Cultural literacy learning in schools

This bitesize learning unit gives you the opportunity to reflect on how research evidence from the Dialogue and Argumentation for Cultural Literacy Learning in Schools (DIALLS) project might relate to your own context and provides examples of how this research evidence has been used by three different teachers.


The DIALLS project focuses on teaching children the dialogue skills needed to engage together with tolerance, empathy and inclusion; behaviours that we argue are central to becoming culturally literate. Our Cultural Literacy Learning Programme (CLLP) uses short, wordless films as stimuli for discussions about cultural themes related to living together, social responsibility and belonging.

DIALLS started as a three-year project funded by the European Commission to support the development of children’s cultural literacy, which we define as a ‘dialogic social practice’. We placed tolerance, empathy and inclusion at the heart of learning to live together, to be socially responsible and understand how we belong. We developed resources for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. In addition to a set of films, there are prompt cards to guide discussion and a clear progression for learning dialogue skills. Short professional development films are designed to focus your thinking on what cultural literacy means, how to encourage dialogue in the classroom and how wordless films are a wonderful resource to use.

Visit the DIALLS website to familiarise yourself with these resources.

At the end of the three years, further funding was sought to widen and deepen the impact of the project. We worked with teachers in England, Wales and an international school to create a network of schools and teachers using the DIALLS materials in their classes. Anecdotal evidence suggested that certain groups of children (quieter, less confident children and EAL pupils) seemed to be inspired by the materials and joining in more with discussions. We wanted to investigate this further and think about how to encourage the voices of children who don’t always speak out in whole class situations. In particular, we wanted to explore the potential of the small group learning context to build confidence and give children the tools for talk that they could then take into the whole class. 

Using picturebooks, we created some short discussion prompts for teachers to use when working with small groups. Multiple copies of the picturebooks were needed to enable the children to look and talk at them in pairs in a small group reading context. Teachers identified children that they were interested in supporting and we drew on some standardised baselining using:


This unit outlines the research evidence from DIALLS and encourages you to reflect on how this might relate to your own context, with reference to case studies from practising teachers who have used DIALLS materials.

Articles and research summaries

The article below on dialogic teaching introduces the key ideas for promoting and practising cultural literacy and outlines how the wordless texts were chosen in the DIALLS project before exploring some initial ideas for their use in the classroom.

The research summaries on linguistic ethnography, the role of provisional language in the classroom, and the meaning of the concepts of home and belonging, each summarise an in-depth research article, highlighting the key findings for practitioners.

We encourage you to read these articles and reflect on the following questions:

  • Which of these areas of research are you most interested in and why?
  • What new learning did you gain and how might you begin to apply it in your context? 


This webinar introduces the DIALLS resources available and brings together teachers from different settings to share their experiences of implementing DIALLS in their schools.  

Presentations are given by: Fiona Maine (DIALLS Principal Investigator), Katie Glenister-Soós (Key Stage 2 Teacher, University of Cambridge Primary School) and Cecilia Del Corso (EY and Key Stage 1 Teacher, Morley Memorial Primary School, Cambridge).


Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash|Figure 1: Cultural analysis framework (DIALLS
Dialogic teaching: Using wordless texts to develop children’s cultural literacy learning
Using linguistic ethnography as a tool to analyse dialogic teaching in upper primary classrooms
Enacting cultural literacy as a dialogic social practice: The role of provisional language in classroom talk
What do the concepts of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ mean for children from different European countries?

Case studies

The beauty of wordless texts is that they can be used with children of all languages and their discussions are not impeded by translation. The three reflective case study articles included here discuss the role of dialogue in the classroom, the use of wordless texts and how practising teachers have used these and other DIALLS materials.

Read these case studies and consider the following question:

What are the barriers to engagement in your context and, crucially, how might they be overcome?

Developing DIALLS: Case study 1
Developing DIALLS: Case study 2
Developing DIALLS: Case study 3

Further reading

The ‘DIALLS Deepening Impact’ project built on the initial three-year DIALLS project. You can read the project report here.

Cultural literacy learning in schools