before, and that each move opens up opportunities and challenges that get responded to, capitalised upon, dealt with, and so on.
  • I point out that in what they say, the commentator is relying on a multitude of sequences that they have observed and analysed before – this helps point to the fact that we rely in our work on multiple instances, and on prior evidence and findings.

Sometimes I stretch the analogy a bit further by inviting people to think about what the players of the opposing teams would say after the game. They are likely to have, shall we say, less than reliable accounts of what went on; a good analogy for interviews as a method at getting at what happens in interaction.

Gait labs

In gait laboratories, walking behaviour is recorded and analysed (clearly, the walking is under experimental conditions and not naturalistic per se, but I don’t focus on that component in this analogy). I use the gait lab analogy for two things: to explain how we analyse, and to address any assumptions that we are constantly analysing other people’s interactional conduct(!). For me and some of my audiences, a useful feature of this analogy is that it refers to a highly technical – and indeed positivistic – approach, and furthermore, one about which people would not ask: ‘well why don’t you just interview them about their walking instead?’. The analogy takes me on a bit of a trip down memory lane to my early career as an NHS physiotherapist.

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Watch your step: See footnote 3 for source

You’ve guessed no doubt that I put up an image of a gait lab. I mention:

  • The similarities to how we analyse: that we work with recordings by playing them repeatedly, slowing them down, analysing multiple features, and collecting multiple instances of particular events or actions.
  • That analysing walking in the lab includes investigating what happens in one particular recording in relation to multiple other analyses of recorded walks.
  • In relation to the matter of ‘are you analysing me/interaction all the time?’, I point out that much of what is analysed in the lab can only be seen adequately by repeated viewings, slowing down the recording and so on. I do mention though that if the gait analyst is interested in and knowledgeable about a particular gait feature, then they might well be alert to, looking for it, and noticing it outside the lab context. I say that it can be the same for us – if we are interested in a particular interactional ‘thing’ then we are likely to have a special eye out for when it happens.

The tacit skills of driving

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Drive on. See footnote 4 for source.

The analogies above are particularly good for conveying how we analyse, this last one is good for conveying what we analyse. Cue picture of the inside of a car ….

  • I remind the audience of how most of us who drive are not actually able to articulate the procedures and skills we use to do so. To help this come alive, I mention the friction this can cause when the parent of a learner driver accompanies them on practice drives, but can rarely provide formative feedback beyond ‘Don’t do that!!’.
  • I point out that as conversation analysts we aim to identify and articulate highly complex, but tacit skills. The analogy can also be stretched here to point out that in conversation analysis, we are at least as interested in the methodical procedures used as we are in where the conversation is actually going (or ‘driving’) to.
  • I return to the analogy by pointing out that driving instructors are unusual in that they are able to articulate those tacit practices, and thereby help the learner to learn.
  • When I’m talking in a context where the CA research is aimed to some degree towards applications to training or other interventions, I suggest that learning and feedback about communication that involve articulating practices are likely to be more effective than the tacit level ‘osmosis’ that’s so common in areas like healthcare communication. I point out that as conversation analysts we aim to identify and articulate highly complex, but tacit skills, and that one reason for doing this is to better ‘pass those skills on’ to others.

I am sure that many holes can be picked in these analogies, and perhaps some other components added. I’d welcome comments and thoughts via @CACEnotes or I also suspect that there are many more lovely analogies people use – feel free to share your favourites.

Footnote 1: Bee dance image: Own work – File:Bee dance.png File:Sun01.svg File:Abeille-bee.svg by Emmanuel BoutetFile:RosendeutschschweizerBlatt.svg by Kilom691
Footnote 2: Footballers: “Denilson and Wilshere” by attilafozo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 
Footnote 3: Gait lab.
Footnote 4: Driving: Jassim msahri  licensed under CC BY 2.0 

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! Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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

Continue reading