Engaging Children in Math Talk

When I began my career, teaching math was all about developing conceptual understanding. The provided curriculum resources included a large flip chart with colorful drawings and plastic clings that would stick to the chart and were easily removable.  Each day, I was supposed to lead a lesson using those materials.  For example, one page of the chart looked like a circus tent and included three rings. The related clings were dancing horses, silly clowns, and seals balancing balls on their noses.  I would tell a story about the circus, and the students would help me add and remove the clings to demonstrate what was happening.  That lesson helped develop students’ counting, addition, and subtraction skills.

I remember thinking, “What good is this?  My students need to memorize the order of numbers so that they can count.  They should be able to recognize the printed numbers and match them with sets of objects.  Where are the worksheets so that the students can practice tracing numbers and circle corresponding groups?” 

I failed to realize the value in having the students talk about math, which the flip chart and clings encouraged.  Thankfully, I am not a clueless 21-year-old anymore and fully embrace building students’ conceptual knowledge, not just their procedural knowledge.

Over at the NAEYC Families blog, they recently shared five ideas for supporting math readiness through talk.  For example,

Ask open-ended questions to sustain math talk as long as possible. The goal of math talk is to keep the child talking. Instead of simply telling my son how many apples I think we need and putting them in a bag and moving on, I take the time to stop and ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to his responses. Math talk means being ready with follow-up questions that can extend and deepen your math discussions. For example, during my discussion about apples with my son I could ask him, “Should we buy the bag of apples or buy individual apples?” Sustaining the talk as long as possible is the key.

A couple sentences in the idea about using age-appropriate math talk really resonated with me.

Letting children talk through their solutions and math thinking is very important. Try not to correct them or interrupt them. Sometimes just being quiet and listening is the best thing we can do.

Staying quiet and simply listening is one of the most difficult things I am ever asked to do.  With my students, especially, I want to, well, TEACH.  Teaching means the teacher talking.

Except, it doesn’t.

I constantly have to remind myself that the person doing the talking is the one doing the learning, so with little ones, the best thing I can do is step out of their way and let them talk.

Check out all five ideas at the NAEYC Families blog: Supporting Math Readiness Through Math Talk

In what ways do you facilitate math talk in your classroom?

CLL4.4a Uses spoken language that can be understood with ease.
CLL4.4b Demonstrates use of expanded sentences and sentence structures to ask questions and/or respond verbally.
CLL4.4c Describes activities, experiences, and stories with more detail.
CLL4.4d Uses new and expanded vocabulary in a variety of situations.
CD-MA1.4d Describes sets as having more, less, same as/equal.
CD-MA2.4d Describes data from classroom graphs using numerical math language.
CD-MA3.4a Uses mathematical terms to describe experiences involving measurement.
CD-MA3.4d Associates and describes the passage of time with actual events.
CD-MA4.4a Independently orders objects using one characteristic and describes the criteria used.
CD-MA5.4a Uses appropriate directional language to indicate where things are in their environment: positions, distances, order.
CD-MA5.4b Uses deliberate manipulation and describes process for fitting objects together.
CD-MA7.4b Uses simple strategies to solve mathematical problems and communicates how he/she solved it.
CD-MA7.4c Uses reasoning skills to determine the solution to a mathematical problem and communicates why.
CD-CP1.4b Explains why simple events occur using reasoning skills.
CD-CP2.4a Explains how to use objects in new situations.
CD-CP2.4d Makes, checks and verifies predictions.
CD-CP2.4e Explains how an activity is built on or uses past knowledge.
CD-CP3.4a Makes statements and appropriately answers questions about how objects/materials can be used to solve problems.
CD-CP3.4c With adult guidance and questioning determines and evaluates solutions prior to attempting to solve a problem.


I train Georgia PreK teachers and dabble a bit in the art of blogging. Have an idea for a blog post? Email me at bestpractices@gsu.edu. On the web: www.bestpractices.gsu.edu Facebook: www.facebook.com/bestpracticespk Twitter: @bestpracticespk

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One comment on “Engaging Children in Math Talk
  1. Todd says:

    I loved reading this article!I would like to see more blogs on each of the GELDS

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