## September 11, 2024

Imagine a classroom filled with students eager to talk about math, where everybody makes meaningful contributions to the discussion. This is the power of math talk moves.

Students don’t come to us knowing how to engage in meaningful conversation, and learning how to facilitate it can be tricky.

In a previous article, we explored the importance of a math-rich environment and how to create it. One of the ideas mentioned was setting up your classroom so it’s conducive to collaboration and discussion. Today, we’ll drill down into the discussion part. You’ll get answers to the 4 questions below.

What is math talk?

What are the math talk move strategies?

Why is math talk important?

How can you get started?

## What is math talk?

Math talk is the discussion that occurs while students are engaged in learning mathematics. There are varying levels, ranging from teacher-led to student-led. The ultimate goal is that we, as teachers, facilitate but don’t control the conversation.

As you move from level 0 to 3, you’ll notice the shift in student and teacher roles. If you’re like many teachers, letting your students control the conversation might sound terrifying. It can be hard to let go of some control.

That’s where the math talk moves come into play.

## What are the math talk move strategies?

There are 5 basic talk moves we’ll explore today. These fall within the level 1-2 range and are a great starting point to create an environment where your students have productive and rich discussions around mathematical concepts.

- Wait time
- Revoicing
- Repeating
- Adding on
- Say more

### Wait Time

It may seem counterintuitive, but wait time doesn’t involve talking. It’s giving adequate time, roughly 3-5 seconds, between posing a question and accepting responses. This allows all students more time to process their thoughts, resulting in more voices being heard – not just the kids who tend to respond quickly.

Don’t worry if it feels unnatural at first. You and your students will get used to it quickly. When I first started using wait time, I counted in my head – 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi – to make sure I didn’t rush it.

### Revoicing

In this talk move, you’re rephrasing a student’s response. It may be for clarity or to reiterate an important point. Revoicing ensures we understand the point a student is making. This move also allows you to model speaking in complete sentences and using academic vocabulary, which your students will eventually pick up on.

It may sound like “I want to make sure I understand. Are you thinking…?”. Or “That sounds like an important idea. I’m going to say it again and make sure we understand.”

### Repeating

This is different from revoicing because you are asking the students to repeat what a peer said. A word of caution: this shouldn’t be used to “catch” kids who aren’t paying attention. It’s to help students learn how to actively listen to their peers instead of thinking about what they want to say next. It can also help solidify understanding of concepts.

### Adding on

Adding on may be one of the most challenging talk moves. I’ve been in a lot of classrooms and there’s one universal thing. Every kid has their idea and they want to share it regardless of the flow of the conversation, especially the little ones.

After a student shares an idea, ask “Who would like to add on?” This encourages students to listen and build on other’s ideas.

Here’s a fun tip: Give non-examples to explain the concept to students. For instance, say “If I said ‘I watched my favorite TV show’, does it make sense to reply ‘I ate a hot dog too.’?”

Try a couple of funny scenarios then transition to a math example. “If I said, ‘I think this number story is about comparing two amounts,’ what might you say next?”

### Say More

This is such a powerful move! How often have you had kids share an idea but not explain their thinking? Or you can’t figure out how they arrived at a solution? It could be as simple as letting them talk, giving wait time, then prompting them with “Say more about that.” or “Tell me more.”

In the Fire & Wire Way, the book I co-authored on daily routines, these teacher moves are discussed in detail, both why they’re critical and how to implement them.

But first, let’s talk about the big picture.

## Why is math talk important?

The Standards for Mathematical Practice outline the skills students need to be proficient mathematicians. They represent a shift from how most of us were taught, memorization and rote practice, to building conceptual understanding and critical thinking.

“As students experience sense-making and arrive at mathematical conclusions as a result of a classroom or group discussion, students begin to see themselves as thinkers, as people who can produce knowledge and who can do math. When engaged in meaningful mathematical discourse, the locus of authority in the classroom rests with the students and the discipline of mathematics, as validity and correctness are determined by the reasonableness of an argument or idea, and does not rest with the teacher or textbook (Hiebert et al. 1997).”

As students learn how to talk about math, we get the opportunity as teachers to uncover their thinking. We can listen in and hear their misconceptions, allowing us to address them in the moment.

Now that you know why the math talk moves are important, you’re probably wondering how to get started.

## Getting started with math talk moves

In addition to the ideas shared above, there are other talk moves you can incorporate into your classroom. I picked the 5 I did because they’re the easiest to start with. If you’re curious to learn more moves, or already have these in place, you may want to check out ideas like introducing turn and talk and teaching kids to revise their thinking.

Here’s my advice so you can add these to your practice without feeling overwhelmed. Choose 1 talk move to work on at a time. They can be used to stimulate conversation in any subject area. That means you can integrate them throughout your entire day. When you notice it’s becoming a habit, add in the next talk move.

## Conclusion

Building math talk moves into your classroom practices allows every student to feel valued and heard. By starting with one and gradually incorporating others, you’ll foster an environment where students can engage in rich mathematical discussions and gain deep understanding. Which talk move will you start with?