Skip main navigation

Hurry, only 4 days left to get one year of Unlimited learning for £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Object-based learning with Embodied learning and Dialogic learning

Read course educator Helen Lloyd's article about ways to enrich Object-based learning with Embodied learning and Dialogic learning.
Students dancing, moving and striking poses in Te Papa museum

In this step we think about how we can teach with objects through Embodied learning and Dialogic learning

What is Embodied learning?

According to a report in the OECD Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments, ‘Embodied learning refers to pedagogical approaches that focus on the non-mental factors involved in learning, and that signal the importance of the body and feelings’. This SANACO blog lists the focus of Embodied learning as:

  • Body and mind co-operating in the learning process
  • Action and thinking intertwined in the learning process
  • Movements and concepts interlinked in the learning process

What might Embodied learning activities look like?

  • Games that include movement
  • Role-playing, mime, gesture and acting
  • Dance and creative movement
  • Activities that include touch, taste, smell and other physical sensations
  • Activities that stimulate feelings and emotions

What is Dialogic learning?

Robin Alexander from Cambridge University is quoted as defining dialogical learning as harnessing ‘the power of talk to stimulate and extend pupils’ thinking and advance their learning and understanding’ in a University of Cambridge study about dialogic teaching and learning. The article goes on to explain the principles that underlie dialogic learning. They include the following ideas:

  • Knowledge means different things to different people in different times and places
  • Dialogue between different perspectives leads to new understandings and new knowledge
  • Meanings are constructed by learners in dialogue, rather than imposed from the outside
  • Learning through dialogue leads to improved thinking skills

In Paul Main’s article Dialogic Teaching: A Classroom Guide for Better Thinking and Talking he suggests that teachers need to establish an atmosphere where students feel free to engage in discussion, and they can do this by ensuring that dialogic learning activities are:

  • Collective so that students can work together in joint learning and inquiry
  • Reciprocal so that students can listen to each other, share ideas and consider each other’s viewpoints
  • Supportive so that students feel safe and confident to express themselves
  • Cumulative so that students can build on other’s contributions, and link them together with their own, to deepen thinking and understanding
  • Purposeful so that the students experience dialogic learning that is well structured specific and with clearly defined outcomes

When undertaking a dialogic learning activity is useful to encourage students to identify and agree on some rules for how dialogic learning activities will be structured before you begin, e.g. students might agree that only one person can speak at a time, or that each student needs to have a turn speaking, or that silence is ok, that its not ok to interrupt, or that active listening is a requirement etc.

In this dialogic hand out for teachers from Junior Cycle for Teachers dialogic learning is described as potentially including lots of different types of ‘talking’ activities such as: narrating, explaining, analysing, speculating, imagining, exploring, evaluating, arguing, justifying, and questioning.

What might Dialogic Learning activities look like?

  • Open-ended questions that stimulate student’s personal responses or invite their explanations
  • Controversial statements that provoke students to explain opinions or lead to arguing about or justifying ideas
  • Intriguing images that inspire wonder and lead students to imagine stories or interpretations
  • Unusual facts that provoke further analysis and lead to student’s explanations
  • Interesting stories that lead students to speculate about characters, motivations, contexts or outcomes
  • Complex concepts that invoke student’s questioning skills, and lead to analysing and explaining

How can these approaches be used to enrich Object-based learning?

These pedagogical approaches are quite different from each other. One focuses on movement and the body and the other on conversation and speech. So how could they be utilised either individually or in combination with each other to enhance Object-based learning?

Object-based learning with Embodied learning

Studying objects that naturally relate to an aspect of the body, might be the obvious place to start. E.g. by taking the object’s body-related ‘purpose’ and either using the object directly or using a related but similar handling object, students could:

  • Wear or model objects which are items of clothing or accessories
  • Use or handle objects that are tools or implements
  • Play objects which are musical or can make sounds
  • Dance with objects that are designed to enhance performance
  • Act with objects which are puppets or props or related to stories
  • Play with objects that are toys or can be used like toys
  • Build with objects that have elements that can connect together

In addition to these ways to combine Embodied learning with Object-based learning, there are other less obvious learning activities that could be designed for students. Here are some suggestions:

Play a game about an object

Take any historic object and begin by learning all about its role, purpose, function, all related topics, people and contexts. Then invite students to design a board game which features all of these related elements and teaches players about them as they progress through the game. Give them time and materials to make the game, then let them play it.

Act a story about an object

Give students a variety of unrelated intriguing historic or cultural objects. Invite them to study them and find out as much as they can about them, then ask them to make imagined connections between them by creating a story, film or play. Give students time to write the story then invite them to act it, narrate it, perform it or film it using the objects as props.

Perform a dance inspired by an object

Give students an ambiguous or interesting object and invite them to create a movement or dance or sound in response to it. Link all of the moments, dances or sounds together into a performance inspired by the object.

Construct a texture in response to an object

Enable students to touch and feel interestingly textured objects, then give them a range of materials to use to create their own textures inspired by the original objects for others to feel.

What other ideas do you have for combining Embodied learning with Object-based learning? Share your ideas with your fellow learners below.

Do you use any of these Embodied learning approaches to Object-based learning? If so, share your examples with your fellow learners.

Object-based learning with Dialogic learning

There are so many different ways you can approach talking about or talking to objects. Dialogic learning has many possibilities when combined with Object-based learning. Here are some suggestions:

Play a question game about an object

Invite students to script a set of investigative and open-ended questions on playing cards. Shuffle and use them in pairs to pose and answer questions in turn about an interesting object.

