Moving out of IRF (Initiation-Response-Feedback): A Single Case Analysis


  • I gratefully acknowledge the ESL teacher and students who generously allowed me and my video camera into their classroom. Caroline (Kisook) Kim made the analysis possible by creating the QuickTime files from the two mini-videotapes. Barbara Hawkins and Gabrielle Kahn offered useful input at an earlier stage of this project. Last but not least, I would like to thank the five anonymous reviewers and Robert DeKeyser for their kind words and some of the most detailed and productive feedback I have received. All remaining errors are mine.

concerning this article should be addressed to Hansun Zhang Waring, Box 66, Programs in TESOL/Applied Linguistics, Teachers College, Columbia University, 525 W. 120 Street, New York, NY 10027. Internet:


A common practice in classroom discourse is the IRF sequence (teacher initiation–student response–teacher feedback; Sinclair & Coulthard, 1975; cf. IRE in Mehan, 1979). Based on a single case analysis from an adult English as a second language (ESL) class, this article demonstrates how one ESL student manages, in close coordination with the teacher, to move out of a series of uninterrupted IRFs during a homework review activity, establishing instead a renewed participation structure that allows for student-initiated negotiations, which her coparticipants then jointly orient to and successfully accomplish. The analysis suggests that creating negotiation-rich opportunities is paramount not just during pair and group activities, but more critically, during teacher–whole class interactions.