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Neil Mercer


  • Emeritus Professor of Education
  • Life Fellow of Hughes Hall
  • Director, Oracy@Cambridge

E-mail Address


BSc (Hons) in Psychology, University of Manchester
MA, University of Cambridge
PhD in Psycholinguistics, University of Leicester
Chartered Psychologist, AFBPsS

Membership of Professional Bodies/Associations

European Association for Learning and Instruction
British Psychological Society
International Society for Cultural and Activity Research
United Kingdom Literacy Association

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Neil Mercer is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge, and Director of the study centre Oracy@Cambridge at the Cambridge college Hughes Hall (of which he is also a Life Fellow). He was previously Professor of Language and Communications at the Open University where he was also Director of the Centre for Language and Communications and Director of the Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology.

A psychologist with a special interest in the role of language in the classroom and the development of children's thinking, he regularly contributes to professional development activities for local authorities and schools. One of the main outcomes of his research has been the teaching approach called Thinking Together, created with Lyn Dawes, Karen Littleton and Rupert Wegerif, which has been shown to improve children's skills in communicating, learning and reasoning.  His research has also included studies of the use of educational technology, such as recent work with Sara Hennessy, Ruth Kershner and Paul Warwick which looked at the use of interactive whiteboards in primary and secondary schools. Other research has dealt with aspects of  distance education and work-based training

Neil Mercer has served as a consultant to several British government education departments and agencies, and the outcomes of the Thinking Together research programme were incorporated into the National Strategies for primary and secondary education and, more recently, the Teaching and Learning Toolkit of the Educational Endowment Foundation. He has been a member of the Research Grants Board of the Economic and Social Research Council, the Executive Committee of the European Association for Research in Learning and Instruction and the international conference organising committee for the International Society for Cultural and Activity Research. He has also been a Link Coordinator for the British Council's international Academic Exchange Programme, has contributed to the ESRC's Joint Research Capacities Building programme and is a member of the ESRC Review College. He was a member of the central advisory group for the National Year of Communication 2011. In 2012 he became a Honorary Fellow of the University of Cumbria, awarded for contributions to teacher education; and in 2014 he was appointed as a Visiting Fellow of the English Language Institute of Singapore. His 1987 book Common Knowledge (with Derek Edwards) has been re-issued as a Routledge Revival

His research has generated strong links with researchers outside the UK, especially in the Scandinavian countries, Holland, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Australia and the USA. He has been a consultant, visiting scholar and examiner for governments and universities in many countries. 

He is a former editor of the journals Learning and Instruction,  the International Journal of Educational Research, and Learning, Culture and Social Interaction. He is also a member of the editorial boards of Infancia y Aprendizaje, Anuario Psicologia, Educational Psychologist, Language and Education and Reading Research Quarterly.

Neil is an emeritus memeber of CEDiR and a winner of the EARLI oevre award.

Academic Area/Links

  • Processes of teaching and learning.
  • Language and education.
  • Classroom teaching and interaction.
  • The development of spoken language skills (oracy).
  • ICT and educational communication.
  • Sociocultural theory.
  • Science education.
  • The English language.

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Research Topics

  • Teacher-pupil talk in primary and secondary classrooms.
  • Talk in group-based activity in classrooms.
  • The development of children's language and thinking skills.
  • The use of ICT in the teaching of science and maths.
  • Methods for analysing talk and joint activity.
  • The development of a sociocultural theory of education.
  • Spoken language, literacy and ICT.
  • Collective problem-solving in educational and work settings.
  • Teaching and learning with new technology.
  • Teaching and learning in distance education.
  • The teaching of English as a second language.

Recent and Current Research Projects

Effecting principled improvement in STEM education [epiSTEMe] (2008-2012)

Funded by ESRC. With Christine Howe,  Ken Ruthven and Keith Taber. The epiSTEMe project is one of several ESRC funded projects designed to address concerns about uptake of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) courses through improving aspects of science and mathematics education at school level. The Cambridge based epiSTEMe project is designed to bring together a range of ideas and approaches well-established in the research literature, and show how they can be adopted in designing effective science and mathematics lessons at lower secondary school level that can engage and interest children in these subjects as well as lead to successful curriculum learning.

