Encouraging exploratory talk: practical suggestions

Lyn Dawes
Lecturer at the School of Education, de Montfort University
Rupert Wegerif
Lecturer at the School of Education, the Open University

This article first appeared in MAPE focus on Literacy Autumn 1998


1. Teach the children how to talk together
2. Think about grouping
3. Consider the software you use
4. Set up the task with discussion as an aim


1. Teach the children how to talk together
How to talk together productively needs to be explicitly taught before children are put around a computer.
Provide small groups of children with exercises in which they have to talk together to reach a joint solution.
To encourage productive talk suggest specific strategies such as using 'because' to give reasons, asking all in the group for their opinions, and discussing ideas before reaching a joint decision.
Once they have had some experience of group work with talk as its aim, encourage the children to decide on and agree to a class set of 'ground rules for talk'. Their experience and your guidance may have made them aware of what is effective and what is not.
Guide the discussion towards rules that are to do with good quality group talk rather than issues such as speaking politely. Write down these rules in the children's own words and keep them prominently on display in class. You and the children can then refer to them as 'our rules'.
Here is an example from one class:

Our rules for talk

After talking the group should agree on an idea.

2. Think about grouping the children
What is the aim and purpose of the group working together at the computer? If a primary aim is to encourage effective talk, groups who work together must be carefully chosen. It is useful to take the following factors into account.

3. Consider the software you use
The following points have been found to be useful indicators of whether software will stimulate and support meaningful discussion. They have been included here as a checklist.

4. Set up the task with discussion as an aim
Make sure that the children know how they are expected to talk together. Ask them to read or recall their 'ground rules for talk'.
Sort out turn taking with the mouse or the keyboard, and seating arrangements, before the computersupported talk task begins. Reinforce the idea that the group reach an agreed joint decision before any choice is made or keyed in.


Wegerif, R. and Scrimshaw, P. (Eds) (1997) Computers and Talk in the Primary Classroom. Clevedon, Multilingual Matters.
Grugeon, E. Hubbard, L. .Smith, C. and Dawes, L. (1998) Teaching Speaking and Listening in the Primary School. London, Fulton Press.

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