Thinking skills

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
THINKING TOGETHER: a programme of activities for developing thinking skills at KS2. By Lyn Dawes, Neil Mercer and Rupert Wegerif. Questions pound;14.99.

It's a familiar scenario: teacher asks the class to read a photocopied handout, to talk about it in groups, and to record shared viewpoints.

One table immediately takes turns reading the passage aloud, then pupils engage in productive discussion. Elsewhere it's a different story. Luke puts his hand up to say that Simon won't share the sheet with him. An argument has broken out on Michaela's table about which paragraph each person should read aloud. The children on Scott's table read the passage in silence, then chatter desultorily in pairs. Abby's voice is heard regaling the others on her table who haven't finished reading. She starts to write down her point of view without waiting to hear alternative opinions.

As the writers of Thinking Together politely say in their introduction: "As teachers, we may not hae made our expectations sufficiently clear when we ask pupils to 'discuss' or to 'talk together in a group'."

Described as a programme to develop thinking skills, this might be perceived as a scheme to generate higher-order cognitive activity among more able children. It isn't. The emphasis is heavily on thinking together, and on promoting ground rules for discussion, so that effective, collective reasoning can take place.

Teachers for whom the scenario in the opening paragraphs is in any way familiar will find the suggestions and activities in this book indispensable. The 16 lessons begin with five that concentrate on establishing the basic rules of discussion and then move on to general themes that have links to other subjects in the curriculum. The programme (which has a companion website: is closely linked to PSHE and citizenship.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex

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