Thinking Together
Funded by ESRC, Nuffield Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn Trust and others. With Lyn Dawes, Karen Littleton, Rupert Wegerif, Judith Kleine Staarman, Paul Warwick, Juan Manuel Fernandez and several others. A series of school-based projects on the development of children's language and reasoning has been carried out over the last 15 years.

Dialogic Teaching in the Science Classroom (2004-2007)
Funded by ESRC. Co-directed with Prof. Phil Scott, (Leeds), with Jaume Ametller (Leeds) and Judith Kleine Staarman (Cambridge).
This project has examined the incidence, nature and functions of teacher-student dialogue in science education in upper primary and lower secondary classrooms. More information is available at

Interactive Whiteboards as Pedagogic Tools in Primary Schools (2005-6)
Funded by ESRC. With Julia Gillen and Karen Littleton (Open University), Judith Kleine Staarman (Cambridge) and Alison Twiner (OU)
This project is about the impact of interactive whiteboards on teaching in primary schools. More information is available at

Interactive Whiteboards and Collaborative Pupil Learning in Primary Science. (2007-2009) Funded by ESRC. With Ruth Kershner, Judith Kleine Staarman and Paul Warwick (all at Cambridge)
This is an investigation of how primary school children use the interactive whiteboard to support their collaborative activity in the classroom. More information is available at

The Oracy Project (2013-14)

The aim of this project is to create a teacher-friendly toolkit for assessing the spoken language skills of school students in Year 7. It is being carried out jointly with School 21 in London and is funded by the Educational Endowment Foundation. Other members of the project team are Paul Warwick (co-investigator) and Ayesha Ahmed (researcher). 

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Principal Publications

Selected Books

Littleton, K. & Mercer, N. (2013) Interthinking: putting talk to work. Abingdon: Routledge.

Mercer, N. & Hodgkinson, S. (2008) (eds) Exploring Talk in School: inspired by the work of Douglas Barnes. London: Sage

Mercer, N. & Littleton, K. (2007) Dialogue and the Development of Children's Thinking: a sociocultural approach. London: Routledge.

Dawes, L. , English, J., Holmwood, R. Giles, G. & Mercer, N. (2005) Thinking Together in Geography. Stevenage: Badger Publishing.

Dawes, L., Mercer, N,, and Wegerif, R. (2004, second edition) Thinking Together: a programme of activities for developing speaking, listening and thinking skills. Birmingham; Imaginative Minds Ltd.

Goodman, S. Maybin, J., Lillis, T. & Mercer, N. (2003) Language, Literacy and Education. London: Trentham Books.

Candlin, C.N. & Mercer, N. (2001) (eds) English Language Teaching in its Social Context. London: Routledge.

Mercer, N. (2000) Words and Minds: how we use language to think together. London: Routledge.

Mercer, N. (1995) The Guided Construction of Knowledge: talk amongst teachers and learners. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Maybin, J. & Mercer, N. (1996) (eds) Using English: from conversation to canon. London: Routledge with the Open University.

Mercer, N & Swann, J, (1996) (eds) Learning English: development and diversity. London: Routledge with the Open University.

Mercer, N. & Coll, C. (1994) (eds) Teaching, Learning and Interaction. (Explorations in Socio-cultural studies, vol.3). Madrid: Fundacion Infancia y Aprendizaje.

Mercer, N. (1987) (ed.) Language and Literacy from an Educational Perspective, Vol.2: In School. Milton Keynes, Open University Press.

Mercer, N. (1987) (ed.) Language and Literacy from an Educational Perspective, Vol.1: Language Studies. Milton Keynes, Open University Press.

Edwards, D. and Mercer, N. (1987) Common Knowledge: the development of joint understanding in the classroom, London, Methuen.

