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Different and alike: Diferentes y semejantes. An ethnographic study of language use in a dramatic play center

Silvia Sander Norbis, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This qualitative ethnographic study explores how a group of Kindergarten students from different social, cultural, ethnic, and language backgrounds construct social relations, social identities and social meanings through discourse during their playing time at a dramatic play center. This study also analyzes, if and how issues of power at the situational level are related to broader societal discourses. The theoretical framework for this study views language as a social practice (Fairclough, 1998 and Lemke, 1995). Data collection included 130 days of observation that lasted 30 minutes per day, 4 hours of videotape and formal and informal interviews with the children and with eight of the parents of ESL children. Fifteen parents had also filled out questionnaires. This study combines a microanalysis of children's discourse (Bloom and Egan-Robertson, 1993 and Forbes, 1999) with a macro analysis (Fairclough, 1998). Findings indicate that: (1) Children organized their play according to the central themes of the play scenario, yet children used common rules and strategies across different scenarios. (2) Children constructed distinct social relations and identities by bringing different discourses into their play. The roles these players built were largely determined by their social status in society. (3) These Kindergarten players constructed meanings that were valid in this community. (4) A macro analysis indicated that the social context of the lives of these children influence the way they constructed social relations, identities and meanings.

Subject Area

Preschool education|Bilingual education|Multicultural education

Recommended Citation

Norbis, Silvia Sander, "Different and alike: Diferentes y semejantes. An ethnographic study of language use in a dramatic play center" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3136760.