Daily Philosophy Question for Early Years language and family engagement

This year I’ve seen rapid impact from introducing a Daily Philosophy Question to a Salford Early Years setting.  On arrival at school every day, children find the lolly stick with their name on and go over to the question table.  Parents read today’s question, for example Would you rather have dinner in a castle or a hot air balloon? This is supported by visuals.  The children make their choice by putting their lolly stick into a cup.

Reception children placing lolly sticks in one of two cups to show whether they’d rather have dinner in a castle or a hot air balloon. The cups are next to a board titled Question of the Day and there are pictures illustrating the two options.

Initially, staff modelled prompts for parents to encourage every child to give a reason. For example, Tell me why you think that.  Parents soon took this on and in many cases the children then began to use full sentences of their own – I would rather have dinner in a castle because I could meet the knights. With practice, most three year olds are able to give reasons for their choices.

The Daily Question has become a fantastic bridge between home and school; instead of just dropping off their child and leaving, there is a brief learning interaction at the school gates.  Children and parents look forward to this part of the day, and sometimes continue discussions at home.

The Nursery teacher has commented, It’s fantastic, some of them now make up their own Would You Rather questions. When a child is off sick, parents call in and ask for today’s question. Younger siblings also look forward to coming along to answer the question!

(With thanks to for publicising this great idea.)

Instant impact of my Talk Prompts

I recently worked with a Year 3 class to demonstrate some strategies for raising the quality of talk. The pupils were discussing the ‘odd one out’ from three objects. After a few minutes I placed a few Talk Prompts in the middle of the circle. I didn’t say anything, but the children immediately started speaking in much more powerful, articulate sentences. For example, “I strongly believe the pencil is the odd one out because it is the only one made from a natural material.”

Such a simple technique - imagine how they will speak (and write!) in Year 6 if this school decides to implement Talk Prompts across the school.

You can find my Talk Prompts in the Resources section of this site. I’d love to hear how you get on.

A classroom floor with about 16 printed sheets of paper, each showing a different Talk Prompt, for example ‘I strongly believe…’ and ‘I support the suggestion that…’.

Talk Promise

I was thrilled to see the newly-developed promise displayed in every classroom on a return visit to one of my 'talk schools'. And when asked for feedback on the talk project, a Year 5 pupil said, "the Talk Promise helps boost my confidence because I know that a lot more people will be listening."

Talk promise on display in classroom.jpg

Dialogic teaching guru Robin Alexander would be pleased...

Many schools and teachers fail to make students aware of the ground rules for effective dialogue.
— Robin Alexander

Ideas into your brain...

I often ask pupils and teachers how often they change talk partners; a typical answer is ‘not very often’.  Let’s switch things up!  When we try it, and ask the children what they think, they say:

  • “I like the idea of switching talk partners because then you learn more about others and their thoughts.”  (Yr5)
  • “I like that! I like talking to different people. Once I had someone who just sat there for a whole term!”  (Yr1)
  • “You swap seats and other people come and put other ideas into your brain.”  (Yr4)

Who's working harder?

Again and again I see teachers working harder than students. The teacher explains a concept – sometimes in depth, sometimes in several different ways, sometimes repeated three or four times … while the children passively wait until they are asked to do some work.  Why?  These students could be doing most of the talking.

This paper by Steven Reinhart resonates with my current thinking about teaching and learning: Never Say Anything A Kid Could Say.

I loved what Stephen says about his changing understanding of what makes effective teaching:

My definition of a good teacher has since changed from "one who explains things so well that students understand" to "one who gets students to explain things so well that they can be understood."

Paired talk – your new (old) best friend

Paired talk, when done well, is one of the most effective techniques a teacher can use.  It provides an opportunity for children to try out ideas, and to orally rehearse, whilst avoiding the “rabbit in the headlights” moment of being asked to speak when unprepared. It immediately changes the ratio of teacher talk to pupil talk.

But done badly, it leaves children feeling left out, it is unfocussed, it wastes learning time.

In my Talk Audits over the past year I have observed over 80 classrooms and I have concluded that this is something a lot of teachers could do better.  In one class during a paired talk exercise, I counted six children not talking.

I think teachers are so busy ‘getting on with the learning’ that they are missing the basics of paired talk – that pupils are actually paired, and actually talking.  Simply checking and addressing these basics will have a huge impact.

What do children think of Hands Up?

Pupil Voice is an important part of my Talk Audits; here are some recent responses when I asked Key Stage 2 children their opinions about Hands Up:

My hand is always tired!

Hands Up isn't fair because some people sit back and let others do the work.

I prefer random selection because it's fairer.

Sometimes more thinking time is needed.

Your hand gets tired when someone else is speaking.

Lolly Sticks are better than Hands Up because anyone could get chosen; we all have to have an answer. It gets everyone in the class thinking, not just one person.

2017 Communication Trust report shows schools must prioritise talk

This report talks about a generation of children and young people are growing up in a world where good speech, language and communication skills are increasingly vital for life … There continue to be significant numbers … who do not have access to the support they need and whose future life chances are consequently placed at risk … These young people need prompt, concerted action from national and local government, and from schools…