Dialogic Pedagogy: A teacher's guide

Paul Main

A brief guide to using dialogic pedagogy in the classroom.

Dialogic Pedagogy: A teacher's guide

In this blog post we explore the popular topic of dialogic pedagogy. Oracy has been well researched in recent years and the implications of this area are becoming clear for primary schools around the country. The Education Endowment Foundation along with York University have both uncovered the potential that this classroom strategy has, particularly in light of the recent lockdown.


What is dialogic teaching?

Dialogue focuses on “building understanding and deepening insight through questioning and dialogue”. This critical and important process is known as inter-personal learning (IPL) in child development. The teacher should facilitate inter-personal learning for children in a conversational style. The teacher can be an active listener who listens to and respects the children’s ideas, while encouraging an open and lively debate.Students are advised to communicate their questions in a friendly manner in order to learn from one another. Using a conversational style of communication encourages students to question the teacher and other classmates as they work through their shared experiences.

What are the origins are dialogic teaching?

The term was first developed by Robin Alexander throughout the early 2000s, however the concept of dialogic talk can be traced back to Socrates. Socrates suggested that education practice should be centered on notions of dialogue and that question should elicit new thinking and not probe for set answers. A teacher and student participated in a question that neither of them knew the answer to, suggesting that the process is more important than the outcome.


Before Alexander began his research, Vygotsky was driven by a concern for language. He suggests that development has a social process because children learn through social interaction by communicating and interacting with more knowledgeable and more able people. They gain a better understanding of prior knowledge. This is better known as cognitive scaffolding. Vygotsky linked better language with better thinking or a stronger ability to express what they mean. Children need rich learning environments.


Building on each others ideas through dialogic teaching
Building on each others ideas through dialogic teaching

To exchange and experiment with meanings,Alexander explored Vygotsky’s theory further finding that this form of learning is vital in the development of communicative skills. Dialogic talk is a theory that has become increasingly popular in recent years as the discussion continues to grow. The theory discusses the value of talk in the classroom and how it helps develop learner autonomy. It is a teaching method where the teacher encourages and facilitates discussion in order to develop understanding. Developing the theory derived from Socratic methods, it was thought that lecturing alone was not sufficient in encouraging the development of learners and that questioning should be used to extend thinking rather than assess it. Dialogic talk is seen as a vehicle for increasing people’s engagement at a deep level. However, it is an aspect of teaching that must be thoroughly planned for otherwise the discussion can lose focus.

How to use dialogic pedagogy

The teacher has to establish an atmosphere where the students feel free to engage in discussion. They can ask questions to the students and get answers back. By calling on students to speak, they should be able to have some sense of ownership of the subject they are discussing.When students are involved in the dialog, the learning process can become more meaningful. The students have to have an active role in developing their knowledge. The teacher should direct the students to some point or specific information. If there is some relevant information that has been already been read out by the teacher, students can talk about it as they go along.

Children engaged in dialogic pedagogy
Children engaged in dialogic pedagogy

What are the five key principles of dialogic talk?

Collective - where students come together in joint learning and inquiry.

Reciprocal - where students listen, share and consider the view of others.

Supportive - students are able to express themselves clearly and safely.

Cumulative - build on their own and others’ contributions and chain them into a coherent line of thinking.

Purpose - The discussion must be structured with specific learning views or outcomes.


If these key principles are adhered to in the classroom, students will be able to increase understanding of their prior knowledge.  Another key theorist from discussing dialogic talk of Jerome Bruner, he suggests that there is culture not biology that shapes human life and the human mind. He builds on Vygotsky’s notion stating that most learning in most settings is a communal activity. On the sharing of culture, his research suggests that educators have underestimated children's innate predispositions for particular kinds of interaction.

Children talking about their ideas - dialogic teaching
Children talking about their ideas - dialogic teaching


What are the benefits of a dialogic pedagogy?

The benefits of dialogic pedagogy can be seen in its other uses. In business, it enhances employee and customer communication, and in politics it builds constituency. As the science behind dialogic pedagogy has come to light, many schools and organisations have adopted it. We recommend that schools use it to further develop their students.Tata Power Group developed a school in Mumbai where dialogic pedagogy has been integrated into the curriculum. They observe a daily 20 minute break and allow students to discuss in a group. What impact does dialogic pedagogy have on attainment? The education endowment foundation (EEF),conducted a trial researching into the impact the cognitively challenging classroom talk can lead to gains for pupils. For English, Maths and Science, they found a positive impact in English for all children in year 5. It concluded the dialogic teaching made two additional months progress in English and science.

Students engaged in dialogic pedagogy

Coming to a conclusion about dialogic pedagogy

Before we move on to criticisms of dialogic talk, let’s briefly touch on how you can assess a structured classroom discussion as it may be difficult to grasp exactly what the students understand from the questions. The first way to assess understanding is through active participation. If a student is participating more than others, you can assume they have a better understanding although this is not always the case. Let's move on to the criticisms of dialogic talk. Another problem with the theory is that the teachers voice is the guiding source in the lesson however, many teachers lack the tools necessary for planning effective whole class dialogues. Dialogic talk must be structured and implemented effectively to have an impact.

To conclude, when students are given the opportunity to form their own opinions and share their thoughts about a topic, they will have a better understanding of the subject. They will also develop good language skills as they engage in spoken and written discussion. By developing vocabulary and engaging in effective conversations, students will become more able to use their minds to comprehend and recall information.

A new classroom tool for classroom talk

At structural learning, we have developed a new collaborative pedagogy that helps children talk and think about their learning. Using specially designed building blocks, children can construct sentences, timelines along with all types of curriculum content. The key to the pedagogy is children articulating their ideas to one another. As groups of learners build with the blocks, they nearly always justify and reason verbally. This natural way of problem-solving promotes deeper thinking and better conversations. You can find out more about this pedagogy on our block building page.


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