Mercer, N. (1981) (ed.) Language in School and Community. London, Edward Arnold.

Journal articles (from 2000)

Mercer, N. (2013). The Social Brain, Language, and Goal-Directed Collective Thinking: A Social Conception of Cognition and Its Implications for Understanding How We Think, Teach, and Learn. Educational Psychologist, 48(3), 148-168.

Kershner, R., Warwick, P., Mercer, N. & Kleine Staarman, J. (2012) Primary children's management of themselves and others in collaborative group work: ‘Sometimes it takes patience …’. Education 3-13: International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education. []

Mercer, N. & Howe, C. (2012) Explaining the dialogic processes of teaching and learning: the value of sociocultural theory. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 1, 1,12–21

Soong, B. & Mercer, N. (2011) Improving Students' Revision of Physics Concepts through ICT-based Co-construction and Prescriptive Tutoring'. International Journal of Science Education, 33, 8, 1055-1078.

Soong, B., Mercer, N. & Siew, S.E. (2010) Revision by means of computer-mediated peer discussions. Physics Education, 45, 3, 264-269

Simpson, A., Mercer, N. & Majors, Y. (2010) Editorial: Douglas Barnes revisited: If learning floats on a sea of talk, what kind of talk? And what kind of learning? English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 9, 2, 1-2.

Warwick, P., Mercer, N., Kershner, R. and Kleine Staarman, J. (2010) In the mind and in the technology: The vicarious presence of the teacher in pupil’s learning of science in collaborative group activity at the interactive whiteboard. Computers and Education, 55, 350-362.

Kershner, R., Mercer, N., Warwick, P., & Kleine Staarman, J. (2010). Can the interactive whiteboard support young children’s collaborative communication and thinking in classroom science activities? Computer-supported Collaborative Learning, 5, 359-383.

Mercer, N., Hennessy, S. & Warwick, P. (2010) Using interactive whiteboards to orchestrate classroom dialogue. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 19, 2, 195-209.

Mercer, N. (2009) The analysis of classroom talk: methods and methodologies. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 1-14

Mercer, N., Dawes, L. and Staarman, J.K. (2009) Dialogic teaching in the primary science classroom, Language and Education, 23, 4,353-369.

Mercer, N. (2008) Classroom dialogue and the teacher's role, Education Review, 21, 1, 60-65

Mercer, N. (2008) The seeds of time: why classroom dialogue needs a temporal analysis. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17, 1, 33-59.

Mercer, N. (2008) Talk and the development of reasoning and understanding. Human Development, 51, 1, 90-100.

Mercer, N. (2007) Commentary on the Reconciliation of Cognitive and Sociocultural Accounts of Conceptual Change. Educational Psychologist, 42, 1, 75-78.

Gillen, J., Kleine Staarman, J., Littleton, K., Mercer, N. & Twiner, A. (2007) A ''learning revolution''? Investigating pedagogic practice around interactive whiteboards in British primary classrooms. Learning, Media and Technology. 32, 3, 243-256.

Mercer, N. and Sams, C. (2006) Teaching children how to use language to solve maths problems, Language and Education, 20, 6, 507-528.

Littleton, K., Mercer, N., Dawes, L., Wegerif, R., Rowe, D., & Sams, C. (2005). Thinking together at Key Stage 1. Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Development, 25, 2, 165-180.

Mercer, N. (2005) Sociocultural discourse analysis: analysing classroom talk as a social mode of thinking. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 1, 2, 137-168.

Wegerif, R., Perez, J., Rojas-Drummond, S., Mercer, N., & Velez, M. (2005) Thinking Together in the UK and Mexico: transfer of an educational innovation. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 40, 1, 40-48.

Mercer, N., Littleton, K., Wegerif, R. (2004) Methods for studying the processes of interaction and collaborative activity in computer-based educational activities. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 13, 2, 193-209.

