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How Math Talk Absolutely Changed My Students & Classroom!

Math talk & math accountable talk stems became buzzwords in the education community a few years ago around the time the Standards for Mathematical Practice were developed.

I had taught math the same way for years, and things were beginning to look totally different. Can anyone out there relate?

math accountable talk stems

My Classroom Before Math Talk

Once upon a time, my classroom was considerably quiet when doing math. I would model how to do a certain skill, and students would practice quietly on their own. Math talk was non existent besides the comments I would hear students make regarding math.

They would say things like:

“I just can’t do math!”  

“Math is too hard!”  

“I am not a good math student.”

Sound familiar?

What is Math Talk?

To keep it simple, it is basically just having students talk about the math they are figuring out.

Here are some practical steps from Scholastic.com to get you started implementing this in your classroom:

  1. Ask & model open-ended questions.
  2. Provide visuals clues for reference.
  3. Use math talk during whole group instruction.
  4. Once students are comfortable, let them do it independently in their small groups
  5. Keep practicing!

While that sounds fairly simple, you can’t expect students to just be able to know how to do this. I’m going to explain how I began implementing math talk in my classroom using “The Math Talk Bulletin & Reference Cards.”

math accountable talk stems

Begin in 3 Steps

Step 1: First, start doing a daily word problem together on the board as a class.

Step 2: During & after solving, model your thinking & how to speak about math. Gradually release this to the students. Take some time to allow the students to think about the process they use to solve the problem. Allow them to talk to one another then call on students to share their thinking.

Step 3: While you are at it, be sure to use the “Math Accountable Talk Stems Bulletin & Reference Cards” every single day to help guide students’ thinking and speaking.

math accountable talk stems
math talk
Math Accountable Talk Stems Bulletin Display

First, I displayed this math accountable talk stems bulletin display and provided students with their own personal reference.  Each day, I put a word problem on the board.  The students worked it out on their paper & I set a timer. When the timer went off, I allowed the students another 3 minutes to just talk about their math with a partner.

You guys, it almost made me cry seeing the transformation in these kids.  At first, they relied so heavily on the math accountable talk stems, but after a few weeks they didn’t really even need them anymore!

math accountable talk stems
I gave them these to keep at their desks to pull out & use each day.
math talk

Were they all perfect math students because of this tool? Nope.

But Here are Some Things They Learned

  1. People figure things out differently, and I can use different strategies, too. 
  2. Other people get it wrong sometimes… just like me.
  3. Asking others how they figured it out is helpful to me.  
  4. I can have a conversation with my partner, and we don’t have to fight. (Yea.. You get groups like this sometimes.. And this was a win for us!)

Soon after, I began implementing some fun, ready to project activities from Steve Wyborney to use with our math talk stems. The kids LOVED using them. Take a look at them here.

math accountable talk stems

Click here to get your bulletin display & students reference sheets!

math accountable talk stems

Additional Math Links You May Enjoy 

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