Children, Youth, Families & Schools, Nebraska Center for Research on


Date of this Version



Published in Early Years 28:3 (October 2008), pp. 251–266; doi: 10.1080/09575140802393793 Copyright © 2008 TACTYC, Used by permission.


This qualitative study examines the conversations of two preschool teachers with two- and three-year-old children during small-group activity settings in two high-quality child development centers. Using interviews, observations and videotaping of small-group activities, the conversations are characterized in terms of the kind and function of language, the usage of cognitive demands and the reciprocal nature of these conversations. The findings indicate that teachers use declarative statements primarily to manage instruction and encourage language development. While teachers control most conversations, teacher–child reciprocity is evident and more genuine in authentic, teacher-guided activities. In both classrooms, the language during small-group activities is characterized as having low cognitive demands. Teachers and teacher educators need to be more cognizant of their language, including its purpose and opportunities to facilitate cognitively challenging conversations with young children. Recommendations for practice are provided.