# Math Talk: Ways to Encourage Discussion in Math Class

Using math talk and having engaging mathematical discussions in the classroom is a great way to deepen understanding and build communication skills among our students. Being able to communicate effectively, justify solutions, and evaluate the thinking of others are all important math skills.

However, most of the time students don’t come to us knowing how to participate in and maintain student-to-student math discussions. This article will share some ways you can encourage and support math talk in your classroom and a FREE MATH TALK resource that you can use to support discussion with your students.

## Safe Environment

Math talk will only be successful if students feel like the classroom is a safe place to share ideas, take risks, and make mistakes. There are several things you can do to make sure your classroom is a place where students feel comfortable enough to participate in discussions.

- Set expectations- create norms or make a classroom agreement on what is expected from all students during a math talk. Some things you might include are: listening behaviors, body language, taking turns, mistakes, respect and participation.
- Mistakes- make it crystal clear to students that mistakes ok. Mistakes are going to happen and some of our best learning can come from analyzing mistakes. Set clear expectations for how to react to and repsond to mistakes.
- Volunteers to share- no one likes to be put on the spot, and that includes students. When students fear being called on they spend all their time worrying about being called on instead of listening and participating in the math talk. I encourage participation from everyone, but students know that I am not going to force them to share in front of the whole class. When students are able to relax they are more likely to feel comfortable enough to share.

## Model Math Talk

In the beginning, your math talks will probably be more teacher-led than student led. During this time it is important to model math talk in action.

As you are discussing a problem, ask probing questions, clarifying questions, and questions to make connections. Share your reaction to a problem or your initial thinking about what you notice. Use math vocabulary and math sentence stems that you would like your students to use during discussions.

Much like when we were young, we learned our communication skills by observing, listening, and trying it out on our own. Over time, students will soak in what you are saying and doing, and begin to give it a try.

## Wait Time

There will always be a student who gets an answer right away and wants to share it with everyone. If students feel rushed or like it is a contest to get the answer the quickest they might just give up before even starting.

Providing a good amount of wait time gives everyone in the class time to think, analyze and try out a problem. I always say, when you think you have waited long enough, give it a little bit longer.

At first, the extended wait time can feel odd if you aren’t used to it, but you will notice a difference in student behavior when everyone knows they will be given plenty of wait time to work smart not just work fast.

## Sentence Stems and Vocabulary

Sometimes students don’t participate in math talk because they don’t know how to say what they want to say. They might not know how to start sharing their thoughts or worry about whether they are doing it right.

Provide your students with some math talk sentence stems to help them formulate their responses. When students are given sentence starters to help them start sharing their ideas during a math talk, it can give them a bridge to get ideas from their head into verbal communication.

Sentence stems can promote thoughtful discussion and increase the use of math talk and math vocabulary.

CLICK HERE to grab a free set of sentence stem speech bubbles and a student bookmark.

Some sentence stems that can be helpful include:

- I agree with _____ because _____.
- I solved this problem by ______.
- The first thing I noticed was _____.
- I disagree with _____ because _____.
- I am confused about ______. Can you explain that again?

Model how to use these sentence stems during a math talk. Practice how to use the sentence stems to guide thinking and sharing during a math talk.

It can also be helpful to include vocabulary that might help students communicate effectively during a math talk. This might be a word wall, a vocabulary anchor chart, or a slide that has vocabulary terms relevant to the math talk you will be having.

By giving students extra support with sentence starters and vocabulary we make communication during math talks more accessible to all of our students.

## Rehearsal

When I know I am going to be speaking in front of a group, I always practice what I am going to say beforehand. I always feel more confident sharing with a group when I have run through what I want to say ahead of time.

This behavior is also helpful to our students during math talk.

Before sharing and discussing as a whole class, have students share with a partner or small group. This gives everyone in the class a chance to speak, share their thinking and respond to others’ thinking in a lower risk situation.

Rehearsal with a partner or small group also gives students a chance to practice what they are going to say if they share their thinking with the whole group. Getting that practice run-through can give many students the confidence they need to share with the whole class.

## Explore Incorrect Answers

Often in math talk, we focus our discussion on how we got to the correct solution. Try focusing part of your math talk on how an incorrect answer was found. Where in the process did the mistake happen? Were there any misconceptions that led to the incorrect solution? Was one strategy used correctly but in the wrong context? Did everything go right except for a small calculation error? Exploring incorrect answers can really add a new perspective to your math talk.

Math talk can be a very powerful way to deepen critical thinking, reasoning, communication, and listening skills. Over time you will notice your students talking more and more ownership of discussion and your math talk will move from being teacher-led to a student-to-student discussion.

## FREE Math Talk Sentence Starters and Student Bookmark

Don’t forget to sign up for your FREE math talk sentence stems set. Includes 18 sentence starter speech bubbles and a matching student bookmark! Click the image below!

## Read More About Math Talk and Number Talks

Math talk is a large part of doing number talks in your classroom. A number talk is a 5-15 minute daily routine where you focus on one problem and share strategies and solutions. Read more about number talks in the following articles:

- How to do Number Talks Step by Step
- Creating a Learning Environment for Number Talks
- Benefits of Number Talks
- Number Talks and Number Strings

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