Mercer, N., Dawes, R., Wegerif, R., & Sams, C. (2004) Reasoning as a scientist: ways of helping children to use language to learn science. British Educational Research Journal, 30, 3, 367-385.

Rojas-Drummond, S. & Mercer, N. (2004) Scaffolding the development of effective collaboration and learning, International Journal of Educational Research, 39, 99-111.

Wegerif, R., Littleton, K., Dawes, L., Mercer, N. and Rowe, D. (2004) Widening Access to Educational Opportunities through Teaching Children how to Reason Together. Westminster Studies in Education. 27, 2, 143-157.

Mercer, N., Fernandez, M., Dawes, L., Wegerif, R., & Sams, C. (2003) Talk about texts; using ICT to develop children's oral and literate abilities. Reading, Literacy and Language, 37, 2, 81-89.

Mercer, N, (2002) Diversity and commonality in the analysis of talk. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 11, 2&3, 369-371.

Fernandez, M., Wegerif, R., Mercer, N. and Rojas-Drummond, S. M. (2001). Re-conceptualising scaffolding and the Zone of Proximal Development in the context of symmetrical collaborative learning. Journal of Classroom Interaction. 36, 2, 40-54.

Rojas-Drummond, S., Mercer, N., & Dabrowski, E. (2001) Collaboration, scaffolding and the promotion of problem-solving strategies in Mexican pre-schoolers. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 16, 2, 179-196.

Selwyn, N., Dawes, L. and Mercer, N. (2001) Promoting Mr Chips: teachers and the new technology, Teaching and Teacher Education, 17, 3-14.

Chapters in books (from 2000)

Mercer, N. (2012) Commentary: The future development of research on classroom talk. In Kaur, B. (Ed) Understanding Teaching and Learning: classroom research revisited. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Kleine Staarman, J. & Mercer, N. (2010). The guided construction of knowledge: talk between teachers and students. In K. Littleton, C. Wood & J. Kleine Staarman (eds). International Handbook of Psychology in Education, pp. 75-104. Emerald: Bingley, UK.

Littleton, K. & Mercer, N. (2010) The significance of educational dialogues between primary school children. In C. Howe and K. Littleton (eds), Educational Dialogues. London: Routledge.

Howe, C. & Mercer, N. (2010) Children’s social development, peer interaction and classroom learning. In R. Alexander (ed) The Cambridge Primary Review Research Surveys. London: Routledge.

Mercer, N.
(2009) Developing argumentation: lessons learned in the primary school. In Muller Mirza, N., Perret-Clermont, A-N. (Eds.) Argumentation and Education:Theoretical Foundations and Practices. Berlin: Springer.

Mercer, N.
& Dawes, L. (2008) The value of Exploratory Talk. In Mercer, N. & Hodgkinson, S. (2008) (eds) Exploring Talk in School. London: Sage.

Mercer, N
., Wegerif, R., Dawes, L., Sams, C. & Fernandez, M. (2007) How computers can help children think together about texts. In C. Kinzer & L. Verhoeven (eds), Interactive Literacy. New York: McGraw Hill.

Mercer, N. & Dawes, L. (2007) Speaking and Listening at Key Stage 2. In T. Cremin & H. Dombey (Eds) Handbook of Primary English in Initial Teacher Education. London: NATE/UKLA.

Mercer, N., Dawes, L., Sams, C. & Fernandez, M. (2007) Computers, literacy and thinking together. In A. Adams and S. Brindley (eds) Teaching Secondary English with ICT. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Mercer, N. (2003) The educational value of dialogic talk in whole class dialogue: New Perspectives on Spoken English in the Classroom: Discussion Papers, pp 73- 76. London: QCA.

Mercer, N. (2002) Developing dialogues. In G. Wells & G. Claxton (Eds) Learning for Life in the 21st Century. Oxford: Blackwell.

Mercer, N. (2001) Spoken Language in the classroom. In R. Mesthrie (ed.) The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics. (Amsterdam: Pergamon).

