Basics of dialogic teaching

Topics: Education, Educational psychology, Teacher Pages: 15 (2316 words) Published: January 8, 2014
Robin Alexander
University of Cambridge



Dialogic teaching harnesses the power of talk to stimulate and extend pupilsʼ thinking and advance their learning and understanding. It helps the teacher more precisely to diagnose pupilsʼ needs, frame their learning tasks and assess their progress. It empowers the student for lifelong learning and active citizenship.

Dialogic teaching is not just any talk. It is as distinct from the question-answer and listen-tell routines of traditional teaching as it is from the casual conversation of informal discussion. Thus: Dialogic teaching is not the ʻspeaking and listeningʼ component of the teaching of national curriculum English under another name.

It attends as closely to the teacherʼs talk as to the pupilʼs. It is a comprehensive approach to talk in teaching and learning across the whole curriculum. It is grounded in research on the relationship between language, learning, thinking and understanding, and in observational evidence on what makes for truly effective teaching.

Dialogic teaching is not, or not only ʻcommunication skillsʼ Dialogic teaching certainly aims to improve pupilsʼ powers of communication, but it aims to do much more than that.
Dialogic teaching is not a single set method of teaching.


Dialogic teaching is an approach and a professional outlook rather than a specific method. It requires us to rethink not just the techniques we use but also the classroom relationships we foster, the balance of power between teacher and taught and the way we conceive of knowledge. Dialogic teaching, like all good teaching, is grounded in evidence and principles. And like all good teaching it draws on a broad repertoire of strategies and techniques. The teacher draws on this repertoire in response to different educational purposes and contexts, the needs of different pupils, and the diverse character what is to be taught and learned.


Dialogic teaching combines four repertoires:

talk for everyday life
learning talk
teaching talk
classroom organisation

The repertoires are used flexibly, on the basis of fitness for purpose, but the principles (see 3 below) remain constant.


Repertoire (i): talk for everyday life
We can identify many kinds of talk which empower and support everyday human interaction. Of these, we propose that whatever else schools do, they should help children to develop, explore and use each of these:

transactional talk
expository talk
interrogatory talk
exploratory talk
expressive talk
evaluative talk

Repertoire (ii): learning talk
In dialogic classrooms children donʼt just provide brief factual answers to ʻtestʼ or ʻrecallʼ questions, or merely spot the answer which they think the teacher wants to hear. Instead they learn to: •

and they ask questions of their own.

In learning, as in life, all these forms of talk are necessary. To facilitate the different kinds of learning talk, children in dialogic classrooms also

think about what they hear
give others time to think
respect alternative viewpoints

Many of the teachers in the dialogic teaching development projects have negotiated ground-rules for talk along the lines above, and these are frequently reviewed with the pupils. Repertoire (iii): teaching talk

In dialogic classrooms teachers may use familiar kinds of teaching talk such as: •

rote (drilling ideas, facts and routines through repetition) recitation (using short question/answer sequences to recall or test what is expected to be known already)
instruction (telling children what to do and how to do it)
exposition (imparting information and explaining things)

But in dialogic classrooms teachers donʼt...

Bibliography: Alexander, R.J. (1995) Versions of Primary Education, Routledge, chapter 4, pp 103-219.
Alexander, R.J. (1992, revised and extended edition 1997) Policy and Practice in Primary
Education: local initiative national agenda, Routledge.
Alexander, R.J., Willcocks, J. and Nelson, N. (1996) ʻDiscourse, pedagogy ad the national
curriculum: change and continuity in primary schoolsʼ, Research Papers in Education, 11(1), 81120.
Alexander, R.J. (2008) Essays on Pedagogy, Routledge, chapters 5 and 6, pp 92-153, and
appendix, pp 184-191.
Alexander, R.J. (2009) ʻDe lʼusage de parole en classe: une comparaison internationaleʼ, Revue
Internationale dʼÉducation, 50, pp 35-48.
Alexander, R.J. (2008) Education for All, the Quality Imperative and the Problem of Pedagogy
(CREATE Research Monograph 20), 50 pp, Universities of Sussex and London, with the
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