Accountable Talk In the Elementary Math Classroom

A lot is being said about “accountable talk” in classrooms. What does that mean for the elementary math classroom?

The following link will take you to a quick read about Mathematically Accountable Talk from the University of Texas at El Paso.  In this excerpt from the Institute for Learning site, one quote stands out for me in particular. “To a great extent, talk is the currency of the classroom community.” In order for students to become “rich” in this currency, teachers need to model good discussion using probing questions.

Below is a collection of those types of questions, adapted from the NCTM Professional Standards.  A sprinkling of these questions during a discussion in an elementary classroom can produce some amazing conversations – true “accountable talk.”

Try some of these out in your classroom and let me know your thoughts…


Questions for Promoting Mathematical Power*

Helping students work together to make sense of mathematics…

  • What do others think about what _____ said?
  • Do you agree? Disagree?
  • Does anyone have the same answer but a different way to explain it?
  • Would you ask the rest of the class that question?
  • Do you understand what they are saying?
  • Can you convince the rest of us that makes sense?


Helping students to rely more on themselves to determine whether something is mathematically correct…

  • Why do you think that?
  • Why is that true?
  • How did you reach that conclusion?
  • Does that make sense?
  • Can you make a model to show that?


Helping students to learn to reason mathematically…

  • Does that always work?
  • Is that true for all cases?
  • Can you think of another example?
  • How could you prove that?


Helping students learn to conjecture, invent, and solve problems…

  • What would happen if…?
  • Do you see a pattern?
  • What are some other possibilities here?
  • Can you predict the next one?  Can you go backward one?
  • How did you think about the problem?
  • What decision do you think __________ should make?
  • Can you compare your solution with _______’s?  What is alike?  What is different?


Helping students to connect mathematics, its ideas and its applications…

  • How does this relate to ________?
  • What ideas have we learned before that might be useful in solving this problem?
  • Have we ever solved a problem like this one before?  Can you give an example?
  • What uses of mathematics did you find (in the paper, in a magazine, on TV)?
  • Can you give me an example of where you might see _______?


*Adapted from the Professional Standards (NCTM, 1991, p. 3-4)


About gpsmathcoach

I am an Elementary Math Coach for the Greenwich Public Schools in Greenwich, Connecticut. I serve 11 elementary schools and approximately 240 teachers.
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