Dialogue theory


  • Introduction
  • General theory
  • Others in your presence
  • Dialogue intentions
  • I-thou relation versus I-it relation
  • Dialogue issues
  • Context
  • Body language
  • Conversional writing - colloquial tone


One of our main goals as teachers is to achieve a good dialogue with our students and among them. We must therefore know what dialogue really is about. This page is a collection of theories and citations, that hopefully will help us understand more and therefore become better teachers.  As we are dealing with global dialogues between students (in eg kidspace), between teachers (in FB group, our drupal forum and google groups) and between teachers and students (in our classrooms), the focus of this page is on interpersonal communicatinon.

General theory

We normally talk about interpersonal communication as "the process that we use to communicate our ideas, thoughts, and feelings to another person.". (3) Martin Buber regards this as a "I-it relation" or simply, a monologue. (2) To become a dialogue it is important that the "Interpersonal communication includes message sending and message reception between two or more individuals." (3) According to Arnet a dialogue is when we walk on "the Narrow ridge"  were we are “open to the other’s view point and willing to alter one’s position based upon appropriate and just cause, if necessary” (2) Kidlink wants to promote all kind of dialogs, dialogues and multilogues.

I-thou and I-it relation

Genuine dialogue or what is termed as I-Thou relationship calls for an individual to place his or her needs to the side while stepping into the other's shoes. Buber †(1955) writes that this encounter is “where each of the participants really has in mind the other or others in their present and particular being and turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between himself and them.”  (2)

I-It relationship is when “a participant is seeing the other through the lens of one’s own needs and perceptions”  (2)

Dialogue intentions - The Narrow ridge

To have a good dialogue we should "'walk' the narrow ridge of communicative actions while being “open to the other’s view point and willing to alter one’s position based upon appropriate and just cause, if necessary” (2)

Dialogue issues

Every project suggests dialogue issues. Even if Kidlink supports open global dialogues not connected to specific projects, we reccommend to avoid issues about politics and religions.  This because of the contextual emotional factor involved in these issues.


"Context refers to the conditions that precede or surround the communication." (3) The context may change the meaning of the messages sent. In global dialogues the most important contexts to consider are beside of the language (read more about this below), the cultural and emotional factors. What is perceived as normal language in one culture may be very offensive in others. The emotional factor tends to make a political or religious discussion, very difficult. It is very important for the teachers to talk about this with their students.

Body language

Body language is a very important part of the interpersonal communication. (5) As a non verbal communication, it is not possible to use in most no live communications, like in email, chat or phone calls. Even in video conferences it may not be usable depening on the image and video quality. 

We substitute the body language with smileys. But smileys can not be a full substitute of body language.

Body language is especcially important when we make jokes. Without the body language, the joke may easily be misinterpreted. We use therefore to add a smileys to a joke to tell the reader that the message was a kind one.

It is recommendable not to make jokes with people you dont know very well.

Conversational writing - colloquial tone

The colloquial tone normally used by the students, can not be used in a global dialogue, as it often contains local slangs that may not be understandable by students in other citys or countries. Also, the reader is maybe not a good experienced reader of your language. So the writing must therefore always follow some basic language rules, to help the reader, like:

  • do not use slang
  • do note use abbreviations, like "u" for "you" or "LOL" for "Laughing out loudly"
  • write shorter sentences
  • write grammatically correct with a correct punctuation
  • use a correct spelling

By doing this you get among others a lower readability index. (4)

Our students don't know what all in their vocabulary is slang yet, as they are still learning their language.  After we teach it, they go home to family that still speaks in colloquial tone. We can say colloquial tone is forbidden, however, they will not have a clue that eg the English sentence " that there thingy doo" can't be used until they use it and we correct the misuse.

To get a conversational dialogue it is important that the writing:

  • it is easy to understand (see above)
  • gives answers to questions given by the counterpart
  • avoid yes/no questions because they're usually a dead end. In contrast, open-ended questions dont stop the dialogue.
  • shows interest in the other part, being a I-thou dialogue
  • is not content poor, as messages with few words.
  • is effective and time saving. If you ask something tell first about your answer to that same question.


  1. Martin Buber - Dialogue
  2. A Glance at Martin Buber, Lauren B Lau
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpersonal_communication
  4. Readability index calculator)
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_language