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Sustained Shared Thinking. Another fancy term for something most educational practitioners do at their setting every day?

Well, it is mentioned as one of the Characteristics of Effective Learning in the guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), and it's considered one of the hallmarks of a good quality pre-school setting. So, let’s take a look at what Sustained Shared Thinking (SST) is all about in the early years context.

What is Sustained Shared Thinking?

By definition, SST is an episode in which two or more individuals work together in an intellectual way to find a solution for a problem, clarify a concept, extend a narrative, evaluate activities, etc. Both parties should contribute to the thinking, and it must develop and extend the understanding. (Siraj – Blatchford et al., 2002).

In an early years setting, SST is evident when the practitioner has an in-depth conversation with the child and encourages them to reflect on their view of the world. Rather than act as the domineering character in the learning process, the adult guides the narrative of the casual chats to an in-depth conversation that probes deeper into a subject and adds clarity to their thought process. It is the ‘shared’ element or the two-way exchange of information that takes centre-stage in SST.

Why Sustained Shared Thinking?

According to Early Years expert Kathy Brodie, SST can support the three key areas of learning and development, as defined by the EYFS:

Communication and Language: SST can play a crucial role in developing effective communication between children and adults or between the children in a group. The role of the practitioner is to encourage conversation by providing plenty of visual (expression of surprise, curiosity) and verbal feedback (That sounds interesting! How did you discover that?).

Physical development: As children learn about the world by exploring and interacting with the world around them, SST provides a brilliant opportunity to help them explore their boundaries safely. Rather than curbing their curiosity with an unsubstantiated 'No’/ ‘You can’t’, you can engage them in a conversation on why doing something a certain way can pose a hazard and discuss what the potential dangers or consequences of doing it could be.

Personal, emotional and social development: Sustained shared thinking is a powerful way to help children make sense of the complex world around them. Getting them to share their train of thoughts and prodding them gently to elaborate the reasons behind, can put them in touch with their emotions and help them identify the reason why they are feeling upset, angry or excited, for instance.

It is also a great way to help children understand other people’s perspectives and ideas. It enables them to learn to collaborate and understand that things can be done in more ways than one. This is especially effective when it is taken beyond two people and practised in a group. As Annette Woods, Associate Professor, Queensland University of Technology, points out, it allows children to think about a variety of perspectives and come to an understanding that there is not just a right or a wrong, but that people think differently.

How to engage children in SST?

The key to engaging children is SST is to take the time to listen and observe (their words and body language) without being in a hurry to add our own ideas. The vital part is to engage them in an in-depth conversation allowing them to refine their thought process and learning how a different person might view the same concept.

Here are some tips and examples of open-ended questions to help you get the ball rolling.

Get them to elaborate

Wow! That sounds interesting. Can you tell me more about it I would love to hear how you came up with such this beautiful idea!  


Ok! So you think this is how… Hmm...so you drew the light here to let Cinderella find her way back in the dark.  

Offer your own experiences

When I was little, I used to think… What I love most about this is…  

Clarify ideas

So, we think mixing red and green will give us a new colour? Let’s check if this is how it works.  


Would you like me to show you how it works? Shall we try doing it this way?  


Don’t forget this is how you said we can fit the wheels Let’s try it the way you suggested  


Do you think the bunnies might just be pretending to sleep? Maybe we could mix these colours to see if we can get purple.  

Ask open-ended questions

Wow, how did you do this? Where is the best place to put this? Why do you think this is better than the other one?  

Offer alternative viewpoints

Maybe the moon is just hiding behind the clouds Perhaps that’s not what they meant? Imagine you are the tiger…what would you have done?

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