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Oracy-Dialogics in primary school

Written By: Lisa-Maria Muller
4 min read
Original research by:

Nichol J and Andrews K (2018) Oracy-Dialogics through the lens of the Cambridge Primary Review. Education 3-13 46(6): 620–635.


This paper explores the principles of Oracy-Dialogics through a case study in a Cambridge Primary Review flagship school. It focuses on the importance of a whole-school philosophy and describes the implementation of Oracy-Dialogics in a sequence of three Year 6 lessons on Ancient Egypt. The paper explores the oral pedagogy of the teacher and pupil oracy in pair and small group interactions in more detail and also presents findings on students’ attitude towards Oracy-Dialogics. This research digest will focus on students’ evaluation of three oracy-based lessons, one on detective work and two on Anglo-Saxon settlements.

I chose this paper because I am interested in the role of oracy in teaching and wanted to find out more about the underlying principles and how they can be applied to the context of primary schools.

What is the research underpinning it? 

How did the researcher(s) conduct the research? 

Oracy-Dialogics is based on the assumption that the mental processes teachers seek to foster in specific subjects originate in speech. Teacher and student talk are thus central to Oracy-Dialogics, which focuses particularly on how teacher talk can encourage discussion and dialogue to increase students’ cognitive involvement in a given task and encompasses six functions: thinking, learning, communicating, democratic engagement, teaching and assessing. While seemingly discrete, it is important to note that these functions are inter-connected. Furthermore, it is important to consider the four dimensions of Oracy-Dialogics: structure, content, quality and manner.

Students participated in three lessons that followed the principles of oracy-dialogics. They worked individually, in pairs and in small groups to complete a variety of tasks. In small groups they asked questions to try and determine the owner of a mystery suitcase. They took on the role of an Anglo-Saxon settler to describe their own tribe’s settlement history. In the last lesson, they interpreted an artistic reconstruction of a Roman city by playing I-spy and describing what they could see in the picture and then by acting as guides and showing others around the city. Following that, students read an Anglo-Saxon poem and re-enacted scenes from it.

Researchers used pre- and post-questionnaires for the mystery suitcase and the Anglo-Saxon settlement lessons. For the poetry lesson, students were asked to provide open comments. The mystery suitcase questionnaire contained 9 questions, the Anglo-Saxon settlement questionnaire, 12. In the open question, students were asked to reflect on how ‘talking, discussing, arguing and listening’ helped them to think about and understand the topic of the lesson.

What were the key findings from the study? 

Student evaluations of the lessons were generally positive, particularly regarding the helpfulness of these lessons and their social aspect. Students noted that the lessons had helped them to understand more about the topic and the values they exchange with other students. They suggested that working with others meant that they encountered opinions that were different from their own and as such, challenged their thinking. They also mentioned the advantage of a collaborative approach as it allowed them to help each other in answering the questions and researching topics. Finally, the open comments showed how pupils’ opinions of Roman and Anglo-Saxons settlers changes as a result of acquiring more knowledge about them.

Where there any limitations to the study?

There are a number of limitations to this study. Firstly, the article does not provide an overall number of participants, hence it is unclear if all student answers were included or if they were selected according to any specific criteria. For example, only three open answers are included in the article and while they may serve as a good illustration of students’ attitudes, other answers are not discussed. This makes it impossible to know if other students evaluated the courses equally positively. Similarly, only twelve exemplary answers from the questionnaires are provided but the answers to the Likert-scale items are not analysed in detail.

Impact on practice

What ideas might you adopt for your own classroom? 

This small-scale action research suggests that Oracy-Dialogics can have a positive impact on students’ learning. The article makes some suggestions on how to integrate Oracy-Dialogics in the classroom.

What questions does the research raise for teachers? 

As this study only discusses a selection of the available data from the project, it is not entirely clear if the positive effects applied to all students or only a selection. Furthermore, the article provides little contextualising information which could help teachers better understand if this approach could be applied to their own teaching. Finally, it raises the question of whether this approach is suitable for all students, including those with SEND or EAL, given the strong focus on oral skills.

What are the limitations of this study on teachers’ practice? 

As not all data is presented, it is not clear if the approach had a positive effect on all students and as such it is difficult for teachers to know if it could work in their context. Furthermore, the study was carried out in a school that appears to embrace Oracy-Dialogics on a school level and students are thus likely to be used to the methods that were employed. It is difficult to say if this approach would lead to equally positive results in a school that takes a different pedagogical approach.

Want to know more? 

Alexander A, Hardman F, Hardman J, Rajab T, and Longmore M (2016) Changing Talk, Changing Thinking: Interim Report from the In-house Evaluation of the CPRT/UoY Dialogic Teaching Project. Cambridge Primary Review Trust and the University of York, supported by the Education Endowment Foundation.

Mercer N, and Howe C (2012) Explaining the Dialogic Processes of Teaching and Learning: The Value and Potential of Sociocultural Theory. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction 1(1): 12–21.

Vygotsky LS (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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