You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security.

It's Good to Talk

Project Exp4

An overview of EMC's 'It's Good to Talk' research project into group work in English.

What is it?

A self-funded project set up in 2015 by EMC, to investigate group work in English – what it has to offer, what makes it successful (or less so), what it’s good for (and conversely what it isn’t good for).

We wanted to go beyond the broad, sweep of pedagogical comment and research, which is rarely focused on subjects, and most often offers ideas about issues such as group size, composition, rules and etiquette, structures for group activities and so on. Instead, we are looking more closely and analytically at how group work operates in the subject of English. In doing so, we are exploring a range of other issues, with 10 key themes emerging from our early work. (See below).

The project is led by EMC staff, Barbara Bleiman and Kate Oliver. We are currently working with a group of about 10 teachers in secondary schools. New members have joined along the way, having seen presentations about the work at conferences or in CPD. We welcome others interested in taking part.

What kind of research is it?

It is genuinely investigative and open-ended, responsive to the thinking of the teachers involved, and to what we observe. EMC staff give structure to the project, providing a steer and drawing on our own experience and other research to support its development. The data is largely in the form of classroom filming, observation, reflection, discussion, questionnaires and interviews. It is not based on randomised controlled trials or on quantitative data. It does not start out with a hypothesis to prove or disprove, tied closely to proof of ‘impact’. Rather, it is a quest for greater understanding, a collection of evidence that can be shared between teachers, and a form of research firmly rooted in classrooms that evolves as our thinking changes. It is not looking for a single answer but for answers; it is looking for ways of improving our own reflective and analytical skills when it comes to judging what is good group work in English; it is searching for insights that can help us become more skilled users of it as an element of classroom activity.

What themes have we been addressing?

In English classrooms…

  1. What kinds of things is group work good for, and conversely, what kinds of things isn’t it good for? 
  2. What’s the role of the teacher? In setting it up, in establishing the parameters and the purpose of the task, in pausing/re-directing, in building the framework for future learning
  3. Time allocated and pacing of activities
  4. The role of report-backs and whole class feedback 
  5. What’s the right level of challenge in group work?
  6. What kinds of tasks work best in group work?
  7. What if students don’t seem to be making good progress all the time?
  8. The value of creative work in group work on texts 
  9. The collaborative classroom – what insights group work offers into how and what children are learning. What students can tell teachers about their learning. 
  10. Setting v mixed ability – does this make a difference to group work?

What research material and new ideas have been emerging?

This project page collects together some of the material we have been sharing with teachers so far, largely in the form of blogposts on the EMC blog but also some separate videoclips and other material from our work in schools. The blogs are mainly written by Barbara Bleiman but also include several guest blogs by Richard Long, one of the teachers we worked with. More blogs will follow.

Video clip

Year 7 students discuss poetry in groups.

Mayfield teachers in discussion about the KS3 Novel project.


  1. It’s good to talk – Changing practice in English: the start of something big
  2. Group work – had we but time enough…
  3. Creating as well as thinking in group work
  4. Group work or teacher transmission of knowledge – a false dichotomy?
  5. Exploratory talk, exploratory writing and pupil progress at KS3
  6. Is it really group work?
  7. A group work activity to teach GCSE poetry
  8. Teaching a Novel With Four Year 9 Classes

Dissemination of project findings – articles and forthcoming CPD and Conferences

Previous presentations and dissemination of project findings

  • NAAE Conference (2016)
  • NATE Conference (2016)
  • Training for ASEICA, Nice (2016)
  • Training for École Jeannine Manuel, Paris (2016)
  • Twilight session for NQTs at EMC (June 2016)
  •  NATE Conference Workshop on Group Work, led by Barbara Bleiman (June 2016)
  • ResearchEd National Conference 2017, presentation by Barbara Bleiman (September 2017, see below)
  • Presentation and workshop for Hertfordshire Heads of English (December 2017)
  • LATE Conference: Becoming our own experts: English Teachers and Research, Keynote by Barbara Bleiman and Richard Long (March 2018)
  • ELSA Conference, Paris, two sessions on group work by Kate Oliver (March 2018)

ResearchEd National Conference 2017

Barbara Bleiman presented at ResearchEd at Chobham Academy, Stratford on September 9th 2017. Here is her PowerPoint presentation (with the large videoclips omitted but some tasters available on this page). Her handout is also available, offering useful references to research papers, websites and other material about group work and dialogic learning in the classroom.

How can I find out more?

Email Barbara Bleiman for more information, for details of how to request CPD or a conference presentation on our work, or if you’d like to take part in the project yourself.