How to use Math Talk in Kindergarten, First, and 2nd Grade!

May 11, 2022

In today’s blog post, we are learning all about math talk in primary grades! I have 3 different phrases for you to start incorporating in your math block to ramp up that “math talk.” We know that while it is important for students to be able to solve different problems, we also know that it’s just as important for students to be able to explain how they solved something.

In the older grades, students are able to write down their explanations, but in the younger grades, we rely heavily on talk to gain insight into their mathematical reasoning. The phrases I am going to share in this post help us see what concepts students have already mastered and what skills they still need work on!

Before I dive in, I wanted to let you know these ideas are all available in video/audio format below:

To read this post, just keep scrolling!

Math Phrase #1: What did ____ do?

The blank here indicates a student’s name! This easy, yet powerful phrase is a great one to add to your repertoire during math talks! Let’s pretend I put a story problem up on the board and I ask a student or two to share their answers. Every time they answer, I always ask them to “tell me more” so I can hear their reasoning.

Now the tricky part here is to try to not respond right away to your student’s thoughts. After they answer, instead of immediately saying “yes!” “great job” etc., try to turn to the class and ask them, “okay what did ____ do here?”  “Who can explain what ____ did?” This way your students will need to explain and re-state someone else’s mathematical process. In this case, students may be sharing a different strategy than the one they used themselves to answer the problem.

Now if a student begins to restate the process incorrectly or in a different way than the original student, I try not to interject right away and instead ask the original student to clarify their process. Not only does this help students identify and explain different math processes, but it also promotes our classmates as the “knowers” in the classroom and doesn’t rely on a teacher-heavy focused classroom. Of course, I facilitate as needed, but these phrases share the knowledge of the whole class!

This also helps students really listen to their classmates. As you use this phrase more often in your classroom, students will get used to the fact that you aren’t just going to call on one student, listen to their answer and move on. They will know they may be called on to repeat and explain other students’ answers so they really need to pay attention.


Math Phrase #2: “Do you agree or disagree? Why?”

This is another great phrase for getting students to listen intently to one another because they will have to share why they agree or disagree with another student’s answer or reasoning. This phrase also allows you, the teacher, to step back. Instead of interjecting immediately to say if an answer is correct or incorrect after a student shares, you turn it back to the students and ask them, “do you all agree? disagree? Explain.” I often give my students a thumbs up or thumbs down silent option to share their opinion after a student answers and then ask for explanations based on those responses. It’s an easy way to get everyone involved even though you only asked one student to share their answer.

“Is there anything you might change about what ___ said?” is another prompt I would use to push further for a student’s explanation. Students may agree with the answer, but not with the problem solving, or vice-versa. This is a great way to have students talk, talk, talk about math!

Just like with the previous phrase, if a student disagrees, I try not to insert myself right away. If the original student gets the wrong answer and another student disagrees, I like to let them explain why they disagree and also what they think the right answer is. Then, we can turn back to the original student and ask if that makes sense to them? What do you they think now? This lets other students in the class be the teachers!


Math Phrase #3: Could you have solved that a different way?

Now note that I am very purposeful with my wording here. I chose the word “could” instead of “did.” If you ask your students “did you solve this a different way?” many of them simply opt for a “nope!” and the conversation doesn’t go further. When you change the wording to “could” even if students have solved it the same way as explained, they can at least try to come up with other processes to solve the problem.

These phrases are also great to piggyback off one another. When asking “could you have solved this a different way?” another student will share a different process, then you can ask students to explain what they said. This helps students restate a different way to solve the problem and we really help build our students’ mathematical reasoning.


Now these phrases may seem simple and they are, but in most math blocks it is still the teacher explaining and showing students how to solve problems and then they move on and let students practice independently. Sticking with the same problem a little longer and letting students discover how to solve it and learn from one another really helps students gain a much deeper understanding of the concepts.

The hardest part is just remembering to USE these phrases often! My advice is to print out 3 big speech bubbles with these phrases on them and tape them to the board. This will remind you and students of the types of conversations we will have surrounding math on a regular basis!


So there are 3 easy math phrases to incorporate in your classroom to up your math talk with K-2 learners! Let me know in the comments which phrase you plan to implement in your classroom right away.


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