The continuing failure of our education system to meet the needs of minority group students who continue to walk through classroom doors in increasing numbers, provided the initial impetus for this research project. Researchers, academics, and school practitioners need to examine carefully ‘taken for granted’ patterns of talk and behaviour that occur in schools everyday, because for many children, these are not effective. This study is situated in a mainstream primary school classroom where children from diverse language and cultural backgrounds work and learn together. The importance of the interaction that occurs between teachers and children is discussed and numerous studies which focus on the role of discourse in students’ language learning are critiqued. The fact that students in mainstream primary schools must learn language while using language for content learning, is considered to be of paramount importance, and so discourse that occurred during small group mathematics lessons provided the major source of data for the project. An aspect of this discourse, language functions of student initiated interactions, was examined in depth.