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Teacher Moves that Foster Classroom Discourse

Shannon Larsen, PhD, University of Maine Farmington
June 9, 2018

Members of the Early Mathematics and Technology MSP project focused much of our study on supporting student discourse in the classroom. Specifically, we examined ways to provide students with resources and tools that would help them to communicate their mathematical thinking. For example, we investigated the use of rich tasks and practiced using sentence starters with our students. In this post, the focus shifts from what we might provide our students to the moves that we can make as teachers. Specifically, we examine the use of accountable talk moves and planning for classroom talk. The related videos are clips taken from an online teacher professional development session.

Teacher Talk Moves

In Visible Learning for Mathematics: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning K - 12  (2017) the authors highlight a series of talk moves that teachers might use in their classroom. Below is an example statement or question for each of the seven talk moves:

  1. Marking the conversation ~ “That’s an important point.”
  2. Challenging students ~ “What do you think about that question that Vanessa asked?”
  3. Keeping everyone together ~ “Who can repeat what Pedro just said, using your own words?”
  4. Keeping the channels open ~ “Did everyone hear that? Devon, can you say that again?”
  5. Linking contributions ~ “Allie, can you put your idea together with the one Oliver just suggested?”
  6. Pressing for accuracy ~ “Where can we find that?”
  7. Pressing for reasoning ~ “Why do you think so?”

(Hattie, Fisher, & Frey, 2017, pp. 144 to 145)

It can be helpful to observe classrooms in which teachers frequently use these types of talk moves in order to better visualize what it might look and sound like in your own classroom. Hattie, Fisher, and Frey’s (2017) book has a Companion Website that includes classroom videos.

Another online resource is Illustrative Mathematics; this site features videos of teachers supporting students in the eight mathematical practice standards, including videos highlighting the use of the third practice, “Construct Mathematical Arguments and Critique the Reasoning of Others”.

Planning for Talk Moves

While studying the various talk moves that teachers might use in a classroom to support student discourse is important, it is often necessary to do careful planning in order to realize the use of these talk moves in our own practice. In the book Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions (2014), Kazemi and Hintz provide description of six different discussion strategies that are aimed at increasing and supporting mathematical discourse in elementary school mathematics classrooms. Each strategy is coupled with vignettes drawn from classrooms of the strategy in action along with a planning form.

The “Open Sharing Strategy” (Kazemi & Hintz, 2014) aligns well with the work we have done in our project. The authors describe this strategy as one that helps to set up early expectations for mathematical discourse in a classroom. It is designed to help students share information about their different approaches to problem solving and to support justification of the students’ work. In order for this strategy to be successful, a teacher must first plan carefully.

Prior to implementing the strategy, a teacher needs to choose appropriate problems – those that can be approached with a variety of strategies – and predict the different methods the students might use in response to the problem. This second step, anticipating how students might respond, is what allows the teacher to structure an effective discussion. As students are working, the teacher can circulate around the room and look for the student solutions that will lead to useful discussion and leverage critical mathematical ideas. Kazemi and Hintz (2014) also indicate the importance of using teacher talk moves, such as those listed above, while the students are sharing their work with the class.


References and additional resources are listed below:

  1. Hattie, J., Fisher, J., & Frey, N. (2017). Visible Learning for Mathematics: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning K - 12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  2. Kazemi, E. & Hintz, A. (2014). Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
  3. Interactive STEM Communication & Critique in Early Mathematics Classrooms (Educator STEM Learning Collection by EDC)
  4. Interactive STEM - Supporting Mathematical Discourse in the Early Grades (Research + Practice Brief by EDC)