Math Talk: Let it Happen

By: Mary Kienstra on: March 17, 2014  in: math talk; math; engagement; games; CCSS; math practice standard

Last week I attended the Illinois Reading Conference or #IRC2014.  As I listened to speakers talk about literacy and the new Common
Core State Standards (CCSS) expectations, my mind wandered to math.  The new literacy CCSS and the math CCSS have a tremendous amount of overlap. 

One of the most interesting examples is the speaking and listening strand in the ELA standards which aligns well with the math practice standards. Included in the CCSS ELA standards at 5th grade is “engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions,” and “summarize… written text… or points a speaker makes,” which sound very much like Math Practice Standard #3, “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.”  These ideas remind us to make sure that our students are talking about the content, discussing what they know, and listening to others explaining their ideas.

My math students have many opportunities to talk math during our class every day.  No matter what the content is, my students are speaking and listening. They “turn and talk,” or “think, pair, share,” or “discuss with a partner,” or any strategy that encourages them to explain their thinking.  This talking and listening typically happens during the course of a lesson.

The best math talk in my classroom, though, is the talk that happens when they don’t realize I am listening.  It’s that organic discussion that takes place because it is necessary for the collaborative task at hand.  

One of my favorite math games is the factor and multiple 24 card game.  Students think they are creating a giant floor puzzle, but what they are actually doing is putting together a puzzle with many solutions.  The have to talk to each other about which numbers go together based on common factors and multiples.  They need this discussion in order to be successful.  They are “constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others” without teacher input.  The only way to play is to talk.  Perfect!  (This game is available at  It is well worth it!) 

When students are actively discussing their math ideas, they are engaged in the math content. Conversely, the discussion is always better when the content is engaging.  As in this game, the discussion is best when it is necessary.

So how do we ensure that our students are “constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others?” Provide opportunities for them where the discussion is a necessary part of the content.  Challenge them with content that requires discussion in order to reach that deep level of comprehension and understanding. Help them to realize that both speaking and listening are important parts of their learning.  Step back and let it happen. Give it a try!

Leave a comment