First the look and then the sound: Creating conversations at preschool circle time

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Becoming a student means learning to interpret and construct the multiple demands for interaction in distinctive classroom events. For an increasing number of children, the preschool provides the setting for the first encounter with these complex and dynamic classroom communicative environments. This article presents an interactional analysis of preschool circle time from an ethnographic perspective. The social participation structure for conducting these events is uncovered using Green's conversational mapping system. Findings suggest that the rules and guidelines, expectations, and roles within the event change over time. The focus of learning within the event, evident in social action rules (Erickson, 1982, Philips, 1972), shifts from the formation of the circle itself to actual collaborative conversation. This shift is interpreted in terms of the children's developing competencies for participating in group conversation. In a final section, a potential peer culture dimension to this event is proposed.