Classroom Dialogue and Learning

Dr Victoria Cook, Dr Louis Major, Dr Sara Hennessy with Farah Ahmed, Elisa Calcagni and other colleagues from the Cambridge Educational Dialogue Research Group (CEDiR) | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

About this guide

Talk is fundamental to learning and teaching. However, Classroom Dialogue is more than ‘just talk’ (O’Connor & Michaels, 2007); it is talk that is productive for learning (Major, Warwick, Rasmussen, Ludvigsen & Cook, 2018). Classroom Dialogue is a tool that can be used to help students construct knowledge as they explore and build on their own, and others’, ideas. ‘Dialogic teaching’ is an approach to teaching that emphasises Classroom Dialogue. This approach “emphasises dialogue through which pupils learn to reason, discuss, argue, and explain in order to develop their higher order thinking as well as their articulacy” (Jay, Willis, Thomas, Taylor, Moore, Burnett, Merchant, Stevens, 2017, p.4). A dialogic teaching approach is typically characterised by extended student contributions and the co-construction of knowledge (Mercer, Hennessy & Warwick, 2017). In such an approach talk is not only used to interact, it can be used to ‘interthink’, as people use talk to think creatively and productively together (Littleton and Mercer, 2013).

Today, there is a growing global movement of research focussing on the potential of dialogue in transforming education. This MESHGuide provides an overview of the latest research on Classroom Dialogue up to September 2018, exploring both the cognitive and non-cognitive impacts of dialogue. The key types of educationally productive dialogue will be introduced, in both whole-class settings and small-group contexts. The guide will also discuss the interaction between Classroom Dialogue and digital technology, introducing some key insights from the research in this burgeoning field of study. An important aim of the guide is to provide practical advice to those interested in developing a more dialogic approach to learning and teaching, introducing key strategies and resources for use in both primary and secondary classrooms. Finally, the case studies presented are intended to provide further information on Classroom Dialogue and dialogic uses of technology, exploring dialogic learning and teaching across different subjects and age groups and providing links to further resources.

Further reading: ‘Dialogic Teaching’ by Robin Alexander. This provides an accessible outline of the dialogic teaching approach.



Jay, T., Willis, B., Thomas, P., Taylor, R., Moore, N., Burnett, C., Merchant, G. & Stevens, A. (2017). Dialogic teaching: evaluation report and executive summary. London: Education Endowment Foundation.

Littleton, K. & Mercer, M. (2013) Interthinking: putting talk to work. London: Routledge.

Major, L., Warwick, P, Rasmussen, I., Ludvigsen, S. & Cook, V. (2018). Classroom Dialogue and digital technologies: a scoping review. International Journal of Educational Research.

Mercer, N., Hennessy, S., & Warwick, P.T. (2017). Dialogue, thinking together and digital technology in the classroom: some educational implications of a continuing line of inquiry. International Journal of Educational Research.

O’Connor, C., & Michaels, S. (2007). When is dialogue ‘dialogic’? Human Development, 50(5), 275–285.