Participate in a debate about an object

Ask students to research and write a number of controversial statements from different perspectives about an object. Then invite other students to respond to them, sharing their own opinions and participating in a debate.

Construct a narrative or story about an object

Enable students to study an intriguing image or object and the people connected with it. Give students the opportunity to respond using their knowledge, experience and imagination, to construct a story about it. Invite students to narrate their stories.

Provide an explanation for an object

Enable individual students to research as much as they can about an object. Show the object to another student and invite them to question the object researcher to hear their explanations.

Imagine an object can speak

Provide students with interesting objects or images that can provoke imaginative responses. Invite students to take on the character of the object, and imagine it could speak – how would it sound and what stories would it tell? Narrate them.

What other ideas do you have for combining Dialogic learning with Object-based learning? Share your ideas with your fellow learners.

Do you use any of these Dialogic learning approaches to Object-based learning? If so, share your examples with your fellow learners.

Examples of Dialogic learning and Embodied learning with Object-based learning in a museum

Kids Audio Guide-03, 2014. Photograph by Michael Hall. Te Papa. All rights Reserved

When I previously worked as an educator within the learning team at Te Papa I developed an education programme for primary students called Talking Pictures. Based within the art collection at the museum, the programme enables students to roam the gallery and have conversations with artworks. Using a variety of playful activities with a visual literacy focus the programme utilises a Dialogic learning approach.

The accompanying Visual Language Resource for teachers provides extra activities that can be undertaken in the classroom prior to and after the museum programme. The resource describes artworks as ‘visual language texts’. It promotes close reading of those texts so that students can ‘develop the creative and critical thinking skills involved in interpreting, decoding, identifying, analysing and discussing their potential meanings’. The resource goes on to explain:

Learning to read images involves skills of perception and comprehension of visual elements. As students develop skills in reading images they will be able to:

  • Identify and describe different elements of an image, translate viewed visual forms into words (eg, via speech, writing or acting)
  • Use critical thinking to interpret possible intended meanings or effects of images
  • Use creative thinking to form personal meanings of images
  • Build an increasing understanding of the vocabulary of visual language – how different visual elements can operate to communicate meaning

The resource includes instructions for a variety of Dialogic learning activities and Embodied learning activities which relate to learning about art objects, these include:

Spot what’s missing

In pairs one person looks at an artwork and tries to describe everything about it to their partner who cannot see it. They deliberately leave one detail out of their description, then their partner looks at the art work and tries to identify the missing detail.

Metaphors and similes

In pairs one person looks at an artwork and thinks about each part – colours, shapes, patterns, objects, people, brush marks, style of painting, scale, etc. Using a metaphor or simile or both they describe each part and how it makes them feel to their partner, eg: ‘the colours in the sky are blended so smoothly they feel as soft as a blanket’. These can then be turned into a spoken poem.

Art collector game

In groups students look around a gallery and place some ‘play money’ in front of an artwork they would buy if they were an art collector. Then they take turns to tell each other why they chose that artwork. Answering questions such as: What do you like about it? What does it mean to you? How does it make you feel? Where would you display it? How much would you pay for it? Does more than one person want to purchase the same artwork? Why? What could happen to the price of that artwork? Were any artworks left unsold? Why?

Press play

In small groups, students look at an artwork that features people. They imagine the image is a still scene from a paused movie. They ‘press play’ in their imaginations and let the movie continue, saying what might happen next. They ‘press rewind’ in their imaginations saying what might have happened before. They ‘press play’ again and then proceed to act out some scenes of their imagined movie.

Listen to a painting

In pairs students look at an artwork featuring a person or people. They pretend one of them is a character in the artwork. They ask their partner questions to find out about the person in the picture, and provide answers using their imaginations, and observations of the picture.

Another activity I designed was to ‘Step into a painting’ and invite students to imagine themselves wandering around inside a picture. I asked them to say what they could see, hear, feel, touch, or taste in the picture, and invited them to explore beyond the frame, around corners, over hills, behind doors etc.

Facilitating students through an imaginative journey into an artwork is a potentially rich Dialogic learning experience, which can also be extended to be an Embodied learning experience if students are encouraged to move and act as if they are physically exploring within the pictorial space.

While working in collaboration with teachers at Crofton Downs school I invited a group of their students to participate in an education project based on the ‘step into a painting’ activity. During this project we recorded student’s voices while they narrated personal imaginative journeys that they took through a series of different paintings. Then turned the recordings into tracks on an audio guide which visitors could listen to at the museum.

The kids audio guide was featured on Radio New Zealand and was popular with museum visitors who enjoyed experiencing art objects through a child’s eyes, gaining insight into their imaginations and personal responses.

What ideas do you have for utilising Dialogic learning or Embodied learning with Object-based learning?

In the next step we think about how we can teach with objects through Problem-based learning and Design Thinking.

Extend your learning! To learn more about topics mentioned in this article explore the links below:

OECD ilibrary Embodied Learning

Dialogic Learning handout for teachers from Junior Cycle for Teachers

Talking Pictures education programme at Te Papa

Visual Language Resource from Te Papa

Dialogic Teaching: A Classroom Guide for Better Thinking and Talking

University of Cambridge study about dialogic teaching and learning


Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments

Te Papa Visual Language Resource for Teachers

Te Papa Blog Kids Audio Guide

Radio New Zealand interview with Helen Lloyd about Kids Audio Guide

This article is from the free online

Object-Based Learning (OBL) in the Cultural Heritage Sector of Aotearoa New Zealand

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now