Pedagogy Focus: Dialogic teaching

The latest instalment of our Pedagogy Focus series looks at what dialogic teaching is and how it works in classrooms

dialogic teaching pedagogy

What is dialogic teaching?

Dialogic teaching means using dialogue effectively in order to develop learning. This means placing students at the centre of a meaningful conversation and facilitating learning through questions, further reasoning, considering alternatives and building on what has already been said.

In the dialogic classroom, students are not passive listeners but active speakers and listeners, who help to extend and develop the learning taking place.

Where did it come from?

Dialogic teaching shares similarities with Socratic teaching and other ancient oral traditions. The term was coined by researcher Robin Alexander and, after his studies on the power of talk, developed in the early 2000s.

Alexander proposed a framework for teaching that is designed to generate opportunities for those effective interactions.        

How is it used in lessons?

Dialogic teaching means giving students time to reason, discuss, speculate, argue and explain, and not settling for simple, closed responses.

Strategies to try:

  • The no-hands-up rule. This means choosing pupils and guiding the discussion around the classroom. Random name generators or ice-lolly sticks with names can be fun ways to let pupils know that they can and will be involved at some point.
  • Bouncing the question or idea around the classroom. Call upon other students to interrogate the given response, offer an alternative or ask probing questions.
  • Encouraging thinking time. Silence or a lack of response is not something to be afraid of; students need time to consider and develop responses.
  • Avoiding closed questions and teasing out understanding collaboratively rather than giving the “correct” answer.  This encourages students to rethink their initial ideas, support what they have said or even explore an alternative. 
  • Using paired and group discussion. Dialogic teaching doesn’t have to be whole-class based and you can move around and support lots of “mini-dialogues” and build individuals’ confidence.

Over time, students will be able to generate meaningful dialogues on their own with minimal teacher input.

Further reading:

Robin Alexander on dialogic teaching.

Alexander, RJ (2017) Towards Dialogic Teaching: rethinking classroom talk (5th edition), Dialogos.

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