Discussions in the dialogic classroom

​Classroom talk sessions that aim for collective thinking and problem solving need to focus on discussion and dialogue, rather than on the traditional IRF pattern of interaction.

Discussion involves sharing information, exchanging ideas and solving problems.

Dialogue involves exploring ideas, cumulative questioning, responding to the ideas of others and building more fully collective understanding (Alexander, 2008).

Someone engaged in dialogue must come to the talk prepared to change their ideas and thinking, as the group knowledge grows. Discussion and dialogue support learning (Edward-Groves, Anstey and Bull, 2014).

Displaying question starters or using talk cue cards (Mercer, 2018) can afford students entry into a class discussion.

Examples of question starters include:                 

Building, exploring and clarifying

  • Could you clarify the point about…?
  • Would you explain that again?
  • I’d like to build upon what {name} said
  • I’d like to re-phrase that point
  • Could we go back to the point {name} made?
  • I agree/disagree with {name} because…?

Comparing and searching for alternatives

  • Why do you think….?
  • What would happen if….?
  • Is there another example of…?
  • How is this similar/different to…?
  • What would happen if…?


  • What made this talk session successful?
  • What thinking did I contribute to the group?
  • How did this talk session change my thinking?

These question starters have been created for use in Years 3 – 6, but can be modified to suit younger students.

Links to the Victorian Curriculum - English

  • Understand how to move beyond making bare assertions and take account of differing perspectives and points of view (VCELA335)
  • Clarify understanding of content as it unfolds in formal and informal situations, connecting ideas to students’ own experiences, and present and justify a point of view or recount an experience using interaction skills (VCELY337)

Links to the Victorian Curriculum - English as an Additional Language (EAL)

Pathway B

Speaking and listening

Level BL

  • Take turns to speak or listen during class interactions (VCEALA169)

Level B1

  • Speak or listen appropriately during class interactions (VCEALA248)

Level B2

  • Participate appropriately in social and learning situations (VCEALA329)

 Level B3

  • Initiate and manage interaction appropriately in social and learning situations (VCEALA409)


Alexander, R.J. (2008). Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk, 4th ed. Dialogos, York.

Edwards-Groves, C., Anstey, M. and Bull, G. (2014). Classroom talk: Understanding dialogue, pedagogy and practice. Newtown. Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Mercer, N. (2018). Thinking together: Resources for teachers.