Mercer, N. & Dawes, L. (2001) Dialogues for teaching and learning. In F. Banks & A. Shelton Mayes (eds) Early Professional Development for Teachers. London: David Fulton.

Mercer, N. (2001) Language as a medium for teaching-and-learning. In C.N. Candlin & N. Mercer (eds) English Language Teaching in its Social Context. London: Routledge.

Wegerif, R. & Mercer, N. (2000) Language for Thinking: a study of children solving reasoning problems together. In H.Cowie & G. van der Aaalsvoort (eds) Social Interaction in Learning and Instruction. Amsterdam: Pergamon.

Mercer, N. (2000) How is language used as a medium for classroom education? In B. Moon, S. Brown and M. Ben-Perez (Eds) The Routledge International Companion to Education. London: Routledge.

Mercer, N, & Gonzalez Estapa, J. (2000) Un perspectiva sociocultural sobre la educacion a distancia. In E. Litwin (Ed.) Nuevas Direcciones en la Educacion a Distancia. Buenos Aires: University of Buenos Aires.

Dawes, Mercer & Wegerif. (2000) Extending talking and reasoning skills using ICT. In M. Leask & J. Meadows (eds) Teaching and Learning with ICT in the Primary School. London: Routledge. (pp. 39-64).

Mercer, N. & Gonzalez Estapa, F. (2000) La educacion a distancia y la creacion del conocimiento compartido. In O. Preti (ed) Educao a Distancia: construido significados. Cuiaba, Brasil: NEAD/UFMT.

Cook, G. & Mercer, N. (2000) From me to you: austerity and profligacy in the language of the Beatles. In I. Inglis (ed.) The Beatles, popular music and society: a thousand voices. London: Macmillan. (pp 87-104).

Other research publications (from 2000)

Mercer, N. (2012) Talk in the National Curriculum: what teachers need to know. Invited report to the Review of the National Primary Curriculum, Dept for Education.

Mercer, N. (2010) Interactive whiteboards and classroom interactions. Better: Evidence-based Education, Autumn issue, 8-9.

Mercer, N. (2010) Talk: an underrated learning tool. Learning and Teaching Update,34, May, 4-6. London; Optimus Education.

Mercer, N. and Dawes, L. (2010) Assessment: what is there to talk about? A Voice for Subjects: Primary Subjects 7, p.1(Summer 2010). Leicester: Council for Subjects Associations/UKLA.

Mercer, N. (2010) The effective use of talk in the classroom. In Garcia, M. et al. (eds) Interaccio cummunicativa i ensenyament de llengues. (pp19-28) Valencia: Universitat de Valencia.

Mercer, N., Warwick, P., Kershner & Kleine Staarman, J. (2010) Interactive Whiteboards and collaborative pupil learning in primary science. The Ultimate Guide to Interactive Whiteboards. Australia:

Mercer, N. & Dawes, L. (2010) Making the most of talk: dialogue in the classroom. English, Drama, Media, 16, March, pp 19-28 London: NATE.

Mercer, N. (2008) Classroom dialogue and the teacher's role. Education Review, 21, 1, 60-65.

Howe, C. & Mercer, N. (2007) The Primary Review: Research Survey 2/1b, Children's Social Development, Peer Interaction and Classroom Learning. Cambridge University.

Mercer, N. (2005) Language for thinking. The Literacy Coordinators' File, No. 21, 44- 47. London: pfp publishing.

Mercer, N. (2004). Speaking, listening and thinking together. In the series Teaching Texts: what do leaders need to know about teaching? Nottingham: National College for School Leadership.

Mercer, N. (2002) Helping children think effectively, together and alone. Patoss: the Journal of the Professional Association of Teachers of Students with Specific Learning Difficulties, 15, 2, 8-11.

Mercer, N. (2002) The art of interthinking. Teaching Thinking, Spring 2002, Issue 7, 8-11.

Mercer, N. (2001) Why I study Interthinking. The Psychologist, Vol. 14, No.12, 648-649.