Early academic discourse practices during puzzle and arts activities in preschool

Marjolein Deunk

Univerity of Groningen, Netherlands, The


The way children talk in formal school settings is different from the way they talk in non-school contexts. School requires children to be involved in educational discourse, which is about how you talk when you are a pupil in class, and in educated discourse, which is about how you use language to think and to communicate (Mercer, 1995). Mastering these academic discourse practices (for example establishing common ground, checking agreement, engaging in joint, explicit and collaborative reasoning) is important for cognitive development and for children’s performance at school (Blum-Kulka & Snow, 2002; Mercer, Wegerif, & Dawes, 1999).

In this paper I explore how early forms of academic discourse practices are used in preschool. I study how children get opportunities for using academic language in preschool during puzzle tasks and teacher initiated arts tasks. These activities are of interest because they have a correct end product: the puzzle should be solved and the arts task should match the teacher’s example or explanation. Puzzle and arts tasks can create a context for talking about abstract, complex ideas outside the immediate here and now. When children are creating a puzzle or an art task, they are working towards a more or less fixed end product. Children need to keep the end goal in mind and need to form a strategy or plan to complete the assignment. In this respect, puzzle and arts tasks could be settings for children to practice using language to talk about abstract things and to share knowledge (Aukrust, 2004; Smith & Dickinson, 1994; Tulviste, 2001).

The data I use is a collection of natural teacher-child and peer interactions during puzzle and arts activities of children between 2;6 and 4;0 years old in Dutch preschools. The interactions are qualitatively analyzed for forms of (early academic) discourse practices that children and teachers use during the tasks.


Aukrust, V. G. (2004). Explanatory discourse in young second language learners' peer play. Discourse Studies, 6, 393-412.

Blum-Kulka, S., & Snow, C. E. (2002). Talking to Adults. The Contribution of Multiparty Discourse to Language Acquisition. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Mercer, N. (1995). The Guided Construction of Knowledge. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Mercer, N., Wegerif, R., & Dawes, L. (1999). Children's Talk and the Development of Reasoning in the Classroom. British Educational Research Journal, 25, 95-111.

Smith, M. W., & Dickinson, D. K. (1994). Describing Oral Language Opportunities and Environments in Head Start and Other Preschool Classrooms. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 9, 345-366.

Tulviste, T. (2001). Can variation in mother-child interaction be explained by context and collectivistic attitudes? Applied Psycholinguistics, 22, 541-553.

Session: Paper session
Discourse 8
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 11