A teacher’s language choice plays an important role in developing student-to-student discourse.  To begin, it is important to think about the questions that we ask in our math lessons. Teachers can engage students in discourse by posing genuine questions to encourage discussion and debate, and to require students to attend to the mathematics at hand while explaining and justifying their thinking. A question is genuine when the teacher does not know the answer to them and is sincerely looking to deepen his or her understanding of students’ ideas. They are used so the math community (your students) can see ways of thinking other than their own.

Here are my top 12 genuine questions that teachers should post in their classroom to promote discourse:

  1. What did you notice about _________?
  2. What do you think?
  3. How did you figure that out?
  4. Can you prove that?
  5. What if….? (conjecture)
  6. Does anyone have a different way of thinking about this?
  7. Can anyone add onto _____________’s idea?
  8. Can you convince us?
  9. What do you predict will happen next?
  10. How do you know what you know?
  11. Do you agree or respectfully have another idea?
  12. Do you see any patterns here? Are there any ideas that are similar to what we have explored before?

Developing questions on the fly can be very difficult as we juggle the variety of student needs both academically and socially that arise in our classrooms. In these moments, it is easy to revert to asking closed questions that focus on solutions rather than strategies. Therefore planning what questions to use in our lesson plans is necessary. As you begin to use these questions, it is important to acknowledge what they do not do. These questions do not replace the thinking of the students by praising or confirming student answers. These questions are designed to scaffold student thinking, encourage students to reflect, and challenge students to think harder and more deeply about the mathematical ideas at hand.