Dialogue Thinking


Imagine you're participating in a discussion. Possibly you're leading a dialogue which it's part of a lesson or it's a workplace exchange of ideas. Engaging the participant's minds in a dialogue arouses thinking. And it is a great way of formulating emerging ideas over time.


You may occasionally think before saying. Similarly, sometimes you talk and hear yourself talking to yourself internally. This is internal thinking.

Thinking is a key part of learning. It's not about memorizing and listening but thinking and adding a new perspective to the ideas provided. This helps in learning and teaching. Thinking can be an external or internal process. It depends on the individual traits of a person.

Douglas Barnes developed a classroom pedagogy in the 1970s called 'Exploratory Talk'. This simply implies that everyone as a group member in a discussion is fully engaged critically in thinking in which each individual's idea is constructively taken with other members' ideas. Therefore each one offers relevant contribution of information and agrees with each other in each stage of discussion before continuing with the thinking process.

External Thinking.

Each day is a new experience when in a learning situation. It's a different circumstance with means to navigate through each idea. This comes with new inputs through thinking while discussing.

According to Vygotsky language as a psychological and societal tool is an important glue that binds the thinking process from thinking individually to thinking collectively as a group of learners and problem solvers.

Collective thinking comes in dialogue, where new meaning and knowledge are created. Meaning flows through discussion. Collective inquiry becomes the process. Communicative thinking takes control of the learning and teaching process.

Thinking externally is characterized by:

  • Brainstorming.
Brainstorming is a way of intensive free discussion. This is characterized by the contribution of creative ideas. Also, solutions are possible based on the diverse knowledge of each group member.
  • Thinking loud.
This involves expressing thoughts as they occur. Is not thinking first and then speaking out.
  • Thought organization through chatting.

People as a group collectively and actively observe their thoughts from different perspectives.

Internal Thinking.

Having an internal dialogue means we think and navigate through ideas. We do this in detail for meaning and understanding.

In other words, it is having your private conversation and going through details before saying something. The response can be slow to internal thinkers because they process and hear before saying it.

The internal thinking process comes with three semantic transformations.

  • The superiority of sense over meaning in which personal, private meanings achieve tremendous importance over traditional or shared ones.
  • The process of elimination is the development of combination words signifying complex concepts.

  • The intake of sense in which detailed elements of inner language are filled with more semantic linking to show their typical meanings.

Dialogue thinking is helpful in many ways. From improving communication at the workplace to promoting creativity, understanding, and confidence.

In teaching and learning situations students can use language as a thinking means, where discussion in group activities facilitates the expansion of reasoning and curriculum learning. Dialogic teaching has the quality of giving students the ability to dialogue reflectively as they develop subject knowledge. 

Classroom interaction can be supported by digital technology and dialogic pedagogy tools such as computer screens instead of the traditional whiteboard or chalkboard that allow students and teachers to share ideas. The mediating role of digital technology helps in extending Exploratory Talk which allows the manipulation of digital knowledge artifacts for classroom enrichment especially in the developed world.

Thinking is considered good if it allows for the opinions of other people. Thinking with an open mind lets us respect other people and nature. We can have empathy and have healthy criticism of our ideas without being judgemental or competitive.

In conclusion, dialogue thinking has the quality of being an internalized as well as a public one. The meaning and sense vary depending on the thinking process. Inner speech can contribute to discovering more meaning compared to external speech.

Further reading 

Calzolari, S., Boneva, S., & Fernández-Espejo, D. (2022). Investigating the shift between externally and internally oriented cognition: a novel task-switching paradigm. Neuroscience of consciousness, 2022(1), niac016. https://doi.org/10.1093/nc/niac016

Placier, Peggy & Pinnegar, Stefinee & Hamilton, Mary & Guilfoyle, Karen. (2005). Exploring the Concept of Dialogue in the Self-Study of Teaching Practices. 10.1007/1-4020-3528-4_4. 

Wells, Gordon & Ball, Tamara. (2008). Exploratory Talk and Dialogic Inquiry. 10.4135/9781446279526.n10. 

Friedrich, J. (2014). Vygotsky’s idea of psychological tools. In A. Yasnitsky, R. van der Veer, & M. Ferrari (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Cultural-Historical Psychology (pp. 47–62). chapter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139028097.004


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