Dr Julia Snell

Dr Julia Snell

Associate Professor in English Language


Summary: Language variation; social class; ethnographic and interactional discourse analysis; regional/social dialectology; language ideologies; classroom discourse; teacher professional development.

Teaching Commitments: Language In Society; English: Context, Culture, Style; Children, Talk and Learning; Language, Style and Attitudes; English Language dissertation

I joined the School of English in February 2014 after three years as a Lecturer at King’s College London (2011-2014) and just over two years as a Research Officer at the Institute of Education, University of London (2008-2011). In 2011, I also spent one semester as Guest Professor in the Department of English Studies, University of Ghent. I remain a Visiting Research Fellow in the Centre for Language, Discourse and Communication at King’s College London, where I teach on the annual summer school in ‘Key Concepts and Methods in Ethnography, Language and Communication’. I’m also currently Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Education and Social Studies, VIA University College, Aarhus, Denmark. I visit Aarhus twice a year to run research training and workshops in Linguistic Ethnography.

Research Interests

My research to date has focused on linguistic and communicative processes within educational settings. My PhD was concerned with the relationship between language variation and social class, investigating how and to what extent children from two socially differentiated primary schools in Teesside used the resources of their local dialect (in addition to ‘standard’ English) to construct personal identities, negotiate social hierarchies and manage their relationships with each other and with their teachers. I have since used findings from this research to challenge the negative and uniformed views on working-class children’s language that are once again becoming prominent in media and public discourse and in some educational policy documents. Issues around the relationship between local dialect, ‘standard’ English and education regularly appear in the national news. My response to the move made by a Teesside primary school to censure the use of local dialect at home, as well as in the classroom, was published in The Independent.

My PhD research focused on children’s peer-group language (not on their teachers’ talk), but I couldn’t help but also think a lot about educational practice. I was able to pursue this interest in the ESRC-funded project ‘Towards Dialogue: A Linguistic Ethnographic Study of Classroom Interaction and Change’ (with Adam Lefstein). The motivation for this study, and for our continuing work in this area, was the finding that educational reforms promoting changes in classroom talk have had very little impact in UK classrooms. Despite widespread enthusiasm for dialogic teaching and learning (briefly, an approach that aims to use talk to stimulate and refine children’s thinking), research in a range of Anglo-American schools has shown that classroom discourse is problematically monologic, conforming to the three-part ‘Initiation-Response-Evaluation’ (IRE) structure. The aim of the ‘Towards Dialogue’ study was to understand why classroom interaction is so resistant to reform, and how dialogic teaching and learning can be fostered and sustained. We examined this phenomenon through an extended case study of the change processes associated with a professional development programme designed to encourage and support dialogic practice in one London primary school.

Using data and findings from the ‘Towards Dialogue’ study, Adam Lefstein and I have developed an innovative, linguistic ethnographically informed approach to teacher learning from video-recorded lessons. We elaborate on this approach in our book, Better than Best Practice: Developing Teaching and Learning through Dialogue, which is aimed at teachers and teacher educators, as well as educational researchers. Please visit our website  for more information about the book and related work.

Both of these research projects reflect my interest in ethnography, and in developing innovative research methodologies (in particular finding ways to combine quantitative with qualitative methods). 

Postgraduate Supervision

I would be keen to hear from prospective PhD students working in any of my mains areas of research interest. I also welcome PhD applicants who wish to undertake interdisciplinary work in language and linguistics. 


You can find further details and links to pre-print drafts of several of my papers on my personal webpage and my academia.edu profile. Please get in touch if you’re struggling to get hold of any of the following chapters or articles.


Snell, J., F. Copland, & S. Shaw (eds.) (2015). Linguistic Ethnography: Interdisciplinary Explorations. London: Palgrave.
Lefstein, A. & J. Snell (2014). Better than Best Practice: Developing Teaching and Learning through Dialogue. London: Routledge.

Peer-reviewed Journal Articles

Snell, J. and R. Andrews (2016). To what extent does a regional dialect and accent impact on the development of reading and writing skills? Cambridge Journal of Education.

Segal, A., J. Snell and A. Lefstein. (2016): Dialogic teaching to the high-stakes standardised test? Research Papers in Education.

Lefstein, A., J. Snell and M. Israeli. (2015). From Moves to Sequences: Expanding the Unit of Analysis in the Study of Classroom Discourse. British Educational Research Journal.

Snell, J. (2013a). Dialect, interaction and class positioning at school: From deficit to difference to repertoire. Language and Education 27(2): 110-128.

Lefstein, A. & J. Snell (2013). Beyond a unitary conception of pedagogic pace: Quantitative measurement and ethnographic experience. British Educational Research Journal. 39(1): 73–106.

Snell, J. (2011). Interrogating video-data: Systematic quantitative analysis versus micro-ethnographic analysis. Journal of Social Research Methodology 14(3): 253–258.

Lefstein, A. & J. Snell (2011a). Promises and problems of teaching with popular culture: A linguistic ethnographic analysis of discourse genre mixing. Reading Research Quarterly 46(1): 40-69.

Lefstein, A. & J. Snell (2011b). Professional vision and the politics of teacher learning. Teaching and Teacher Education 27: 505-514.

Snell, J. (2010). From sociolinguistic variation to socially strategic stylisation. Journal of Sociolinguistics 14(5): 618-644.

Snell, J. (2006). Schema theory and the humour of Little Britain. English Today 22(1): 59-64.

Book Chapters

Snell, J. (fc). Enregisterment, indexicality and the social meaning of ‘howay’: dialect and identity in north-east England. In Emma Moore and Chris Montgomery (Eds). Language and a Sense of Place. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Snell, J. (2015). Linguistic ethnographic perspectives on working-class children’s speech: challenging discourses of deficit. In J. Snell, J., F. Copland, & S. Shaw (eds). Linguistic Ethnography: Interdisciplinary Explorations. London: Palgrave.

Snell, J. (2014). Social Class and Language. In J. Verschueren, J. Östman, J. Blommaert & C. Bulcaen. Handbook of Pragmatics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Snell, J. & A. Lefstein (2015). Moving from ‘interesting data’ to ‘publishable research article’ – some interpretative and representational dilemmas. In P. Smeyers, D. Bridges, N. Burbules & M. Griffiths. (eds.). International Handbook of Interpretation in Educational Research Methods. Springer.

Lefstein, A. & J. Snell (2011c). Classroom discourse: The promise and complexity of dialogic practice. In S. Ellis, E. McCartney, & J. Bourne (eds). Insight and Impact: Applied Linguistics and the Primary School. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 165-185.

Moore, E. & Snell, J. (2011). ‘Oh, they’re top, them’: Right dislocated tags & interactional stance. Studies in Language Variation, Proceedings from ICLaVE 5. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 97-110.

Snell, J. (2010). ‘Yeah but no but yeah’: A linguistic perspective on the humour of Little Britain. In S. Lockyer (ed). Reading Little Britain. London: I.B. Tauris, 53-71.


I currently teach on the second-year undergraduate core module ‘Language in Society’ and the first-year core module ‘English: Context, Culture, Style’. My option modules are ‘Children, Talk and Learning’ and ‘Language, Style and Attitudes’.