7 Teacher Discourse Moves That Let The Kids Talk!

7 Teacher Discourse Moves That Let The Kids Talk!

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 really reflect on the things that we say as teachers that will benefit our student’s 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, arguments and begin to ask questions of each other.


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 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 onto 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 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 for 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?

As you begin to 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 you to use them as you continually develop your skills. Remember those who do the talking do the learning! So Let the Kids Talk!


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Author bio

Barbara Blanke, Teacher

Barbara Blanke, Ph.D., is a teacher, teacher educator, and an enthusiastic advocate for mathematics education. 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 administrators. Her major research interest has been studying how teachers effectively promote student-to-student discourse in their K-12 classrooms. She advocates that the whole school community can deeply understand the beauty of mathematics when working together as a cohesive team that can produce passionate life-long mathematicians. She currently lives in San Luis Obispo, CA, with her husband Dan, and their two golden retrievers, Ellie and Kala.