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Mathematics | Teaching Strategies | December 14, 2023

7 Teacher Discourse Moves That Lets Kids Talk

Student discourse boosts their learning and engagement. Teachers can support kids in talking to learn in the classroom by reflecting on their own word choice and being strategic about the things they say. This article includes seven teacher discourse moves that will benefit students’ mathematical conversations. Plus, watch a on-demand webinar for more support with mathematics instruction.

Talking for Learning

Student talk is a critical component of effective teaching and learning. Maximizing the quality and quantity of student discourse takes practice, time, trust, listening, and commitment. The benefits of letting kids talk in the math classroom are worth the commitment. Remember, those who do the talking do the learning.

Focusing on the Things We Say as Teachers

What we say as teachers matters. As classroom teachers, we spend hours setting up our physical classroom environment and spend weeks building a community of learners, so now is the time to truly reflect on the things we say as teachers that will benefit our students’ mathematical conversations.

If you choose one or two of these Teacher Discourse Moves to focus on for the next few weeks, you will see your students begin to engage in deeper mathematical conversations and arguments and begin to ask questions of each other. As you incorporate more Teacher Discourse Moves in your lessons, it can be helpful to actually write down one or two of the questions or statements in your plan book to remind yourself to use them as you continually develop your skills.


The teacher or student revoices another student’s contribution and asks if his or her interpretation of that idea is accurate. This might sound like:

  • So you are saying that…
  • So let me clarify…
  • I think I heard you say…
  • Do I have this right?
  • If I am understanding…you said…
  • Is this what you are saying?


The teacher or student restates another student’s idea in his or her own words and reflects on how it is alike or different from his or her idea. This move presses students to become active listeners in math class. This might sound like:

  • Can you repeat what _____said in your own words?
  • What is another way that we could say the same thing that _____shared?
  • Is what ______said what you meant? Does it need clarification?


The teacher asks students to apply their own reasoning about someone else’s ideas or argument. This encourages students to think beyond their own personal ideas and build connections between differing ideas and strategies. This might sound like:

  • Do you agree or have a different idea?
  • Why?
  • Were you thinking the same thing or did you have another idea?
  • Thumbs up if you agree with _______idea/strategy.
  • Thumbs sideways if you respectfully have a different idea/strategy.

Move #4: ADDING ON

The teacher prompts students to add to another student’s idea/strategy. This helps get multiple solutions/ideas on the table and can assist students toward making connections of various ideas/strategies. This might sound like:

  • Who can say something more about this?
  • Can you add more to this idea?
  • Who thinks they can explain why this is a good move/idea/strategy?
  • What is our group considering about this idea?

Move #5: WAIT TIME

Wait time has been emphasized for decades and has been shown as one of the most valuable teacher discourse talk moves. This move allows ALL students extra time to process information, formulate ideas, arguments and questions. This might sound like:

  • Take your time to think…
  • We will wait…
  • Think in your head silently about this…
  • Let’s take some time to think…
  • Hands down…time to think privately…
  • Let’s ponder on that thought…

Move #6: PASS IT ON

The teacher asks students to refrain from raising their hands and calls on students to share their own idea or an idea shared by their group or partner. Students begin to ask each other about ideas and strategies. This might sound like:

  • Remember to ask your friends for clarifying questions when they share an idea/strategy.
  • Does anyone have anything to share about my idea?
  • I was wondering what others think of my idea.
  • Our group is curious if other groups thought about the problem like we did.


A teacher models aloud how a good mathematician thinks and talks about problems that are posed. This helps students develop the habits of mind of being a mathematician. This might sound like:

  • As I am reading this problem, I am thinking of…
  • This problem reminds me of another problem we solved last week. Can anyone think of which one?
  • I remember _______ solved a problem like this one. What strategy was it that _____ used?

Teachers can encourage and guide student discourse to increase engagement in the math classroom and improve student learning. Teachers can reflect on their own word choice and be strategic about the things they say in order to benefit students’ conversations. Incorporating these seven teacher discourse moves is an excellent way to develop your own skills.

On-Demand Webinar

Teaching Elementary Math: No More Problems with Problem Solving

Support your students to think mathematically. Learn how high cognitive demand tasks provide opportunities for learners to become mathematical thinkers, how to identify tiered vocabulary and challenging grammatical structures to make problem contexts more comprehensible, and how structured discourse supports the problem-solving process.


Author Bio:

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Barbara Blanke, Ph.D

Barbara Blanke, Ph.D., is a teacher, teacher educator, and an enthusiastic advocate for mathematics education. She is the author of Mathematical Discourse: Let the Kids Talk! After teaching 25 years in K–12 classrooms and earning her Ph.D., she became a pre-service and in-service teacher educator for Cal Poly’s School of Education. Currently, she is an international educational consultant and speaker, providing professional learning workshops and on-site coaching for teachers, coaches, and...

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